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A Clarion Call for Education Renewal

A Clarion Call for Education Renewal

Karen Pittman

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I love Citizen Schools.  I have from the first time I heard Eric Schwarz talk about the idea almost two decades ago. Eric, the founder of Citizen Schools, has a new book coming out that shows us why we should all pay more attention:  The Opportunity Equation: How Citizen Teachers Are Combating the Achievement Gap in America's Schools.

I’ve read excerpts. I’ve placed my order.  And I plan to read the book cover to cover, slowly with marker in hand, taking the time to let the lessons sink in.

Here are five reasons I can’t wait for more:

  1. The title is perfect. The phrase “achievement gap” blames kids and families for educational shortcomings.  “Opportunity gap” acknowledges the problem. “Opportunity equation” declares the problem solvable if we identify all of the critical elements and weight them correctly.
  2. The tone is genuine. I grew up poor and black. Eric grew up wealthy and white.  We’ve both ached with the inequities we saw. We both deconstructed our own growing-up experiences in order to construct new education paradigms. But I never had to question or defend my motives. Eric lays his out clearly so we can see how they fueled his passion. The transparency works.
  3. The scaffolding is artful.  Sometimes stories are just stories. Eric’s stories have lessons that jump out without being labeled and line up for later inspection as you read forward and then loop back.
  4. The analysis is spot-on. Eric focuses on equalizing learning opportunities, not bashing schools. So when he ponders the slow pace of education reform (that is, better teachers, better tests, better curricula) and asks, “What if the holy grail of educational advancement lies outside this box?”, you know that the “box” is not the building or the system. It’s the mindset that keeps us adjusting the weights of variables rather than stopping to wonder if they are the right variables – or, even more profoundly, if we’ve named the right outcomes.
  5. The conclusion is bold. Professor and commentator Robert Reich talks about the “power of public ideas.” Public education is one of if not the most powerful public idea this country has created.  But the idea is fragmented, “driven in part by the lack of connection and therefore lack of empathy between upper- and lower-income parents, between business leaders and teachers, and between all of us as American citizens.” Eric’s clarion call is not for reform but for renewal: “the change to rebuild our national sense of shared public purpose.” 

Eric’s book tour launches next week. Hit the road and fill the airwaves, Eric. We need your wisdom.

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