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New Group Nudges Dems in New Direction

Democrats for Education Reform marked its Washington debut on Monday night. The New York-based PAC says it wants to be a player in the NCLB debate. Elizabeth Rich, an online editor for the section of edweek.org serving teachers, attended and filed this report:

With a perfect view of the Washington and Jefferson Monuments and the sun setting behind the White House, the Democrats for Education Reform held their organization launch. DFER is angling to get party support behind education issues--as they see them.

Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., spoke, but left early; DC Public School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, spoke about hiring around union rules (making her an excellent candidate for DFER’s darling); and Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., received an award, in absentia, for her support of charter schools.

Kevin Chavous, DFER's board chair and a former District of Columbia councilman, said he and executive director, Joe Williams, had been “in meetings with legislators all day.”

According to Williams, “We were introducing our group, asking questions, generally encouraging them [legislators] to be strong in support of NCLB.”

Sound like lobbying? “Well, yes you could say that,” he said.

Williams added: “We’re interested in NCLB as an important law, but we need to be careful about any fixes—we need to make sure that we are dealing with problems that we’ve identified, rather than creating new ones.”

What is their position exactly on NCLB? “We’re closer too what [Rep.] George Miller wants than what the NEA [National Education Association] wants—like creating incentives for getting the best possible teachers in struggling schools. We want to see the bulk of the money going to high-poverty schools, with assignments of [quality] teachers to struggling schools.”

Williams’ position on local assessments is that they could strangle reform. “There needs to be national standards,” he said. The federal government should have a role because school systems aren’t at their best when they are loaded down with requirements, according to Williams.

On the unions, his response was mitigated, “Our goal is not to battle with the unions, but to try and get other voices into the discussion—parents, students, communities, business people also have a stake in this and should be able to take part in the discussion.”

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