Education reformers convene in New Haven

Last Thursday and Friday, New Haven’s Omni Hotel and Shubert Theater became home to hundreds of education reformers from around the country.

The seventh annual Yale School of Management Education Leadership Conference brought in roughly 700 attendees from organizations like Democrats for Education Reform, the KIPP Foundation, Teach for America, City Year and Achievement First. The two days included 18 discussion panels, two of which were keynote events featuring officials such as Providence, R.I., Mayor Angel Taveras and Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White. The panels held during the conference, which this year centered on “Inspiring Transformational Change,” focused on topics including parental involvement in community education transformation, the role of technology in personalized learning, how to use New Orleans as a model for change and how to reach students of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

The conference’s first panel, moderated by Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor, focused on how Connecticut can begin to implement its recently passed education reform bill. The bill will create the Commissioner’s Network of Turnaround Schools, which will use top educational practices from across the nation to improve the state’s low-performing schools and will implement a new state-wide system of teacher evaluations.

While all panelists emphasized the importance of strong school and district leadership, panelist David Low, the vice president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers and New Haven’s most recent “Teacher of the Year,” advocated for not “pulling the best teachers out of the classroom” to become administrators. Instead, these teachers should be able to expand their reach, perhaps by supervising other teachers while continuing their own teaching, he said.

Conference attendees also discussed the opportunities and challenges presented by the Common Core Standards, a newly created set of standards that aims to align various state curricula. Assistant Commissioner of Curriculum and Instruction of the Tennessee Department of Education Emily Barton ’04 said that such “research-based” standards will transform curriculum from being a “mile-wide and inch-deep to inch-wide, mile-deep.” Kate Gerson, another conference panelist and the senior fellow for educator engagement & the Common Core in New York State, said the Common Core is in danger of seeing “a shift in rhetoric phenomenom,” in which administrators and teachers say they are enforcing these new standards while in fact no changes occur.

At a panel about creating “diverse coalitions” to better address the achievement gap, panelist Melanie Mullan, vice president for the nonprofit Programs of Turnaround for Children, noted that poverty has “traumatic” effects on kids.

“These kids are dealing with detachment, exposure to violence, hunger and homelessness, and they’re expected to show up in school and focus on math,” she said. Having clinically trained social workers in every school and giving teachers very specific strategies to deal with affected children is necessary to target the “recurring trauma of poverty,” she added.

President of education-focused nonprofit City Year Jim Balfanz noted that 240,000 ninth graders in New York City were held back a grade last year, and those who are held back have a 25 percent chance of graduating.

“It feels like a crisis now. What it’s going to feel like in 10 to 15 years is unthinkable,” he said.

Diversity panel attendee Candice Dormon, associate director for Advocacy and Parent Engagement for the Achievement First schools, expressed her concern about how the majority of low-income students are “left behind.”

“Your zip code shouldn’t determine your chance in life,” said Amanda Pinto, a communications associate for Achievement First.

The conference was sponsored by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, Pearson and Wireless Generation.

Correction: April 8

A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that the conference included five discussion panels. In fact, the conference included five discussion panel time slots and 18 discussion panels within those slots.  

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