STANFORD GRADUATE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS —Education reformer Jonathan Schnur is on a mission to boost America’s urban public schools, a complex goal he believes can be achieved only by having an army of amply prepared and committed educators leading the way.
Schnur is chief executive officer and cofounder of the nationally acclaimed New Leaders for New Schools nonprofit group, which, during the past decade, has trained hundreds of educational leaders for key roles in urban schools. He called ensuring a quality education for all students both “the number one civil rights issue of our time and the number one economic competitive issue of our time” during his keynote speech to the Business of Education Symposium at Stanford University on May 11.
Schnur told the audience — attentive MBAs from the Stanford Graduate School of Business as well as students from the Stanford School of Education — that they hold the key to a solution for the persistent education achievement gap between poor and privileged students. “I so deeply believe that those of you in this room, and colleagues of yours around the country, are going to be at the center of whether we seize or squander this historic opportunity we’ve got for our kids,” he said.
Today’s education gap in the United States is growing with the fastest-growing jobs requiring a high school education, if not advanced degrees. While in the 1960s and 1970s the United States was ranked number one in the world in terms of the percentage of students completing high school and college. “Today we’ve slipped to the middle, and we are dropping,” Schnur explained.
This decline hasn’t happened because school completion rates in the United States have worsened. “The issue is that the rest of the world is moving ahead in order to prepare themselves and their kids for this century and this economy,” he said. “The gap is growing dangerously large because we are standing still.”
As examples of the most glaring deficiencies of U.S. public education, he cited research showing that only 1 in every 10 kindergarten children from low-income families graduate from college; that the majority of low-income 4th graders read below a basic level; and that more than half of urban students — many of them people of color — end up dropping out of high school.
That’s where initiatives such as New Leaders for New Schools can make a difference.
Already, more than 640 New Leaders trained by the New York-based group are serving 220,000 children. By widely employing his group’s methods emphasizing preparation, commitment, and high expectations at many more schools nationwide, Schnur said, “It would make us a much fairer society.”
From September 2008 to June 2009, Schnur took a leave from New Leaders for New Schools to serve as an advisor to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, as a member of the Presidential Transition Team and a senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
— Michele Chandler
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