By Emily Pickren
Education lifts people up and strengthens cities. There are very few challenges that cannot be solved by a focus on education. - Michael Nutter, mayor, Philadelphia, Pa.
At NLC’s recent Congressional City Conference, NLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn. and Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia participated in the conference’s Opening General Session and shared their perspectives on how quality education systems make cities better places to live. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (pictured left) echoed this message in his subsequent remarks to conference delegates, emphasizing the value of education in improving people’s lives and strengthening local economies.
Secretary Duncan was on hand to announce the signing of a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with NLC that outlines a plan to strengthen partnerships among federal and local governments, schools, families and other organizations. The MOU seeks to increase the visibility and understanding of the role that mayors can play in leading educational change in their communities. It is also intended to facilitate opportunities for cities to learn from each other about ways to advance early childhood learning, citywide afterschool programs and strategies to improve postsecondary success.
As part of the MOU, the Department of Education and NLC will participate in community conversations hosted by mayors in cities across the country. Similar to the MOU, the conversations will focus primarily on early childhood education, afterschool learning and postsecondary success. They will also cover ways that cities are working to close the achievement gap and increase student outcomes, including non-academic outcomes such as social-emotional skills, which Secretary Duncan stressed were “just as important as academic skills.”
After Secretary Duncan’s announcement, the Mayors’ Education Reform Task Force convened. Formed in March 2013, the task force is chaired by NLC President Coleman and NLC First Vice President Ralph Becker, Mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Mayor Coleman shared his vision of the task force as a leading voice in the national education conversation, one that emphasizes collaboration and works toward solutions that are scalable and cost-effective. The community conversations will play an important role in realizing this vision.
Members of the task force discussed how mayors could structure their community conversations and stay focused on the issues outlined in the MOU while also covering issues important to their communities. Many of the participating mayors stressed the need to include the issue of funding – specifically the impact that varying funding levels across school districts have on school quality – in their community conversations. Others saw issues of data (more and better data on postsecondary opportunities, for example) and the need for more public private partnerships to support afterschool and summer programs as essential to their conversations.
Part of the task force discussion also focused on themes raised by the Ford Foundation’s More and Better Learning Time (MBLT) initiative. MBLT’s focus is on closing the gaps in opportunity and achievement in education by both improving the quality of learning opportunities and increasing the amount of time during which students are engaged in learning activities, particularly in underserved communities.
A total of 15 community conversations are planned over the course of the year, including one that has already taken place in Salt Lake City, hosted by Mayor Ralph Becker. Additional community conversations will be hosted by mayors in the following cities:
Avondale, Arizona – Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers
Berkeley, California – Mayor Tom Bates
Dayton, Ohio – Mayor Nan Whaley
Gary, Indiana – Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson
Hattiesburg, Mississippi – Mayor Johnny DuPree
Kansas City, Missouri – Mayor Sly James
Louisville, Kentucky – Mayor Greg Fischer
Madison, Wisconsin – Mayor Paul Soglin
Memphis, Tennessee – Mayor A C Wharton
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania- Mayor Michael Nutter
Phoenix, Arizona – Mayor Greg Stanton
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – Mayor William Peduto
Saint Paul, Minnesota – Mayor Chris Coleman
Savannah, Georgia – Mayor Edna Branch Jackson