Policy Briefs and Memos
May 14, 2012
Why Ed Reformers Must Make Sure President Obama is Re-Elected
In Why Ed Reformers Must Make Sure President Obama is Re-Elected, DFER Executive Director Joe Williams and DFER Director of Federal Policy Charlie Barone communicate the need for reformers to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to re-elect "education reformer in chief" President Barack Obama.
During his past four years in office, President Obama has been a stalwart leader for the education reform movement. We must all do our part to ensure he remains in office for another four years to continue the historic momentum of reform he has worked so courageously to advance.
Read the full report here.
Also, don't forget to review our recent policy brief on Mitt Romney: What Kind of President Would Mitt Romney Be on Education? (Check it out.)
May 4, 2012
What Kind of President Would Mitt Romney Be on Education?
In What Kind of President Would Mitt Romney Be on Education?, DFER Policy Analyst Omar Lopez and DFER Massachusetts State Director Liam Kerr join DFER Director of Federal Policy Charlie Barone in forecasting the effects of a possible Romney administration on our education system.
And, based on the Olympic class waffling Romney has exhibited throughout his campaign on issues such as student loan interest rates, the DREAM Act, the education budget, and a federal role in education (or lack there of), their prediction is quite grim.
Read the full policy brief and view DFER's Education Report Card grading both Romney and Obama here.
October 17, 2011
Built to Succeed? Ranking New Statewide Teacher Evaluation Practices
In Built to Succeed? Ranking New Statewide Teacher Evaluation Practices, Martinez joins Jocelyn Huber, DFER's teacher advocacy director, and Ron Tupa, DFER's director of state legislatures, in providing a pre-season "likelihood of success" ranking of 19 states that changed their teacher evaluation policies in the last few years. There are a lot of caveats attached to this type of project, since states tackled the problem in so many different ways, but we will obviously continue to monitor the practices in these states going forward.
October 17, 2011
IMPACT in Washington: Lessons From the First years
In IMPACT in Washington: Lessons From the First years, former Wall Street Journal reporter Barbara Martinez takes a look at the IMPACT teacher evaluation system in our nation's capital. Early results show that the system is doing pretty much what it was intended to do: recognizing and rewarding the most successful teachers, providing feedback and targeted professional development to help teachers improve, and dismissing the relative few who don't belong in classrooms.
September 26, 2011
Teacher Voice/Teacher Choice: Teacher Satisfaction in NYC Public Schools
September 15, 2011
Democrats for Education Reform: Concerns and Recommendations on USDOE Waiver Process
- We are skeptical on the grounds of both process and substance. Some of the states that have made the least effort to improve the quality of education and close achievement gaps are now asking for waivers that in essence allow them to gloss over or abdicate responsibility for low-performing districts and schools;
- We do not question the Department's authority to solicit or issue waivers. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) clearly gives the Secretary this power;
- Many waiver requests have merit. There is an opportunity for some good to come from these waivers as part of an overall state plan consistent with the basic purposes of ESEA, such as states having "challenging standards" and working to "equalize the distribution of effective teachers;"
- Many other requests, however, are preposterous or at the very least misguided and should not even be considered for approval as happened last year in VA, when the state was allowed to set their annual goals after tests were already administered, as also was done last month for the 2010-11 school year for the state of Montana;
- States should be held accountable for some fundamentals around standards, assessments, and teacher effectiveness before a waiver request is considered, or as a condition for final waiver approval;
- Some states should be ineligible for goal-lowering waivers prima facie, such as California, where the state Superintendent opposed attempts to improve teacher equity by modifying "Last In, First Out" policies, or Mississippi, which has the lowest standards of any state, yet only identified 25% of its schools as in need of improvement, a policy that sweeps under the rug schools in which, for all intents and purposes, students are being consigned to ultimate academic and economic failure.
March 30, 2011
Creating A Winning Legislative Campaign: The Colorado Story
January 10, 2011
AS STATES SLASH EDUCATION BUDGETS, HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DEDICATED FEDERAL DOLLARS GO UNUSED
Henry Wyman Holmes, Dean, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1920
November 8, 2010
How the Funky Fifteen Fared
Whether or not the modern era of education reform is ultimately successful will, in large part, come down to whether or not reformers can continue to influence the political power structure. In an election that was tough for Democrats anywhere in the country, DFER's Hot List did pretty well.
October 25, 2010
Bursting the Dam
CLICK HERE for the updated PDF version.
Why the Next 24 Months Are Critical for Education Reform Politics
It is no secret that most of the efforts to reform K-12 public education systems in the last quarter century have been stymied by political gridlock. Although education pioneers like Teach For America and KIPP have demonstrated the tremendous potential impact of innovation, special interests (primarily but not limited to teachers unions) have built up symbiotic relationships with elected officials to the point that they are able to assert de facto veto power over the kinds of changes which could fundamentally alter the way education is delivered in our communities.
Teachers unions and other interests were wise to build this powerbase. Their leaders understood long ago that the $500 billion public education industry is inherently political and that the ability to impact political decisions at all levels of government is the most efficient way to control their destiny.
Education reformers were slow to realize that politics mattered so much, but have aggressively moved to change the political calculation. In the last three years, Democrats for Education Reform alone has pumped more than $17 million into political advocacy at the federal, state and local levels. Alumni of programs like Teach For America are beginning to run for office. Reformers have assumed positions of influence at the federal and state levels of government.
We're closer than we've ever been to bursting the dam that has prevented progress in K-12 education. To be sure, since the 1983 release of the federal report A Nation At Risk, there have been small but valuable political fissures in the dam. Some school boards have tipped briefly in favor of reformers, some governors have made progress with raising standards, etc. but the dam itself has remained strong enough to stop widespread reform.
The 2008 election of President Barack Obama created unprecedented political conditions, which now make fundamental reform of public education a possibility. The first-ever Democratic president elected without significant support of teachers unions (the American Federation of Teachers, which backed Hillary Clinton early on, spent millions trying to knock Obama off the ballot), Obama has governed with unusual credibility and freedom.
President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan's federal "Race To The Top" (RTTT) competition produced more simultaneous fissures in the dam than we've ever seen. Cash-strapped state legislatures, hoping to win a chunk of nearly $5 billion in federal prizes, passed more education reform legislation in eight months than they had in the previous eight years. Reform in exchange for dollars became the new mantra, and the status quo - desperate to avoid widespread teacher layoffs - found itself uncharacteristically nullified in the political process. (Union leaders were forced to choose whether they wanted layoffs or not - with these changes being the price of additional federal funding.)
Each of these fissures in the dam is having an impact locally. Collectively, they are starting to swing the balance of power in education. For the first time, dam is weak and ready to burst.
In the aftermath of some of these 2010 reform battles, elections will determine whether this wave of reform is politically sustainable. Leaders who supported reform must be protected, or the old (and highly effective) storyline will emerge once again: Promote education reform at your own political peril. Recent Democratic primaries have proven that defenders of the status quo still have considerable firepower. In Washington DC, these interests unseated Mayor Adrian Fenty, one of the country's most outspoken reformers. And, of the countless individual legislators targeted because they helped to negotiate their states' RTTT applications, way too many were felled.
These losses don't spell the end for education reform; the movement has way too much momentum. But if we can't continue to build momentum and push through this era when political martyrdom is all too commonplace, there's a real risk that all our public policy gains will simply roll back.
Whether or not the modern era of education reform is ultimately successful will, in large part, come down to whether or not we can continue to influence the political power structure. Continued success in the political arena in 2010 and 2011 - at a time when difficult local and state budgets will continue to force some tough discussions on education policy - have the potential to burst the dam once and for all.
This is it. By working together to clear the political obstruction that has slowed education reform so predictably over the last 25 years, we can make way for the pragmatic educators who are doing the hard work toward closing the achievement gap.
Continue below to learn how you can help.
October 21, 2010
Remember that ed reform upset in the making in Baltimore?
A Note from Bill Ferguson, DFER Reformer of the Month
It was only three months ago that I announced my intent to unseat a 27-year incumbent Maryland state senator, to effect as broad a change as possible for Baltimore City residents and the Baltimore City Public Schools. The playbook was pretty simple (work 25 hours a day!) and I'm proud to report that, with your help, we won!
I want you to know that we really couldn't have done it without the generosity of passionate education reform advocates throughout the country who opened their wallets for this campaign. DFER was one of the first organizations to show up in support of this campaign (the organization named me Ed Reformer of the Month in August), and helped build the momentum we ultimately rode to victory!
I can't tell you how important I think the Reformer of the Month movement is to the future of education reform in our country.
Teach For America brought me to Baltimore City. As a high school social studies teacher in West Baltimore and as Special Assistant to the City Schools CEO, I learned that we absolutely cannot change public education without effective leadership in government. We absolutely cannot elect the right leadership without a systematic approach to helping those leaders' campaigns. With organized people and organized money, we can and will reform our public schools so that all children have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.
Take a moment and really think about how much you can afford each month to help elect the right leadership at all levels of government. Will you join me in becoming a monthly contributing member of $25 or more? Please CLICK HERE and make a specific commitment to the Reformer of the Month movement. You'll never be obligated to give, but DFER will remind you each month.
I hope you'll be as generous to future leaders as you were to me.
One more thing: I'm sure I don't need to remind you that Election Day is just days away. DFER's Reformers of the Month for October and November still need your help, and fast. Don't wait for 2012. CLICK HERE and make a contribution to Krystal Ball in Virginia and Frank Caprio in Rhode Island.
Thank you so much for being part of this movement!
All my best,
DFER Ed Reformer of the Month, August 2010
October 18, 2010
Updated: Bursting the Dam
Whether or not the modern era of education reform is ultimately successful will, in large part, come down to whether or not reformers can continue to influence the political power structure. Our success in the political arena in 2010 and 2011 has the potential to burst the dam that has long held back progressive education reforms around the nation.
CLICK HERE to read DFER's updated Bursting the Dam report on the importance of education reform politics in the next 24 months. We have revised the report to reflect the rapidly changing political climate.
To skip the report and contribute directly to DFER's Hot List candidates, please visit http://www.actblue.com/page/dferhotlist.
August 24, 2010
Race to the Top: By the Numbers
in Round 1.
career ready" standards.
Careers (PARCC) consortium alone educate over 60 percent of the K-12 students in
the United States.
being used in teacher evaluations repealed those laws: California, Wisconsin, Nevada,
Maine, and Indiana. (New York simply let its law expire.)
Maryland, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee - enacted legislation that
requires student achievement data to be used in teacher evaluation or tenure decisions.
rhetoric that is used by opponents of these policies. The highest weighting any state has
given student tests in teachers evaluations is 50%.
But union support varied much more widely than that in both rounds.
Nationwide, of the Round 2 finalists: 1,859 total local unions signed on as did:
United Negro College Fund, Janet Murguía, President and CEO, National Council of
La Raza, Wall Street Journal
campaign, SPLC's website
- Kurt L. Schmoke, Dean, Howard University Law School, The Washington Post
April 19, 2010
ESEA Backgrounder #1: Accountability Systems
This is the first in a series of issue briefs by DFER and the Education Equality Project on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that we hope policymakers, advocates, parents, educators, and the general public will find useful as Congress and the President embark on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (currently known as "No Child Left Behind"/"NCLB").
To read the brief, click here:
April 15, 2010
Dear Education Reformer --
On March 29, the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) took the bold step of naming only two states -- Delaware and Tennessee -- as Race to the Top (RTTT) Round 1 winners. The process was highly selective, as these two states were chosen from a group of 16 finalists from an initial pool of 41 applicants.
To assist policymakers in the Round 2 planning process, we -- Democrats for Education Reform, the Education Equality Project, and Education Reform Now -- are publishing a series of "Race Smarter" briefs, based on analysis of Round 1 applications, with the goal of informing states' efforts to compete successfully for the remaining $3.4 billion in Race to the Top funds.
We hope that these issue briefs will help state and local policymakers make the changes needed to enact education reforms that meet the very high standards set by President Obama and the aspirations and hopes we have for all of our nation's teachers and students.
Please click below to download the full introduction and a brief for each state.
We will be adding additional states, so please be sure to check back for updates.
Race Smarter Cover Letter and Summary
January 19, 2010
Racing To The Top! (Updated 1/19/2010)
The U.S. Education Secretary's $5 billion "Race To The Top" Fund, as included in the federal stimulus package, represents a historic opportunity to establish clear reform priorities and to back them up with signifiant resources to bring change to America's schools.
Click below for some concepts that DFER supports as part of the Race To The Top competition between states:
-- Race To The Top Issue Brief #2 - Unleashing Innovation In America's Schools (June 18, 2009)
-- Race To The Top Issue Brief #4 - World Class Standards and Assessments (June 22, 2009)
-- Race To The Top Issue Brief #5 - Growing Innovative Charter Schools (June 23, 2009)
-- Race To The Top Issue Brief #6 - A Great Teacher For Every Child (June 24, 2009)
February 23, 2009
Advisory Memo: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
Democrats for Education Reform released this memo to United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
DFER believes that ARRA can act as catalyst for the U.S. Department of Education to compel states to meet their current obligations for each of these four areas and to provide incentives for exemplary states to undertake initiatives that act as a model for those that are underperforming.
Some states have disregarded even the most basic requirements of federal laws designed to ensure that poor and minority children have educational opportunities at least equal to those of their more advantaged peers. DFER believes it is time for the new Secretary to put his foot down and demand that states meet their obligations to our nation's most at-risk students.
March 21, 2008
Partners In Closing The Achievement Gap: How Charter Schools Can Support High-Quality Universal Pre-K
By SARA MEAD
Democrats for Education Reform released a new policy briefing memo by DFER board member Sara Mead called Partners In Closing The Achievement Gap: How Charter Schools Can Support Quality Universal Pre-K. (You can download a PDF copy here.)
Mead, director of the Early Education Inititiative at the New America Foundation, writes that these two movements (the early childhood and charter school movements) have the potential to become important partners in improving education for America's children.
Mead's specific policy recommendations include:
-- Eliminating state policies barring charter schools from offering Pre-K
-- Allowing public charter schools to access per-pupil funds to educate 3- and 4-year-olds
-- Build charter authorizer capacity and expertise in early education
-- Allow charter schools to access state and federal Pre-K funds
-- Ensure adequate Pre-K funding to ensure quality
-- Include Pre-K charters in the Federal Charter Schools program
-- Eliminate caps on the number of charter schools which may serve children
It would seem that two of the most significant concerns with many Pre-K programs - namely wide disparities in perceived quality and a sometimes glaring disconnect between early childhood programs and elementary schools - could be addressed head-on by tapping into the accountability measures and structural flexibility that charter schools provide.
September 28, 2007
Keeping Achievement Relevant: The Reauthorization of 'No Child Left Behind'
By CHARLES BARONE
In this DFER Briefing Memo, Charles Barone, DFER's Director of Federal Policy, explains why the details matter in the current battles over the reauthorization of NCLB.
Barone, a former staffer to Rep. George Miller (D-California) and the top Democratic staff member for the House Education and Labor Committee in 2001 when NCLB was passed, traces current federal education policies back to both Brown v. Board of Education and the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.
He notes how NCLB, for all its problems, represented a significant attempt to eliminate some of the original (and amended) shortcomings in Title I, and highlights the historic importance of disaggregating student performance data by student type.
The memo underscores how damaging it could be if a reauthorized NCLB actually took us backward in terms of equality and accountability.