Policy Briefs and Memos
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Teacher Voice/Teacher Choice: Teacher Satisfaction in NYC Public Schools
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.
Creating A Winning Legislative Campaign: The Colorado Story
AS STATES SLASH EDUCATION BUDGETS, HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DEDICATED FEDERAL DOLLARS GO UNUSED
Henry Wyman Holmes, Dean, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1920
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.
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.