Education Funding Opinion

Journalist Joe Williams Joins Newish Pro-Charter Democratic Group

By Alexander Russo — May 01, 2007 4 min read
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Joe Williams, the freelance journalist, education writer, and author of NYC-focused blog The Chalkboard, is quitting mainstream journalism and the blogosphere (for now) and getting into politics as head of Democrats for Education Reform, a group that I never heard of until last week when “Who The Hell Is” Whitney Tilson told me about it.

Not to be confused with the Black Crusaders, Democrats For Education Reform are a “nascent political organization that aims to move the Democratic Party to embrace genuine school reform,” according to Tilson. But it’s not exactly new -- except to me. You can find out more about it from this 2006 presentation by Tilson at a Jackson Hole Institute conference. Robert Gordon is involved, directly or as inspiration. There’s also a 2005 mention of DFER listing Amy Wilkins as ED, whose main focus as I recall was supporting pro-choice Democratic candidates and getting the charter cap raised in NY.

The charter cap in New York has recently been increased. Wilkins is back at the Ed Trust where she belongs. Williams will be that organization’s executive director, trying to more formally work “to make the Democrats a little more interesting on the education reform issue.” Congrats and condolences. DFER Statement Of Principles:

Democrats for Education Reform
Statement of Principles

Public education should be America’s greatest engine of opportunity and the Democratic Party should be America’s greatest champion of public education. Yet today too many public schools fail to give students – particularly those who are low-income and minorities – the skills and knowledge needed for a fair shot at the American Dream. And the Democratic Party too often fails to stand up for these students. These failures place our party’s fortunes, our nation’s future and these children’s lives at great risk. Our schools and our nation must do better, and our party must lead the way.

Democrats for Education Reform is committed to reconnecting our party’s education policies to its most fundamental moral principles. We seek to secure a stronger and more vibrant future, not just for disadvantaged children and their communities, but for our nation as a whole.

These are our commitments:

We believe that education reform is essential to America’s continued power and prosperity. The twin achievement gaps – the gap separating American students from their peers in other nations and the gap that separates low-income and minority students from other students in our country – threaten both our economy and our ideals. For our country to compete, we must develop and harness the talents, abilities and energies of all our children, not just the fortunate few.

We believe that public schools have a moral responsibility to give poor children and children of color the academic tools for success in school and in life. Too often, these children are victims of injustice outside the school. We cannot allow those injustices to excuse malpractice in their schools. Public schools must become the surest route out of poverty and the strongest weapon against racism.

We believe that high standards coupled with innovation fuel excellence. Holding states, school districts and schools accountable for helping all students succeed academically is the best way to boost overall achievement and close the achievement gaps. Historically, Democrats have embraced bold innovation in pursuit of excellence and equality, yet when it comes to education, we are often protecting the status quo, perpetuating failure for many students.

High-quality charter schools have enabled inner-city children to outperform rich suburbanites, but Democrats often seek to quash these schools.

Reforms in teacher evaluation, pay, seniority and assignment policies could lead to more effective teaching in all of our schools and better matches between teacher ability and student need within and between schools. Yet Democrats too often cling to outmoded policies that make teaching unattractive to many highly motivated and ambitious people and contribute to the inequitable distribution of teacher talent.

It is time for Democrats to return to our roots as bold innovators in the service of the neediest children and the common good.

We believe that money matters but must be well spent. We disagree with the right-wing contention that resources are irrelevant; wealthy parents expect their children to attend well-funded schools, and poor parents should expect no less. And we disagree with the left-wing orthodoxy that money alone can solve all of our schools’ problems. Many well-funded schools fail; some poorly funded schools succeed. Our poorest schools need additional resources, but those resources must be deployed to transform, not to perpetuate, systems that do not work for students.

We believe in putting children first. To support America’s children, we must support and honor determined, dedicated and effective educators and work with them to advance the cause of excellence. But when the demands of organized educators and the needs of children conflict, as sometimes they do, there can be no question: America’s – and the Democratic Party’s – responsibility is to put children first.

One of the Democratic Party’s deepest convictions is that every child deserves a fair chance to participate in our nation’s economic and civic mainstream. Many Americans now wonder whether Democrats still have the courage of this conviction. For our party, our children and our country, now is the time to prove that we do.

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