Archives for category: Democrats for Education Reform

Here is a pathetic contrast that says a whole lot about the politics of education, not only in Texas but across the nation. The latest ethics report in Texas shows that “Texans for Education Reform,” a spinoff of Democrats for Education Reform, has hired 15 lobbyists to work the legislature this session. Most will be paid between $50,000-100,000, some less, some more. One will be paid between $150,000-200,000. This group would not call itself “Democrats for Education Reform” in Texas, because the Democratic Party is out of favor; the constituency this group appeals to would not want to be affiliated with any organization that called itself “Democrats.” The name may be helpful in fooling people in liberal states, but it would be a stigma in Texas.


Here is the contrast: the main anti-testing group is led by parents. It is called Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (known to fans as Moms Against Drunk Testing). TAMSA has hired one lobbyist, who will be paid less than $10,000.


The lesson: People who are super-rich are pouring big money into politics to kill off public education and replace it with high-stakes testing, charters and vouchers. They don’t care that there is now substantial evidence that most charters do not have higher test scores than similar public schools. They don’t care that voucher schools don’t outperform public schools. What drives them? They say it’s all about the kids but it seems more likely that they just don’t like public education and want to starve it of resources.

Leonie Haimson is fed up with the line that the mainstream media has taken about education controversies. Reporters usually think that every protest is organized by the unions, defending their self-interest, and they are warring with high-minded reformers. She says this is balderdash! (Sorry, Leonie, my word, not yours.)   If parents hold a protest against high-stakes testing and against test-based teacher evaluations (which causes more time to be devoted to testing), most reporters will say the union made them do it, the union doesn’t want to be held accountable.   Well, guess what? The unions are not leading the Opt Out movement. Many teachers support it, because they know how pointless the new tests are, but the great majority of people leading the movement are parents. They don’t want their children to be pressured by fear of the Big Standardized Test, they don’t want them to be ranked and labeled, they don’t want them to hate school because of the endless test prep.   Leonie was especially irked by a recent story in the New York Times about the two forces trying to win Hillary Clinton’s allegiance: on one hand, the teachers’ unions; on the other, the Wall Street tycoons who might finance her campaign. One has the votes, the other has the money. In the middle of the story, the reporter Maggie Haberman inexplicably refers to the hedge fund managers’ group Democrats for Education Reform as “left of center.” These are the Wall Street billionaires and mere multimillionaires who are pushing the privatization and high-stakes testing agenda; they dearly love charter schools and look on public schools with disdain as places that one must escape from. What you would expect from people who mainly went to Exeter, Deerfield Academy, Groton, and other tony private schools. Left of center? Hardly. Corporate style reformers? Yes.

Ginia Bellafante has a dynamite article in The Néw York Times about a new protest organization called the “Hedge Clippers.”

The Hedge Clippers picket, demonstrate, and call attention to the political activities of the 1%. In addition to promoting the proliferation of charter schools, they lobby for low taxes–on the rich.

“Two weeks ago, several busloads of New Yorkers made a pilgrimage to Greenwich, Conn., to visit the waterfront estate of the hedge fund titan Paul Tudor Jones II, where, suffice it to say, they were not invited in to see the china. It was a rainy Saturday afternoon and the protesters, many of them ordinary working people who have felt cheated by the inequities of a tax system that favors the rarefied few, were there to call attention to Mr. Jones’s educational agenda, built on the premise that the extravagantly rich know better how to teach reading, and to his support of Republican candidates and causes in the New York State Legislature that disadvantage the poor and working class.”

Mr. Jones was one of the funders last year of the multi-million dollar TV campaign to stop Mayor de Blasio’s effort to deny public space to charter schools and to charge rent to those that could afford to pay. Not only was that campaign to stop the mayor successful, but Governor Cuomo persuaded the legislature that all charters in Néw York City were entitled to free public space, regardless of their assets, and the city had to pay their rent if they were located in private space.

While fighting to protect and expand charter schools, the hedge funders supported a group called Néw Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, which helped Republicans retain control of the State Senate. That is their guarantee that there will be no new taxes on the 1% and minimal new funding for traditional public schools.

Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo received millions from Wall Street for his re-election campaign, and he spoke at a charter school rally last year where he declared his fealty to charters. Only 3% of the students in Néw York state are enrolled in charter schools. In 2012, Cuomo said he would be the “students’ lobbyist.” Now we know that what he meant was that he would be the charter students’ lobbyist.

Jeannie Kaplan, who was elected to two terms on the Denver school board, explains here that reform has not worked despite a lavish PR campaign to boast of “results.”

She begins:

“I have been suffering from DPS and “reform” fatigue, hence my recent silence. But several things have occurred that have catapulted me back to my computer: multiple emails from Superintendent Tom Boasberg touting DPS’ success; newspaper stories telling the truth about public education; conversations with real “boots on the ground” DPS educators and parents; and former DPS superintendent, current U.S. Senator Michael Bennet’s somewhat over the top introduction of his childhood friend and current DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg’s appearance at a No Child Left Behind re-authorization panel where the Senator reiterated the DPS success myth. When Senator Bennet finished, committee chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said, “I think that boils down to ‘he [Boasberg] cleaned up after you left.’” To which Senator Bennet responded, “You can’t even know half of the truth.”

Kaplan proceeds to tell the whole truth, not less than half the truth. After ten years of high-stakes testing and charters, achievement gains have been meager. Denver schools are increasingly segregated. The achievement gap has increased. Pension costs have grown, along with debt. Teacher turnover has increased. And local control has been sacrificed as out-of-state money pours in from wealthy individuals and national groups like Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform to elect reformers to the school board.

Read her post to learn the truth that neither Senator Bennett nor Superintendent Boasberg mentioned at the NCLB hearings.

The Néw York Post, owned by billionaire Rupert Murdoch (who has contributed millions to charters), ridicules the idea that Wall Street hedge fund managers have motives other than kind-hearted philanthropy for pouring millions of dollars into pro-charter lobbying. The chief editorial writer attributes these suspicions to the teachers’ union and Zephyr Teachout.

Let’s see. Readers of this blog know that hedge fund money is pouring into state and local elections to support candidates who favor privatization, who want to eliminate unions, who love the Néw Orleans model of wiping out public schools and replacing experienced teachers with Teach for America recruits (who won’t stay around long enough to qualify for a pension).

You never hear them complain about budget cuts or segregation. They think that charters will counter poverty even though charters perform no better than public schools when they enroll the same students. They don’t care that high-performing charters do not “backfill,” meaning that they don’t replace kids who leave and they end up with a small graduating class.

They pour millions into lobbying for charters (and in some states, vouchers) because they are kind.

An effort to use California’s controversial “parent trigger” law to convert a public school into a privately managed charter school failed in Anaheim.

The law was passed five years ago when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor and the state school board was dominated by charter interests. Although heavily financed by the Waltons and other corporate interests, the “parent trigger” drive has succeeded in seizing control of public schools only twice in five years.

“Parents at the school, located in an overwhelmingly low-income immigrant community, failed to collect valid signatures representing 50% of pupils enrolled, as the law requires, said Supt. Linda Wagner. She said the district found that 133 of 488 petitions were not valid because the students had moved away, could not be found in the district records or were not signed by a parent or legal guardian, among other reasons. The district verified 48.4% of enrolled students.

“But former state Sen. Gloria Romero, who wrote the law and now helps parents improve their schools through her new Center for Parent Empowerment, accused the district of manipulating the numbers. The district rejected 12 petitions because those signed could not be reached “after multiple attempts,” according to documents, but Romero said officials never asked petition organizers to help locate them, as she said state regulations require.”

Romero was previously California director of pro-charter hedge fund managers’ “Democrats for Education Reform.” DFER was denounced by the state as a front for corporate interests.

There is something fundamentally undemocratic about letting this year’s (or last year’s) parents to privatize a community institution, built and paid for by the entire community.

According to, Senator Lamar Alexander is considering eliminating the federal mandate for annual testing in grades 3-8. Charles Barone of the hedge fund managers’ “Democrats for Education Reform” is alarmed by this proposal, claiming it is an “equity” issue that would make it impossible to compare states.

Why the need to compare test scores is an equity issue is unexplained. Apparently Barone–who used to work for Congressman George Miller, senior Democrat on the House Education Committee–is unfamiliar with NAEP. That is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which has been testing American students since 1969. It has been comparing states since 1992 and disaggregating scores by race, gender, language, and disability status. I hope proponents of annual testing will soon explain how comparing states creates equity. We know that Mississippi has lower scores than Massachusetts, whether we test annually or every three years. The gap is not changed by knowing about it more frequently but by funding schools attended by low-performing students so they can have smaller classes, more arts programs, more specialists, better paid professionals, and amply supplied and staffed libraries.

Here is the story:

THE GOP DRAFT YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR: Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander unveiled a discussion draft Tuesday night detailing his plan for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind. It borrows heavily from his 2013 proposal [ ] and if passed, it would take the federal government right out of some of the Obama administration’s most contentious policies – providing relief to states that haven’t met the administration’s bar for accountability systems and teacher evaluations. The bill would give states the option to make more than $14 billion in Title I funding portable across public schools. Alexander’s draft also makes clear that the federal government would have no involvement in states’ academic standards – although states would have to set high standards. When it comes to testing, one option would allow districts to forgo annual exams. Maggie Severns reports: Read the discussion draft here:

– Some feel that testing option would make it impossible to compare results at the state level. “This, by extension, becomes an equity issue,” said Charles Barone, policy director for Democrats for Education Reform. “Any effort to advance equity requires comparability of student circumstances across zip codes, incomes, race, disability, etc. Any accountability system that drives to improve the achievement of those students and target resources toward them is out the window if every school or district is held accountable based on a different set of numbers.”

Recently the Néw York Post ran an article about Al Sharpton, saying that he received money from corporations in return for not campaigning against them as racist. The story said that the firm of former Chancellor Harold Levy paid Sharpton $500,000 to help a client who was competing to manage a gambling franchise.

Leonie Haimson, CEO of Néw Tork City’s most activist group Class Size Matters, writes that the NY Post left out the key details of that transaction.

She writes:

“Left out of this account is the most interesting part of the story. It’s not just that the money for Sharpton was ostensibly for “equity” and funneled through Education Reform Now, the non-profit arm of Joe William’s pro-charter Democrats for Education Reform. The larger context is that ERN was merely a pass-through, and the money was directed to Sharpton through the Education Equity Project, founded by then-Chancellor Joel Klein, in exchange for Sharpton agreeing to co-chair the group and adopt Klein’s aggressive anti-teacher, pro-charter stance.”

The Network for Public Education has issued a BIG MONEY ALERT about efforts to swamp state and local school board races with outsize campaign contributions.

The ALERT focuses on a handful of races where corporate reformers are using their vast financial resources to win control. Many of the biggest donors are out-of-state and have no ties to the public schools other than a desire to promote charter schools, high-stakes testing, and test-based evaluations of teachers.

The race for state school superintendent in California has attracted the most corporate reform money. Marshall Tuck is the favorite of the billionaires and hedge fund managers. State superintendent Tom Torlakson is an educator with solid support among the state’s teachers and administrators. Torlakson is supported by teachers and their unions.

Tuck is the darling of the corporate ed-reform donors, having received such contributions as:

Eli Broad’s donation of $1,375,000;
Walton daughters and heirs, Alice and Carrie with $450,000 and $500,000 respectively;
Julian Robertson of the Robertson Foundation with $1,000,000;
Doris Fisher of the Donald and Doris Fisher Fund with $950,000;
Ex NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg contributed $250,000;
Houston billionaire and DFER friend John Arnold;
San Francisco venture capitalist and TFA Board member Arthur Rock.

If you know of other races where the big corporate money people are tilting the scales, please contact Robin Hiller, executive director of the Network for Public Education, or leave a comment here.

Angie Sullivan is a teacher who regularly emails a long list of legislators, education advocates, journalists….and me. Here is her outraged commentary about Democrats who collect money from teachers and betray them and refuse to fund public schools. And her outrage at her own state union for supporting Democrats who don’t support public education. In many other states, the Democrats act no different from Republicans in their fealty to privatization and high-stakes testing. See New York and Connecticut as examples.

Angie writes:

I think it is time for CCEA [Carson County Education Association] to pull away from NSEA, the state. This political endorsement process is very tragic. I have never seen such a mess and so many bad decisions on too many levels to even speak about here.

To me it was a simple year – no TEI [The Education Initiative] – no endorsement, no money. Doesn’t have to mean we are not friends – just have to focus on TEI.

That would mean NO to almost everyone except about 5 people.

So Oct 10th my union gave $10,000 to Justin Jones to keep the Nevada Senate Democratic? Surely we could NOT have given it to Justin based on his education voting record or actually doing anything productive for public schools.

If I thought the Nevada Senate Democrats would act like this:

I would be the yellow dog democrat Ive been my whole life. Straight ticket. But the abuse I have received over the last few years has opened my eyes to just how sick my party and union can be.

Justin is no good as an education candidate. The End.

I have begged and pleaded with my union and others to stop rewarding democrats and any others “because the other side is so much worse”.

What could be worse than ALEC legislation?

What could be worse than championing privatizing by charter?

What could be worse than loss in pay, benefits, and retirement?

What could be worse than threatening teachers like we are dogs?

What could be worse than no funds, no revenue, no plans to fund?

What could be worse than not supporting the TEI? In fact campaigning — by strategy — to do the opposite?

I’m supposed to be frightened by vouchers? Parent Trigger co-sponsored by Jones is worse than vouchers. Parents voting to kill their neighborhood schools?

Why do we insist on rewarding this bad behavior? In case Justin Jones wins, he does what to us next? Carry out his threats to “do something about evaluations”?

I have to put up with that.

What kind of favor does Jones deserve taking $10,000 from my union and $10,000 from Students First too? Both?

Who gave him this NSEA money? A committee who votes for endorsements as a clump? Murillo? Does Ruben get special favor from Justin Jones for himself?

Have we asked the members?

So Jones gets the money and to publish we love him . . . but the voter flyer excludes his name? So he got halfway endorsed? We gave him money but do not encourage anyone to vote for him. ok.

And what about all the candidates who we denied – because they wouldn’t be positive about TEI? What do they think when we give money now . . . to those with some mysterious perceived power?

CCEA needs to have more power and control over government relations in the south. The tail needs to stop wagging the dog and the dog needs to stop hiding in Carson City. And if a candidate from any party brings ALEC education reform or votes against us – we need to kick them out.

These education democrats like Justin Jones are not real – they need to be ousted from our endorsements. DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) are simply conservative democrats pushing a privatizing agenda on public schools. They are worse than a Republican — because they have infiltrated, bribed, and been bought privatizing reformers.

Proud to have a child in a charter – and trying to pass this as a democratic value?

As a teacher, I can continue to be disappointed.

Someone needs to get some backbone and stand up to these privatizing democratic bullies – because kids deserve advocacy – and a lot better endorsement system than this willy nilly NSEA parade – what a nightmare.



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