The Power Of The Personal

For Townsend McNitt education is not just a career but a passion. So while that passion has included work in federal level education policy in Congress, the White House, and the Department of Education, now it involves investing daily in her own neighborhood.

McNitt serves on a local private school board, the board of several charter schools, volunteers at a food program at an elementary school, and helps at an after school homework center.  Not to mention she has three school-aged children whose education she’s actively involved with herself.

Why is McNitt so committed to her local school system? The short answer is this: she sees the power of the personal.

“It’s been really fun to see what’s happening at the local level,” she said. “I always encourage people to really find out what’s happening at your local level because you can get involved, and your voice will matter.”

For example, McNitt has seen firsthand the importance of educational standards, and recognizes that the federal government is one of many institutions necessary in shaping them.

During her time at the Department of Education, McNitt’s days were filled with conversations about educational standards. As the nation became increasingly frustrated with educational achievement gaps between rich and poor in the early 2000s, McNitt and the rest of  her team began the work of implementing No Child Left Behind, which required states to develop standards and assessments in basic skills and hold schools accountable for the progress of all students. Prior to this, the federal government did not ask states to measure the progress of all students which contributed to a persistent and widening achievement gap between minority students and their white peers.  

“Balancing an expanding federal role with a historic state and local responsibility has always been difficult, but it’s possible,” she said. “You can't be everywhere as the federal government, so particularly in education, we saw our responsibility as meeting specific needs where there were areas of real struggle and academic deficiencies.”

With a primary objective of raising standards for every student while closing the achievement gap, McNitt helped to oversee results in different states. She said she witnessed a shrinking of the gap in many states throughout the country during the years after the law passed, with measurable gains  in 4th and 8th grade reading levels and math skills particularly for the lowest performing students and those in high poverty schools.

"Townsend's work as a public servant reflects an understanding that government does have responsibilities in setting educational standards, but also that government is not the only institution with a role to play in doing so,” Charity Haubrich, director of Christians Investing in Education, said.

Communities, businesses and higher education institutions, among others, all have an important role to play in shaping educational standards, Haubrich said. In addition, both McNitt and Haubrich agree that citizens need to be actively involved.

“I think it’s really important as involved citizens to know what’s happening at the state level, because that’s really where the standard setting is happening,” McNitt said. “It’s incumbent upon us all to figure out who's making those decisions and get involved.”

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