The Community Institute for Education

In considering this blog post on The Community Institute for Education, it’s become apparent to me that I need to change my usual format to do this organization justice.   Their program is structured in such a way that they learn about the “why” before they tackle the “what”. So it makes sense that I do something similar here as well. We’ll learn about why the Institute is important and then we’ll discuss what they do.

The Community Institute for Education is an arm of a D.C based, non-partisan think-tank called The Center for Public Justice (CPJ), which seeks to help citizens consider what it means to pursue “liberty and justice for all” through the lens of a Christian worldview. The Institute is based solely here in Pittsburgh under the leadership of its Director, Charity Haubrich. Ms. Haubrich was kind enough to meet with me recently to help me get a better understanding of why the Institute exists.

The Institute exists to help people think through some pretty big questions. What is the role of a citizen in the policy-shaping process? What does each layer of government (federal, sate, local) do with regards to the education of our children? What should they do? Does a one-size-fits-all approach actually meet the needs of all our children? Do children, regardless of zip code, have an equal opportunity when it comes to the quality of their education? If not, how should that be ameliorated? Who is ultimately responsible for the education of a child? What is an equitable way to fund education when our government permits many forms (public, parochial, charter, home, etc.), but picks and chooses where its financial support goes?

Needless to say, these are tough issues to consider. Ms. Haubrich doesn’t pretend that The Community Institute for Education has all the answers to these question, or to to others that will naturally arise. But what they have done is created a forum where people from all different backgrounds can come together to better understand the concerns that we face with regards to educating our youngest citizens. The Institute offers a framework to prompt discussion of tangible ideas that can be implemented in education. Ultimately, The Community Institute for Education hopes to empower parents and community members in a way that will allow them to participate in the education process for the sake of their children and for the children who don’t have anyone advocating on their behalf.

Participants come together for three weekends over the span of two months to learn from each other, government officials, school leaders, and education advocates through exercises, case studies, and round table discussions. In the process, each participant looks to name a specific issue that concerns them, and works to develop the tools necessary to address the concern in their community with the assistance of appropriate community leaders.  This is a two step process in which participants first learn and then do.

I was particularly struck by a line from the website that a participant in last Spring’s cohort at the Institute shared. She described the goal of the Institute as “coming to care about a raw deal that isn’t your deal.” That really sums up what’s going on here. Perhaps you don’t have children in the Pittsburgh Public School system. But the fact remains that there are some kids in this system that for any number of reasons, are receiving a sub-par education. If that matters to you (and it should for any number of reasons), this program can help you think through what could and should be done, as well as teach you how you can be the one to do some of that work. If you’re interested, you can learn a lot more through the organization’s website. The next cohort will begin March of 2017 but sign-ups are starting soon. Feel free to reach out to Ms. Haubrich directly at Charity.Haubric@CPJustice.org to ask about enrolling or for answers if you have specific questions about the program.