Former Board Chair of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Dies at Age 80

July 28, 2021

Lifelong educator Thomas Payzant served on the board from 2006 to 2014

“Quality of instruction in the classroom, second only to leadership in the schools, are the two most important variables that impact students and what kind of achievement results are provided for those students to move forward.”

On July 25, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s former Board Chair Thomas Payzant passed away at age 80. A lifelong educator, he served as superintendent of several districts across the country and as Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education under Richard Riley in the Clinton administration. His work was guided by his deep belief in the potential of every student to succeed.

“Tom was a wise, generous, and courageous leader,” says Carnegie President Timothy Knowles. “His relentless focus on improving teaching and learning, his remarkable ability to build trust, and the tremendous joy he found in hard work made him one of the brightest stars in the educational firmament.”

Tom Payzant photoPayzant began his first superintendency in Springfield, Pennsylvania, at the age of 28. From there, he went on to serve as the superintendent in Eugene, Oklahoma City, San Diego, and Boston. During his tenure in Boston, he received the Massachusetts Superintendent of the Year award in 1999, and the district won the 2006 Broad Prize for Urban Education—the top urban school in the nation—for overall performance and improvement in student achievement while reducing achievement gaps by income and race. With the prize came $500,000 in scholarships for high school seniors from low-income families who had improved their grades

“Tom’s vision for equity and inclusion is a legacy that has been and will be a call to action for students and educators in perpetuity,” says current Carnegie Board Chair Lillian Lowery. “I am fortunate to have experienced Tom’s guidance and wisdom, and it is my charge to pay it forward.”

Under Payzant’s leadership in Boston, the National Assessment of Educational Progress found from 2003 to 2005 that students in fourth and eighth grades showed the largest improvements in mathematics scores compared to their counterparts in urban school districts nationwide. In addition, the Manhattan Institute determined that Boston had the highest high school graduation and post-secondary entry rates for Black and Latinx students of the 50 largest cities in America.

“Tom was an extraordinary friend of the Foundation,” says former Carnegie President Anthony Bryk. “His was always a supportive and wise voice guided by an extraordinary humanity toward all. We have lost one of our nation’s great educators today.”

Payzant concluded his career as an educator at the Harvard Graduate School of Education from 2006 to 2012 where he worked on urban school district reform, education leadership, and advancing ways to connect research, policy, and practice in urban school districts. This was a return to HGSE where he had completed his M.A.T., C.A.S., and Ed.D.

“The millions of young people whose lives he improved, the thousands of educators he made better, and the many he mentored and loved owe Tom a deep debt of gratitude,” says Knowles. “And I am certain Tom would want us to express that gratitude by fighting even harder to improve the quality of schooling for those who depend on it the most.”

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is committed to solving long-standing inequities in educational outcomes. The Foundation addresses problems that impact large numbers of students; tests innovations on the ground; understands what works, why it works, and in what contexts; and shares what it learns for use by others. In so doing, Carnegie integrates the discipline of improvement science and the use of structured improvement networks to build the education field’s capacity to improve.