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From Coast to Coast, the Milken Educator Award Focuses on Teacher Excellence and Surprises the Shining Stars of America’s Classrooms

For 30 years, the Milken Family Foundation has honored the unsung heroes of today who teach the leaders of tomorrow

August 21, 2017

SANTA MONICA, Calif.—Each fall, the Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching,” embark on a traveling tour of America with a unique itinerary: To seek out and surprise the nation’s most inspirational and transformational teachers in front of their entire school communities with individual $25,000 financial prizes and unprecedented opportunities to impact education at every level.

Which states and school districts will the 2017-18 tour visit? That’s a secret until the prestigious award is announced: Neither honoree nor school knows what’s happening until the Milken Family Foundation surprises the educator in front of an all-school assembly filled with cheering students, colleagues, state and local officials, and media.

Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation (MFF), explained the rationale for the Award, now celebrating its 30th anniversary year. “Human capital is the beating heart of education,” said Milken. “And developing strong human capital is not only the goal of education, it is the means of achieving that goal. For without vibrant, engaged, excellent educators—qualities epitomized by Milken Educators—there is little chance of producing students with those same attributes.”

Research shows that teacher quality is the driving in-school factor behind student growth and achievement. In fact, the most effective teachers produce as much as five times the learning gains of the least effective teachers. And in an age where U.S. students must increasingly compete with students around the world for jobs and opportunities, the Milken Educator Award’s motto has never been more salient: “The future belongs to the educated.” In that vein, recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the visibility and opportunities inherent in the Award.

In creating the Award, Milken also intended to pique student interest in teaching as a profession. Since the Award’s inception, more than two million students have witnessed a teacher being celebrated with the fanfare typically associated with actors and athletes. Many have gone on to teach, with a few even being named Milken Educators!

Along with the financial prize, recipients join the National Milken Educator Network, a coast-to-coast group of more than 2,700 top teachers, principals and specialists. The network serves as a valuable resource to fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others dedicated to strengthening education. The 2017-18 honorees will also attend an all-expenses paid Milken Educator Forum in Washington, D.C., on March 21-24, 2018, where they will network with their new colleagues and exchange ideas with state and federal officials on the future of education.

More than $138 million in funding, including $68 million in the individual cash awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers.

  • The Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators; this season honors secondary school teachers.
  • Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.
  • Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels in each state. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with the selection made by the Milken Family Foundation.
  • The cash award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways; for instance, on their children’s or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships and even funding the adoption of children.   

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Everyone is encouraged to watch the tour at,,, and

For more information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.

About the Milken Educator Awards

The very first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation 30 years ago in 1987. The Awards provide public recognition and individual financial rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish.