April 6 — 4:06 pm, 2012

L.E.A.R.N. by bridging sectors

The current discussion of the District’s proposed reorganization plan has brought up many questions about school management and the role of the private sector in public education. While there are massive problems that needs our attention in education, there is a role for all organizations and industries to play in fixing it. To me, that is the beauty of education.

At a conference organized by Leaders in Education Advocacy and Reform Network (L.E.A.R.N.) earlier this year hosted by Penn Law, I heard from leaders in a variety of sectors about ways we can all “develop personal action-items to improve public education.”

Some of the ways that we as a community can take on collaborative improvements include:

  • Soliciting help from nonprofit organizations. At the conference, Diane Castelbuono, associate vice president of education for the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, emphasized the need for nonprofits to "be willing to get out of our altruistic mindset…we have to be smarter about explaining why things are necessary and good…for every $1 spent in early childhood, you save $7 in the long run."
  • Paying close attention to discipline policies, especially when African American and Latino students, specifically males, are suspended and expelled in disproportinate numbers.



Throughout the day there were occasional optimistic comments concerning increasing graduation rates in the city or more focus of education reform efforts. But, the comments quickly turned to the draconian cuts to education from the state, or the falling proficiency rates in math and literacy for Pennsylvania, especially Philadelphia.

Thankfully, while problems persist, the conference provided useful strategies for those directly and indirectly focused on education reform.

For parents, educators, school leaders, and others who are concerned with the disproportionate number of African American and Latino students, specifically males, suspended, expelled, and or criminalizes, Damon Hewitt, from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, provided poignant recommendations that included "even if there’s no evidence of race animus, if there are inexplicable patterns these actions can be against the law."

The conference began with Congressman Chaka Fattah adding context to the situation and emphasizing the urgency for addressing the problem collaboratively. Following the congressmen, the keynote panel, that includes individuals such as Diane Castelbuono and Damon Hewitt (and ironically, led by Valerie Strauss – not sure who made that decision!!). Attendees then participated in a working group lunch that focused on a variety of issues.

Following the working group lunch, all attendees anxiously awaited words from former Governor Ed Rendell. Humorous, spontaneous, and intellectual, Rendell did not disappoint, even though he admitted halfway through how off topic he was. Perhaps his most important point was when he stated "Corbett was honest in his campaign…people have to realize that elections have consequences…don’t be upset because he kept his word." While we may disagree with his actions, let’s not forget that Governor Corbett was elected, and unlike other governors, he is doing what he said he was going to do. For the voters, you role is clear, make sure you know where the aspiring political official stands on these key issues.

To conclude his speech, Rendell asserted that the revival of the American Dream depends on whether we have the fortitude and courage to address some major problems derailing our recovery. The former governor identified four legislative items that, if reformed or enhanced, will give America the edge in the future:

  • energy independence,

  • 10-year infrastructure bill,

  • Bowles-Simpson budget modification bill, and

  • craft a real education bill that serves as an expanded race to the top.

Four area of great concern, and four areas that virtually touch every person and organization in the nation. Thank you, governor.


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