2021 Best Defense Eddies! Nominees & Winner

A vintage boxing ring with boxing gloves hanging from the corner.

Eddies!—annual, advocate-nominated and voted awards—feature outstanding policy and advocacy wins from the past year.

Nominations tell the story of how advocates improved policy and advanced opportunity, equity, and excellence for students, one community and campaign at a time.

This Eddies! category highlights campaigns that strategically defended important policy; sometimes, the most significant wins are actually holding the line. Nominees in this category provide models for how to deploy sharp strategies to defend policies or efforts that benefit students.

See a complete list of 2021 nominees in all Eddies! categories.

2021 Winner

Best Defense Finalists

Best Defense Honorable Mentions


Advance Illinois, America Succeeds, Center for American Progress, Collaborative for Student Success, Data Quality Campaign, EdAllies, Education Reform Now, Foundation for Excellence in Education, FutureEd, National Center for Learning Disabilities, NewMexicoKidsCAN, TN SCORE, The Education Trust, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Defending Assessments

The assessment conversation this year dominated the news nationally and in states. Delaying assessments risked the loss of critical information that would highlight opportunity gaps and help policymakers celebrate and learn from schools that are helping students through this crisis. In July 2020, 14 national and state PIE Network members joined together to send a letter to Secretary DeVos urging the US Department of Education to refrain from issuing waivers to states from the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requirement for administering statewide English Language Arts and math assessments for the 2020-2021 school year. As a group, we made it clear that the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic only underscored the value of collecting and reporting on a standard measure of student performance that is comparable across states.

In September 2020, DeVos sent a letter to state chiefs making it clear that she did not intend to grant assessment waivers. In doing so, she cited the joint letter. Our collective efforts sent a clear message that leaders should not have to continue to steer recovery efforts in the dark, and families and communities should be able to access the information they deserve about how schools are serving all students.

Center for Learner Equity, National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD)

Defending the Rights of Students with Disabilities During COVID-19

When COVID-19 closed schools in March of 2020, states and districts scrambled to adapt to new realities, including the nearly universal closure of school buildings and the transition to remote instruction. This unprecedented shift led to disturbing discussions about the possibility of waiving key civil rights guaranteed by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) most importantly, that students with disabilities are provided a free appropriate public education. Waiving parts or all of IDEA would have been catastrophic for students with disabilities. To block efforts to reduce the rights of students with disabilities, the Center for Learner Equity and the National Center for Learning Disabilities partnered with key coalitions, lobbied Congress and the U.S. Department of Education, amplified the issue in the media, and developed guidance and resources to advise districts and schools on how to fulfill the mandates of IDEA during the pandemic. 

In particular, CLE held webinars, created countless resources and shared bright spots all of which helped schools and districts figure out how to address the needs of students with disabilities. At the same time, NCLD worked with its Young Adult Leadership Council and Parent Organizers, to create a campaign that lifted up the voices of advocates and told their stories about why IDEA Matters to them. Consequently, the U.S. Department of Education declined to request substantive waivers of these civil rights from Congress.

EdAllies & Educators for Excellence

Defending Tiered Licensure

Educators for Excellence-MN and EdAllies worked together to defend the very new tiered licensure system that E4E-MN, EdAllies, and a coalition helped pass and implement less than five years ago. Despite the Pioneer Press calling the 2017 overhaul “one of the biggest reforms to state education policy in recent history,” every year since, EdAllies, E4E-MN, and our local partners have blocked attempts to roll it back—culminating in a 2021 push to eliminate certain pathways in the law’s final year of implementation.  Tiered licensure has been a critical reform for increasing teacher diversity, creating more clear pathways for teachers from nontraditional backgrounds. And it’s working. In 2019-20:

  • 23% of Tier 1 and 26% of Tier 2 teachers identified as teachers of color, compared to 14% of Tier 3 and 8% of Tier 4 teachers.
  • 20% of Latino and 18% of Black teachers taught on a Tier 1 or Tier 2 license, compared to 4% of white teachers.

Despite the success, there were policy proposals to remove 8 of 10 Tier 2 pathways, limit renewals, and block the first cohort of non-traditional, Tier 2 licensed teachers from obtaining a permanent Tier 3 license. In fact, teachers’ testimony prompted questioning to PELSB (our teacher and teacher prep licensure agency) to confirm publicly that teachers of color were at risk of losing their licenses if this legislation were to pass. 

Together, EdAllies and E4E built a strong coalition of organizations—MN School Boards Association, MN Rural Educators Association, MN Association of School Administrators, MN Association for Career and Technical Administrators—teachers, school leaders, and students that testified against the changes, with hundreds more taking action. These organizations exercised a great example of collaboration and the power of unity when working toward a goal.  

EdVoice & Teach Plus California

Defending licensure requirements for Reading instruction

Over the last several years, EdVoice along with dyslexia advocates and Teach Plus opposed significant efforts in California to eliminate the requirement that new teachers demonstrate they can teach reading. To receive a preliminary multiple subject or education specialist credential candidates must demonstrate proficiency in teaching reading using the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA). Advocates opposed to phonics and decoding instruction consistently opposed the test and references to the science of reading in the Education Code. Others were concerned schools of education recommended test prep courses instead of teaching early reading instruction, and the state provided no RICA score reports or partial retakes. In 2020, opponents tried to eliminate the RICA and science of reading from the law making inaccurate claims the blueprint was not updated to new frameworks. EdVoice lead a coalition including dyslexia advocates and academics nationwide to kill the bill. As defense can sometimes be the best offense, in 2021, EdVoice, dyslexia advocates, and Teach Plus worked with legislative leaders to maintain demonstrated competency in the science of reading in teaching standards, licensure exams, and accreditation criteria of schools of education to ensure candidates are provided the training, while transitioning to a performance based reading competency test.

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Many PIE Network partners joined together to oppose the FY 22 US House Appropriations bill, including charter school associations from the following states:  Arizona, Colorado, District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington state. Other PIE Network members also participated in the campaign, including 50 CAN (and its state branches), A for Arizona, Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri, DFER, Excellence in Education, and the National Parents Union, to name a few. Notably, ExcelinEd created a coalition letter with 60 sign-on organizations and invited the National Alliance to join as co-lead signatory.

Defending Charter Schools

The federal Charter Schools Program is the critical funding stream to grow and expand high-performing charter schools. When the House led with politics and threatened this lifeline through its FY22 Appropriations Bill, charter supporters boldly acted. An informal coalition of more than 6,000 individuals and organizations opposed the bill’s $40 million program cut and discriminatory language. Through direct outreach and coordination with parents, students, teachers, reform organizations, and state associations, more than 32,000 emails and letters were sent to Congress – the highest number ever. The national media noticed and led with the truth in the Wall Street Journal, Politico, CNN, The Hill and CSPAN’s Washington Journal, and more. Local media coverage sprang up in states like Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Nevada, including a piece by charter school champion Governor Jeb Bush. All used the same key messages, but they were not orchestrated by one organization. Instead, these partner relationships led the work to ensure all public school students are treated equitably and equally. Although the House passed the bill intact, this defensive move is significant. First, the National Alliance led the diverse voices of the charter sector through a unified rapid-response campaign that surprised Congress and our opponents. Second, the coalition and communications campaign showed the nation that public charter school supporters are organized, powerful, and will fight back. Moving forward, we are well positioned to act in the U.S. Senate when the bill is considered this fall.

Thomas B. Fordham Institute-Ohio & Ohio Excels

Defending school report cards and Assessments

As in most states, testing and accountability in Ohio has faced relentless opposition from the education establishment for years. The unions, school administrators, and others saw the pandemic as an opportunity to cancel student assessments and to weaken the Buckeye State’s award-winning school report cards. Yet, thanks to a coalition led by Fordham and Ohio Excels, policymakers held the line on testing in the spring of 2021, and they strengthened school report cards to boot.

The most controversial aspect of Ohio’s accountability system has been its A-F ratings; opponents wanted to replace those with hard-to-parse verbiage instead, making it impossible for parents to know if their child’s school is low performing. Fordham, Ohio Excels, and its coalition partners offered a compromise: moving to a 0-5 Stars system, which is just as transparent and understandable to parents as A-F, but without some of the sting. HB 82 made additional important changes, including ensuring that students’ year-to-year academic progress counts more heavily in the overall school ratings, since progress measures are more poverty-neutral.

The improvements, and the fact that the legislation passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, should put Ohio’s accountability system in good stead for years to come.


A + Education Partnership and ExcelinEd Action

Defending Early Literacy Policies

After nearly five years of work, Alabama passed House Bill 388, the Alabama Literacy Act, making significant investments in early literacy for K-3 students and ensuring students must be on grade level to be promoted to the 4th grade. Despite this momentum, legislation was introduced to postpone the 3rd grade reading promotion policy for two years. This legislation was proposed before any state testing data was available to make an informed decision about student impact from the pandemic. A+ Education Partnership and ExcelinEd in Action worked in tandem to educate the public and policy makers on the importance of the resources this law provides to students. ExcelinEd immediately crafted an op-ed from policy director Dr. Kymyona Burk for the Alabama Daily News, and Dr. Burk participated in a podcast with the Alabama Literacy Network to discuss the Literacy Act, gaining public attention and social media visibility. A+ spoke against the bill in committee and House Education Policy Committee Chair Collins opposed it on the House floor—but the bill ultimately passed on the last night of the session.  ExcelinEd in Action and A+ Education Partnership advocacy staff then began working closely with the Governor’s office and others on a possible veto. ExcelinEd in Action secured time with the Governor’s advisory team where CEO Patricia Levesque addressed benefits of the literacy policy and positive results seen in Florida and Mississippi. Mark Dixon and A+ Education Partnership took the fight to the internet and local airwaves, doing interviews with news media and local TV stations and running a Parent Action Campaign. Together, these efforts helped to secure a rare veto from Governor Ivey, ensuring Alabama’s children will be prepared for 4th grade and struggling readers will continue to receive the focused support they need for success.


Defending the Revised Principal Salary Schedule

In 2017, BEST NC members came together to advocate for a significant investment in principal salaries on a transformed salary schedule that prioritizes school leaders’ success with students, rather than inputs like years of experience and education level. For three consecutive years, BEST NC thwarted efforts by the House and Governor to revert back to the old schedule through evidence that experience is a poor indicator of principal effectiveness. Dozens of business leaders wrote letters of support, saying it is irresponsible to pay a qualified principal less to do the same job, simply because they have less experience.

By the 2019-20 school year, NC’s average pay ranking had moved from last to #3 in the Southeast and a new three-year $30k/year incentive was added to recruit exceptional principals to low-performing schools. In 2020, a new study found that the transformed pay schedule resulted in more effective principals moving to low-performing schools and less-effective principals to leave the principalship. BEST NC leveraged these results by proactively sharing them with education policymakers in early 2021. This year, for the first time, neither the Governor’s budget nor the House and Senate budget bills proposed to return to the old experience-based pay model.

Educators for Excellence-Boston 

Defending Racially and Culturally Inclusive Curriculum

Like many others last year, Educators for Excellence Boston educators began seeking out ways to ensure the lessons they taught in their classrooms didn’t shy away from the full scope of  America’s troubled history, as well as the way it has impacted people of color to this day. Unfortunately, bad-faith groups seized on this effort as an affront to their preferred, sanitized narrative and began a reactionary campaign to oppose these educators.  In response, E4E-Boston educators channeled the revolutionary spirit of Massachusetts and sought to set a nationwide example for how racially and culturally inclusive curricula can be implemented, in contrast to the disinformation campaign. The resulting A Better Curriculum (ABC) campaign helped write and file a bill at the Massachusetts State House (The Racially and Culturally Inclusive Curriculum Act) that protects educators’ right to teach students the truth, and encourages them to fight for a more inclusive future. Thus far, hundreds of Massachusetts residents have signed on in support. This fall, E4E-Boston is planning several events to boost awareness of ABC as educators and their allies lobby the State House to pass this urgently needed bill. Visit e4e.org/abc for more information. 

Empower Illinois

Defending Tax Credit Scholarships

In February, Governor Pritzker lumped tax credit scholarships (TCS) into his plans to eliminate “corporate loopholes” from Illinois’ budget. This proposal would have reduced the program’s tax credit for supporting low-income students, threatening funding for more than 7,000 students on scholarships and more than 30,000 students waiting in line for a scholarship. Making these cuts to the TCS Program would have harmed our most vulnerable community members, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic when low-income and working-class families were disproportionately impacted. While fighting these cuts, the Illinois Capitol remained closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making it harder for TCS advocates to reach their legislators. But this did not stop dedicated teachers, students, and parents. In just three months, families, schools, donors, and students wrote over 10,000 letters to their elected officials and shared their scholarship stories imploring them to protect this vital program. Throughout May, advocates waited outside the Capitol and throughout Springfield hoping to catch their legislator for a brief moment. By legislative session’s end, the Illinois General Assembly rejected the proposed program cuts and granted the program a one-year extension of its sunset. 

Foundation for Florida’s Future, KIPP & IDEA Public Schools 

Defending Schools of Hope

This year, Florida’s House and Senate budgets would have reduced Schools of Hope funding for high-impact charter schools to provide underserved communities more high-quality school options, with the House proposing a $150 million cut and the Senate $100 million. Further, the Senate budget would have dramatically impacted future funding for these schools by $30 million cuts annually, significantly impacting Hope operators’ ability to serve disadvantaged students. The Foundation for Florida’s Future worked with partners and legislative budget staff to not only secure the automatic future funding increases ($40M annually), but the group also mitigated the dramatic reductions to the reserved funding for these schools. This coordinated effort of deep internal and contract advocacy with legislative and executive branches, strong coordinated message points, fiscal analyses showing future year impacts to schools and students, and shadow writing op eds from real families resulted in legislative support.   

Maryland Alliance of Public Charter Schools

with support from the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools

Equitable Distribution of ESSER Funding to Maryland Charters

Our biggest and loudest fight most recently has been around the ESSER funding and equitable distribution of those LEA funds to charter schools. It has been since the CARES Act 1 was passed, so over 1.5 years. None of the charter schools in Maryland are their own LEA, which means that their district received relief funding, but had the discretion in sharing it with charter schools. The guidance from the US Dept. of Edu. said that an LEA can spend it “systemically” across the entire district (for which charter schools were supposed to benefit), as a per pupil amount at the school level, or a combination of the two. In the beginning, there was hesitancy to share equitably with charters, but I reached out to MSDE, each of our districts with charter schools, the National Alliance, the MD Governor’s Office, and state/federally electeds to discuss the lack of transparency and equitable distribution. Due to our watchdog status with most of our charter districts, we saw them work to equitably calculate per pupil shares that allowed the charter autonomy in spending in all three rounds of ESSER money. We had two districts that were not compliant and have shared very little to no money with their charters. We worked with the operators, district leadership, boards of education, state DOE, and governor’s office to require ESSER III money to be provided as a per pupil. After testifying at a Board meeting, a legal letter from the operators to the district, we had one of those districts go back through all of the income sources over the last 1.5 years for relief and calculate an equitable share that should have been provided to the charters. It went from about $300,000 in total for charter students to over $24.4 million overnight. We just met with district leadership of the only district that has not yet provided a per pupil share after requesting a meeting and testifying at the board meeting. They are revisiting the issue and will share their decision soon! This has allowed for over $200 million to flow directly to our charters (that they were supposed to always have). 

Mississippi First, ExcelinEd, & National Alliance of Public Charter School

Defending Charter Schools in Mississippi

On July 11, 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a lawsuit alleging that the Mississippi Public Charter Schools Act of 2013 was unconstitutional under the Mississippi Constitution. On August 10, 2016, the Mississippi Justice Institute, on behalf of three public charter school parents, filed a motion to intervene in the charter school lawsuit recently brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Mississippi First, ExcelinEd, and the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools supported Mississippi’s charter schools in intervening on their own behalf to defend their right to exist. These efforts included creating a communications campaign to highlight parent stories and testimonies, promoting Mississippi charter schools’ success, working with a legal team to draft the defense, and providing evidence for the case. On Sept. 29, 2019, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of charter schools receiving state and local dollars. The ruling unequivocally affirms what Mississippi charter school supporters said all along: public education dollars belong to public school children for their public education; charter schools in Mississippi are public schools; funding charter schools is funding public schools.    

National Association of Charter School Authorizers, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, & Center for Learner Equity

Defending Charter Schools in West Virginia

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the Center for Learner Equity worked collaboratively to strip a charter bill in West Virginia that did not advance best practices. Advocacy efforts (local media, local op-ed, radio interviews, letters to chairpeople) focused on establishing a statewide authorizer, removing harmful (and likely illegal) provisions on how students with disabilities are enrolled, and ensuring authorizers are able to revoke a charter for egregious elements before the charter term is up. Most of those elements were changed in the final bill, making it stronger. See here for a brief summary of the problems and here for the positive resolution.

Stand for Children Colorado

Defending Early Literacy

In 2021, Stand for Children Colorado took a holistic approach to defending Colorado’s early literacy law and scientifically based reading research approaches.  We activated educators and parents to kill a bill that would have allowed unaccredited, unapproved materials to be used in schools. Advocates wrote blogs, emailed legislators, spoke to the media, and testified. We passed legislation that requires districts publicly share what curriculum they are using to teach reading and how they spend early literacy dollars. We have known, and Chalkbeat Colorado uncovered that many districts are using curriculum that is not aligned to the science of reading. It is extremely difficult for parents to see what reading curriculum is being used in their schools. This win was a combination of work inside the Capitol and activating parents and educators to contact policymakers and elevating the importance of the science of reading.  Perhaps our biggest from last year was the State Board of Education voted to add a literacy component to our state licensure exams to ensure teachers are better prepared to support students’ learning.  Combined these changes in 2021 defend and protect the scientifically backed approaches to literacy instruction necessary to ensure all students have a strong foundation in literacy skills.  

Stand for Children Illinois

Pressing Pause to Defend Long-Term Life of Dual Credit Quality Act

Celebrated by policymakers, the updated Illinois’ Dual Credit Quality Act provided districts with critical tools to grow their dual credit programs. Yet, three years after passage implementation at the district level has remained fraught with challenges. From employing enough qualified teachers, navigating partnership disagreements, overcoming challenges to course rigor, or eliminating outdated eligibility criteria districts continue to face an uphill battle to equitably grow and develop dual credit programs. So instead of passing more legislation, we decided to pause and ensure that school leaders and parents were armed with the best information to start and grow their dual credit programs. Enter the Dual Credit Toolkit, an interactive website that offers users a step-by-step guide to make the case for dual credit. Community members and educators can select their school and dual credit goals and the toolkit will provide a personalized plan complete with school-specific data, best-practice research, policy summaries, and action items to help districts overcome whatever challenge they may face as they work to lower course costs, equitably expand enrollments, credential more teachers, or offer new courses.  

See a complete list of 2021 nominees in all Eddies! categories.

PIE Network

PIE Network

The PIE Network connects, strengthens, and catalyzes the work of education advocates across communities, states, and ideological lines to transform education so that every student, in every community can achieve a future with no limits.