Saturday, June 14, 2008

Launch of the Education Equality Project

This is huge: Democrats for Education Reform has joined with numerous other prominent Democrats equally committed to genuine education reform to launch the Education Equality Project, "a new organization focused on transforming America's public schools and educational outcomes for high-needs students. The Project will challenge politicians, public officials, educators, union leaders, and others to view fixing public schools as the foremost civil rights issue of the early 21st Century. It will focus America's attention on its highest needs students, who—54 years after Brown v. Board of Education—still receive far less educational opportunity and often struggle and fail in school."  Below is the press release and statement of principles.

This is really important because nearly all of the civil rights community, to its everlasting discredit, has been completely silent on the #1 civil rights issue of our time: the achievement gap and steps that must be taken to address it.  I never thought I would write these words, but kudos to Al Sharpton!
This is the teacher unions' worst nightmare: that traditional old guard Democrats like other unions and the civil rights community will finally see the light and refuse to support their efforts to maintain the increasingly indefensible status quo.

New National Education Reform Coalition Calls Fixing Public Education the Civil Rights Struggle of the 21st Century, Aims to Challenge National Leaders to Work for Change


Reverend Al Sharpton and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein joined with elected officials, civil rights leaders, and education reformers from across the country today to announce the launch of the Education Equality Project, a new organization focused on transforming America's public schools and educational outcomes for high-needs students. The Project will challenge politicians, public officials, educators, union leaders, and others to view fixing public schools as the foremost civil rights issue of the early 21st Century. It will focus America's attention on its highest needs students, who—54 years after Brown v. Board of Education—still receive far less educational opportunity and often struggle and fail in school. In the coming months, the Project will seek to focus the presidential candidates on educational equality, hosting forums at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. The founding members of the Project announced their new effort at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.


Founding Project members include elected officials, civil rights leaders, and education reformers. The 15 people who have agreed to the Project's "principles" (attached) include:


§         Andres A. Alonso, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO

§         Cory A. Booker, Newark, NJ Mayor

§         Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children's Zone President and CEO

§         Kevin P. Chavous, attorney, author, and national school reform leader

§         Arne Duncan, Chicago Public Schools CEO

§         Howard Fuller, Former Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent, Education Professor and Director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University

§         Peter Groff, Colorado Senate President

§         Kati Haycock,  The Education Trust President

§         Joel I. Klein, New York City Schools Chancellor, Education Equality Project Co-chairman

§         Marc Lampkin, Strong American Schools – ED in '08 Executive Director

§         James Mtume, KISS FM Radio "Open Line" Host

§         Michelle Rhee, Washington, D.C. Schools Chancellor

§         The Honorable Roy Romer, Strong American Schools – ED in '08 Chairman

§         Andrew Rotherham, Education Sector Co-founder and Co-director

§         Rev. Al Sharpton, National Action Network President, Education Equality Project Co-chairman

§         Joe Williams, Democrats for Education Reform Executive Director

§         J.C. Watts, Jr., Strong American Schools – ED in '08 National Spokesman


In the coming weeks, the Project co-chairmen will invite other leaders to join their coalition.


            "Today, an unprecedented coalition has come together to confront the racial disparities in education and address the issue of education as a new civil rights movement to bring equality to education in this country," Rev. Sharpton said. "We challenge both presidential candidates to recognize that we haven't come close to achieving racial equality in educational opportunity."


"It took our country 165 years to conclude that, under our Constitution, separate isn't equal in education, but, still, 54 years after Brown v. Board of Education, too often our schools fail our highest needs students," Chancellor Klein said. "We need to get serious about giving all children the education they need to succeed. It won't be easy—the status quo has lots of defenders—but it can be done and it is absolutely essential that we do it."


            "We stand at a historic time in the transformation of public education in Newark and the entire nation. We cannot let petty politics, crass opportunism, or personal agendas undermine our collective advance toward educational excellence," said Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory A. Booker. "The time for 'all deliberate speed' ran out 50 years ago. We must unite as a people to drive to empower our nation's youth with the mental, emotional, and spiritual strength to define their personal excellence and manifest our nation's ideals of 'liberty and justice for all.'"


"Our nation's economy and individual family income is tied to improving our skills through education," ED in '08 Chairman Roy Romer said. "Americans cannot afford to sit back and watch its schools fail our students. We need to raise expectations and opportunities for every single student, regardless of race, color, creed, or income. Most importantly, we need strong leaders to take initiative. Today, I am joining these influential leaders to call for change."


"Nationally, our public education system is failing to provide our students with the skills they need to compete for the best jobs in the global workforce," said former Congressman J.C. Watts, Jr., who serves as a spokesperson for ED in '08. "Too many of our students are not graduating from high school and too many who do graduate are not prepared to face the challenges of college, the workplace, or life. This crisis in education is destroying the foundation of our economic success and national prosperity. I am glad to join the bi-partisan coalition to sound the national alarm to improve our schools."


"It is not sufficient to accept small islands of excellence in our urban school districts," Dr. Andres A. Alonso, CEO of the Baltimore City Public Schools, said. "We must have the will as a society to ensure that every student, no matter where he is born, what color she is, or what parents he or she has can have access to the high-quality teachers and quality choices all children deserve. This is how we must define ourselves as a nation."   


"One of the first things I learned as the Washington, D.C. schools chancellor is that you can't base decisions on politics or what makes people happy," Washington, D.C., Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee said. "You have to have the courage to make decisions on one thing—and one thing only—if it will help students learn. As a country, we cannot afford to protect a system that is failing. It's time for our national leaders to start putting students front and center and start transforming our country's public schools."


"We're talking about a crisis that is entirely preventable, but only if leaders have the courage to say enough is enough," Joe Williams, the Democrats for Education Reform Executive Director, said.


The Principles, signed by the Education Equality Project members, are attached. To find out more about the Education Equality Project, please visit or e-mail




Contact:  David Cantor - NYC Department of Education (212) 374-5141

                Rachel Noerdlinger - NAN/Al Sharpton Media (212) 876-5444


Education Equality Project

Statement of Principles


1.      Fifty-four years after Brown vs. Board of Education, forty years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and twenty-five years after the publication of a Nation at Risk, we must confront a shameful national reality:  If you are an African American or Latino child in this country, the probability is high that our public education system will fail you, that you will not graduate from high school, that your ability to function successfully in the twenty-first century economy will be limited, and that you will have no real prospect of achieving the American dream.


2.      This reality is especially shameful in a country built on the core idea of equality of opportunity, a country divided for too many years by racial discrimination and injustice.


3.      Despite the urgency of the need and the righteousness of the cause, public education today remains mired in a status quo that not only ill serves most poor children, but shows little prospect of meaningful improvement.


4.      We must have an honest and forthright conversation about the root causes of this national failure.  The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.   That is the trap we must avoid or risk losing another generation of our children.


5.      The sad reality is that these systems are not broken. Rather, they are doing what we have designed them to do over time.  The systems were not designed with the goal of student learning first and foremost, so they are ill-equipped to accomplish what is demanded of them today.


6.      Changing the system so that it better meets the needs of students will require not only a shift in our collective thinking, but also a shift in power.  As the civil rights movement itself makes clear, such transformations inevitably generate resistance and political conflict.  We must no longer shirk from that struggle. The stakes are simply too high.


7.      In practical terms, this means that we must take immediate steps to:

a.       Ensure that there is an effective teacher in every classroom, and an effective principal in every school, by paying educators as the professionals they are, by giving them the tools and training they need to succeed, and by making tough decisions about those who do not;

b.      Empower parents by giving them a meaningful voice in where their children are educated including public charter schools;

c.       Create accountability for educational success at every level --  at the system and school level, for teachers and principals, and for central office administrators;

d.      Commit to making every decision about whom we employ, how money is spent, and where resources are deployed with a single-minded focus: what will best serve our students, regardless of how it affects other interests;

e.       Call on parents and students to demand more from their schools, but also to demand more from themselves;

f.        Have the strength in our convictions to stand up to those political forces and interests who seek to preserve a failed system.


8.      Breaking through those forces requires the rest of us to declare that enough is enough. Our failure to educate our children reflects on all of us. We must call out policymakers who would never send their own children to so many of our public schools but who enthusiastically support policies that entrap other families in such hopeless circumstances.


9.      On behalf of all of our children, we must insist that our elected officials confront and address head-on crucial issues that created this crisis: teachers' contracts and state policies that keep ineffective teachers in classrooms and too often make it nearly impossible to get our best teachers paired up with the students who most need them; school funding mechanisms that ignore the reality that students are supposed to be the primary focus of schools; and enrollment policies that  consign poor, minority students to our lowest-performing schools.


10.  We can't wait another forty years to get this done. Today's children only get one chance to be well-positioned for success in our society. 


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