Sharpton, Gingrich, Duncan to talk school reform

The meeting is part of a national tour of cities on education issues

The unlikely trio of the Rev. Al Sharpton, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich will put aside political differences and come together on a national tour of cities showing promise in reforming public schools.

The multi-city tour will highlight President Barack Obama’s efforts to support public education innovation by focusing on schools that are getting creative to improve student achievement. The tour also will point out barriers that stagnate school improvement in some states.

“The huge urgency of this issue encourages us to come together and try to do the right thing for children,” Duncan said. “We want to help unite the country behind education. Frankly, I don’t think educators can do this alone.”

Sharpton kicks off his participation with the tour Friday at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, where he is scheduled to broadcast a live chat at 3:30 p.m. with Duncan and Gingrich on his nationally syndicated radio show during the National Action Network Summer Conference, a meeting of his civil rights group.

Concerned with the inequalities in schools in urban versus suburban areas, Sharpton said that he has been collaborating with Gingrich, whom had he described as his “polar opposite” until they sat with Obama in May to discuss the state of public education.

“He and I agree as the president and Secretary Duncan agree that education is the No. 1 civil rights issue of the 21st century,’’ Gingrich said.

Education is one of the main topics of Sharpton’s Action Network conference, which will continue through Saturday at the Hyatt and is expected to draw 2,000. Free workshops are scheduled with experts discussing charter schools, school choice, bullying, the slow-closing achievement gap between minorities and whites, graduation rates and other issues affecting students.

Local guest speakers scheduled to appear include Martin Luther King III, Bishop Eddie Long and State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell). Sharpton also will discuss his upcoming national tour on school reform.

Gingrich, Duncan and Sharpton will make their first official stop in Philadelphia on Sept. 29 for a visit to pubic schools and a frank discussion encouraging parents, educators, churches and politicians to work together to overhaul failing campuses. The tour also is scheduled to stop in New Orleans and Baltimore in November.

Sharpton said he will give parents some tough love on getting involved in their kids’ education and will accept no excuses.

“I come from a single-parent home on welfare, but my mother never missed a PTA meeting,” Sharpton said. “This has got to be everyone’s hands on deck.”