Monday, September 22, 2008

Invitation to support Obama and education reform this Thursday

Dear fellow school reformers,


The election is only 43 days away.  Its outcome will have a profound impact on our country and the world – and also the issue we all care so much about, improving our K-12 educational system. 


(If you are for sure voting for the McCain/Palin ticket, please read no further.  My views are highly partisan and I have no desire to antagonize you or engage in a debate -- as much as I enjoy a spirited one, I just don’t have time right now.)


As you may be aware, I’ve been working hard to support Obama and, via Democrats for Education Reform, to encourage him to boldly embrace a genuine school reform agenda.  There are real signs that he is, in fact, doing so.  His recent speech on this issue was a big step forward (see my comments at: and I’m delighted to report that Obama has tapped my friend Jon Schnur, one of the co-founders of New Leaders for New Schools, to be Co-Chair of Obama’s Education Policy Committee.  It would be hard to overstate the importance of this appointment.


For those of you supporting Obama, the time to step up is RIGHT NOW – both to build on the education reform momentum in his campaign and also because, more broadly, voting begins this week in some states and the campaign has to make decisions in the near future about which states to contest.


Let me be blunt: the single most important thing people like us can do to help Obama is give money – even $100 is important.  To rebut the smears and lies the McCain campaign is spreading about him (see and win this election, Obama needs to get his positive, hopeful message out again and again in key swing states, organize an effective get-out-the-vote effort on election day, etc.  All of this requires a lot of money – and the sooner, the better.


Susan and I feel so strongly about this election – much more than we did as recently as a few weeks ago (see below) – that we are maxing out to the Obama campaign ($2,300 each) and also giving the maximum to the Democratic National Committee ($28,500).  This is a huge amount for us – many times what we have ever given in any other race – but we think this is the time to step up and give until it hurts (and, trust me, $33,100 really hurts).  We don’t want to wake up on November 5th, learn that Obama lost by 2 electoral votes (the race is that close) and curse ourselves for not having done everything we possibly could.


Therefore, I hope you’re join me in giving to the Obama campaign this Thursday (September 25th) in one or both of the following ways:


1)     I am one of the hosts of a fundraiser on Thursday evening that  features Jon Schnur, who will talk about Obama’s commitment to genuine education reform.  Former NBA star Kevin Johnson, who is running for mayor of Sacramento, will also be there.  Details are at the bottom of this page – it’s $1,000 minimum donation.  (There is also a similar event in Washington DC on Friday evening – email me if you want the details.)


2)     Democrats for Education Reform is organizing the first-ever “Education Minute for Obama”.  Please support this by making a donation of any amount on Thursday afternoon, September 25th, at 4:31pm EST (Susan and I will be giving our $33,100 at this time).


The idea here is twofold: first, to concentrate donations in support of a particular issue, reforming our public schools, and, second, to create a catalyst for people to give.  Here are the special web sites:


·        For donations to the Obama campaign:


·        If you max out to the Obama campaign, here’s the link for donations to the Democratic National Committee:


Our goal is for a large number of people to all give at the same time and thereby create some buzz and attention, both inside the campaign and more broadly (you can also give at these sites at any other time if Thursday afternoon isn’t convenient).


In case you’re interested, I've posted my thoughts about why I am so ardently supporting Obama this election and why my views have become even stronger recently at: 


Please let me know if you have any questions or comments, and THANK YOU!


Best regards,




PS—Here are the invitations to the event in NYC on Thursday night and to participate in the “Education Minute for Obama” on Thursday afternoon at 4:31pm EST:



Invites You To Participate

In An

‘Education Minute’ For Obama 

When: Thursday, Sept. 25th

The exact minute: 4:31 p.m. EST

What: Give till it hurts for Democratic Presidential Nominee Barack Obama while sending a message to the campaign that significant change is needed in K-12 education.

How: At 4:31 p.m. on Thursday, make as large an online contribution as you can muster to help Obama and to promote meaningful education reform in one swoop.

1. Go to the DFER fundraising page at the Obama campaign website and give up to $2,300 per person (your spouse can give too):

2. Then go to the DFER fundraising page at the Democratic National Committee webiste and give up to $28,500 per person:

Anyone who contributes $1,000 or more is welcome to join us for a special event on Thursday, Sept. 25th, featuring a briefing from Obama education advisor Jon Schnur and very special guest Kevin Johnson, former NBA star with the Phoenix Suns, Obama supporter, and candidate for Mayor of Sacramento.***  

Special Obama Education Briefing Event: Thursday, Sept. 25th

Location: The home of Brian and Elisa Zied, 188 E. 64th St., Apt. 3501, NYC 

When: 7 to 9 PM

Please RSVP at

*** The Obama education briefing event is for anyone who contributes at least $1,000 to either the presidential race or “Kevin Johnson for Mayor.”



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Friday, September 12, 2008

Obama's bold education speech

Obama gave a speech earlier this week in which he compellingly laid out the crisis in our public schools and, critically, was the most specific and the most bold he's been to date about what he would do about it as President.  He really pushed the reform agenda much further than he has in the past, which is REALLY, REALLY important.  If he becomes President, I suspect we'll look back on this speech as a critical moment, when he decided to embrace the genuine reform agenda.
Sadly, this speech hasn't generated much interest -- I don't know which is more pathetic: that the McCain campaign, rather than engaging in this debate, has instead chosen to spend the week telling lies about lipstick on pigs and Obama wanting to teach sex to kindergartners, or the media basically ignoring this story?
With less than two months left in the campaign, those of us who are passionate about education reform and who want to see Obama elected, now is the time to step up.  With a few other folks, I'm working on some sort of Education Reformers for Obama fundraising effort -- I'll soon send out details soon.
Here are key excerpts from the speech, in which he first outlines the crisis and the need for new thinking:

If we want to build a 21st century infrastructure and repair our crumbling roads and bridges, we can’t afford a future where a third of all 4th graders and a fifth of all 8th graders can’t do basic math, and black and Latino students are even further behind; where elementary school kids are only getting an average 25 minutes of science each day when over 80% of the fastest-growing jobs require some knowledge in math and science.

If we want to see middle class incomes rising like they did in the 1990’s, we can’t afford a future where so many Americans are priced out of college; where only 20 percent of our students are prepared to take college-level English, math, and science; where millions of jobs are going unfilled because Americans don’t have the skills to work them; and where barely one in ten low-income students will ever get their college degree.

That kind of future is economically untenable for America. It is morally unacceptable for our children. And it is not who we are as a nation.

We are a nation that has always renewed our system of education to meet the challenges of a new time. Lincoln created the land grant colleges to ensure the success of the union he was fighting to save. Generations of leaders built mandatory public schools to prepare our children for the changing needs of our nation. And Eisenhower doubled federal investment in education after the Soviets beat us to space.

That is the kind of leadership we must show today.

But that’s not the leadership we’ve been getting from Washington. For decades, they’ve been stuck in the same tired debates over education that have crippled our progress and left schools and parents to fend for themselves. It’s been Democrat versus Republican, vouchers versus the status quo, more money versus more reform. There’s partisanship and there’s bickering, but there’s no understanding that both sides have good ideas that we’ll need to implement if we hope to make the changes our children need. And we’ve fallen further and further behind as a result.

If we’re going to make a real and lasting difference for our future, we have to be willing to move beyond the old arguments of left and right and take meaningful, practical steps to build an education system worthy of our children and our future.

After covering investing more in early childhood education programs, fixing and fully funding NCLB (with a little bashing of tests, but mainly (and correctly) calling for betters tests/evaluation systems), and a nice plug for more Advanced Placement courses for high school students (what we're trying to do with REACH), he highlights a school that, while not officially a charter, sounds exactly like one:
The second thing we need to do is make sure that we’re preparing our kids for the 21st century economy by bringing our school system into the 21st century. Part of what that means is fostering the kinds of schools that will help prepare our kids, which is why I’m calling for the creation of an Innovative Schools Fund. This fund will invest in schools like the Austin Polytechnical Academy, which is located in a part of Chicago that’s been hard hit by the decline in manufacturing over the past few decades. Thanks to partnerships with a number of companies, a curriculum that prepares students for a career in engineering, and a requirement that students graduate with at least two industry certifications, Austin Polytech is bringing hope back to the community. And that’s the kind of model we’ll replicate across the country when I’m President of the United States.
Obama then gives his strongest plug ever for charter schools, including (though it's not in the text of the speech) proposing a doubling of federal support for charters from $200 million annually to $400 million:
Giving our parents real choices about where to send their kids to school also means showing the same kind of leadership at the national level that I did in Illinois when I passed a law to double the number of charter schools in Chicago. That is why as President, I’ll double the funding for responsible charter schools. Now, I know you’ve had a tough time with for-profit charter schools here in Ohio. That is why I’ll work with Governor Strickland to hold for-profit charter schools accountable, and I’ll work with all our nation’s governors to hold all our charter schools accountable. Charter schools that are successful will get the support they need to grow. And charters that aren’t will get shut down.
He also calls for attracting, training and supporting talented new teachers, rewarding the best teachers with performance-based pay and -- this is key new language -- removing lousy teachers:

That’s why last year, I proposed a new Service Scholarship program that will recruit top talent into the profession, and place these new teachers in overcrowded districts and struggling rural towns, or hard-to-staff subjects like special education in schools across the nation. To prepare these new teachers, I’ll create more Teacher Residency Programs that will build on a law I recently passed and train 30,000 high-quality teachers a year, especially in math and science. To support our teachers, we’ll expand mentoring programs that pair experienced, successful teachers with new recruits.

And when our teachers succeed in making a real difference in our children’s lives, we should reward them for it by finding new ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them. We can do this. From Prince George’s County in Maryland to Denver, Colorado, we’re seeing teachers and school boards coming together to design performance pay plans.

So yes, we must give teachers every tool they need to be successful. But we also need to give every child the assurance that they’ll have the teacher they need to be successful. That means setting a firm standard teachers who are doing a poor job will get extra support, but if they still don’t improve, they’ll be replaced. Because as good teachers are the first to tell you, if we’re going to attract the best teachers to the profession, we can’t settle for schools filled with poor teachers.


Remarks of Senator Barack Obamaas prepared for delivery A 21st Century Education Tuesday, September 9, 2008 Dayton, Ohio

Yesterday was a special day around my house. It was back-to-school day for my girls. Sasha started second grade and Malia began 5th. I know Malia was really embarrassed when I walked her to the classroom, but I did it anyway because she’s still Daddy’s girl. And seeing them back at school was a reminder not only that another year had passed and that they’re growing up a little faster than I’d sometimes like. It was also a reminder of all the other parents who are dropping their children off at school, and all the other kids who are getting ready for another year of classes...

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Obama embraces charter schools in education plan

Here's an AP article about the speech:

The federal government spends about $200 million a year on charter schools, privately run institutions that receive public money. Obama's proposal would take that up to over $400 million.

Obama recognized that charter schools have been a source of debate in Ohio. Past Republican administrations used charter schools and private school vouchers to offer families a way out of troubled public schools. But Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland has been trying to scale back the programs to focus taxpayer money on more traditional public schools.

The Ohio Federation of Teachers has complained about the management of some charter schools, which has moved money away from the schools where its members work. The union has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate for-profit charter school operator White Hat Management for allegedly violating the terms of the tax-free status assigned to some of its schools.

"I'll work with all our nation's governors to hold all our charter schools accountable," Obama said in the excerpts. "Charter schools that are successful will get the support they need to grow. And charters that aren't will get shut down."

While teachers unions typically oppose the idea of performance-based merit pay, Obama is embracing the idea along with demands that teachers who don't meet standards are removed from the classroom. Obama's campaign said teacher performance could be judged by peer review, student test results, classroom evaluations or other processes.

"We must give teachers every tool they need to be successful, but we also need to give every child the assurance that they'll have the teacher they need to be successful," Obama said. "That means setting a firm standard — teachers who are doing a poor job will get extra support, but if they still don't improve, they'll be replaced."


Obama embraces charter schools in education plan

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Barack Obama is promising to double funding for charter schools and replace inferior teachers, embracing education reform proposals normally more popular with Republican candidates.

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Statement by Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

I was surprised -- and delighted -- to see Randi embrace Obama's speech -- she wrote "successful charter schools should be supported" and teachers "who still don’t improve should be replaced".  Actions are obviously more important than words, but this response is VERY important and shows that the unions, to their credit, are responding to the calls to reform:

Statement by Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers,

On Sen. Barack Obama’s Education Speech in Dayton, Ohio


WASHINGTONSen. Barack Obama hit the nail on the head today by embracing the kind of education reform that shows education is a shared responsibility and that holds everyone accountable to improve teaching and learning. He set a positive tone about how we can improve our schools, respect our teachers and work together to make sure our students get the world-class education they deserve.


Sen. Obama is absolutely right that successful charter schools should be supported and held accountable, and that failing charter schools should be shut down. We also share his belief that regular public schools, where most of our students attend, need the programs and resources to close the achievement gap once and for all. Sen. Obama and the AFT also see eye to eye on supporting differentiated compensation plans that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them. Well-designed pay plans negotiated with teachers treat them as the professionals they are, which in the end helps students.


            Together with Sen. Obama, the AFT wholeheartedly supports programs that hold all of us to high standards, including teachers, parents and elected officials. Teachers who need help should get extra support, and those who still don’t improve should be replaced. That’s what the public wants, that’s what teachers—our members—want, and that’s what Sen. Obama supports.  


            The AFT and its more than 1.4 million members endorsed Barack Obama because the differences between Sen. Obama and John McCain couldn’t be clearer.  Sen. Obama understands and supports tested, effective education reforms that will boost student achievement and teacher quality; Sen. McCain, when he bothers to talk about education at all, would rather demonize teachers and repeat calls for private school vouchers that have no track record in raising student achievement.

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DFER press release: Obama: It's Time To Get Real On Reforming Education

Here's the press release from Democrats for Education Reform, highlighting our long-standing support for Obama:

Obama: It's Time To Get Real On Reforming Education

Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, issued the following statement today following Sen. Barack Obama's education remarks in Dayton, Ohio:

Senator Obama today offered an urgent call to all of us – Democrat and Republican alike – to take responsibility for bringing our nation's public education system into the 21st Century.

For too long, we Democrats have not allowed ourselves to even talk about some of the messy issues surrounding the improvement of our schools, while Republicans in office have done nothing but talk. Millions of our nation's children have slipped through the cracks in the process. If Democrats don't more fully engage on issues like assuring high quality teaching, increasing the supply of accountable schools, and embracing the tools of innovation to arm our students for success, it simply won't happen.

This is one of the reasons members of Democrats for Education Reform have enthusiastically backed Senator Obama's candidacy since our first meeting with him in New York City in 2005. We saw that the Senator was a leader capable of getting this nation to think big, to imagine the kind of schools our children truly need to be competitive in the rapidly-changing global economy, and to break past the political gridlock holding back the most promising innovative reform ideas. This is also why we have pushed relentlessly within the Democratic Party to support the kind of change in our public schools that Senator Obama has outlined.

Senator Obama called today for doubling the federal investment in successful public charter schools (from $200 to $400 million), creating an "innovative schools fund," and shifting the focus of the federal government from mere compliance to performance and investing in what works.

Change is indeed happening on our side of the aisle. We used to be the party that wouldn't even admit that we had any ineffective teachers in some of our classrooms, much less a party that was realistically engaged on the issue of ensuring that every one of our children has access to a great teacher in a great school. We were the party that wanted more of everything yet offered few assurances that children would ultimately benefit.

We applaud Sen. Obama for advancing a new vision for federal education policy which is so strong on equity, accountability, and performance.

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And from the Educational Equality Project:




Education Equality Project co-founders Reverend Al Sharpton and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein issued the following statement following Senator Barack Obama’s education policy address today in Dayton, Ohio:


“Senator Obama says that neglect of the ongoing crisis in public education in the United States has created a 'day of reckoning' for this country's leaders. We couldn't agree more," said Reverend Sharpton and Chancellor Klein. “We welcome Senator Obama's emphasis on reforms that we've set forth in the Education Equality Project's statement of principles: funding successful charter schools to create better choices for parents and increasing pay to teachers who raise the achievement of their students as well as replacing those who do not succeed. 


“As with all such proposals, the details matter. For these initiatives to work they must not be half-measures and must also be accompanied by other efforts that will ensure meaningful accountability and real academic rigor. All Americans must recognize that it's essential to our Nation's future that we set high standards for our children and then hold ourselves accountable—as teachers, school leaders, parents, community members, and elected and appointed officials—for meeting those standards.”


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Surprise Me Most

David Brooks with some good advice for Obama -- which he seems to be taking in the area of school reform:
If I were advising the candidates, I’d tell them to double down on weirdness. Obama needs to occasionally criticize his own side. If he can’t take on his own party hacks, he’ll never reclaim the mantle of systemic change.

September 9, 2008

Op-Ed Columnist

Surprise Me Most

None of us have ever lived through an election at a time when 80 percent of voters think the country is headed in the wrong direction. But now that we’re in the thick of it, a few things are clear. From voters, the demand is: Surprise Me Most. For candidates, the lesson is: Weirdness Wins.

Last winter, Barack Obama succeeded by running a weird campaign. He wasn’t just a normal politician aiming for office, he was going to cleanse the country of the baby-boom culture war mentality. In his soaring speeches, he denounced the mores of both the Clinton and Bush eras and made an argument for unity and hope over endless partisan warfare.

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Teachers union initiates school reform plan

More evidence that the unions are trying to embrace reform:
Education reformers have long criticized the big teachers unions for blocking efforts to shake up public school bureaucracies, but a new, $1 million campaign from one of the largest may help put some of that criticism to rest.

The American Federation of Teachers, the USA's second-largest teachers union, plans to announce today it will put up $1 million and seek additional philanthropic funding to help school systems try "sustainable, innovative and collaborative reform projects" developed by AFT teachers over the past several years...

Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a nonprofit that has taken positions routinely at odds with unions, calls the move "a pretty important green light for innovation and experimentation, not just from the union to teachers, but from the union to elected officials."

Education reformers have long criticized the big teachers unions for blocking efforts to shake up public school bureaucracies, but a new, $1 million campaign from one of the largest may help put some of that criticism to rest.

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24/7 School Reform

An interesting article by Paul Tough in last Sunday's NYT Magazine, in which he talks about the competing groups of Democrats vying for Obama's support (I think his speech on Tuesday makes it quite clear which side he's leaning to).  Tough makes some good points, but also comes close to falling into Heckman's schools-don't-matter, demography-is-destiny nonsense, which I have rebutted numerous times (

In an election season when Democrats find themselves unusually unified on everything from tax policy to foreign affairs, one issue still divides them: education. It is a surprising fault line, perhaps, given the party’s long dominance on the issue. Voters consistently say they trust the Democrats over the Republicans on education, by a wide margin. But the split in the party is real, deep and intense, and it shows no signs of healing any time soon.

On one side are the members of the two huge teachers’ unions and the many parents who support them. To them, the big problem in public education is No Child Left Behind, President Bush’s signature education law. Teachers have many complaints about the law: it encourages “teaching to the test” at the expense of art, music and other electives, they say; it blames teachers, especially those in inner-city schools, for the poor performance of disadvantaged children; and it demands better results without providing educators with the resources they need.

On the other side are the party’s self-defined “education reformers.” Members of this group — a loose coalition of mayors and superintendents, charter-school proponents and civil rights advocates — actually admire the accountability provisions in No Child Left Behind, although they often criticize the law’s implementation. They point instead to a bigger, more systemic crisis. These reformers describe the underperformance of the country’s schoolchildren, and especially of poor minorities, as a national crisis that demands a drastic overhaul of the way schools are run. In order to get better teachers into failing classrooms, they support performance bonuses, less protection for low-performing teachers, alternative certification programs to attract young, ambitious teachers and flexible contracts that could allow for longer school days and an extended school year. The unions see these proposals as attacks on their members’ job security — which, in many ways, they are.

As the fall campaign and a new school year begin, both the unionists and the reformers find themselves distracted by the same question: Which side is Barack Obama on? Each camp has tried to claim him as its own — and Obama, for his part, has done his best to make it easy for them. He reassures the unions by saying he will reform No Child Left Behind so teachers will no longer “be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests,” and he placates reformers by calling himself a “strong champion of charter schools.” The reformers point to his speech in July to the National Education Association, during which he was booed, briefly, for endorsing changes to teachers’ compensation structure. The unionists, in turn, emphasize his speech a week later to the American Federation of Teachers, during which he said, “I am tired of hearing you, the teachers who work so hard, blamed for our problems.” On blogs and at conferences, the two sides have continued to snipe at each other, all the while parsing Obama’s speeches and policy pronouncements, looking for new clues to his true positions.

It’s possible, though, that both camps are looking in the wrong place for answers. What is most interesting and novel about Obama’s education plans is how much they involve institutions other than schools.

The American social contract has always identified public schools as the one place where the state can and should play a role in the process of child-rearing. Outside the school’s walls (except in cases of serious abuse or neglect), society is seen to have neither a right nor a responsibility to intervene. But a new and growing movement of researchers and advocates has begun to argue that the longstanding and sharp conceptual divide between school and not-school is out of date. It ignores, they say, overwhelming evidence of the impact of family and community environments on children’s achievement. At the most basic level, it ignores the fact that poor children, on average, arrive in kindergarten far behind their middle-class peers. There is evidence that schools can do a lot to erase that divide, but the reality is that most schools do not. If we truly want to counter the effects of poverty on the achievement of children, these advocates argue, we need to start a whole lot earlier and do a whole lot more.


24/7 School Reform

Published: September 5, 2008

In an election season when Democrats find themselves unusually unified on everything from tax policy to foreign affairs, one issue still divides them: education. It is a surprising fault line, perhaps, given the party’s long dominance on the issue. Voters consistently say they trust the Democrats over the Republicans on education, by a wide margin. But the split in the party is real, deep and intense, and it shows no signs of healing any time soon.

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Comment on Obama's speech

I thought Obama's speech ( was AMAZING overall and solid on education (given that this is, unfortunately, not one the major issues Americans are focused on right now).  Sort of interesting that his first mention of this topic was a plug for the largest-scale, most successful voucher program ever!
in the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton's army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.
Here was the main part on education reform -- I especially liked the part about higher standards and more accountability:

America, now is not the time for small plans. Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy.

You know, Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don't have that chance.


I'll invest in early childhood education. I'll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries, and give them more support. And in exchange, I'll ask for higher standards and more accountability.

And we will keep our promise to every young American: If you commit to serving your community or our country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

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Democrats for Education Reform/Ed Equality event in Denver

The Democrats for Education Reform/Ed Equality event attacted HUGE positive coverage.  Here's the best quote I've seen, from Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, who moderated a panel at the event:
"That first panel was absolutely terrific.  I think we'll see it as a landmark in the Democratic Party.  If there are any historians here, I think it will be regarded that way."

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Democrats, teachers unions now divided on many issues

Perhaps the best article (from the USA Today) I've read about the DFER event in Denver last week and the new thinking in the Democratic Party on education reform:
A funny thing happened to the Democratic Party on the way to an education platform: The party has visibly split with teachers unions, its longtime allies, on key issues.

The ink is barely dry on the official document, which outlines the party's guiding principles, but it shows that in this fall's general election, Democrats will stake out a few positions that unions have long opposed.


Democrats, teachers unions now divided on many issues
A funny thing happened to the Democratic Party on the way to an education platform: The party has visibly split with teachers unions, its longtime allies, on key issues.

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DFER's Skybox View of Hillary's Speech

I got a kick out of this:

DFER's Skybox View of Hillary's Speech

The Democrats for Education Reform, which embraces school reform ideas that are often opposed by traditional Democratic union stalwarts, have apparently arrived on the convention scene.

Members of the group nabbed a coveted spot in the Democratic National Committee’s skybox at the Pepsi Center here in Denver on Tuesday night, where they watched Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s rally-cry-for-unity speech.

The skybox next door belonged to the former President Bill Clinton and family, who were hosting the American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten—who was none too happy with an event DFER organized on Sunday and who undoubtedly took note of their presence in the DNC skybox.

DFER Executive Director Joe Williams and board member John Petry, a partner at a New York City hedge fund and Democratic Party donor, got such an invitation because their group includes some big-time donors like Petry. They embrace such ideas as charter schools and merit pay for teachers.

Later, Williams partied with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. That event was, ironically, sponsored by the National Education Association, considered by many to be pretty liberal.

--Michele McNeil

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Obama Should Focus On Education Reform

Harold Ford Jr., head of the Democratic Leadership Council, with some good stuff on how Democrats need to change on the issue of education reform:
he said of Mr. Obama on education, "I think he is open-minded. Let me put it this way, he hasn't come out in opposition [to school choice]. He is a pragmatist. . . . He's not looking to antagonize anyone. But he's not afraid to stir things up."

Education is one of Mr. Ford's top priorities. That's because be sees fixing the public-school system as something that is essential for a dynamic, competitive economy -- and as the means for creating opportunities for millions of kids...

"Whatever works, in various communities, is what I support," Mr. Ford told me. "On the education front, if we are unwilling to take head on the issues that are facing our schools, meaning teacher quality, meaning classroom size, meaning accountability, then we kid ourselves if we think we're going to solve these problems.

"We adopt a one-size-fits-all [model] in education, and it doesn't work. . . . I love charters, the charter school idea. Why? Because in some areas it actually works and it works well."

In Congress, Mr. Ford supported creating a school-voucher program in Washington, D.C., that is now being used by hundreds of students to get a better education. It enjoys the support of the city's Democratic Mayor Adrian Fenty. But Democrats in Congress threatened to kill the program this year by starving it of federal funds. So I asked Mr. Ford if the program will be crushed by Democrats in the near future.

"It probably won't be," he said. "Don't get me wrong, they've had to fight to keep it alive. They had to go up against their own member of Congress, their own delegate, who is opposed to it. The mayor wants it, and I view the mayor of D.C. almost like a governor because it is essentially a state."

Mr. Ford stresses that education is among "the types of things Democrats are going to have to focus on . . . Not because we want to win elections, but because the country needs it.

"Without a serious, broad-based competitiveness plan for the country that organizes around energy and education, the country will continue to falter. The next 10 to 15 years, we'll be fine. But if you look past that 15 year horizon, we cannot expect to be the No. 1 center for innovation, for technology, for job creation, the No. 1 economic center, indefinitely."

What Mr. Ford sees in Mr. Obama is the potential to break the logjam on education and other issues that has prevented fundamental reforms from passing in Washington. "I think the country could invest in him and may be willing to align itself with his vision, if he has a broad enough vision to change the country 10, 20, 30 years down the road.


Harold Ford Jr.
Obama Should Focus On Education Reform

August 30, 2008; Page A9

New York

Barack Obama made history this week by becoming the first black man to claim the presidential nomination of a major American political party. He almost certainly won't be the last. Another rising -- and arguably more substantive -- star is former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr.

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Providing a World-Class Education 'A Moral Obligation,' Obama Tells Crowd

More coverage from EdWeek of the DFER event in Denver:

Even before the four-day convention formally opened on Aug. 25, an emerging coalition of mostly urban Democrats started asserting itself on educational issues, offering alternatives to the policies promoted in particular by the teachers' unions.

The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have long given the bulk of their political support to Democratic candidates, and members of the unions were well represented among the roughly 4,000 delegates to the national convention.

At an Aug. 24 event organized by Democrats for Education Reform, a New York City-based political action committee, urban mayors and civil rights activists argued for teacher pay-for-performance and the expansion of charter schools.

Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, N.J., said at a press conference before the three-hour seminar that the debate over those issues is a "battle at the heart of the Democratic Party. … As Democrats, we have been wrong on education. It's time to get it right."

At the same press conference, Michelle A. Rhee, the chancellor of the 49,400-student District of Columbia school system, added: "The Democratic Party is supposed to be the party that looks out for poor and minority kids. That is not what's happening." ("Rhee Builds Case to Fix D.C. Schools," September 3, 2008.)

During the seminar, Ms. Rhee, a Democrat, and several other panelists asserted that the teachers' unions are putting the interests of their members concerning salaries and working conditions over the educational needs of students.

The event didn't sit well with union leaders.


Providing a World-Class Education 'A Moral Obligation,' Obama Tells Crowd


Barack Obama's promise to "meet our moral obligation to provide a world-class education" sets an ambitious goal that members of the Democratic Party can't agree how to reach.

"America, we cannot turn back," the Illinois senator said near the conclusion of his Aug. 28 speech at Invesco Field, a football stadium packed with more than 70,000 people waving flags and raising signs saying "Change." "Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate."

In his speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Obama mentioned the broad points of his platform to address the educational needs from preschoolers to college students.

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Prominent Education Reformers Call for Longer School Days, Performance-Driven Teacher Pay, Expanded Public School Choice

Here's the 1st press release about the DFER event:
Prominent Education Reformers Call for Longer School Days, Performance-Driven Teacher Pay, Expanded Public School Choice

Sharpton, Klein, Booker, Fenty, Romer: "Let go of outdated orthodoxies."

Last update: 12:00 p.m. EDT Aug. 24, 2008
DENVER, Aug 24, 2008 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- America's leading voices on education reform joined in Denver to call on Democratic leaders to steer public education in a new direction. On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, more than two dozen progressive elected officials, education reform advocates, school leaders and civil rights groups from across the country gathered at the Denver Art Museum to release the Ed Challenge for Change, which highlights new ideas for closing America's devastating achievement gap.
"An entrepreneurial explosion has occurred over the last few years in public education," said Joe Williams, Executive Director of Democrats for Education Reform, the organization responsible for conceiving the Ed Challenge for Change. "The creativity exhibited by this new group of educators is helping raise student achievement, empower teachers, close the minority learning gap, and bring hope to places where it's been in very short supply. It's a movement that we believe Sen. Obama and other Democrats have taken to heart, and we hope to see these reforms increase in schools across America during the Obama Administration."
Recognizing the "positive perfect storm" for education reform in America, participants, including Rev. Al Sharpton (Education Equality Project), Michelle Rhee (Chancellor, D.C. Public Schools) and Delia Pompa (National Council of La Raza), identified the following core principals and priorities for reforming federal education policies:
Universal access to quality early childhood education programs. We must make bold new investments in early education programs, which have been proven to make a critical difference in leveling the playing field for students in high-poverty areas.
Expanded charter school access. We should provide parents with meaningful public school choice for all students, while also making clear that choice comes with responsibility: parents must be partners in helping our young people become disciplined students and concerned citizens.
Improved accountability measures. In order to close the achievement gap, we must set high standards and demand accountability from not just teachers, but also students and parents, principals, education schools and researchers, and policymakers.
Extended school days and school years. Research has proven that more time in the classroom is essential to helping children who are falling behind to catch up and become proficient. We must make a commitment to providing extended school days and school years for students who need it and parents who choose it.
New teacher recruitment strategies. We must transform teaching into a profession that is competitive in compensation, continuously providing growth opportunities, and focused on accountability and producing results.
New funding allocation. In order to overcome the education deficits in our poorest districts, we must provide new pay incentives to attract the best teachers and principals to the lowest-performing schools, while also expanding access to high-quality pre-school, after school and summer programs.
A full list of participants is below. For more information on Democrats for Education Reform, including a full copy of the manifesto from Sunday's discussions, visit
    Participants:     Joe Williams, Executive Director, Democrats For Education Reform     Joel Klein, Chancellor, New York City Schools     Adrian Fenty, Mayor, Washington D.C.     Cory Booker, Mayor, Newark     Federico Pena, Former Secretary of Energy     Roy Romer, Chairman, Strong American Schools, former Colorado governor     Rev. Al Sharpton, Education Equality Project     Michelle Rhee, Chancellor, D.C. Public Schools     Barbara O'Brien, Lt. Gov., Colorado     Peter Groff, President, Colorado State Senate     Jonathan Alter, Newsweek     Michael Bennet, Superintendent, Denver Public Schools     John Merrow, PBS     John King, Uncommon Schools     Diane Piche, Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights     Andrew Rotherham, Education Sector     Delia Pompa, National Council of La Raza     Amy Wilkins, Education Trust     Larry Rosenstock, High Tech High, San Diego     Jennifer Gonzales, Metro Organizations for People      Sponsored by:     Democrats for Education Reform     Sam and Nancy Gary     The Education Equality Project     Daniels Fund     Piton Foundation     Center for African American Policy at the University of Denver     New Schools Venture Fund     Education Reform Now     Education Trust     Ed in '08     Progressive Policy Institute     School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado     National Association of Charter School Authorizers     National Council of La Raza     Public Education & Business Coalition     Terry Minger, Gary-Williams Company     Massachusetts, 2020     Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound     Citizens Commission on Civil Rights     Center for American Progress     Donnell-Kay Foundation     Colorado League of Charter Schools     A+ Denver     Colorado Children's Campaign     PICO National Network     Metro Organizations for People     Padres Unidos     Denver School of Science and Technology     The Odyssey School     GetSmart Schools     Denver Venture School     Center for Policy Entrepreneurship     Manual High School     West Denver Preparatory Charter     AXL Academy 

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Here's the 2nd press release:


On the Eve of the Democratic Convention, Education Equality Project Coalition Members Say Transforming a System that Has Failed Generations of Minority Students Should be A Core Element of the Democrats’ Domestic Agenda

            Educational Equality Project co-founders Reverend Al Sharpton and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein today joined with elected officials, educational leaders, and teachers in Denver to call on the Democratic Party to view the nation’s failing schools as a civil rights crisis and make school reform central to the party’s domestic agenda. They were joined at a press conference outside the Denver Art Museum by several signatories of the Education Equality Project’s statement of principles, including former Colorado Governor Roy Romer; Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey; Mayor Adrian Fenty of Washington, D.C.; Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper; Denver Superintendent Michael Bennet; Washington, D.C., Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee; Chairman of Democrats for Education Reform Kevin P. Chavous; musician and radio host James Mtume, and Denver teacher Greg Ahrnsbrak. The Democratic Party’s national convention begins tomorrow in Denver.

“Closing the achievement gap and ensuring that every child receives a good education is the major civil rights issue of our time,” Reverend Al Sharpton said. “EEP was created with the sense that, regardless of your party affiliation or the color of your skin, if you are dedicated to this aspiration, you are welcome to join us and work with us.”

            “As a country we can’t continue to accept that one of every two black or Hispanic children will drop out from school or that the reading levels of black children are years behind white children’s,” Chancellor Klein said. “These facts translate into diminished life opportunities. We must forego political expediency in favor of a bipartisan commitment to address this crisis by any means necessary. I urge the Democratic Party to rise above traditional politics and special interests to endorse the common sense principles of our project.”

            Reverend Sharpton and Chancellor Klein formed the Education Equality Project in June 2008 to transform America’s public schools and educational outcomes for high-needs students. The Project challenges politicians, public officials, union leaders, and others to view fixing the public schools as the foremost civil rights issue of the early 21st century. It takes on conventional wisdom and the entrenched impediments to real reform, focusing on teacher quality and pay; accountability for results; and maximizing parents’ options. The Project will challenge laws and contracts that preserve a system that fails students. In the view of Project’s signatories, the one measure of every policy, regardless of the depths of its historic roots or the power of its adherents, must be whether it advances student learning. 

“We know that the future health of our communities depends on creating a sound education foundation for our children,” said Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. “We know there is no single more important endeavor, and the stakes are too high for Denver and all American cities.  Failure is not an option.”

“The future of our country and its competitiveness in the global economy is dependent upon our ability to educate all children, regardless of their race or socio-economic status, at high levels,” said Newark Mayor Cory Booker.  “This is not a democratic or republican issue, it's an American problem that afflicts us all.  The time for collective responsibility and bold action in education reform is now.”

“I am a strong supporter of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.  That being said, many of us believe that now is the time for our party and our new president to really stand up for kids,” said Kevin Chavous, Chairman of Democrats for Education Reform.  “Old policies and the status quo are unacceptable. On behalf of America’s children, we insist that education issues be a priority for our party and that we boldly embrace innovation and creativity in our schools, even at the expense of historical special interests alliances.”

“We need to stop thinking about our dropout rate and low levels of achievement as the inevitable results of poverty and begin to understand that it is our obligation to transform our education system to ensure all of our kids have real opportunity," said Denver Superintendent Michael Bennet.

“Now is the time for all of us--teachers, school districts, and communities to stand up and work together to build great public school systems that serve all our children," said Greg Ahrnsbrak, a 16-year Denver Public School veteran teacher.  Ahrnsbrak is one of the leaders of Denver Teachers for Change, a group of DPS teachers who came together to advocate for reform and a settlement during recent contract negotiations between DPS and the Denver teachers union. "We can't wait another 50 years. We can't wait even one year, and teachers must be at the leading edge of the reform. Incremental changes will not get us the results we need--the time for bold systemic changes is now."

             Signatories of the Educational Equality Project’s statement of principles include, along with today’s speakers, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Arizona Senator and presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain, National Council of La Raza Chief Executive Officer Janet Murguia, civil rights leader Roger Wilkins, Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan, Houston Independent School District Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra, Philadelphia Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, Baltimore City Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Andres Alonso, New Orleans Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas, President of Council of Schools Supervisors & Administrators Ernest Logan, and 2005 National Teacher of the Year Jason Kamras.

            For more information on the Educational Equality Project, please visit


Contact:           David Cantor (for Joel Klein)  212-374-4341 / c917-856-5607

                        Rachel Noerdlinger (for Al Sharpton)  212-876-5444 / c646-981-5903


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Lesson plan: Put kids over teachers

From the local paper:

An eclectic mix of Democratic wunderkinds, tough-talking education reformers and one elder statesman - former Gov. Roy Romer - are challenging their party to step away from teachers unions and return to fighting for the educational rights of poor and minority children.

"It is a battle for the heart of the Democratic Party," said Corey Booker, the 39-year-old rising star mayor of Newark, N.J.

"We have been wrong in education," Booker said of his party and its alliances with teachers unions that put adults before children. "It's time to get right."

Booker was among those who appeared Sunday at the Denver Art Museum to challenge the Democratic Party to reconsider its course on education.

In references sometimes veiled and sometimes blunt, they tackled the party's often- cozy relationship with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which typically support - financially and otherwise - Democratic candidates.

"The Democratic Party is supposed to look out for poor and minority kids," said Washington, D.C., schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. "That's not the dynamic today," said Rhee, who is battling her city's union over a plan to overhaul teacher pay.

The rousing rhetoric shocked John Wilson, executive director of the NEA.

"I was absolutely stunned at the level of union-bashing," Wilson said. "I think leaders who wish to provide a vision and a plan for improving our schools undermine themselves by alienating the teachers . . . who have to carry out that plan."


Lesson plan: Put kids over teachers

Dems explore ways to close achievement gap

By Nancy Mitchell, Rocky Mountain News

Monday, August 25, 2008

An eclectic mix of Democratic wunderkinds, tough-talking education reformers and one elder statesman - former Gov. Roy Romer - are challenging their party to step away from teachers unions and return to fighting for the educational rights of poor and minority children.

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Ed. Equality Project's 'Cheap Shot' at Unions

Ed. Equality Project's 'Cheap Shot' at Unions

American Federation of Teachers' President Randi Weingarten told me today she is "really pissed" about the anti-union bent of yesterday's Education Equality Project event.

While the Democratic National Convention here in Denver is supposed to be about uniting the party, Weingarten said that yesterday's "Ed Challenge for Change" forum, sponsored by the Democrats for Education Reform, and a press conference before promoting the Education Equality Project, was more about creating division than showing leadership on school reform.

Some big-city mayors, including Washington's Adrian Fenty, and Newark's Cory Booker, along with Washington schools' Chancellor Michelle Rhee, took the unions (which they sometimes called "special interests") to task for standing in the way of education reform. They were promoting their Education Equality Project, which demands more accountability and solutions from schools for lifting student achievement.

"It was a cheap shot," Weingarten told me today, after a joint AFT-National Education Association luncheon honoring woman governors wrapped up. She added that union members weren't even invited to join the conversation. By contrast, she pointed out that two rising Democratic stars—Govs. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Janet Napolitano of Arizona—used their speeches at today's luncheon to talk about the importance of partnerships between policymakers and teachers and their unions.

"This was a couple of mayors, and I very much appreciate their efforts. But they're tearing down the people who they need to lift up," Weingarten said.

Today's two-hour luncheon, held at Mile Hile Station in downtown Denver, also honored outgoing Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner. Washington's Chris Gregoire and Michigan's Jennifer Granholm, the only other female Democratic governors, did not attend.

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Dems Rally Against Unions!

By Mickey Klaus, Slate:
Dems Rally Against Unions!OK, teachers' unions. Still ...

Things We Thought We'd Never See: Democrats Rally Against the Teachers' Unions! I went to the Ed Challenge for Change event mainly to schmooze. I almost didn't stay for the panels, being in no mood for what I expected would, even among these reformers, be an hour of vague EdBlob talk about "change" and "accountability" and "resources" that would tactfully ignore the elephant in the room, namely the teachers' unions. I was so wrong. One panelist--I think it was Peter Groff, president of the Colorado State Senate, got the ball rolling by complaining that when the children's agenda meets the adult agenda, the "adult agenda wins too often." Then Cory Booker of Newark attacked teachers unions specifically--and there was applause. In a room of 500 people at the Democratic convention! "The politics are so vicious," Booker complained, remembering how he'd been told his political career would be over if he kept pushing school choice, how early on he'd gotten help from Republicans rather than from Democrats. The party would "have to admit as Democrats we have been wrong on education." Loud applause! Mayor Adrian Fenty of D.C. joined in, describing the AFT's attempt to block the proposed pathbreaking D.C. teacher contract. Booker denounced "insane work rules," and Groff talked about doing the bidding of "those folks who are giving money [for campaigns], and you know who I'm talking about." Yes, they did!

As Jon Alter, moderating the next panel, noted, it was hard to imagine this event happening at the previous Democratic conventions. (If it had there would have been maybe 15 people in the room, not 500.) Alter called it a "landmark" future historians should note. Maybe he was right.

P.S.: My favorite moment didn't concern the unions. It came when NYC schools chief Joel Klein called for a single national testing standard. Groff, a crowd favorite, made the conventional local elected officials' objection that you need flexibiity, one size doesn't fit all, "what works" in County X might not work in County Y. And he was booed! Loudly. By Democratic education wonks. Wow. (The "one size" argument cropped up in the welfare reform debate too--and I assume it's just as bogus in the education debate. We're a national economy with cities that look more or less alike. What works in County X is almost certainly also going to work in County Y.)

P.P.S.: John Wilson, head of the NEA itself, was also there. Afterwards, he seemed a bit stunned. He argued pols should work with unions, in pursuit of a "shared vision," not bash them. But isn't this a power struggle where you have to bash the other side to get leverage, I asked. "Then you have losers," he answered.

P.P.P.S.: Mickey's Assignment Desk: Has someone done the trend piece on all these smart, young, powerful bald,** black state and local elected officials--e.g., Fenty, Booker, Groff, Nutter--who are taking on their unions? You'd need a name. Hair Club for Men is already taken. Domeboys? ...

**--Nutter has a bit of hair on the sides. Maybe Groff too. Close enough for a trend. 5:12 P.M. link

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