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Congressional Black Caucus Expresses Views on Education

Since the establishment of the No Child Left Behind Act, educational reform has been a prominent topic discussed at political conventions. The annual Congressional Black Caucus held an Education Braintrust Expo in Washington D.C. It was sponsored by the Education Technology Think Tank (ET3). The expo covered topics such as modernizing schools and improving school nutrition and broadband wireless service.

Modernizing schools

The first panelist, Tom Kube, the Executive Director and CEO of the Council of Educational Facilities Planners International, discussed his company's proposition for endorsing improvement of American schools. Kube promoted input from communities, encouraging legislative action and financial contributions as ways to improve schools. He cited issues such as overcrowding and over-use of school buildings throughout the country that are also in need of repair.

Ideas for school renovation and new designs were presented by Fanning/Howing Associates, Inc. The company uses about $1 billion a year for school renovation designs around the country. "I have a passion for students who need to learn in these facilities," said chairman Ron Fanning. "[Adequate facilities are] like a tool. If students have a good tool, they'll do the best they can."

The Fanning/Howley Association has designed several new school buildings around urban communities in Ohio, which is where the company is based, and Fanning plans to begin school renovation in New York and other states in the Midwest in the future. Despite the extensive work of Fanning/Howing Associates, Inc., Fanning mentioned the company's need for more financial support. "We find that funding is what's holding us back," claimed Fanning. "School facilities do make a difference."

Construction of school buildings

Implementing construction of schools was also a key focus of the forum, as was equipping all schools with adequate technology, such as multi-media media centers, libraries in classrooms, smart boards and cable televisions. "What can enhance the quality of our lives better than to make students more educated?" asked Philadelphia Schools CEO Paul Vallas. "Investing in schools should be a part of Homeland Security." Vallas suggested that educational leaders aim to encourage large corporations to fund school construction in exchange for tax breaks.

Vallas has worked on schools throughout Philadelphia and Chicago, where he and his company were responsible for the renovation of 500 schools and construction of 76 brand new school buildings.

Better school environments

Representatives of the Healthy Schools Network were also in attendance at the forum to discuss the need for improvement the surroundings of American schools. A board member from the network, Vernice Miller-Travis described the conditions of some inner city schools as a "travesty" and a "massive public health crisis," citing several studies that included a recent one done by Columbia University which reported that New York schools had the highest child death rate from asthma in the country.

Miller-Travis mentioned that schools need not be built near "hazardous" sites such as bus depots, where students are subject to a great deal of pollution. A United States Government Accounting Office Report reported that 14 million students attend schools that negatively affect their health, according to Miller-Travis. "I suggest that Congress put a little of the effort into improving our schools as they put into themselves during their anthrax scare [in 2001]," argued the former Environmental Justice worker.

Miller-Travis highlighted that the Bush administration had not requested funding to help improve school conditions, which is a part of his NCLB Act, and that there needs to be more research and funding to find out the causes of health issues in U.S. schools. She recommended that $254 billion be allotted to fix school buildings throughout the country and encouraged the establishment of more green schools.
Nutrition conscious

Although establishing clean, sanitary cooking conditions in U.S. schools would be a positive advancement in having better school conditions, according to Miller-Travis, a panelist was present who specializes in nutrition's influence on children's learning. Jane Hersey, director of the Feingold Association, a non-profit organization devoted to publicizing the positive effects of proper diet on health and behavior, has worked on studies concerning nutrition and learning.

Hersey has been involved in the nutritional field for over thirty years and she said that if children and teens change their diet, they could learn better. She blamed foods with harmful chemicals to have adverse effects on how students learn.

Broadband wireless services

There was also a group of panelist that promoted the use of broadband and wireless internet as a resource tool for the future. Tony Wilhelm, Director of the Technology Opportunity Program for the US Department of Congress, stated, "[broadband] is a fundamental tool that all communities need to stay ahead of the game." He also expressed his goal to close the gap in how technologies are used and available in underserved communities. Adam Schwartz, Vice President of External Affairs for the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative, also suggested his ideas on how telecommunications should be provided to rural areas. He said, "We all benefit when we have the latest technologies."

Tom Rudin, Vice President of The College Board also launched a new wireless, web instructional program called Springboard that is for students in sixth through twelfth grades. The program was designed to put students on the path for college success. It includes helpful guides for the Advanced Placement (AP) Tests, the PSAT, and the SAT. Springboard also provides the latest knowledge for teachers to use in their own classrooms. This program also hopes to bridge the gap between high school and college.

The chairman of this program, Congressman Major R. Owens, has been a strong advocate of education reform ever since he was elected to the U.S House of Representatives in 1982, according to handouts presented at the forum. He is a member of the Education and Workforce Committee, which works to promote federal involvement in areas such as education, job training and equal employment opportunities. This is the eighth year that the ET3 has joined the Education Braintrust Expo. According to ET3 President Ronnie B. Lowenstein, "ET3 core mission is to harness technology to empower traditionally underserved communities."

— Kelly Ferguson and Kristina Hamilton
Silver Chips Online


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