First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative, Reach Higher, has invited two School of Education faculty members — Ben Kirshner, director of CU Engage, and Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) — to participate in a national education conference at the White House on March 17.
The conference, “Beating the Odds: Successful Strategies from Schools & Youth Agencies that Build Ladders of Opportunity,” is hosted by the First Lady and will feature keynote speakers addressing education policy, research and reform. First Lady Obama will give the opening welcome.
Welner will be speaking about the NEPC’s “Schools of Opportunity” project, which arose out of his book Closing the Opportunity Gap. The project identifies and recognizes excellent public high schools that actively strive to address unequal opportunities for their students. Kirshner is attending the event as a result of his research about youth activism and democracy, following the release of his book Youth Activism in an Era of Education Inequality, which recently won the Social Policy Award from the Society for Research on Adolescents.
“I believe that education is the single-most important civil rights issue that we face today,” states Obama. “Because in the end, if we really want to solve issues like mass incarceration, poverty, racial profiling, voting rights, and the kinds of challenges that shocked so many of us over the past year, then we simply cannot afford to lose out on the potential of even one young person. We cannot allow even one more young person to fall through the cracks.”
The Reach Higher initiative aims to inspire students to complete their education past high school — whether through professional training, community college or a four-year university. Welner offers praise for the First Lady’s initiative but offers a cautionary note: “School-improvement efforts cannot replace broader efforts to address the societal inequalities that are the main drivers of the nation’s opportunity gaps.”
Welner, Kirshner and others attending the conference will identify core principles used by schools and youth organizations that have built ladders of opportunity for young people. Welner and Kirshner will contribute their research, which addresses inequities in education.