Chicago Forward: Education

Last night, I met both Karen Lewis and Ron Huberman. They were two of five panelists at a discussion on education put on by the Chicago Tribune and PNC Bank. Admittedly, I can be easily impressed by power–or the perception of it.  I’m not sure whether Ms. Lewis and Mr. Huberman have real power or give people that perception. I suppose only time (like 10-15 years) will tell. The other panelists were Rev. James Meeks, Harriet Meyer and Sister Mary Paul McCaughey.

The event was the first in a series of four, designed to increase public awareness of and find possible solutions for issues in Chicago, according to the Trib’s editor, Gerould Kern. It was an interesting discussion, but I didn’t really learn anything new, unfortunately. There was a lot of sparring between Ms. Lewis and Mr. Huberman, and Ms. Meyer reported some interesting facts about early childhood education gaps. I’m permanently annoyed with Roman Catholic* education after The Boy’s year at St. Bartholomew. The Rev. Meeks provided comic relief, but no real contribution to the conversation. 

And here’s where the perception of power comes in…. I realized after a 90-minute discussion that the people in charge don’t know the answers either. They have no solutions to the educational mess that is Chicago Public Schools, despite modest gains in the past 20 years (Mr. Huberman called them “substantial,” even after admitting that 48 percent of district elementary schools received a district grade of D or below [based on 2008 test data]). I’m not quite ready to give up on CPS, but come on. I felt like I did after reading Sudir Venkatesh’s Gangleader for a Day: that was an interesting read, but where’s the solution to the problem you’ve spent 300 pages identifying? 

I went to the event with Amy, Wendy and Patricia from the Raise Your Hand coalition. Over 700 people filled the auditorium. It was a Trib Nation event, which Gerould Kern said was the Tribune’s attempt to engage people in their city’s issues and newspaper. Given the branding, I think it’s an attempt to introduce 20somethings to the idea of a newspaper. I don’t think it’s working, given the age and consumer tastes of the audience last night.

That said, they had a lovely reception afterward, with wine and hors d’oeuvres. The reception is where I met Ms. Lewis (and her husband!) and Mr. Huberman, and a bunch of Burley parents. I don’t know if things will be that fancy for every event or if it was for the benefit/pleasure of Gerry Rohr, the president of PNC Bank, and Gary Knell, CEO of Sesame Street Workshop, who were in attendance. But it was not a bad way to spend $10 of an evening. 

The next events are Economy in Recovery on November 17, Health Care on January 18 and Philanthropy/Giving Back on March 15.  

* I anticipate that this will not be a popular opinion. 


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