UEI/Ebony Education Roundtable Event: Public Schools, Private Innovations

September 14, 2010

Leading experts on education, including representatives of the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute, joined other national leaders in discussing the challenges of urban education on August 11 during the Ebony Education Roundtable.

More than 400 people sat in Assembly Hall to listen, frequently applauding the panelists as they discussed improving education.

Cosponsored by Ebony Magazine and the University, the roundtable came as the nation discusses ways of improving education for children from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, such as “Race to the Top,” the federal initiative intended to boost college readiness.

In his introduction, President Robert J. Zimmer underscored the University’s commitment to school improvement, praising the students of the University of Chicago Charter School for their success. “The education of our youth is one of the most important things we do as a society,” said Zimmer.

The panelists presented statistics that identify the challenges facing students of urban public schools and how UEI is working to address them. Elaine Allensworth, Director of Research for the Consortium on Chicago School Research, pointed out that only 6 percent of students in Chicago actually attain a four-year degree, while 85 percent cite the aspiration to do so. Allensworth said that the work of UEI through its charter school campuses, research, and teacher training programs can provide a model for improvement for urban schools across the country.

Julianne Malveaux, President of Bennett College, cited time in class is an issue. She added that Chicago Public Schools students have 25 percent less class time than their counterparts in other cities, like Austin.

“Teachers need more time with them, time to find a solution,” agreed Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education.

Student interest also is a factor the experts noted. “Somehow, schools have turned young people off of learning,” said Shayne Evans, Director of the University of Chicago Charter School, Woodlawn secondary campus.

The establishment of charter schools has been controversial; many believe that charter schools exacerbate existing problems in the educational system. Mary Richardson-Lowry, President of the Chicago Board of Education, said, however, “Charter schools are part of the solution.” Richardson-Lowry also noted other solutions such as technology in the classroom, improving parent-teacher relations, and better teachers.

“If we encourage technology, we speak the language of our children,” said Evans. “Maybe then they will speak back to us.”

Ali said a major component of ‘Race to the Top’ is pinpointing what makes a good teacher and bringing more of them into the system. The panelists agreed that one thing all good teachers know is how to formulate constructive relationships with parents. “Schools that work best are where teachers and parents are partners,” said Allensworth.

Tim King, President and CEO of the Urban Prep Academies, said including parents creates “a positive school culture.”

Evans said the Woodlawn charter school campus works hard to facilitate those partnerships. “What our schools need is to invite people in,” he said. “We should be calling to celebrate, not just to complain.”

A positive culture develops when adults – teachers, school leaders and parents – remember to “remind our young people that they are fantastic,” said Evans. When educators set high expectations for young people, they rise to those expectations, he added.

-Caroline O'Donovan

The roundtable discussion was moderated by Tamron Hall of MSNBC. The panel included the following participants:

  • Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education
  • Shayne Evans, Director, University of Chicago Charter School’s Woodlawn Secondary Campus
  • Elaine Allensworth, Research Director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research
  • Tim King, President and CEO of the Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men
  • Julianne Malveaux, President of Bennett College
  • Mary Richardson-Lowry, President of the Chicago Board of Education

MEDIA: To interview UEI experts, please contact Katelyn Silva at 773-834-8684 or