Getting it right is not impossible: The need for leadership at all levels | The Chalkboard Project

Getting it right is not impossible: The need for leadership at all levels

Thursday, December 3, 2015 Kris Anderson

As someone who has worked with and admired Chalkboard Project for a long while, I was honored to participate in this year’s annual meeting. Chalkboard’s gatherings are always fascinating, with educators, funders, policymakers, union leaders, and administrators coming together to discuss education transformation in real terms. This year’s event, held on November 18, was no exception.

Keynote Peter Cunningham, executive director of Education Post and former assistant secretary for communications and outreach for the U.S. Department of Education, kicked off the event with a talk that ranged from electoral politics to funding equity to professional development. He noted that the state of education in America is much stronger than it has been, but of course still needs much improvement. Getting it right is not impossible: there are some states, like Massachusetts, that have leveled the playing field while elevating student achievement across the board. Many other states are working hard to improve, including Oregon, which has benefited from particularly innovative reforms.

Cunningham spoke of the need for leadership at all levels: teachers, administrators, unions, and parents, whom he would like to become more invested in their children’s educations. He celebrated principals in particular as important to student achievement, and paraphrased U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s declaration that there may be bad schools with good principals, but no great schools with bad principals.

Our schools are more segregated today than they were decades ago: “public schools are increasingly blacker, browner, and poorer than in the past.” Oregon, Cunningham said, has its own unique set of challenges. But he also noted that we have a lot on our side: a collectivist attitude tempered with rugged individualism; strong teachers’ unions, which make for strong partnerships; and “a real sense of mutual respect and empowerment.”

He celebrated Oregon’s successful and expanding mentorship program, which he sees as key to creating a stronger teacher corps, and credited Chalkboard Project as being a tremendous force for good in Oregon and a leader on this and many other initiatives. Oregon is lucky to have Chalkboard Project, Cunningham said: most states do not have a philanthropic community that is deeply engaged in education reform, especially at a legislative level. In the end, Cunningham said, the key challenge is for Oregon to take all of the successful initiatives that Chalkboard and others have introduced and to “go big,” rolling out these programs so that they support all of Oregon’s students, teachers, and education leaders...which includes funding them at a level that reflects their importance and impact. He thinks Chalkboard “is too humble” about its successes. Even if it’s modest with its own story, Chalkboard’s many friends in the room helped flesh out a portrait of an organization whose innovations are wide reaching and transformative.

See a photo album of the event online.

Guest blog author Kris Anderson is a nonprofit consultant, educator, and the author of State of Giving as well as the recently published CLASS Project white paper.

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