It is our honor to feature the former Secretary of Education for the State of California and member of UC Board of Regents, Bonnie Reiss, as a “Woman of Influence” in our Speakerpalooza blog tour! Ms. Reiss keeps us in check as she shares her perspective on public education, its importance, its failings and its great promise. More info about Ms. Reiss can be found following her post.

By Bonnie Reiss

Former Secretary of Education for the State of California, Member of UC Board of Regents & CEO, BMR Consulting Group
Malibu, CA USA

Growing up in Queens, New York, the youngest child of a working class family, I would never have imagined in my wildest imagining, that I would one day become the Senior Advisor to Governor Schwarzenegger, or become California’s Secretary of Education. My grandparents immigrated from Russia fleeing an oppressive regime and my father like so many of his generation served in World War II, yet never went beyond a high school education.

While I can name dozens of factors, both external and internal that made my accomplishments possible, there is one factor that stands out above all the others–education. Without a great pubic education allowing me to gain knowledge and admission to top colleges and law school, without grants and student loans allowing me to finance my education, there is absolutely no possible way a girl from a Queens blue collar family could ever have ended up helping run the 7th largest economy on the Planet, and presiding over one of the largest school systems in America.

For this reason I dedicated much of my public service and career in the area of education and why the topic of this blog is my perspective on public education, its importance, its failings and its great promise.

For any Nation to be great, to be free it must provide great public education to all. This was a key pillar in the founding of our American Democracy, and discussed so eloquently by Jefferson, recognizing that for a representative democracy to flourish, it’s citizens must be educated, not just the children of wealthy landowners, but all children. When Nations want to oppress a class of people they make it illegal to teach that class to read or go to school. Such was the case in the United States during slavery, or South Africa during Apartheid, or what Afghanistan did to oppress girls.

In more recent decades our leaders talk about the importance of education as an economic imperative if a nation is to be able to compete in the global marketplace. Yet for all the rhetoric about the importance of education in America, for all the politicians loudly proclaiming how they will be the education leader, each  decade we fall further behind as our education system fails far far to many children.

Our focus on subjects we find important to the economy like math, English, science has resulted in the elimination of art, music, dance and a more comprehensive curriculum and we seem to be educating creativity out of our kids. We focus too much on testing and not enough on learning. We find trillions for fighting terrorism, and building roads, but not even close to that amount to fight ignorance and build a generation of thinkers.

The one bright light in all of this is the potential for technology and innovation to transform education. Innovators like Salman Kahn offer online tutoring and through the Kahn Academies allow more personalized approaches to teaching to each student in the way they learn the best. Technology not only offers more opportunities for students and teachers to find support, it offers opportunities to connect beyond the classroom, which can be especially helpful to our lowest income students stuck in failing schools.

Ultimately, however, we will only achieve true educational excellence when each of us makes a decision that it is not just a priority but an imperative, in our roles as parents and as voters.

Bonnie Reiss is CEO of BMR Consulting Group. Bonnie is a lawyer, accountant and strategist, who has led a remarkable life working for U.S. Presidents, Governors with accomplishments in both the private and public sector. Bonnie served as California Secretary of Education, and currently serves on the University of California Board of Regents. Bonnie’s career while diverse has focused in the areas of environment, education, women and children’s issues.

For more information on Bonnie, please visit

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