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Light and Healey Launch Education Leadership Program


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Every day, up-and-coming young faculty members at America's leading universities trudge into their offices, planning to work within their particular field of study. They are entrusted to educate the next generation of American teachers, yet they are not encouraged to look across academic disciplines or to engage with other actors shaping the future of the American education system.

Richard Light and Thomas Healey are looking to change all of that.

In close collaboration with CBG Senior Fellow and Lecturer Healey, Light, the Walter H. Gale Professor of Education at Harvard, has spent more than a year developing a new program at CBG. The Young Faculty Leaders Forum - which had what many participants described as a "grand slam home run" first session several weeks ago - engages 34 rising young faculty "superstars" to strengthen American education in innovative ways. The Forum encapsulates the principal, driving mission of CBG: to harness the strengths of business, government, and academia for the betterment of society.

The background of the Young Faculty Leaders Forum comes from observations over the 30 years that Light has served on the faculty both at the Kennedy School and Harvard's Graduate School of Education. In his years of interaction with fellow faculty members, students, and education leaders in all sectors, Light has increasingly observed that cross-sector collaboration can yield impressive results and offer promising solutions - perhaps even drastic reforms - to one of our most sacred institutions: the education system. When Light shared this observation with Thomas Healey, the two quickly formed a close connection. And after more than 30 planning sessions they outlined a program, raised funding from venture philanthropists, and began their Executive Sessions this fall.

To that end, Forum began the job of bringing together 34 of the nations' most outstanding young faculty members, from 16 top universities, in late September for the first of a series of symposia that will continue over at least three years. The goal, which took clear shape at the group's first session, stresses a strong interaction between the faculty participants and leaders on education reform and policy from government, business, Harvard and beyond.

Light commented after the first session, "young faculty rarely are exposed to ideas, or leaders, from business and government. These ideas are seldom, if ever, part of most young educators' training in graduate school. This intensive exposure should lead to new ideas, and for an opportunity that encourages each young faculty star to broaden his or her work."

The inaugural session produced an enthusiastic response from Harvard President Lawrence Summers, who welcomed the young faculty and kicked off the program. In his remarks, he said he views this project as one of the most exciting initiatives that Harvard can undertake. Instead of his promised "few minutes," Summers stayed for more than an hour, engaging in vigorous, no-holds-barred, give and take around the table. As one participant from Stanford commented later, "I was blown away by the number of specific ideas that Larry has about how both business and government can and should help, and ultimately reform, American public education. He gave me six new research projects to think about, and to share with my best students who will be leaders in the future. I think I am ready to get started working on the first one."

Richard LightLight anticipates that future sessions will open channels for new debate on innovations in education: How can private sector funding of scholarships and even failing schools be utilized effectively? How will the increasingly visible role of profit-making corporations develop in place of, or in tandem with, public schools? How will government demands for accountability take shape and what will the consequences be? How will the new federal legislation called "No Child Left Behind," led jointly by President George Bush and Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, affect the quality of public education? How can institutions of higher learning, and especially America's great universities, best train the nation's next generation of leaders in contemporary issues related to education?

Light and Healey have received invaluable guidance and leadership in developing this project from a recent member of the Kennedy School community in particular. Lamar Alexander, the Goodman Family Visiting Professor at KSG and the former U.S. Secretary of Education (who is currently running to serve as U.S. Senator from Tennessee), has been instrumental in making the program reach fruition and will continue to play valuable roles as the program gains speed and traction. "One of the greatest pleasures in this entire planning process has been working with Tom and Lamar," said Light. "Each brings a sophisticated, subtle, and deep understanding of the intersection between business, government, and education." He further added, "Tom and I seem to play off one another in a wonderful and natural way, and our colleagueship is something I treasure. It was invaluable in shaping and co-chairing our first session of young faculty scholars."

The participants heard from three guest presenters: IBM Professor Roger Porter illuminated his efforts to foster bipartisan dialogue in the long process of education reform in America; CBG Fellow Steven Wilson drew upon his rich background of successfully starting, building, and then selling two businesses to describe the great challenges he faced translating those business principles into running charter schools; and Karen Arenson, a senior reporter and Education Editor of The New York Times, discussed with participants the balance between sustaining and engaging readers and overwhelming education stories with too much (though sometimes essential) evidence and data.

At the conclusion of the first session, each participant was asked to fill out a detailed evaluation form, sharing perceptions of what worked best and any concrete suggestions for future sessions. The unanimous consensus was that the first session was a grand success, and the main suggestion from participants was more time in future sessions to interact with the senior leaders from business and government. Light and Healey plan to build precisely such opportunities into future sessions - the next one is scheduled to convene here at CBG from April 4-5, 2003.

-Kate Dodson

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