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Democrats for Education Reform Applauds U.S. Department of Education Move to Improve Teacher Preparation

Washington—November 25, 2014—Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) released the following statement from Policy Director Charles Barone applauding the U.S. Department of Education’s release of its draft plan to collect better data on the performance of teacher preparation programs and to set higher standards for the federal TEACH scholarships.

“This an important first step toward overhauling the way the United States prepares teachers and raising the status and prestige of the teaching profession.

“In this era of ever-increasing international competition and higher academic standards, substandard teacher training is just as unfair to our nation's educators as it is to our students.

“The failure, over the course of decades, to remedy deficiencies in teacher training by those institutions whose job it is to select and prepare teachers constitutes educational negligence of the highest order. The U.S. Department of Education is stepping in because educational institutions have repeatedly abdicated their responsibility to set and enforce high standards for the teaching profession.

“Once states set benchmarks that draw on newly available data we should give schools appropriate time to meet them. But instead of condoning wasteful practices indefinitely, as in the past, those responsible for overseeing federal funds must issue an ultimatum: shape up or lose subsidies.

“Every field with broad social importance at some point requires and undergoes a transformation to adapt to new societal expectations and advances in knowledge. Modernization leads to qualitatively different approaches to training and pay, enhancing the prestige of the profession.  That time has now come for teaching.

“We look forward to reviewing the draft regulations over the coming days and working with the Department to improve and, ultimately, implement them.”

Correcting the Record


In today's Hechinger Report, Andre Perry draws some hasty and misinformed conclusions on where Democrats in general and DFER in particular stand on certain education issues. Perry states, for example, that "DFER makes no reference to regressive tax policy and inequitable funding formulas that keep families poor and schools under-resourced." 

Apparently, Perry didn't look very hard. To help him out, we've put together a short - illustrative, not exhaustive - reading list of commentary and advocacy on school funding from our website.
For more, go to our site search bar and enter "school funding," "equity," etc. 
High-poverty schools often have a larger share of lower-paid teachers. In dollar terms, it's not fair.  April 2011

Feds Target Education Funds Because States Won't; So Why Do Republicans Want to Enable States to Shortchange Poor Schools? July 2011.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has fought to increase education funding for the children of Philadelphia and to improve the influx of cash by proposing new taxes on cigarettes. Sadly, his proposals have been ignored by leadership at both the city and state level.

DFER Joins Advocacy and Civil Rights Groups Urging Stronger Accountability for At-Risk Subgroups of Students

Today, Democrats for Education Reform joins with the NAACP, the National Urban League, NCLR, the National Center for Learning Disabilities and others in urging the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to correct course and ensure that in the next round of waiver renewals, states must make the achievement and attainment of each group of students count in ratings for all schools.

A recent analysis of data from new state systems shows that school rating systems do not account for the achievement and growth of individual groups of students in a meaningful way. A school with an “A” rating may only be academically preparing its white or affluent students, while African-American, Latino or low-income students are not seeing the same academic progress or achievement. Moreover, 16 states and territories have received waivers but do not require interventions when individual student groups miss their graduation rate targets. 

The full letter and list of signees is here:

Waiver Coalition Letter 10.24.doc.pdf

Accountability Debate Taking Place on Different Planets

By Charles Barone, Policy Director

Today, at an event hosted by the Alliance for Excellent Education, a group of advocates and academics including Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford and Gene Wilhoit, formerly of the Council of Chief State School Officers, announced a "new approach on accountability and testing" (aka 51st state) that would, among other things, scale back annual statewide summative tests and increase the use of local assessments for purposes of accountability.

Weirdly enough, over at the Center American Progress, a new study issued today finds that it is districts much more so than states that account for what many consider "over-testing" taking place now in America's public schools. Which seems to suggest that the 51st state proposal is singling out the wrong level of government if what it wants to do is decrease the amount of testing. 

We should encourage local innovations in how we assess students. If that's what Darling-Hammond, Wilhoit et al. are trying to do, I'm all for it. But attempts to substitute myriad local tests for valid and reliable statewide assessments for purposes of accountability are just as bad an idea on a policy level now as they have been every other time they've been proposed.

If we revert to a patchwork of standards and assessments that vary according to political pressure, or societal and community biases, or simply the lack of local capacity to create valid and reliable tests, we will longer be able to make apples to apples comparisons about school performance. In turn, the schools in which poor and minority students are enrolled are likely to look better than they actually are. Badly needed investments in teaching and learning and in formulating and implementing fundamental reforms in chronically failing schools will then be at even greater risk than they are now. 

You don't have to take my word on whether or not we can make valid comparisons across schools with a bunch of new local assessments.

Back about a decade or so, an esteemed panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences (an organization that, to put it mildly, has never been accused of overzealousness when it comes to student testing) was tasked with answering that very question:

“Can scores on one test be made interpretable in terms of scores on other tests? Can we have more uniform data about student performance from our healthy hodgepodge of state and local programs?

And the result was:

“After deliberation that lasted nine months, involving intensive review of the technical literature and consideration of every possible methodological nuance, the committee’s answer was a blunt ‘no.’”*

Absent some huge shift in the technical and methodological literature, one would have to conclude this is no less true now than it was a decade ago. End of debate? Don't bet on it. There's much more to come.


*Michael Feuer “Moderating the Debate,” Harvard Education Press, 2006. 

USDOE Guidance on Equity A Big Step. But Some Provisions Raise Concerns About Political Will

by Charles Barone, Policy Director

Democrats for Education Reform applauds the U.S. Department of Education for the guidance it issued today to help ensure equal educational opportunity for all students. Resource equity is a key area where we, along with many others, have asked the Obama Administration to place greater emphasis. We're thrilled to see today's action. But we also have concerns whether there is the requisite amount of political will to ensure the plan presented today will ultimately result in real change. 

Continue reading "USDOE Guidance on Equity A Big Step. But Some Provisions Raise Concerns About Political Will"....

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