Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Obama's speech in Flint mentioning education reform

I think Obama's going to stay out of the fight on the DC voucher program, but he did say some very good things about education in this speech recently (full text below), including support of charter schools:
This agenda starts with education. Whether you’re conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, practically every economist agrees that in this digital age, a highly-educated and skilled workforce will be the key not only to individual opportunity, but to the overall success of our economy as well. We cannot be satisfied until every child in America – and I mean every child – has the same chances for a good education that we want for our own children.

And yet, despite this consensus, we continually fail to deliver. A few years ago, I visited a high school outside Chicago. The number one concern I heard from those students was that the school district couldn’t afford to keep teachers for a full day, so school let out at 1:30 every afternoon. That cut out critical classes like science and labs. Imagine that – these kids wanted more school. They knew they were being short-changed. Unfortunately, stories like this can be found across America. Only 20 percent of students are prepared to take college classes in English, math and science. We have one of the highest dropout rates of any industrialized nation, and barely one tenth of our low-income students will graduate from college. That will cripple their ability to keep pace in this global economy, and compromise our ability to compete as a nation.

Senator McCain doesn’t talk about education much. But I don’t accept the status quo. It is morally unacceptable and economically untenable. It’s time to make an historic commitment to education– a real commitment that will require new resources and new reforms.

We can start by investing $10 billion to guarantee access to quality, affordable, early childhood education for every child in America. Every dollar that we spend on these programs puts our children on a path to success, while saving us as much as $10 in reduced health care costs, crime, and welfare later on.

We can fix the failures of No Child Left Behind, while focusing on accountability. That means providing the funding that was promised. More importantly, it means reaching high standards, but not by relying on a single, high stakes standardized test that distorts how teachers teach. Instead, we need to work with governors, educators and especially teachers to develop better assessment tools that effectively measure student achievement, and encourage the kinds of research, scientific investigation, and problem-solving that our children will need to compete.

And we need to recruit an army of new teachers. I’ll make this pledge as President – if you commit your life to teaching, America will pay for your college education. We’ll recruit teachers in math and science, and deploy them to under-staffed school districts in our inner cities and rural America. We’ll expand mentoring programs that pair experienced teachers with new recruits. And when our teachers succeed, I won’t just talk about how great they are – I’ll reward their greatness with better pay and more support.

But research shows that resources alone won’t create the schools that we need to help our children succeed. We also need to encourage innovation – by adopting curricula and the school calendar to the needs of the 21st century; by updating the schools of education that produce most of our teachers; by welcoming charter schools within the public schools system, and streamlining the certification process for engineers or businesspeople who want to shift careers and teach.

We must also challenge the system that prevents us from promoting and rewarding excellence in teaching. We cannot ask our teachers to perform the impossible – to teach poorly prepared children with inadequate resources, and then punish them when children perform poorly on a standardized test. But if we give teachers the resources they need; if we pay them more, and give them time for professional development; if they are given ownership over the design of better assessment tools and a creative curricula; if we shape reforms with teachers rather than imposing changes on teachers, then it is fair to expect better results. Where there are teachers who are still struggling and underperforming, we should provide them with individual help and support. And if they're still underperforming after that, we should find a quick and fair way to put another teacher in that classroom. Our children deserve no less.


Obama's full speech from Flint

June 16, 2008

The following are the prepared remarks Sen. Barack Obama delivered today in Flint and Kettering University.

It’s great to be at Kettering – a university that is teaching the next generation of leaders, and training workers to have the skills they need to advance their own careers and communities.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Reading and Math Scores Rise Sharply Across N.Y.; My ltr to the editor

Some incredible numbers on both math and reading for NYC!  Here's an excerpt from the NY Times article (

Reading and math scores for New York students in grades three through eight showed extraordinary gains across the state since last year, with particularly striking leaps in the large urban areas, including New York City.

The gains were apparent for nearly every grade tested in both subjects, in some cases with double-digit increases in the percentage of students performing at grade level or above, according to the scores on the annual statewide exams released by education officials on Monday.

The improvements were so substantial that several education experts expressed skepticism, noting that large gains were posted even by cities like Buffalo, whose schools have struggled for years. They also said the statewide results were not in line with the relatively static performance of New York students in the most recent years on federal tests known as the nation’s report card.

In New York City, this year’s results had an added significance for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has staked his legacy on improving the city’s public schools and is likely to use the gains to argue next year that the State Legislature should reauthorize the law giving the mayor control of the schools.

The scores also will affect nearly every level of the system, with teachers and principals eligible for financial bonuses based on test results, and individual schools assigned letter grades based on student improvement.

These great numbers are critical to rebut Diane Ravitch, the teacher unions and other enemies of Bloomberg and Klein's bold reforms, who have pointed to moderate test score gains in prior years as evidence that the reforms weren't working.  I always believed they were, but maintained that it would just take time for it to show up in the scores.  Here is an excerpt of my letter to the editor of Education Next on March 3rd (entire letter is at:

New York City’s school system is an enormous entity, with a budget that will soon approach $20 billion, 77,000 teachers, thousands of bureaucrats and more than 1.1 million students, representing roughly 2% of all U.S. schoolchildren.  Reforming such a monstrosity – especially one so resistant to change – is extraordinarily difficult and time consuming, and quantitative evidence of change can often lag behind the reality of what’s happening on the ground.  Thus, it’s not surprising that just over five years into the reform effort, the statistical evidence, which positive overall, is still mixed.

There are many parallels here with what I do as a professional value investor.  In that realm, each year I look at hundreds of big, bloated companies that had been poorly managed for years.  My success depends on correctly identifying the handful that, usually under new management, are in the process of turning around, even if the results aren’t yet obvious in the numbers.  I think New York City’s public school system is one such situation.

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Here's the DOE's press release about the test scores and seven slides with more data are at:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein today announced that New York City elementary and middle school students made substantial progress at every grade level in English Language Arts and math since last year, outpacing gains made by students statewide and building on consistent progress since the start of the Bloomberg Administration.  New York City’s one-year gains in both English Language Arts and math were larger than the rest of the State’s at every grade level with only one exception. Today, in math, 79.7 percent of students in fourth grade and 59.6 percent of students in eighth grade—the two grades tested by the State since the start of the administration—are meeting or exceeding grade-level standards, up from 52 percent and 29.8 percent, respectively, in 2002. In English Language Arts, 61.3 percent of students in fourth grade and 43 percent of students in eighth grade are meeting or exceeding grade levels, up from 46.5 percent and 29.5 percent, respectively, in 2002.  Also, African-American and Latino students in New York City achieved greater gains in both English Language Arts and math than their white and Asian peers, narrowing the racial and ethnic achievement gap.




New York City Student Gains Greater than Those Achieved Statewide; Racial Achievement Gap Narrows


Gains Consolidate Progress Since Mayor Bloomberg Took Charge of City Schools


Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein today announced that New York City elementary and middle school students made substantial progress at every grade level in English Language Arts and math since last year, outpacing gains made by students statewide and building on consistent progress since the start of the Bloomberg Administration. 

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National Association of Public Charter Schools annual convention in New Orleans

The National Association of Public Charter Schools, which I'm on the board of, is having its annual conference this week in New Orleans.  I'm flying there tomorrow aft and return Thursday.  Below is further information -- I wish I could have been there from the start on Sunday!

Highlights of the conference will include general session keynote addresses and special presentations by:

·        Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana 

·        Mary Landrieu, US. Senator 

·        Danny Glover, actor and education activist

·        Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone

·        Petra Nemcova, supermodel and founder “Happy Hearts Fund”

·        Paul Pastorek, Louisiana State Superintendent of Education

·        Paul Vallas, New Orleans School District Superintendent


The four-day conference is the largest gathering of educators and other professionals involved in the public charter school movement from around the nation. Currently, there are more than 4,300 public charter schools serving 1.2 million students in 40 states and the District of Columbia. Charter schools have grown rapidly in number since the first charter school was established in Minnesota in 1991. 




Governor Jindal, Senator Landrieu, Petra Nemcova, Danny Glover and Geoffrey Canada among Conference’s Highlighted Speakers


Washington DC - In a sign of the growing popularity of public charter schools in the United States, a record 2,800 participants are expected to gather in New Orleans, Louisiana June 22-25 for the Eighth National Charter Schools Conference, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President Nelson Smith announced today.

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Teachers' Union on Reform

No surprises in this lame letter to the editor in the NYT from the head of the AFT, responding to David Brooks' brilliant Op Ed (, in which he spouts the usual woe-is-us, blame-the-victim drivel:

June 20, 2008

Teachers' Union on Reform

To the Editor:

Re "Obama, Liberalism and the Challenge of Reform" (column, June 13):

Having spent the primary season lauding Senator Barack Obama, David Brooks is doing a pivot by now questioning Mr. Obama's substance and true policy stance. He actually manages a twofer, sowing doubts about Senator Obama and knocking unions at the same time, all under the guise of concern for education. And who isn't concerned about education these days?

Mr. Brooks would like you to believe it is unions, of course. We know this because right off the bat, Mr. Brooks helpfully explains to us that there are two education camps, the reformists and those who prefer the status quo. He believes that unionized teachers fall into the latter camp.

The occasion for this commentary is the release of a statement by the Economic Policy Institute, covering a broad range of actions important to achieving real improvements in education, especially for disadvantaged students and dropouts (an overlapping group).

The signers include a wide array of education and public policy experts, scholars, children's advocates, civil rights figures, as well as current and former school superintendents, and a Nobel Prize winner in economics.

They state that "despite the impressive academic gains registered by some schools serving disadvantaged students, there is no evidence that school improvement strategies by themselves can close these gaps in a substantial, consistent, and sustainable manner." Therefore, "school improvement, to be fully effective, must be complemented by a broader definition of schooling and by improvements in the social and economic circumstances of disadvantaged youth."

Mr. Brooks takes issue with this. According to him, reformists "insist school reform alone can make a big difference." This verges on a Talmudic debate over the word "alone" when the real issues are what actually goes into that reform. The question of how teachers should grapple with the enormous social problems brought into the school every morning comes immediately to mind.

Further, he talks of how the reformists want to put the children first. Well, so do those who signed the E.P.I. statement, and so do teachers. What matters is whether what you try actually works for the children.

Blaming "ineffective teachers" and union contracts may be ideologically satisfying, but at the end of the day it does little to solve the problems facing our schools. If our problems did lie here, states without collective bargaining should not lie at the bottom of the educational achievement scale, and charter schools should by now have produced some greater returns. Yet the lack of evidence does not stop the "reformists" from assailing unions, or any public servant who may agree with our solutions.

Senator Obama is not failing to "engage the thorny, substantive matters that separate the two camps"; he simply isn't falling for a debate on the meaning of the word "alone."

Edward J. McElroy
President, American Federation of Teachers
Washington, June 18, 2008

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'Conscious' Hiphop Fallacy

John McWhorter with some good points -- and a nice shout out for KIPP and one of the REACH schools, Frederick Douglass Academy:

For example, Pete Rock grouses that "library broken down is lies buried," while Dead Prez tells us that high school is a "four year sentence" with teachers "tellin' me white man lies." Message: black people should be wary of education. Deep. "Politics." Sounds good set to a beat.

But how wary are we to be of the 57 KIPP charter schools, putting four out of five of their poor black and Latino students in college? I guess it's profound when Pete Rock yells, "I'm aware of segregation!"

But KIPP students are excelling despite segregation, just as they are at the Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, where almost all students are from the hood and almost all go to college — despite less money than lesser schools nearby.

The proper politics here is to support charter schools and the vouchers that get children into them. The only sense in a "politics" treating education as the enemy or insisting that black students can't learn unless white ones are around is a basic commitment to being oppositional for its own sake, without constructive intent.


'Conscious' Hiphop Fallacy

June 12, 2008

In Great Britain during World War II, with cities pockmarked by bombings, good-thinking planners wanted to take the opportunity to bless the British population with the glories of suburban living.

Goodbye to crowded cities. Why not spread people outward where they could take deep breaths and stretch their legs? This sounded like wisdom incarnate.

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NEA's attempt to gut NCLB

From DFER board member Diane Piche, Exec Dir of the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights:

Last week was a big week on this theme.  Here’s one more bit of news. 

The NEA and the National School Boards Association – each long-time opponents of strong accountability and of parents’ rights to better choices for their children – have managed to get two of their allies in Congress to introduce legislation that would effectively nullify all the important accountability provisions of No Child Left Behind Act:  school improvement, corrective action, restructuring, public school choice, and supplemental educational services (aka free tutoring).  (For a good write-up, see Charlie Barone’s 6/13 post at

In a remarkable display of conviction, unity and speed, five national civil rights organizations responded with one voice, strongly urging Congress to reject the proposal:  MALDEF, NAACP, National Council of LaRaza, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and CCCR.   In addition, the Hispanic Education Coalition – with over two dozen member organizations – also called on Congress to recognize the bill for what it is:  at attempt to allow states and school districts to keep spending federal education dollars with no accountability whatsoever.   

FYI, the name of the bill is the “No Child Left Behind Recess Until Reauthorization Act” and is sponsored by Reps. Graves (R-MO) and Walz (D-MN).  If you have a minute, please email your reps in Congress and tell them it’s a really bad idea and ask them not to co-sponsor.  If they are members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the senior Caucus member of the Ed and Labor Committee taking the lead in opposing the bill is Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) of Chicago.  If you are in NYC, you should know that as of this weekend, the AFT (read Randi Weingarten) had not come out publicly in support of the bill.  Another FYI:  Chairman George Miller (D-CA) does not want an anti-NCLB vote on the House floor before November. 

Stay tuned…

Three cheers for Diane and the other civil rights organizations for standing up to the unions!

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Gifted Programs in the City Are Less Diverse

This made the front page of today's NYT -- what a tough issue...

When New York City set a uniform threshold for admission to public school gifted programs last fall, it was a crucial step in a prolonged effort to equalize access to programs that critics complained were dominated by white middle-class children whose parents knew how to navigate the system.

The move was controversial, with experts warning that standardized tests given to young children were heavily influenced by their upbringing and preschool education, and therefore biased toward the affluent.

Now, an analysis by The New York Times shows that under the new policy, children from the city’s poorest districts were offered a smaller percentage than last year of the entry-grade gifted slots in elementary schools. Children in the city’s wealthiest districts captured a greater share of the slots.

The disparity is so stark that some gifted programs opened by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in an effort to increase opportunities in poor and predominantly minority districts will not fill new classes next year. In three districts, there were too few qualifiers to fill a single class...

The results reflect a head-on collision of two key themes in the Bloomberg administration’s overhaul of the school system. On the one hand, the city has centralized and standardized admissions procedures, including those for pre-kindergarten and high school, to even the playing field and eliminate any advantage held by certain parents.

On the other hand, the administration is intent on ensuring equal access to the system’s most coveted offerings and closing the racial achievement gap, which Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein frequently refers to as a critical front in the civil rights battle.


June 19, 2008

Gifted Programs in the City Are Less Diverse

When New York City set a uniform threshold for admission to public school gifted programs last fall, it was a crucial step in a prolonged effort to equalize access to programs that critics complained were dominated by white middle-class children whose parents knew how to navigate the system.

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New York's Novel Way to Kill Charter Schools

A good editorial in the WSJ yesterday.  I think it's only fair that if states are going to impose prevailing wage requirements, then they should offset this with facilities funding, as is true for all other public schools:

Recently, Tapestry won approval to add high school grades, and this is where the trouble started. To accommodate these new grades as well as serve the other students, the school decided to build a new building. It expected to pay about $8.5 million.

But last autumn, as a sop to labor unions, Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith ordered charter schools to adhere to state "prevailing wage" requirements, which mandate paying union wages for construction projects and which typically add 30% or more to the cost of a project. In Tapestry's case, it would add more than $1.5 million, putting the school's building expansion plans on hold.

Since their inception, charter schools had been exempt from this state law which, like its federal counterpart, the Davis-Bacon Act, applies to most public-works projects. Last month, however, state trial judge Michael Lynch upheld the new mandate, erroneously applying labor law to charter schools beyond anything intended by the legislature or precedent. The case is on appeal and will likely be overturned, but that could take years.

"Critics say there aren't enough charter high schools, but this latest hit makes it near impossible to afford to build one," Joy Pepper, Tapestry's co-founder and director, said. "How can it be good public policy for the state to raise the cost of school buildings when we get no capital money to begin with? It's the students they're hurting."

This ruling is an egregious example of the withering autonomy of charter schools. Charters successfully educate students on 70% of the funding spent by district school competitors. But the state's education bureaucracy, legislature and now the courts are all piling on regulatory burdens.






New York's Novel Way to Kill Charter Schools

June 18, 2008; Page A13

Buffalo, N.Y.

Ten years ago, New York joined the charter school revolution by passing a law to allow these innovative public schools to open. Today there are nearly 100 charters in the state and dozens more in the pipeline.

But now, thanks to the state's Department of Labor and a labor-friendly state judge, building a new charter school just got a lot harder and a lot more expensive.

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2 School Entrepreneurs Lead the Way on Change

A wonderful article in today's NYT about Wendy Kopp/TFA and Richard Barth/KIPP:

Ms. Kopp and Mr. Barth are a power couple in the world of education, emblematic of a new class of young social entrepreneurs seeking to reshape the United States’ educational landscape by creating new schools, training better principals and getting more smart young teachers into needy classrooms. The couple may not be as well known as Bill and Melinda Gates, but their fast-growing organizations have become incubators of new ways of thinking about education.

Teach for America, founded in 1989, has 14,000 alumni, some of whom have founded charter schools and other educational start-ups, or are rising leaders in school systems nationwide. Among them are Michelle Rhee, the hard-charging schools chancellor in Washington, D.C., and Dave Levin and Michael Feinberg, who founded KIPP in Houston and the Bronx with schools on an extended-day schedule and the slogan “no shortcuts.”


2 School Entrepreneurs Lead the Way on Change

Published: June 19, 2008

As the founder of Teach for America, a nonprofit program that recruits elite college graduates to teach in low-income schools, Wendy Kopp has presided over many triumphs, and the group’s annual dinner last month was another. It raised $5.5 million in one night and brought so many corporate executives to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York that stretch limousines jammed Park Avenue for blocks.

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Victory for Education Reform in Rhode Island

My friend Angus Davis, who's waging a tireless campaign for charter schools and education reform in Rhode Island, with some great news:

Historic Victory for Education Reform in Rhode Island

Last night, the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed an historic budget bill that significantly expands public school choice for Rhode Island families and takes a significant step towards ending educational inequity and closing the achievement gap in our state. Key to this momentous leap forward was a phenomenal speech from House Majority Leader Gordon Fox (D-Providence) who inspired us with his vision of hope for Rhode Island families desperate for better educational options. He moved some of us to tears as he spoke eloquently on the issues of educational inequity that motivate us all.

The ban on public charter schools in Rhode Island is over.

A bill to expand the charter school law by eliminating restrictions on charter schools pertaining to tenure, "prevailing wage," and a ban on defined-contribution benefit plans has passed after the lengthiest debate of the evening.

Mayors in the state of Rhode Island will now be able to apply to open public charter schools in partnership with non profit organizations such as Democracy Prep, KIPP, Achievement First, and others.

This is the culmination of a massive effort by a broad group of people too numerous to mention in a single email. The leadership of our legislature has changed the direction of our state, despite opposition from defenders of the status quo. We owe a great debt of gratitude to Speaker Murphy, Majority Leader Fox, House Finance Chair Costantino, and the other members of the leadership who stood with us, courageously.

I am too tired to do this email justice, but I want you each to hear the news of this remarkable success. Nobody thought we could do it. We did it. You did it. Now we need to see this bill through to pass the senate and enter into law with the Governor's signature. We also need to secure proposals from high performing charter school operators and secure private funding for the kick-start to these schools.

A bright day is ahead, and it would not have been possible without your support!

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Obama, Liberalism and the Challenge of Reform

David Brooks exactly nails it in his Op Ed yesterday.  You can almost always tell the difference between Old Democrats and New Democrats based on where they stand on school reform.  The former toe the teacher union line, whining about how schools shouldn't be held responsible for "those" kids from bad families and bad neighborhoods (aka, "blame-the-victim").  As Brooks writes, they argue:
that poverty and broad social factors drive high dropout rates and other bad outcomes. Schools alone can’t combat that, so more money should go to health care programs, anti-poverty initiatives and after-school and pre-K programs. When it comes to improving schools, the essential message is that we need to spend more on what we’re already doing: smaller class sizes, better instruction, better teacher training.
New Democrats and genuine school reformers, while recognizing the great challenges of educating children from difficult life circumstances, believe that schools can and should properly educate every child, not just the easiest ones to teach.  They also recognize that the primary problem is not bad kids/families/communities, but broken, dysfunctional, unaccountable systems that serve the interests of the adults in the system and the politicians who support it, but screw millions of mostly poor, minority children.  Brooks summarizes the reformers' views well:
The reformers want to change the structure of the system, not just spend more on the same old things. Tough decisions have to be made about who belongs in the classroom and who doesn’t. Parents have to be given more control over education through public charter schools. Teacher contracts and state policies that keep ineffective teachers in the classroom need to be revised. Most importantly, accountability has to be rigorous and relentless. No Child Left Behind has its problems, but it has ushered in a data revolution, and hard data is the prerequisite for change.
Brooks asks a good question: "Which camp is Barack Obama in?He doesn't know the answer and I'm not certain of it either, though I'm cautiously optimistic.  I'm quite certain that he's smart and informed enough to understand what's really going on -- the only question is whether, as President, he'd be willing to make this a high enough priority and spend the political capital to bring about real change.
I'm not troubled by the fact that Obama didn't rock the boat on this issue during the primary battle -- the reality of Democratic primary politics is that, just as every candidate had better support ethanol and farm subsidies, they'd also better not make enemies with the teachers unions.
But now it's the general election.  It's not like the teachers unions are ever going to support McCain, and Obama owes the unions nothing: the NEA tacitly supported Clinton and the AFT actively did -- see and, in which I wrote: 
This judge's ruling yesterday in Nevada is very big news, not only for improving Obama's chances of winning there, but because of the story behind it.  In short, the teachers unions are burning their bridges with Obama, which will have profound -- and wonderful -- implications for education reform should he become President. 
Here's the latest news:
A union with ties to Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton failed in court Thursday to block the state party's plans to hold caucuses at special precincts inside casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.
I'll give you three guesses which "union with ties to...Clinton" was behind the lawsuit...  You got it: the TEACHERS UNION, as the article notes below:
Nevada State Education Association President Lynn Warne denied the case was linked to the Clinton campaign and said there would be no appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
What's going on in Nevada is really important because when one examines which unions are backing which candidate, it's clear that this is shaping up as a fight between high-paid government workers (teachers and clerks) and private-sector low-wage workers, whose kids are forced to attend failing schools.
In addition, such desperate attacks on a Democrat -- especially one who's been such a great friend to labor! -- are highly unusual and underscore how threatened traditional unions are by the change Obama represents.  The teachers, in particular, are much more swayed by Clinton's "35-year history of change" (yeah, RIGHT!)because they like the status quo just fine and especially just want to make it to retirement without much changing.
So, I am eagerly looking forward to Obama staking out a bold education reform agenda -- though he may choose to wait until after the convention, given that teacher union reps make up 12% of the delegates the last I heard.
June 13, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

Obama, Liberalism and the Challenge of Reform

Is Barack Obama really a force for change, or is he just a traditional Democrat with a patina of postpartisan rhetoric?

That question is surprisingly hard to answer. When you listen to his best speeches, you see a person who really could herald a new political era. But when you look into his actual policies, you often find a list of orthodox liberal programs that no centrist or moderate conservative would have any reason to support.

To investigate this question, I looked more closely into Obama’s education policies. Education is a good area to probe because Obama knows a lot about it, and because there are two education camps within the Democratic Party: a status quo camp and a reform camp. The two camps issued dueling strategy statements this week.

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Chicago School Days

An interesting case study by Alexander Russo.  I hope this isn't indicative of how Obama might act on this issue as President (these events occurred nearly 10 years ago):
Based on Obama's actions in Chicago in 1999, it's hard to imagine him taking charge of the continuing debate over whether and how No Child Left Behind should be renewed. Forced to take a side, Obama's record suggests that, ultimately, he would be sympathetic to local autonomy. But there's not much evidence to show that he would be able to help mend deep and abiding schisms between testing hawks and local-control advocates. And without strong and unifying national leadership, our troubled public-education system stands little chance of making the dramatic improvements that it needs.
Chicago School Days
Obama's lackluster record on education.
By Alexander Russo
Posted Wednesday, April 2, 2008, at 3:05 PM ET

School reform advocates in Chicago have of late been heralding Barack Obama as a champion of local school councils, Chicago's hyperlocal system of school governance. Unique among big-city school districts in the United States, these independent, elected bodies at each school are made up of parents, teachers, and community members, 10 in all, plus the principal. Think of them as mini school boards, parent-teacher organizations on steroids, or condo boards for schools.

Created 20 years ago, these councils each hire and fire their own principals. Though firings aren't common, they turn out to be a very big deal. Dismissing a principal is the education equivalent of capital punishment. It's often career-ending. It disrupts a school to the core. And it sends shock waves out through the rest of the system. The councils—each dominated by six parents—are not all-powerful, however. Since 1995, Chicago has also had a central Board of Education overseen by the mayor that, among other things, has the power to close schools and open new ones.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sharpton, education plan may tear union ties

A very nice article in the USA Today:
Decades-long ties between civil rights groups and teachers unions could be split by a new effort, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, to close the nagging achievement gap between white and minority students.

Sharpton, a Baptist pastor and political gadfly, says that for years, civil rights leaders have been silent on education equity issues. But a new group of activists, school superintendents and academics will push education in the 2008 presidential election, he said.

Unions have blocked what many reformers say are innovative ideas, such as alternative pay grades for teachers, expanded charter schools and moving excellent teachers into needy schools.

"There have been a lot of old alliances being protected, and the children are not being protected," he said. "And if we're going to move forward, we're going to have to be able to have new alliances here — that might mean some old relationships with teachers unions, principals unions and all are going to be a little troubled. But we cannot say that we're going to close this achievement gap but protect ineffective teachers or principals or school chiefs or not challenge parents."

He noted that in cities such as Detroit, only one in three black males earns a high school diploma.

"They end up fast-tracked to jail and we (who) claim to be dealing with the issues of racial disparities on a daily basis never mention this, and never talk about this because in many ways some of our friends don't want to be part of what may have to adjust."

The effort grew out of conversations around the 40th anniversary last April of the assassination of Martin Luther King.

A friend had some forceful, insightful, spot-on comments on this article and the role of the unions, who pretend to put kids first, but always put their own interests first, which often acts to screw kids:
Re: article below, with all due respect, Kahlenberg is wrong ["Education historian Richard Kahlenberg said that while unions' and civil rights groups' interests "are usually aligned," this isn't the first time they've clashed. "It's been an uneasy alliance over the years."].  First, I would argue that, through their policies and practices (including dead-of-night bills like the NY State tenure deal), the unions have declared war on kids and their advocates in the civil rights community, not the other way around.  Folks like Sharpton, Klein, Williams, et al. are doing what any rational person would do under the circumstances, which is to fight back.
The bigger mistake would be for civil rights groups to continue to pretend that we can keep saying we are natural allies with the teachers’ unions, while they continue to screw kids.  The “elephant” in the room is not an elephant at all, it’s a gigantic donkey’s ass, because the problem here is primarily (and in some cases exclusively) on the Democratic side of the aisle.  We have been struggling with our AFT and NEA “allies” all week here in Washington: on equalizing student funding within school districts, on whether we should encourage Margaret Spellings to get tough on grad rates, and yesterday on a bill they are promoting (with the other payee organizations) as a rider to the Labor-HHS appropriations bill to suspend all the accountability provisions of NCLB until next year or beyond.  They are relentless, they do not compromise, and there is no let-up.
Sharpton, education plan may tear union ties
Decades-long ties between civil rights groups and teachers unions could be split by a new effort, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, to close the nagging achievement gap between white and minority students.

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Launch of Education Equality Project

This is huge: Democrats for Education Reform has joined with numerous other prominent Democrats equally committed to genuine education reform to launch the Education Equality Project, "a new organization focused on transforming America's public schools and educational outcomes for high-needs students. The Project will challenge politicians, public officials, educators, union leaders, and others to view fixing public schools as the foremost civil rights issue of the early 21st Century. It will focus America's attention on its highest needs students, who—54 years after Brown v. Board of Education—still receive far less educational opportunity and often struggle and fail in school."
This is really important because nearly all of the civil rights community, to its everlasting discredit, has been completely silent on the #1 civil rights issue of our time: the achievement gap and steps that must be taken to address it.  I never thought I would write these words, but kudos to Al Sharpton!
This is the teacher unions' worst nightmare: that traditional old guard Democrats like other unions and the civil rights community will finally see the light and refuse to support their efforts to maintain the increasingly indefensible status quo.




New National Education Reform Coalition Calls Fixing Public Education the

Civil Rights Struggle of the 21st Century, Aims to Challenge National Leaders to Work for Change


Reverend Al Sharpton and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein joined with elected officials, civil rights leaders, and education reformers from across the country today to announce the launch of the Education Equality Project, a new organization focused on transforming America's public schools and educational outcomes for high-needs students. The Project will challenge politicians, public officials, educators, union leaders, and others to view fixing public schools as the foremost civil rights issue of the early 21st Century. It will focus America's attention on its highest needs students, who—54 years after Brown v. Board of Education—still receive far less educational opportunity and often struggle and fail in school. In the coming months, the Project will seek to focus the presidential candidates on educational equality, hosting forums at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. The founding members of the Project announced their new effort at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.


Founding Project members include elected officials, civil rights leaders, and education reformers. The 15 people who have agreed to the Project's "principles" (attached) include:


§         Andres A. Alonso, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO

§         Cory A. Booker, Newark, NJ Mayor

§         Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children's Zone President and CEO

§         Kevin P. Chavous, attorney, author, and national school reform leader

§         Arne Duncan, Chicago Public Schools CEO

§         Howard Fuller, Former Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent, Education Professor and Director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University

§         Peter Groff, Colorado Senate President

§         Kati Haycock,  The Education Trust President

§         Joel I. Klein, New York City Schools Chancellor, Education Equality Project Co-chairman

§         Marc Lampkin, Strong American Schools – ED in '08 Executive Director

§         James Mtume, KISS FM Radio "Open Line" Host

§         Michelle Rhee, Washington, D.C. Schools Chancellor

§         The Honorable Roy Romer, Strong American Schools – ED in '08 Chairman

§         Andrew Rotherham, Education Sector Co-founder and Co-director

§         Rev. Al Sharpton, National Action Network President, Education Equality Project Co-chairman

§         Joe Williams, Democrats for Education Reform Executive Director

§         J.C. Watts, Jr., Strong American Schools – ED in '08 National Spokesman


In the coming weeks, the Project co-chairmen will invite other leaders to join their coalition.


            "Today, an unprecedented coalition has come together to confront the racial disparities in education and address the issue of education as a new civil rights movement to bring equality to education in this country," Rev. Sharpton said. "We challenge both presidential candidates to recognize that we haven't come close to achieving racial equality in educational opportunity."


"It took our country 165 years to conclude that, under our Constitution, separate isn't equal in education, but, still, 54 years after Brown v. Board of Education, too often our schools fail our highest needs students," Chancellor Klein said. "We need to get serious about giving all children the education they need to succeed. It won't be easy—the status quo has lots of defenders—but it can be done and it is absolutely essential that we do it."


            "We stand at a historic time in the transformation of public education in Newark and the entire nation. We cannot let petty politics, crass opportunism, or personal agendas undermine our collective advance toward educational excellence," said Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory A. Booker. "The time for 'all deliberate speed' ran out 50 years ago. We must unite as a people to drive to empower our nation's youth with the mental, emotional, and spiritual strength to define their personal excellence and manifest our nation's ideals of 'liberty and justice for all.'"


"Our nation's economy and individual family income is tied to improving our skills through education," ED in '08 Chairman Roy Romer said. "Americans cannot afford to sit back and watch its schools fail our students. We need to raise expectations and opportunities for every single student, regardless of race, color, creed, or income. Most importantly, we need strong leaders to take initiative. Today, I am joining these influential leaders to call for change."


"Nationally, our public education system is failing to provide our students with the skills they need to compete for the best jobs in the global workforce," said former Congressman J.C. Watts, Jr., who serves as a spokesperson for ED in '08. "Too many of our students are not graduating from high school and too many who do graduate are not prepared to face the challenges of college, the workplace, or life. This crisis in education is destroying the foundation of our economic success and national prosperity. I am glad to join the bi-partisan coalition to sound the national alarm to improve our schools."


"It is not sufficient to accept small islands of excellence in our urban school districts," Dr. Andres A. Alonso, CEO of the Baltimore City Public Schools, said. "We must have the will as a society to ensure that every student, no matter where he is born, what color she is, or what parents he or she has can have access to the high-quality teachers and quality choices all children deserve. This is how we must define ourselves as a nation."   


"One of the first things I learned as the Washington, D.C. schools chancellor is that you can't base decisions on politics or what makes people happy," Washington, D.C., Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee said. "You have to have the courage to make decisions on one thing—and one thing only—if it will help students learn. As a country, we cannot afford to protect a system that is failing. It's time for our national leaders to start putting students front and center and start transforming our country's public schools."


"We're talking about a crisis that is entirely preventable, but only if leaders have the courage to say enough is enough," Joe Williams, the Democrats for Education Reform Executive Director, said.


The Principles, signed by the Education Equality Project members, are attached. To find out more about the Education Equality Project, please visit or e-mail




Contact:  David Cantor - NYC Department of Education (212) 374-5141

                Rachel Noerdlinger - NAN/Al Sharpton Media (212) 876-5444


Education Equality Project

Statement of Principles


1.      Fifty-four years after Brown vs. Board of Education, forty years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and twenty-five years after the publication of a Nation at Risk, we must confront a shameful national reality:  If you are an African American or Latino child in this country, the probability is high that our public education system will fail you, that you will not graduate from high school, that your ability to function successfully in the twenty-first century economy will be limited, and that you will have no real prospect of achieving the American dream.


2.      This reality is especially shameful in a country built on the core idea of equality of opportunity, a country divided for too many years by racial discrimination and injustice.


3.      Despite the urgency of the need and the righteousness of the cause, public education today remains mired in a status quo that not only ill serves most poor children, but shows little prospect of meaningful improvement.


4.      We must have an honest and forthright conversation about the root causes of this national failure.  The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.   That is the trap we must avoid or risk losing another generation of our children.


5.      The sad reality is that these systems are not broken. Rather, they are doing what we have designed them to do over time.  The systems were not designed with the goal of student learning first and foremost, so they are ill-equipped to accomplish what is demanded of them today.


6.      Changing the system so that it better meets the needs of students will require not only a shift in our collective thinking, but also a shift in power.  As the civil rights movement itself makes clear, such transformations inevitably generate resistance and political conflict.  We must no longer shirk from that struggle. The stakes are simply too high.


7.      In practical terms, this means that we must take immediate steps to:

a.       Ensure that there is an effective teacher in every classroom, and an effective principal in every school, by paying educators as the professionals they are, by giving them the tools and training they need to succeed, and by making tough decisions about those who do not;

b.      Empower parents by giving them a meaningful voice in where their children are educated including public charter schools;

c.       Create accountability for educational success at every level --  at the system and school level, for teachers and principals, and for central office administrators;

d.      Commit to making every decision about whom we employ, how money is spent, and where resources are deployed with a single-minded focus: what will best serve our students, regardless of how it affects other interests;

e.       Call on parents and students to demand more from their schools, but also to demand more from themselves;

f.        Have the strength in our convictions to stand up to those political forces and interests who seek to preserve a failed system.


8.      Breaking through those forces requires the rest of us to declare that enough is enough. Our failure to educate our children reflects on all of us. We must call out policymakers who would never send their own children to so many of our public schools but who enthusiastically support policies that entrap other families in such hopeless circumstances.


9.      On behalf of all of our children, we must insist that our elected officials confront and address head-on crucial issues that created this crisis: teachers' contracts and state policies that keep ineffective teachers in classrooms and too often make it nearly impossible to get our best teachers paired up with the students who most need them; school funding mechanisms that ignore the reality that students are supposed to be the primary focus of schools; and enrollment policies that  consign poor, minority students to our lowest-performing schools.


10.  We can't wait another forty years to get this done. Today's children only get one chance to be well-positioned for success in our society. 

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