“Harbormasters” – A new corporate education reform industry term for unelected entities seeking to privatize our public schools.

“Harbormasters have a mission to buoy the number of high-quality seats in their cities.” – Bellwether Education Partners on behalf of Education Cities


  • “Harbormasters” are unelected entities that seek to put themselves in control of managing public education in a particular community, and (b) “High-Quality Seats” is a euphemism for more charter schools.

So translated into English, the phrase “Harbormasters have a mission to buoy the number of high-quality seats in their cities” actually means,

If we are to succeed in our goal of opening more charter schools and continuing the efforts to privatize public education we will need more un-elected entities willing to step in and usurp the democratic process that presently stands in our way.”

When one follows this path of edu-jargon they will quickly come across groups like Bellwether Education Partners, Education Cities and similar corporate-funded organizations that are working to remove the term public from public education.

Take for example, Education Cities, a relatively new entity in the privatization game.

Education Cities’ primary mission is to develop and expand the notion of “harbormasters” as part of its ongoing strategy to expand the number of charter schools in targeted cities.

Education Cities claims it is a “nonprofit network” of 32 city-based organizations in 25 cities.  As the evidence makes clear, it is really just another charter school front group funded by the same cabal of big education reform foundations.

The organization traces its roots back to 2012, when the an Indianapolis, Indiana “educational venture capital fund” called The Mind Trust spun off a related entity it called CEE-Trust or Cities for Education Entrepreneurship.

The organization’s stated goal was to bring Indianapolis-like corporate education reforms to other cities around the country.

Changing its name to Education Cities in 2014, the entity collected more than $5.5 million during its first two years as a 501(c) (3).  Not surprisingly, major contributions came from The Broad Foundation; the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; The Walton Family Foundation and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, all leaders in the effort to privatize public schools in the United States.

Always keen on coining a phrase, the public relations mavens at The Mind Trust and Education Cities announced that their primary strategy was to install “harbormasters” as vehicles to promote and implement their privatization agenda.

And what, pray-tell are harbormasters and what role do they have when it comes to implementing the corporate education reform agenda?

Bellwether Education Partners, a leading corporate education reform consulting company, proudly explains the Harbormaster concept as follows;

If you DON’T work in education, a harbormaster is an official responsible for enforcing the regulations of a particular harbor or port, in order to ensure the safety of navigation, the security of the harbor and the correct operation of the port facilities. It’s the nautical version of an air traffic controller. I assume they look like this:

If you DO work in education, the term is a metaphor for a city-based nonprofit that plays a central role in funding and coordinating high-impact education initiatives.

The term was popularized by Ethan Gray, a Mind Trust team member who incubated and then launched Education Cities (formerly CEE-Trust — pronounced SEA-Trust), a member organization that convenes and supports harbormasters across the country. Education Cities is a current partner and former client.

Over on the Education Cities’ website, one learns that when you “partner” with Education Cities you get the opportunity to hire, pay or work with a slew of top education reform industry consultants including, none-other-than, Bellwether Education Partners

Other companies and organizations in on the slick deal include the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington, Public Impact, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to name a few.

Expounding upon the benefits of harbormasters, Bellwether Education Partners adds;

By aligning vision, resources, talent and political will, these organizations become the strategic leaders of their community’s efforts to create more great schools. They can also be the recipients of heated opposition from those who seek to preserve the status quo. Both are valuable roles.

We believe that there are four main elements to the harbormaster strategy: supporting quality schools, strengthening effective educator pipelines, advocating for pro-student pro-teacher policy changes, and

In concert, these four strategies create the conditions for high-quality public schools to launch, grow and persist. Harbormasters often lead in one or more of those areas and work in close collaboration with other local stakeholders on the other efforts to accelerate the pace and sustainability of school improvement.

Here’s a list of the Education Cities member organizations. Bellwether has extensive experience working with harbormasters including New Schools for New OrleansThe Mind Trust in Indianapolis, Choose to Succeed in San Antonio, Accelerate Great Schools in Cincinnati, and The Boston Schools Fund.

It will come as no surprise to readers that Bellwether’s client list is not dissimilar to the list of organizations that make up Education Cities, a list that includes the following communities;

Baton Rouge, LA

Boston, MA

Chicago, IL

Cincinnati, OH

Denver, CO

Detroit, MI

Indianapolis, IN

Kansas City, MO

Las Vegas, NV

Los Angeles, CA

Memphis, TN

Milwaukee, WI

Minneapolis, MN

Nashville, TN

New Orleans, LA

Oakland, CA

Philadelphia, PA

Phoenix, AZ

Providence, RI

Richmond, CA

Rochester, NY

San Antonio, TX

San Jose, CA

Washington, DC

Wilmington, DE

Rather than work through democratically elected boards of education, where public policy belongs, harbormasters are designed to do an end run around the American political system and install pro-privatization gurus and consultants to take over and run privatization efforts.

And to date, their record speaks for itself.

In an article entitled, Why Harbormasters Are Critical to a City’s Ecosystem, the Senior Vice President of Growth, Development & Policy at Rocketship Education crowed,

…the idea of the harbormaster has taken shape in a variety of forms, in a few pockets of our country. In some places, harbormasters were borne of natural disaster, as with New Schools for New Orleans; elsewhere, it was a response to a generation of declining results, as with Schools That Can Milwaukee; or sheer volition, as with San Antonio’s Choose to Succeed; or the sound execution of a strategy, as with the DC Fund of NewSchools in collaboration with the CityBridge Foundation.

All four schools systems are widely recognized as examples where corporate education reform and privatization have or are failing the vast majority of students.

As if Rocketship’s references to New Orleans, Milwaukee, San Antonio and Washington DC were not unsettling enough, EdSurge, a corporation that helps schools “find, select and use the right technology to support all learners,” doubles-down on the need to replicate New Orleans’ failures with a piece titled, How the ‘Harbormaster Network’ Plans to Spread Nationwide Personalized Learning

For those who may be confused about the meaning of the education reform phrase “personalized learning,” you might start by reading the Wait, What? post, When THEY say “personalized learning” is, it is time to be afraid, very afraid.

In conclusion, while it is true that the corporate education reform “movement” is weighed down with a long list of failed policies, you have to give them credit for their prowess when it comes to developing marketing terms that seek to mislead their target audiences.

For example, next time you hear the term harbormaster in an education policy setting, you’ll know exactly what is being said (or not said) as the case may be.