Philadelphia’s music mogul and philanthropist Kenny Gamble and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney don’t seem on the surface to have a whole lot in common, but during a surprising meeting yesterday in West Philadelphia, they had the same message: achievement gaps in American schools is a major education issue.
While a small band of protesters in this strongly liberal city rallied outside — though the group included two high-profile participants, Mayor Michael Nutter and District Attorney Seth Williams — Gamble and other Philadelphia educators hosted Romney to discuss school reform in a little publicized forum. It took place at Blufield Charter School, which was founded two years ago by Gamble’s Universal Companies.
Universal CEO Rahim Islam made clear afterward that Gamble doesn’t endorse Romney or any other politician publicly.
“He has just as many problems with every politician when it comes to who can deliver for the African-American community,” Islam said. “When we look at disparity [in quality education options] against the African American community, something has to be done rather quickly.”
Those in attendance also included David Fattah, Steven Morris, David Hardy, Nicholas Torres and Patricia Coulter.
Romney, according to Islam, didn’t go into much detail about his plans for education reform, but did outline three broad solutions to improving urban education: good teachers, parent participation and strong leadership.
“How could you disagree with that?” Islam said.
Romney’s broad education reform
Romney’s visit, the first of his campaign to an impoverished urban area, was met with protests and criticism.
“I don’t know why this guy’s here,” Nutter said outside the charter school. “[He] has suddenly somehow found West Philadelphia, somehow now wants to talk about education.”
Islam said the event should not be taken as strictly political or staged to bring Romney’s campaign closer to the inner city.
“We clearly have a difference of opinion that talking to people means you’re embracing someone,” Islam said.
“We want to know what you can do, what you’re thinking about,” he said of hearing Romney’s proposals for reform.