America’s leading voices on education reform joined in Denver to call on Democratic leaders to steer public education in a new direction. On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, more than two dozen progressive elected officials, education reform advocates, school leaders and civil rights groups from across the country gathered at the Denver Art Museum to release the Ed Challenge for Change, which highlights new ideas for closing America’s devastating achievement gap.
“An entrepreneurial explosion has occurred over the last few years in public education,” said Joe Williams, Executive Director of Democrats for Education Reform, the organization responsible for conceiving the Ed Challenge for Change. “The creativity exhibited by this new group of educators is helping raise student achievement, empower teachers, close the minority learning gap, and bring hope to places where it’s been in very short supply. It’s a movement that we believe Sen. Obama and other Democrats have taken to heart, and we hope to see these reforms increase in schools across America during the Obama Administration.”
An eclectic mix of Democratic wunderkinds, tough-talking education reformers and one elder statesman – former Gov. Roy Romer – are challenging their party to step away from teachers unions and return to fighting for the educational rights of poor and minority children.
“It is a battle for the heart of the Democratic Party,” said Corey Booker, the 39-year-old rising star mayor of Newark, N.J.
“We have been wrong in education,” Booker said of his party and its alliances with teachers unions that put adults before children. “It’s time to get right.”
Booker was among those who appeared Sunday at the Denver Art Museum to challenge the Democratic Party to reconsider its course on education.
In references sometimes veiled and sometimes blunt, they tackled the party’s often- cozy relationship with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which typically support – financially and otherwise – Democratic candidates.
One panelist–I think it was Peter Groff, president of the Colorado State Senate, got the ball rolling by complaining that when the children’s agenda meets the adult agenda, the “adult agenda wins too often.” Then Cory Booker of Newark attacked teachers unions specifically–and there was applause. In a room of 500 people at the Democratic convention! “The politics are so vicious,” Booker complained, remembering how he’d been told his political career would be over if he kept pushing school choice, how early on he’d gotten help from Republicans rather than from Democrats.