From October 26-29, 2010, Justin and I were in New Orleans attending the Grantmakers for Education 14th annual conference. I was also able to spend some quality time with my mom and her best friend, who flew over from Georgia to see me. It was quite ironic to be in New Orleans (given the national response to Katrina) attending a conference entitled: The Fierce Urgency of Now – Fulfilling the Promise of Excellence & Equity. That aside, we saw a lot of good presentations while at the conference.
The conference was opened with an engaging speech by Hilary Pennington from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who spoke about how many higher education institutions are “college drop-out factories” and that while the college access rate has been increasing, the time it takes to complete college has increased, and college completion rates have gone down. Pennington advocated for philanthropy to work toward (1) restructuring the student experience to be more relevant for the modern-day students who may have different needs than students did years ago; (2) making teaching and learning more effective; and (3) using data to target interventions to where they can make the most difference.
At a session on philanthropy and racial equity, we heard from the African American Policy Forum, which produced an illustrative cartoon that uses a track metaphor to demonstrate the Unequality of Race. This session highlighted the importance of context in promoting an understanding of structural racism. The speaker pointed out that, too often, youth as individuals are blamed for their educational outcomes when issues like nutrition, economics, and state and local policy, among other contextual factors play a significant role in academic achievement.
We also heard from Diane Ravitch, who urged those of us who went to see or plan to see Waiting for Superman to check out her review of the film, which points out that the film presents some false and misleading data that can paint an unclear picture about the nature and success of charter schools.
Throughout the various sessions we attended, we heard recurring themes that philanthropy should focus efforts to systems and policy change in addition to more direct-service-oriented efforts to achieve educational equity for all students. We also consistently heard that color-blind efforts toward education reform are no longer sufficient in eradicating the racial achievement gap or in keeping the United States competitive in a global economy.
For those of you who want more information about the conference, click HERE.