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Reformers Reflect on Public Education

A panel of education reformers discussed their experiences of “working from the outside in” to improve the quality of education in public schools at the Askwith Forum on Wednesday evening.

The panelists, who all hailed from independent organizations that work to assist disadvantaged public schools, emphasized the potential for outside groups to address some of the challenges of the existing education system.

“Our true north is that despite changes in [public school administrative] leadership, we want to make sure that kids have support,” said Jeff Jablow, the Vice President of Strategy and Operations for City Year, a national non-profit that partners with schools in disadvantaged districts to individually mentor at-risk students.

Dan Challener, the President of the Public Education Foundation in Tennessee, said that his organization takes a similar approach by working to effect positive change in schools from the outside.

“Schools are hard to change on the inside,” he said. “I believe we can affect more change from the outside than from the inside.”

The other two members of the panel–Tiffany C. Gueye and Wendy Puriefoy, from Building Educated Leaders for Life and the Barr Foundation, respectively–said that their organizations focus on “improving [the] quality of education in poor districts” that do not have enough resources to support all of their students.

“We help raise private dollars,” Gueye said, citing a recent program in which  BELL raised $1.5 million to supplement a local school fundraising drive that raised $1.1. million.

Even though the panelists identified a variety of problems faced by the public school system, they agreed that public schools are still an integral part of the education system and will remain viable in coming years.

“We need confidence in more public schools,” said Challener, who added that the media should “focus more on public schools, not just charter schools,” in response to a question about the charter-oriented documentary Waiting for Superman.

Jablow also pointed out that even troubled public schools can see significant improvement when paired appropriately with private organizations.

“True success comes from that partnership.”

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