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Joseph Connor: Fighting Educational Inequality by Giving Back

Tim Will on Monday, 16 December 2019.

Reform Leaders' Summit - Joe Connor

Joseph Connor has worn many hats in the fight for education reform. He has alternately worked as a teacher, a research analyst, in-house legal counsel, and as a pro bono attorney. Most recently, Joseph has continued his school choice work by becoming a member of the 11th cohort of the Alliance for Catholic Education’s Reform Leaders’ Summit.

Joseph Connor - Reform Leaders' Summit University of Notre DameGrowing up in Philadelphia, Joseph, or Joe as he is more commonly known, saw what his parents sacrificed to send him and his three siblings to Catholic schools from kindergarten through high school. His parents’ example—in conjunction with his Jesuit high school’s focus on forming “men for others”—propelled him to continually look for opportunities to serve those less fortunate.

“When I was growing up, I remember my mother telling us, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected’,” Joe said. “From an early age, we were encouraged to serve others and to give back. Teaching and education seemed to be a natural outlet for me in that respect.”

Those ideas of service and education stuck with Joe, so much so that after graduating from Duke University in 2010, he taught at two charter school networks—first at KIPP, and later at Rocketship Education.

“Both KIPP and Rocketship created high performing schools for low-income and minority students in places that lacked educational opportunities,” Joe said. “Teaching in those communities was really my first introduction into the school choice movement.”

After a few years in the classroom, Joe found himself discerning ways in which he could impact the education reform movement outside of his own classroom. He chose to attend Notre Dame Law School in part because of its connection to ACE and its Program for Educational Access (PEA).

While at Notre Dame, Joe worked with ACE’s senior policy advisor Nicole Garnett and PEA director John Schoenig on research and advocacy for school choice. Joe also assisted in the national expansion of the Notre Dame ACE Academies and designed the Private School Quality Index, an initiative to bolster transparency for private schools. On the legal side, Joe worked as counsel for Match Education and the EdTech startup AltSchool during this time.

After graduation, Joe started work as a litigation associate at Drinker, Biddle, and Reath LLP in Philadelphia, but he continued to look for ways to stay involved in the education choice movement. He kept in touch with John, who encouraged Joe to join the Reform Leaders’ Summit.

I joined the Reform Leaders’ Summit because I wanted to stay current on educational policy issues and continue to participate in the fight for educational equality,” Joe said. “I also wanted to meet and network with people who were passionate about Catholic schools and school choice.”

Inspired after the first leg of the Summit in New Orleans last summer, Joe approached one of his firm’s partners about becoming involved in school choice litigation.

“Our firm was able to submit an amicus brief on behalf of a pro bono client for Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a case which is currently pending before the United States Supreme Court,” Joe said. “I was aware of the case before RLS, but it was only after attending the Summit and talking with John that I decided to reach out and get more involved.”

Joe hopes to remain active in the education reform movement and encourages other attorneys across the country to do likewise.

“I believe that the best path to educational equality is to give parents more high-quality choices for their children,” Joe said. “As professionals with a specific skill set, it’s important for attorneys to give back to their communities.

“I believe one of the best ways we can give back is to advocate for school choice and ensure all families get equal access to great educational opportunities.”

Learn more about the Reform Leaders’ Summit and apply to the next cohort at https://ace.nd.edu/summit

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