A passion for education has been the cornerstone of Lowell Milken’s life and work. With a love of learning nurtured by his parents and by talented teachers, strengthened as a young adult by years of study and research, and exemplified as a businessman and philanthropist by a career defined by innovative education reforms, Lowell’s personal and professional contributions have led to greater opportunities for countless individuals and communities worldwide. He has devoted his life to the belief that one teacher can positively impact the lives of thousands of young people.
Lowell often speaks of the profound impact that outstanding teachers had during his own years of schooling, which gave him a deep appreciation for the transformative power of education. Growing up in a suburb of Los Angeles in the 1950′s and 60′s, Lowell remembers many of his teachers as warm and caring coaches yet challenging and demanding instructors. Rather than the idealized movie stars and sports icons promoted in the media, Lowell saw the lasting contribution that talented teachers could make to the minds, imaginations and characters of young people. This led him to establish the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes in 2007.
Lowell believes that educators can guide young people in seeking out the stories of positive role models who used their skills, knowledge and experiences, often at great personal risk, to improve the lives of others. The Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes thus provides a framework for students and teachers to engage with history and find these outstanding role models who have made a profound difference in the world. Since its creation, the Center has discovered, developed and communicated the remarkable stories of Unsung Heroes who have changed the world. These inspiring projects have reached over 1,200,000 students and over 9,000 schools.
The Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes builds on Lowell’s lifelong investments in education. At the age of 33, Lowell and his brother established the non-profit Milken Family Foundation (MFF) to focus on advances in education as well as medical research. In 1985, Lowell Milken formulated the Milken Educator Awards to recognize and celebrate the work of outstanding teachers by surprising each recipient in a public ceremony with an unrestricted $25,000 personal financial prize. Nearly 30 years later, the Milken Educator Awards has grown into the nation’s preeminent teacher-recognition program with a network of 2,700 educators and growing. This exceptional group of teachers, principals and education specialists serve as powerful motivators, inspiring their students and fellow teachers to strive for higher levels of achievement.
To extend the program’s success and generate the kind of excellence among all educators that Milken Educator Award recipients possess, Lowell Milken unveiled TAP™: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement in 1999, after years of research into education policy and practices. As an aligned, comprehensive approach to attract, develop, motivate and retain high-quality teachers, TAP provides opportunities for career advancement, ongoing daily professional development, instructionally focused teacher evaluation and competitive compensation. Although TAP’s structure was revolutionary when it was introduced in 1999, its elements are accepted today as essential components of systemic K-12 education reform.
The increasing demand for the TAP System from schools and districts around the country, and its powerful outcomes in terms of improved teacher skills and student performance, led Lowell to establish the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) in 2005 to support and manage the TAP System as well as the Best Practices Center. NIET ensures TAP’s effectiveness and sustainability in a diverse set of urban, rural and suburban schools by delivering support at school, district, state and national levels. The Best Practices Center builds on NIET’s expertise to advance educator effectiveness by reimagining teacher and principal evaluation, teacher leadership, professional development and educator compensation. Schools utilizing the TAP System have outperformed control group schools in terms of student achievement growth as well as in the recruitment and retention of talented educators. Together, the TAP System and the Best Practices Center impact more than 200,000 teachers and 2.5 million students.
Recognition for Lowell’s achievements in education has included awards from organizations such as the National Association of State Boards of Education, the Horace Mann League, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, Jewish Theological Seminary, Kappa Delta Pi international honor society in the field of education and UCLA School of Law. Both Chapman University and Hebrew Union College have presented Lowell with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
Lowell Milken attended the University of California Berkeley as an undergraduate, earning the School of Business Administration’s Most Outstanding Student Award and graduating Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude (with highest honors). He went on to earn a law degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, with the academic honors of Order of the Coif and the distinction of UCLA Law Review. In 2011, UCLA Law established the Lowell Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy. Over the past three decades, Lowell Milken’s work to inspire and produce exceptional educators has been unwavering in its commitment, unending in its endurance and unbending in its goals.