Kevin Byrne, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation

TITLE: Managing Director, United States

FUNDING AREAS: K-12 education, charter schools, urban education

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: Byrne takes a business strategist approach to education, which includes performance management systems that measure how well schools are achieving goals of student achievement, effective teachers, and college readiness.

PROFILE: Kevin Byrne is the managing director of U.S. programs at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, based in Austin, Texas. He has been with Dell since 2004, and previously served as their director of U.S. education, where he led efforts to improve urban school districts through performance management. Byrne holds a master’s degree in business strategy from University College Cork in Cork, Ireland, as well as a bachelor’s degree in finance from Mississippi State University.

Like companies and government agencies, school systems are awash in data—academic, financial, operational, and more. Effective use of these data can enable educators to measure areas in which students are succeeding academically, as well as diagnose areas in which they need additional support. A performance-based approach to education can also help identify the best teachers, enable administrators and budget officers to determine the best uses of limited financial resources, and enable school boards and superintendents to chart long-term strategic goals.

Performance management in education takes a metrics-based approach, using a wide variety of data to gauge how well schools and school systems educate their students. Just as businesses and other types of organizations use so-called “big data” to gain insight into their operations, school systems can measure their performance and identify areas of improvement through the analysis of large sets of educational data on student achievement, teacher performance, and more.

To spread performance management in education, Byrne and Dell have provided grants to a wide range of public school districts, charter school organizations, foundations, and nonprofit groups. If you want to improve education based on what the numbers have to say, Byrne and Dell may be the funders for you. 

Byrne’s interest in American education is not limited to performance management, however. Dell also has an interest in student college readiness, improving school leadership, and expanding school choice through charter schools.

Recognizing that a high school diploma is no longer the guarantee of admission into the American middle class that it once was, public schools have increasingly emphasized a goal of college readiness, defined as the knowledge and skills needed to succeed without remediation in an institution of higher education. Byrne and Dell are strong advocates of the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, which strives to improve student college readiness through rigorous curriculum and training of educators to foster a college-going culture in classrooms and schools.

Byrne also advocates human capital programs that attract and retain top educators and education leaders. MSDF has helped launch Teach For America programs in many cities across the country. Many Teach For America alumni teach in charter schools, another area that has received extensive support from Byrne and Dell. The foundation has provided grants to charter schools and charter school networks across the country. While it also supports traditional public school systems, Dell has proven to be a powerful advocate for charter schools. The foundation’s website states that it is interested in educational innovations that lead to improved achievement for all students. If that is your goal, whether you are a school district, a charter, or a nonprofit that provides educational services, Byrne and Dell may be your champions.

In addition to his other work at Dell on behalf of education, Byrne has championed their Dell Scholars program, which has provided millions of dollars in college scholarships, many of them to first-generation college students.

"Our Dell Scholars don’t fit the traditional merit-based scholar profile," according to Byrne. Rather, the program identifies low-income students who exhibit potential beyond what their high school grade averages or test scores may indicate. Dell Scholars must participate in an approved college readiness program, have at least a 2.4 grade point average in high school, demonstrate financial need, and demonstrate an intention to seek a bachelor’s degree. Dell Scholars receive $20,000 each to continue their education beyond high school.