Friday, September 14, 2007

Urgent NCLB Action - Democrats for Education Reform

Dear fellow school reformers,

As you know, Congress is in the process of renewing NCLB and there's a lot
at stake -- I don't think it would be hyperbole to say that what happens
here could have more impact on closing the achievement gap (or not) over the
next 5-10 years than anything else.

We at Democrats for Education Reform are up to our eyeballs in this fight
and, despite being vastly outnumbered and outspent, are having an impact.
All of us will be in DC early next week for various meetings and events and
we need your support. Below is an appeal from Joe Williams, our Executive
Director, that I hope you will read and act on.
Thank you!



Dear friend:

I¹m very worried. In 2001, Congress (with help from Rep. George Miller and
Sen. Ted Kennedy ­ both Democrats) took unprecedented steps toward infusing
long-missing accountability into federal education policy. After pumping
billions of Title I dollars from Washington to local districts each year,
Congress for the first time required schools to show that students were
actually benefiting (i.e., learning) from the federal funding. Even more,
the No Child Left Behind Act went out of its way to make sure that schools
and districts would not be able to hide poor performance by minority or
disabled students by touting schoolwide or system-wide student performance
in the aggregate.
It is not an overstatement to suggest that the bi-partisan passage of NCLB
was one of the most significant and sweeping federal education policy shifts
in a generation. Even back when Congress was reauthorizing the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (which eventually became NCLB in its
modern form), a frustrated New York Senator Robert Kennedy bemoaned the
fact that we were setting up the federal program as a costly failure. ³What
happened to the children,² Kennedy asked during one of the hearings at the
time. ³Do you mean you spent a billion dollars and you don¹t know whether
they can read or not?²
The dollar amounts increased dramatically over the years, but the
structural problems in the law didn¹t go away ­ nor did the shameful
achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and their white
counterparts. The longer the federal programs were in place, the harder it
became to get the education establishment to support making any changes at
all that would jeopardize funding.
When Miller and Kennedy teamed up with the Bush administration to pass
NCLB in 2001, it marked a historic victory for those who championed the
academic needs of kids who had routinely slipped through the cracks. As
NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein told his principals a few years ago:
³Whatever else you may say about No Child Left Behind, it is forcing us to
come to grips with a moral imperative that many of us might prefer to
ignore: that we have a collective responsibility for the education of over 1
million children.²
You may have seen the news stories in the last few days about what
is happening to NCLB. A process which began as a way to address
widely-acknowledged shortcomings in the law (and to add long-overdue
incentives to reward our nation¹s most successful teachers and make sure
that every child has an equal chance to be taught by an effective teacher)
has morphed into an attempt by the powerful National Education Association
to turn back the clock to the days when meaningful accountability was
virtually nonexistent. The Washington Post and New York Times editorial
boards, among many others, have called out the NEA on its attempts to gut
the law. But the political heat that is building to weaken the most
important aspects of NCLB is very real. Democrats like George Miller and
Speaker Nancy Pelosi are under tremendous pressure to come through with a
victory for the adults who work in schools - in this case, at the expense
of the children who deserve our full attention.
At this week¹s committee hearings on NCLB, the NEA was out in full force
with union leaders who were flown in from all over the country to lobby
elected officials from their districts. They aren¹t afraid to issue threats
to Democrats when they feel it suits their needs. They are organized and
they are effective. But they are also on the wrong side of this one.
Democrats in Congress have already proven that they are willing to take hits
on NCLB when it means standing up for the millions of students whose
academic performance will no longer be swept under the rug. But it is far
from certain they will continue to hold the line, considering the fact that
Miller and Pelosi are now being personally targeted by the NEA for their
work on NCLB to date.
Our organization, Democrats for Education Reform, exists to provide
political cover for elected officials who want to make progress and do the
right thing for kids. We have big plans about working with Democrats who
³get it² from coast to coast. But the current NCLB reauthorization demands
our collective attention NOW. We have been working with civil rights
groups and non-partisan education reform groups to support meaningful
changes to NCLB that preserve the hard-fought accountability mechanisms.
We are fighting to ensure that no child is denied an opportunity to make
something of his or her life because they are unlucky enough to be assigned
to a substandard school. But we very much need your help with this one,
because the other side is mighty, committed, and angry.
How can you help?
There are a number of ways:
1. Support our efforts to fight this battle in the coming weeks by
contributing to our federal political action committee. For better or for
worse, it costs money to fight these kinds of fights, especially when we¹re
up against an entire industry with millions at their disposal. You can
contribute with a credit card at
<;t=5456> , or you can mail it
to the address on our website. Your contributions will allow us to support
a combined earned/paid media campaign, and to support politicians in
Washington who will fight the good fight in the coming weeks.
2. Sign on to our Democrats for Education Reform ³Statement of
Principles² so that we can show our Democratic friends there is support for
holding the line on accountability. You can use our online petition at

After you sign on, continue to check for
NCLB developments on the blog we have on our website.
3. Volunteer to help support the campaigns of politicians who will do
the right thing. (Call me at 646-354-9625.)
4. Forward this request to anyone you know who feels as strongly
about this as we do. Hell, forward it to people who feel HALF as strongly
as we do. This is a fight that CAN be won, but we need to move quickly. I
hope you will join us in this crucial effort.

Joe Williams
Executive Director, Democrats for Education Reform

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