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2011–12 Notre Dame Forum Will Explore K–12 Education

Author: Shannon Chapla and Julie Hail Flory

Father Jenkins

More than 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States each year, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education. Other studies show 68 percent of American eighth-graders cannot read at grade level and that our top math students rank 25th out of 30 countries when compared to their peers around the world.

With troubling facts like these as clear indications that educating our children is one of the most pressing issues facing our nation today, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame, has announced that the 2011–12 Notre Dame Forum will examine topics related to K–12 education.

Noting that the topic “is both absolutely critical to the future of American civil society and directly implicated by our mission here at Notre Dame,” Father Jenkins reflected upon “A Nation at Risk,” the seminal report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, which led to a series of local, state and federal reforms aimed at improving schools in the United States when it was published in 1983.

“Almost 30 years after the report’s publication, our K–12 educational system continues to lag behind its global peers, particularly with regard to the education of at-risk children,” Father Jenkins said. “At the same time, the last decade has seen some of the most exciting and transformative educational innovations since the launch of the common school movement. It is clear that we have before us a set of unprecedented challenges and opportunities in this field, and our response will have an indelible impact on the future of our society.”

As a Catholic university that is engaged in interdisciplinary research and thought leadership on the important educational issues of our time, Notre Dame is well-positioned to facilitate the exploration of the profound and challenging questions that shape the national debate about K–12 education. As demonstrated by endeavors such as scholarly work at the Institute for Educational Initiatives (IEI)—including teacher and leadership education through the Alliance for Catholic Education and faculty research on student and school achievement, Notre Dame is committed to serving the common good and bringing positive change to the nation’s youth through the betterment of the U.S. school system.

The year-long Forum will feature a series of panel presentations, symposia and workshops spanning the entire academic year, highlighted by a signature event that will take place in early fall. The 2011–12 Forum Committee is chaired by Rev. Timothy Scully, C.S.C., professor of political science and director of the IEI; and Nicole Stelle Garnett, professor of law.

To showcase the upcoming Forum topic, a panel discussion titled “The System: Opportunity, Crisis, and Obligation in K–12 Education” will be held Wednesday, April 13, in the Leighton Concert Hall of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. Panelists will explore broad issues of educational innovation and the role that higher education in general—and the University of Notre Dame in particular—must play in affecting systemic and sustainable reform in the way we educate at-risk school children.

Scheduled panelists are Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of Washington, D.C. Public Schools and founder of The New Teacher Project; John Dilulio, the Frederick Fox Leadership Professor of Politics, Religion and Civil Society at the University of Pennsylvania and inaugural director of the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives; Sara Martinez Tucker, formerly CEO of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and U.S. Undersecretary of Education and a current member of the Notre Dame Board of Trustees; and Howard Fuller, director of Marquette University’s Institute for the Transformation of Learning and founder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

Leading up to the panel discussion, Notre Dame also will sponsor a series of screenings of the critically acclaimed Davis Guggenheim documentary Waiting for Superman, in which panelist Rhee plays a prominent role. The screenings will take place at various times and locations from March 31 through April 2, and then will be featured at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center on April 7 and 10.

Established by Father Jenkins in 2005, the Notre Dame Forum has brought leading authorities to campus to discuss substantive issues of the day. Past forum topics have included the global marketplace and its impact on the common good, immigration, sustainability, global health, and the role of religious faith in a plural world.

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