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Barbara Dreyer – “A Beacon of Inspiration”

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Barbara Dreyer

Our world lost another wonderful soul today, and the reform movement, an incredible and, relatively speaking, unknown pioneer.

I am not only sad for her, her family, her friends and her closest associates, but angry. I am angry that Barbara Dreyer, the original innovator is gone, and that I have personally lost another ally in the battle for better lives for our children, and thus citizens for our country.  God has once again taken a foot soldier whose sheer presence and determination kept others on their toes. I am angry, because every time we lose someone like this, our education reform movement, which has the muscle memory of a frog, forgets what the purpose was, and is.

When I think of Barbara Dreyer I think of John Walton, who was bigger than life, more humble than the most humble among us, and a tireless warrior who didn’t let popularity, money, power or statistics drive his work or his (and his foundation’s) giving. Barbara Dreyer, as CER said in its tribute to her almost a year ago now, was a champion, and as such, I put her right up there with Joe Robert, who let nothing stand in his way when it came to securing local, state, national and federal bipartisan support to give kids a chance with parental choice.

Barbara was a younger version of Fannie Lewis, another pioneer the reform movement has lost. A City Councilwoman turned reform agitator, Fannie united strange bedfellows, and men and women of all stripes fell in behind her to help turn her native Cleveland around.

These and a dozen or so late, great innovators did not worry about what battles they were picking – they picked them all. When causes needed funding, they wrote checks or took up the cause if they themselves were not funders. That’s what leaders and fighters do, and that’s why reform has gotten so far, so fast; but alas, education reform is losing steam because its newest actors don’t know – and some of those who’ve been around a while forget – that doing what’s right means you’re most often not in line with the majority view, and that finding common ground is not an end in and of itself.

Indeed, Barbara Dreyer, like those she will no doubt unite with soon in Heaven (yes Heaven, and I won’t be politically correct about it!) knew that resiliently fighting for what is right – even if it makes people uncomfortable (friends included) – was worth it.

That millions of children and adults are now learning because of technology-driven, online solutions is owed largely to the path-breaking work Barbara started nearly 20 years ago. If you didn’t know that, or know her, I am so sorry.  As her longtime friends and colleagues at Connections Education wrote today, she was “a beacon of inspiration.”

With respect and gratitude for Barbara, reformers – no, revolutionaries – must be inspired by people who led the way so they can do what they are doing today. There is so little time to do so much. Allow the passing of someone great, even if you didn’t know her, to make you work a little harder, buck a little more convention, resist the temptation to hold others to double standards, and acquiesce less because it’s more convenient.

We must step on the shoulders, not the feet, of giants like you, Barbara.

Until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.


Jeanne Allen



Senior Fellow and president emeritus