Panel ponders public school overhaul

The decline of public schools and viability of charter schools was discussed by a panel speaking about a recent documentary on public education.

By Lyndsey McKenna

Experts in education policy argued for the enactment of “radical” changes they said have been proven successful at a panel discussion on the state of public education Tuesday evening at the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.

The discussion, entitled “Beyond Waiting for Superman: How do we overcome inequities in our urban schools?” alluded to the recently released documentary, Waiting for Superman, on the need for change in public school systems. But the film was not the focus of the event.

“We’re not going to talk about the film. There are more important issues to discuss in education than were covered in it,” said Marvin Hoffman, the associate director of the Urban Teacher Education Program and moderator of the discussion.

The discussion focused on the obstacles teachers and school administrators face in the urban education environment, and what sorts of changes can be implemented on a larger scale to benefit students.

The speakers noted that some possible changes—such as lengthening the school day or the duration of the academic year—may seem radical, but they have been proven to work.

Panelist Tim King, founder and CEO of the South Side’s Urban Prep Academies, said, “We clearly know what the problems are and we have the solutions.”

The panel cited examples of schools from across the nation whose reforms have succeeded, including Chicago charter schools. These schools have garnered national media attention from major news outlets and were a focus of the documentary, something the panelists saw as a positive step.

“Education is finally getting publicity and public outrage on a broad scale. It’s becoming a hot topic and that gives me hope,” said panelist Elliot Ransom, the performance manager at the Chicago Public Schools’ Office of New Schools.

After the discussion, the panel fielded questions from Hoffman and the crowd, which touched on the merits of tenure and the issue of charter schools, among others. The panel also included Dr. Timothy Knowles, the director of the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute, and Chicago charter school teachers Joanna McConnell and Paras D. Bayani.

Knowles asked the crowd to guess percentages and numbers of what he revealed to be alarming statistics, like the low college graduation rates of African-Americans and Latinos in Chicago.

Despite the serious subject matter, the panel was lively, sometimes even humorous. When asked what the new mayor and head of Chicago Public Schools should change when they take over, King said, “Do everything Tim Knowles says to do.”

The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, Teach for America, and the Urban Teacher Education Program hosted the lecture.