A visit to a Philadelphia charter school classroom today "choked up" the Rev. Al Sharpton, who's spending his day touring two city schools with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The three joined together at the suggestion of President Obama, and Philadelphia is the first stop on a multi-city tour of districts around the country.

At Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker Campus in West Philadelphia, the unlikely trio sat in on Nadirah Sulayman's literacy circle, where 11th graders discussed the differences in their school, which had previously been a failing Philadelphia School District school. In 2006, it was converted into a charter school.

State test scores have soared The school has met state standards several years running, and 100 percent of students plan to go to college.

But it was Keira Johnson's message that meant the most to Sharpton. She used to listen to people tell her what she couldn't do as an African American and a resident of a poor neighborhood.

"Nobody thought I could do anything," Johnson said. "Now, I'm proud."

"You should be proud," said Duncan.

Later, Sharpton said that Johnson reminded him of himself as a young boy.

The "Listening and Learning Tour" is designed to draw attention to the need for wholesale reform of American education.

"All of us agree that we have to do something," Sharpton said. "We don't always agree on how to get it done, but we all agree that it must be done."

The trio visited Mastery-Shoemaker, then McDaniel Elementary, a public school in South Philadelphia, where the officials sat in on a fourth grade class' poetry lesson. They held a roundtable with teachers, administrators and community members.

Gingrich said that he felt "a sense of great hope" visiting the schools, especially Mastery. Gingrich, a Republican, wants more charter schools and stronger charter laws in all states.

"When you go to those kind of schools, you realize what is possible for all American children," said Gingrich. "If we have absolute proof it can be done, why aren't we doing it? We are literally risking the lives of these kids."

Arlene Ackerman, city schools chief, said she welcomed the chance to show the dignitaries Philadelphia's scholastic strengths and discuss its weaknesses.

"I'm happy to have partners who believe, as I do, there's not one way to reform public schools," said Ackerman.

Part of Ackerman's five-year strategic plan calls for the district to shut 35 failing schools and re-open them as charters, or schools run by outside groups.