Some still don’t quite know what to make of the Education Equality Project, or EEP. When it was launched in 2008, we assumed it was another “reformer” group preparing to ride the Obama wave. Then we had the strange bedfellows experiment of Rev. Al Sharpton and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich the “faces” of EEP, showing EdSec Arne Duncan some of the major issues facing urban education. Along the way, we’ve had the logical “comparison” to the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education and then the partnerships with Education Trust, Democrats for Education Reform, and Center for American Progress on critiques of Race to the Top and other federal ideas. And Eduflack even remembers a time last year when critics were saying EEP was closing shop, having run out of funding and “accomplished” its goal but getting like-minded reformers in the Duncan regime.
Today, though, we see that the work has just begun. This morning, EEP announced three new co-chairpersons for the organization. The Reverend Al era is over. As of today, EEP is now co-led by NYCDOE Chancellor Joel Klein (a founder of EEP), UNCF President and CEO Michael L. Lomax, and Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza. (And, of course, the workhorse Ellen Winn remains as director of the organization.)
Why is this important? For two reasons. First, during the Al and Newt show, many discounted EEP for being all hat and no cattle. They could do a great media event, but the group lacked the true substance necessary to truly move policy. In other words, Al and Newt could grab you a headline or put a good segment on Meet the Press, but they weren’t the sort to roll up their sleeves and get changes to ESEA agreed to by legislators. While it may have been an unfair criticism (particularly since Sharpton and GIngrich weren’t actually running the group, but were really just spokespersons), it was a criticism that stuck. The three new co-chairpersons have both the sizzle and the steak necessary to capture attention and actually move the ball forward.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the new leadership at the board reminds us of the mission of the group and its origins. We can forget what EEP stands for and we can discount what “education equality” actually means. But the gravitas of the trio of co-chairpersons moves front and center the EEP mission of eliminating the racial and ethnic achievement gap in public education. Lomax and Murguia are national leaders for empowering the black and Hispanic communities, respectively, on education issues. UNCF and La Raza are at the top of the game when it comes to such issues. And whether folks like it or not, Klein’s tenure in NYC has been committed to closing the achievement gap and providing greater learning opportunities to historically underserved populations in the Big Apple. So if these three are going to throw their intellectual heft and personal commitment behind the issue, we may see some real movement.
That movement, though, is going to be determined by the specific priorities EEP moves forward. Some groups, particularly those who engage in educational civil rights and achievement gap concerns, often throw everything but the kitchen sink into a debate, fighting a noble fight but triggering few actual changes because they are asking for the sun and the moon. If EEP can avoid that trap, and focus on the two or three specific issues that are most important to closing the achievement gap in our urban centers and increasing opportunities for students for historically disadvantaged students, have their membership hammer on those two or three without rest, and engage their advocates and third-party partners to support those issues as well, we may actually be able to move one or two of those topics to the front of the debate. Without that focus, we may just be looking at another well-meaning group in a collection of well-meaning groups.
Klein, Lomax, and Murguia are definitely the folks who can lead such a focused advocacy campaign. And Winn and company have proven particularly adept at using shoe-leather relationships, new media and social networking to spread the EEP message and effectively engagement of the stakeholders that matter the most. The time is now to see if there is some real cattle behind that EEP hat.