We at Pioneer Institute mourn the loss of Tom Birmingham even as we are thankful for having had the opportunity to get to know this kind and brilliant man when in office and later, when he spent several years as Pioneer’s distinguished senior fellow in education.
There weren’t a lot of opportunities for kids who grew up poor in Chelsea, Massachusetts, but that never stopped Tom. He went on to be a star athlete, Rhodes Scholar, Harvard Law School graduate, and president of the Massachusetts Senate.
But no accomplishment outshined what he achieved as coauthor of the Commonwealth’s landmark 1993 Education Reform Act, which former governor and fellow coauthor William Weld called “a possession for always.”
The results of that effort propelled Massachusetts to become the leader on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, “the nation’s report card,” consistently since 2005. Massachusetts is also the only state that is internationally competitive in math and science.
WATCH: Tribute to Tom Birmingham, presented at Pioneer’s annual Peters Lecture (Nov. 9, 2022)
“Tom Birmingham was the most important state education leader in the U.S. over the last 50 years,” said Pioneer’s Director of School Reform Jamie Gass, who was close to Tom. “The reforms he crafted in 1993 were the most successful of our time—not only in Massachusetts, but anywhere in the nation.”
Tom dedicated the final years of his life to protecting high academic standards, MCAS, accountability measures, and school choice—elements at the heart of education reform. He fought tirelessly for the Commonwealth’s outstanding public charter, Catholic, and vocational-technical schools.
As a senior fellow with Pioneer Institute, Tom did vital work to strengthen and advocate a rigorous U.S. history and civics curriculum that is key to ensuring a vigorous and democratic nation.
“Everybody knows Tom Birmingham was brilliant,” said Pioneer Executive Director Jim Stergios. “What I’d like people to understand is what a kind, decent, and courageous man he was.”
“Getting to know people like Tom is one of the pleasures of my affiliation with Pioneer,” said Board of Directors Chair Adam Portnoy. “In this difficult time, our thoughts turn to his wife, Selma, and their daughters Erica and Megan.”
“Tom Birmingham leaves a legacy of innovation, independence, and integrity in public service,” said Greg Sullivan, former state inspector general and former director of research at Pioneer. “He dedicated his life to helping others and succeeded magnificently.”
Op-eds by Tom Birmingham: