High Expectations, Accountability and No Child Left Behind (NCLB)
DFER supports higher expectations of our students and teachers. To help create higher expectations, DFER supports a national, internationally-benchmarked standard that each student, teacher, and school is held accountable for meeting. Accountability standards produce real education reform by flushing out which programs and curriculum work, and which do not.
Accountability and assessment, and the underlying tenet of high-expectations, are the most important factors that set the Federal Legislative Act No Child Left Behind (NCLB) apart from earlier education reform legislation.
NCLB is a landmark bill which redefines the federal role in K-12 education. It aims to close the achievement gap between disadvantaged and minority students and their affluent peers, as well as to improve education in the United States in order to compete globally.
DFER strongly believes that although NCLB was not properly funded or implemented under the Bush administration, this policy to improve our country's standard of education through accountability and assessment is incredibly important. For these reasons, DFER supports the reauthorization of a strong NCLB law.
For more about the history and goals of federal education legislation, please read DFER's own Director of Federal Policy, Charles Barone's policy briefing memo, Keeping Achievement Relevant: The Reauthorization of 'No Child Left Behind'.
School Choice and Public Charter Schools
DFER believes that every child deserves to receive a quality public education. If a child is not receiving a quality education at their designated public school, DFER supports a parent's right to choose an alternative school that will provide a quality education for their child.
DFER believes that public charter schools are an important alternative to traditional public schools. Most public charter schools are allowed the opportunity to explore innovative ways of educating children, as well as the ability to create their own rules, agenda, and mission. Examples of this freedom include longer school days (which aides working families that are unable to afford childcare) and innovative classes in addition to traditional subjects.
Like traditional public schools, charter schools are held accountable and must meet testing requirements. If they fail to meet academic standards they will be, and should be, shut down. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools are also held accountable by parents and the community at large.
Most of all, DFER supports public charter schools because they work. In communities across the country, public charter schools are producing positive results.
Strong, Effective, Competent Leadership of Schools
DFER believes that children and teachers deserve schools which are competently and effectively managed, so that excellent teaching and learning are supported and rewarded. Many of the counter-productive rules and regulations governing today's schools got there as a result of incompetent school leadership in the past. DFER therefore supports attempts to start new effective public schools without that baggage of the past, as well as attempts to infuse schools and districts with better management.
DFER supports the idea of holding mayors accountable for the successful operation of schools in cities where school boards are ineffective and schools are failing. Urban school districts face unique challenges because, among other things, many students are disadvantaged, schools are often underfunded, and many are unable to recruit top tier teachers - but these conditions only make it much more crucial that strong school leaders be able to break through and support excellent teaching and learning.
Examples of successful mayoral control exist in New York City (Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein), Chicago (Mayor Richard Daily and then-CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan), and the District of Columbia (Mayor Adrian Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee).
Alternative Teacher Certification Programs
DFER supports alternative teacher certification programs, such as Teach For America (TFA) and Teaching Fellows. These programs recruit top graduates from top schools, with the goal of molding them into top teachers. Additionally, these recruits are often placed in school districts that have a difficult time attracting teachers.
Programs such as TFA not only provide their recruits with the tools necessary to become teachers, but also encourage and motive these young talents to remain in the education field after their teaching requirement is completed, if not by teaching directly, then by working to improve education through other means.
As co-founders of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, wrote in the Washington Post opinion piece, What 'Yes, We Can' Should Mean for Our Schools (1/9/2009), "We should assess teachers on their demonstrated impact on student learning, not whether they hold traditional teacher certifications." DFER agrees.
Early Education and Universal Pre-Kindergarten
DFER supports publicly funded universal pre-kindergarten to improve the standard of education in the United States, and to close the achievement gap between disadvantaged and minority youth and their affluent peers by granting every child early exposure to literacy and academic instruction.
As DFER board member Sara Mead writes in her policy briefing memo, Partners in Closing the Achievement Gap: How Charter Schools Can Support Quality Universal Pre-K, "States are investing in pre-k because research shows that high-quality pre-kindergarten programs can have a positive long-term impact on children's life outcomes, help narrow the achievement gap between poor and affluent youngsters, and that the benefits of these investments to children and the taxpaying public outweigh their costs."
Two longitudinal studies researching the effect and impact of early education in at-risk youths, the Chicago Child Parent Center Study and the Perry Pre-school Project, conclude that early-education promotes academic success through college, higher paying jobs out of college, and fewer negative interactions with the police and other authorities.