In a refreshing shift from typically contentious dialogue, four education reform experts shared the stage at Notre Dame last week and found the common ground on which their reform efforts are built. Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas (Tucson), Randi Weingarten (president, American Federation of Teachers), Wendy Kopp (CEO and founder, Teach for America ), and Juan Rangel (CEO, United Neighborhood Association) agreed on the depth of the crisis facing our nation's schools and—of particular meaning to ACE—the importance of teachers.
"Between 30% and 50% of teachers who walk into school the first day are gone by their third to fifth year," Ms. Weingarten said. "That is a huge problem." She went on to say, "We need to make teaching a high status profession."
Wendy Kopp agreed: "We need to invest in our teachers not only before they start but really every day and year thereafter." She expanded the point, connecting the crisis to increased poverty, which is linked to learning struggles and low graduation rates. Ms. Weingarten, too, said, "The equity issues right now in terms of poverty, in terms of families, are really intense." And the result, Ms. Kopp explained, requires a new concept of what education is.For more on the issue of economic inequality, click here.For a video of the session, click here.
With a nod to the TFA and ACE ACE Teaching Fellows programs, Ms. Kopp added, "If we get to a point where we have enough people in our country in positions of influence who know what you know after you've taught successfully in a low income community, we will finally start moving the needle against this problem...Good, grounded, deeply committed leadership is the key to the systemic problems."
In this context, Bishop Kicanas emphasized the need for Catholic schools, which provide "a moral grounding, academic rigor, a community ethic." Ms. Weingarten agreed. "I am quite saddened by the fact that we see the shuttering of so many Catholic schools...We have to find ways to bolster faith based schools."
Ending on a positive note, Ms. Kopp spoke of her optimism that change will occur in our education system--and then she issued a challenge to us: "There's an incredible opportunity for the folks who are concerned about parochial schools to say, how can we mobilize our constituents to ensure that our [whole] community has access to a better education?...Your commitment through ACE is extraordinary. We need that in so many forms in the faith community."