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"In society today, you can't say that you have no inefficiencies," she said. "If worse comes to worst, I'd remind my staff that if the revenue stream won't support our entire program, we'd still be 90 to 95 percent of what we are."
Kanter's involvement in education began in Boston in the mid-1960s, when as a ninth-grader, she volunteered as a tutor in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. She majored in sociology and psychology at Brandeis University, studying under the legendary psychologist Abraham Maslow, who was then developing his theories of human development and peak experiences.
Second Alum Appointed to Dept Of Ed
Martha Kanter isn't the only Don to be appointed to a position with the U.S. Department of Education—Robert Shireman, MPA ’86, was appointed deputy undersecretary and is working under Kanter.
Founder of the Institute for College Access and Success and the Project on Student Debt, Shireman is a leading expert on college access and financial aid. He served as a congressional appointee to the Federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, as an education policy adviser in the Clinton Administration, and as a U.S. Senate aide on education, and has been instrumental in leading student loan reforms, including the implementation of the federal higher education tax credit.
Shireman was a key adviser to Obama's transition team and then served as an interim consultant and senior adviser under the new administration, until his appointment.
After earning a master's degree at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, she taught in an alternative high school in the Boston suburbs, then moved to New York to teach in public and private schools before moving to California in 1977.
Kanter worked at San Jose City College, then headed to Sacramento, eventually becoming vice chancellor for policy and research for the growing California community college system. While in Sacramento in 1985, she began her doctoral studies at USF.
It was at USF that Kanter deepened her understanding of critical areas such as educational research and education law, and she credits courses on these topics for advancing her career. Kanter also became at ease with statistical analysis, which drives so much of education today. USF had such an impact on Kanter that she has even encouraged employees to attend.
While a graduate student, Kanter served as a teaching assistant for a class on advanced statistics with Professor Susan Evans, an expert in special education, whom she regards as "the best professor I've ever had in my life." Evans was equally impressed with Kanter.
"In 32 years of teaching doctoral students in the School of Education at USF, I only gave one A+ grade and that was to Martha Kanter. She was the smartest doctoral student I ever taught. Her doctoral research won the Outstanding Dissertation for Research on Community Colleges in California prize," Evans said. "I am not surprised that Obama tapped her for the position of undersecretary of education. Obama said he was going to pick the best and the brightest for his team so when he chose Martha, I knew he was serious."
After earning her doctorate, Kanter returned to San Jose City College as vice president of instruction and student services until 1993, when she was named president of De Anza College in Cupertino. She became chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza district in 2003.
She left the district as her team moved forward to cut college costs through a system of "open educational resources," which creates free, online course materials as alternatives to traditional textbooks.
"She keeps driving and won't accept failure," said Foothill Dean Judy Baker, who worked with Kanter on the project. "She invests time and attention in people. She doesn't close any doors. She keeps busting them open."
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