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Hedge fund managers decided in 2005 that the best way to advance the charter school idea was to create a faux organization called Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), then to funnel campaign cash to Democratic candidates who promised to support charter schools. This worked for a time. Senator Barack Obama spoke at the inaugural meeting of DFER at a penthouse in Manhattan filled with Wall Street types. When Obama was elected, DFER recommended Arne Duncan to be Secretary of Education, and Obama picked him over the highly qualified Linda Darling-Hammond, who had been his spokesperson during the campaign.

But some Democrats realized that DFER was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The Democratic Party of California passed a resolution demanding that DFER drop the D because it was a front for corporate interests. The Democratic party of Colorado also passed a resolution denouncing DFER.

In 2016, DFER supported a referendum in Massachusetts to expand the number of charter schools, in company with the Waltons and big Republican donors. The charter campaign went down to a crashing defeat, after charters were denounced by the state Democratic Party and almost every school district committee in the state. The only demographic that supported the expansion of charters was members of the Republican Party.

Today, the loudest champion of charter schools is Betsy DeVos. The biggest allies of the charter movement are Republican governors and legislatures.

Sensing the change in the air, recognizing that charter schools now belong to ALEC and DeVos, almost every  Democratic candidate for President has steered clear of charter schools. Bernie Sanders endorsed the NAACP call for a moratorium on new charters.

But wait! DFER has commissioned a poll to demonstrate that Democrats actually favor charters!

Peter Greene says the poll is baloney. He explains it here. His advice: Ignore it.


Our blog poet wrote a poem about DFER (Democrats for Education Reform). DFER is a group of wealthy hedge fund managers who may or may not be Democrats, but who are committed to charter schools, test-based evaluation of teachers, high-stakes testing, merit pay, and Teach for America.

The Dream DFERed (with apologies o Langston Hughes)

What happens to a dream DFERed?
Does it disrupt
Like a test in a school?
Or fester like a Common Core–
Or techy tool?
Does it stink like stale pee?
Or rust and fade away-
like Michelle Rhee?
Maybe it just doubles down
like a billionaire
Or does it drown?


Peter Greene reviews a push-poll commissioned by DFER (Democrats for Education Reform), the hedge fund managers organization, created to promote charter schools.

Greene wisely notes that DFER is trying to encourage Democrats not to walk away from charter schools, which have become radioactive as the stories of charter scandals proliferate.

Step back and what you see is a context in which the Teachers strikes have brought attention to the damage charters inflict on public schools.

More and more, the public is beginning to ask why it makes sense to run two systems that get public money, one of which is free to kick out students it doesn’t want.

Betsy DeVos loves charters. Charters are more segregated than public schools. Billionaires and Wall Street love charters. The public is beginning to see through the facade, the hoax.

Why starve the public schools that enroll 85% of students so that 6% of kids can choose charters (the other 9% are in private and religious schools)? Why ruin public schools to make DeVos, the Waltons, and DFER happy?




Chalkbeat reports that the hedge funders’ Democrats for Education Reform sent out text messages during the Denver teachers’ strike using the name of a non-existent organization (“Support Students, Support Teachers.”)


Obviously, DFER wanted to undercut the strike (“for the kids,” of course). Teachers have power when they strike. They lose that power when they go back to work without concrete gains.

Also, DFER does not have a good reputation in Colorado. The state Democratic Convention asked it to stop masquerading as Democrats.

But DFER has a close relationship with Governor Jared Polis, who shares DFER’s passion for charter schools, having started two of them himself.








Rachel Cohen writes that the elevation of Hakeem Jeffries to chair of the Democratic House Caucus is a huge victory for the pro-charter school group Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), the hedge fund managers who control large campaign contributions. The purpose of DFER, she writes, was “to break the teacher unions’ stranglehold over the Democratic Party.” The state conventions of the Democratic Party in both California and Colorado adopted resolutions demanding that DFER remove the D from its name and stop co-opting their brand as Democrats, when they were in fact a corporate front.

She writes:

While DFER really began to flex its financial muscles in 2008 — when it raised about $2 million to help elect pro-charter candidates — its earlier work focused primarily on New York. There, the group helped elect Hakeem Jeffries to the New York State Assembly in 2006. (He served in the state Legislature from 2007 to 2012.) In 2007, DFER also helped lobby New York legislators to lift the state’s charter school cap, increasing it from 150 schools to 250. In 2010, Jeffries co-sponsored legislation to raise the state’s charter cap even further, to 460 — where it stands today.

Over the years, Jeffries has become one of DFER’s top candidates. In 2012, when Jeffries announced that he would run for Congress, the group rallied behind him, elevating him to its so-called DFER Hot List. No other Democrat received more in direct DFER contributions that cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics…

While in Congress, Jeffries has stayed close to the charter movement. He’s spoken at fundraisers for Success Academy, the prominent New York City charter network, and in 2016 was the keynote speaker for a large pro-charter rally, organized to pressure Mayor Bill de Blasio to expand charters in New York City.

Cohen says that Hakeem Jeffries is a cousin of Shavar Jeffries, the executive director of DFER.

This story in The Intercept describes how Hakeem Jeffries was elected to a leadership party in the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives.

Ryan Grim writes:

THE ELECTION OF Rep. Hakeem Jeffries as House Democratic Caucus chair on Wednesday represented a symbolic and substantive comeback for the wing of the party that had suffered a stunning defeat last June, when Rep. Joe Crowley was beaten by primary challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Jeffries, who represents a Brooklyn district next door to Crowley’s, bested Rep. Barbara Lee of California, who had the support of the insurgent movement that had ousted Crowley.

A protege of Crowley’s, Jeffries is heavily backed by big money and corporate PACs. Less than 2 percent of his fundraising comes from small donors, who contribute less than $200, according to Federal Election Commission records.

The outgoing caucus chair, Crowley played an integral role in Jeffries’s election. It’s extremely unusual for the caucus chair to leave his position having lost in a primary (and it has always been a man). But as is tradition, Crowley chaired Wednesday’s election proceedings, as he remains a member of Congress through the lame duck session. On the night of his primary loss, Crowley played a song at his watch party — “Born to Run” — and dedicated it to the insurgent who’d beaten him, Ocasio-Cortez. On Wednesday, with Ocasio-Cortez in the room, he sang the caucus a number, but this time it was what multiple members said sounded like an Irish funeral song. The mood was somber, as the caucus mourned the departure of a man New York Rep. Brian Higgins later called “the most popular guy on campus.”

Crowley, though, wasn’t going gently into the night. In the run-up to the vote, he told a number of House Democrats that Lee had cut a check to Ocasio-Cortez, painting her as part of the insurgency that incumbents in Congress feel threatened by, according to Democrats who learned of the message Crowley was sharing.

There was a kernel of truth in the charge. Lee’s campaign did indeed cut a $1,000 check to the campaign of Ocasio-Cortez, but did so on July 10, two weeks after she beat Crowley. Since then, Reps. Steny Hoyer, Raúl Grijalva, and Maxine Waters, as well as the PAC for the Congressional Progressive Caucus, have all given money to Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign committee. It’s not an unusual phenomenon — a way to welcome an incoming colleague — but Crowley’s framing of it linked Lee to the growing insurgent movement, despite her decades of experience in Congress. Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Crowley did not respond to The Intercept’s questions about his involvement in the leadership race.

After Wednesday’s election, in which Jeffries prevailed 123-113, The Intercept asked Lee if she had heard what Crowley had told other Democrats. “Those rumors took place and that was very unfair,” Lee said. “We’re moving forward now.”

She added, however, that the insinuation that she had supported Ocasio-Cortez during her primary against Crowley was patently false, because Lee wasn’t even aware of Ocasio-Cortez’s challenge. “I didn’t even know he had a primary,” Lee said of the under-the-radar contest that resulted in Crowley’s startling loss.

While Lee has not encouraged primaries against her colleagues and has worked closely with party leadership in her time in the House, her iconoclastic image, rooted in her lone vote against authorizing the use of military force in the days after 9/11, meant that the caricature resonated, as Crowley no doubt knew it would. Indeed, it’s a charge some Democrats in Congress are ready to believe — and some outside supporters of Lee were hoping was true — as Lee is something of a hero among the incoming class of insurgents, and Ocasio-Cortez floated Lee’s name for speaker in June and later endorsed her bid for caucus chair. Rep. Ro Khanna of California, who is also closely associated with the insurgent wing of the party, was an early and vocal supporter of Lee. “She’s the single profile of courage in the House,” Khanna said Wednesday. “John Lewis is a profile in courage for his life. Barbara Lee is for her vote.”

Higgins, the New York representative who backed Jeffries, suggested that Crowley had a hand in nudging Jeffries into the race against Lee. “Hakeem is going to be around for a long time. Our good friend Joe Crowley was defeated. I think Joe probably mentored him a little bit toward this,” said Higgins.

Asked if that meant Crowley, who is closing out his 10th term in Congress, encouraged Jeffries to run against Lee, Higgins responded in general terms. “To what extent, I don’t know, but I do know that he’s a mentor and I think he helped him develop a strategy to succeed,” said Higgins. “Here’s what I know. Joe Crowley is the most popular guy on campus, with Democrats and Republicans. Joe has had a close relationship with Hakeem.”

Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for Justice Democrats, which backed Ocasio-Cortez, said Crowley’s move was “absolutely despicable” and all the more reason to continue targeting Democrats who undermine a progressive agenda. “This is exactly why we need more primaries — to have a Democratic Party that fights for its voters, not corporate donors,” he said.

Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) is an organization of faux Democrats. Some are Democrats, some are Republicans, all of them give generously to undermine public schools and the teaching profession.

D.C. parent blogger Valerie Jablow gives an overview of how DFER in pouring obscene sums of money into education races in D.C.

DFER was denounced formally by the Democratic party conventions in Colorado and California; both called on DFER to stop corrupting the term “Democrat” by using it in their title, since they are a front for Wall Street and corporate America.

She writes:

How much money have you–as a parent, teacher, or student in DC’s publicly funded schools–given to political causes around public education in 2018: $5? $50? $500? $5000?

How much money did your spouse/parents/children/relatives give?

How much money did any union at your public school give?

It is not easy to know all these answers–but chances are good the total is less than $522,393.74.

That amount–$522,393.74–is what I calculated was given between January 1, 2018 and October 26 to the independent expenditure committee (IEC) of the DC chapter of the education advocacy organization Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). If you add in what was given to DFER DC’s political action committee (PAC) in the same time–about $7,400–you get almost $530,000 donated in just 10 months in the name of education reform in DC. Most of those 2018 donors appear to be outside DC.

Some familiar names appear, like the Waltons (of course) and Reed Hastings’ wife, who lives in California. The Waltons were the single biggest funder of charter schools in D.C. The Waltons own Walmart, which does not pay its workers a living wage. I seriously doubt that they are Democrats.

After listing the donors and recipients of DFER money (which does not add up to over $500,000), Jablow writes:

If wealthy people giving to a cause to tilt public education away from the public seems deeply undemocratic, it’s helpful to recall two recent, undemocratic, actions in our public schools:

–No DC citizen voted to have charter schools in our city. While many DC families are happy with their charter school(s) and appreciate the horizons these schools have opened, it is well worth recalling that we did not get charter schools because of popular will or votes. We got them because Congress–a body in which no DC citizen has representation equal to that of the rest of the country–said we had to. (And charmingly decreed that we had to pay for them, too.)

–No unelected DC citizen voted for mayoral control of DCPS. (In fact, there were only 9 people in the entire world who voted for mayoral control of DCPS. They were all members of the city council.)

Through this lens, one could construe DFER DC’s 2018 wealth gathering and deployment not merely as success, but custom!

Too bad for taxpayers and democracy.

D.C. blogger Valerie Jablow reports here on the election spending for the school boards in the District. There is a district board and a state board.

Much to no one’s surprise, the biggest funder is the pro-charter group “Democrats for Education Reform,” most of whose members are hedge fund managers.

They won’t be satisfied until there are no public schools anywhere.

Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) was created by a group of guys who work as hedge fund managers. Some are Democrats, other are Republicans. They support charter schools and high-stakes testing. They never support public schools. They support Teach for America. They think that teachers should be evaluated by the test scores of their students, even though research overwhelmingly shows that this method is a failure (see the recent RAND-AIR report on the flop of the Gates-funded demonstration of evaluating teachers by test scores). They believe in merit pay, even though merit pay has never worked anywhere. There is no evidence that any active member of DFER ever attended a public school, ever taught in a public school, or ever sent his children to a public school. DFER doesn’t like public schools. Like Betsy DeVos, which it pretends to oppose, DFER believes in free-market reform of schools. If I am wrong, I hope that one of these hedge fund managers contacts me to let me know.

DFER loves corporate charter chains and doesn’t like local democratic control of schools. They see nothing unsavory about out-of-state billionaires buying an election for their favorite candidate, even in a local school board election. DFER is a PAC that collects and distributes fund to candidates who support its goals.

Here is the DFER list for this year’s election. Cory Booker and Michael Bennet are perennial favorites of DFER. I don’t know if Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia is aligned with their philosophy or if DFER is trying to establish a relationship. He is the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee in the Congress. Maybe DFER is currying his favor. His predecessor, Congressman George Miller of California, was fully aligned with DFER’s views and was richly rewarded with fundraisers, even when he didn’t have an opponent. His former chief of staff, Charles Barone, now runs the DFER office in D.C.

Suffice it to say that DFER pays no attention to research that does not support its fervent belief in charters, private management, and high-stakes testing. DFER believes in the free market, punishments and rewards for performance. That works on Wall Street. It should work in schools, even if it doesn’t.

Here is a graphic that shows the links among DFER and unsavory characters who also want to privatize public education. There is a factual error in the graphic. Political money is spent by 501c4 organizations. Those designated as 501c3 are supposed to be non-political. The non-political wing of DFER is called ”Education Reform Now.” It has a political advocacy group called “Education Reform Now Advocacy.” Of course, it advocates for high-stakes testing and charter schools. “Education reform,” in the eyes of those connected to DFER, means replacing public schools with private management that is neither accountable nor transparent.

DFER puts out a list of candidates (all Democrats) and invites its members to send them contributions. In this way, it is able to raise very large sums for friends of charter schools in Congress and in important state races, even school board races. Its mailing list includes many very wealthy people, so DFER is a major source of money for candidates like Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, and other charter-friendly Democrats.

The Democratic Party conventions in both California and Colorado denounced DFER for calling itsel “Democrats” when they undermine public schools.

Steven Singer hits the nail on the head: there is no difference between DFER and DeVos!

He writes:

“Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) put out a new video about what they think it means to be an education progressive.

“And by the political action committee’s definition, Betsy DeVos may be the most “progressive” education secretary ever.

“She champions “public charter schools.” Just like them!

“She is in favor of evaluating teachers on student test scores. Just like them!

“She is a booster for “holding schools accountable” through the use of standardized tests. Just like them!

“And she loves putting public tax dollars into private hands to run schools “more efficiently” by disbanding school boards, closing public debate and choosing exactly which students get to attend privatized schools. Just like… you get the idea.

“But perhaps the most striking similarity between DeVos and DFER is their methodologies.

“DFER announced it again was going to flood Democratic races with tons of campaign cash to bolster candidates who agreed with them. That’s exactly how DeVos gets things done, too!

“She gives politicians bribes to do her bidding! The only difference is she pays her money mostly to Republicans while DFER pays off Democrats. But if both DeVos and DFER are paying to get would-be lawmakers to enact the same policies, what is the difference!?

“Seriously, what is the difference between Betsy DeVos and Democrats for Education Reform?”

Singer concludes that faux progressive groups like DFER, who are indistinguishable from Republicans, are causing many people to abandon the party.

“Why do some progressives vote third party? Because of groups like DFER.

“Voters think something like – if this charter school advocacy group represents what Democrats are all about, I can’t vote Democrat. I need a new party. Hence the surge of Green and other third party votes that is blamed for hurting Democratic candidates.”

DFER and DeVos! Made for each other!

If you like high-stakes testing and charter schools, you will love “Democrats for Education Reform.”

DFER, as it is known, was condemned by resolution by the Democratic party conferences in Colorado and California for using the word “Democrat” to promote a corporate agenda that is hostile to public schools. DFER is also hostile to public school teachers and unions, but loves TFA and merit pay. All the usual Corporate Reform failures. Real Democrats, like the parties in Colorado and California think that DFERs are Republicans pretending to be Democrats.

Democrats for Education Reform is a group funded by Wall Street hedge fund managers who despise public schools. They never support candidates who are opposed to privatization or those who are fully committed to public schools. They only support candidates who want to siphon money away from public schools to support charter schools. They support candidates who love high-stakes testing. They never look at evidence that shows the damage that charters do to public schools or the evidence that shows the total failure of high-stakes testing to make any difference other than demoralizing students and teachers. They don’t care that a decade of their policies driven by the U.S. Department of Education has led to stagnation of NAEP scores.

In New York State, hedge funders supporting charter schools are pouring millions of dollars into races for the State Senate, both to support the charter school industry and to make sure that Republicans retain control of the State Senate, thus fending off higher taxes and protecting charter schools. Another DFERite dumping big money into New York State campaigns is Paul Tudor Jones, who gave $150,000 to something called “Parents Vote,” which seems to be controlled by StudentsFirst (hard to tell the Astroturf organizations apart). The treasurer of “Parents Vote” is the attorney for StudentsFirst. Jones may be a parent, but he lives in Connecticut, not New York, and you can bet your bottom dollar that he does not send his own children to public schools or charter schools. This outpouring of money is meant to keep the State Senate firmly under GOP management, to make sure that charters continue to operate without oversight and do their own thing.

You may or may not remember that Paul Tudor Jones is one of the nine billionaires who determined that it was up to them to remake the public schools of New York, although no one elected them to do so.

Just five years ago, Forbes ran a big article about Paul Tudor Jones and his plan to “save American education.” While busy saving American education, Jones also served on the board of Harvey Weinstein’s company and fought to save Harvey’s battered reputation.

Please note that the following story misidentifies DFER and treats them as a legitimate “reform” group when DFER acts only in the interest of Corporate Reform, high-stakes testing and privatization. The story also errs in not acknowledging that many DFER members are not Democrats.

From Politico:

FIRST LOOK: EDUCATION REFORM GROUP BETS BIG ON GOVERNOR’S RACES: Democrats for Education Reform plans to spend $4 million on campaign contributions and advertising this election cycle, boosting Democratic candidates who want to support public schools but are open to reform-minded ways of improving them.

— The organization — which advocates for a host of school reform policies nationwide like strong test-based accountability and high-quality public charter schools — through its political action committee is prioritizing gubernatorial races in Colorado, Connecticut and New York, in addition to the California state superintendent’s race and some state legislative races. DFER exclusively detailed its spending and campaign plans with Morning Education in an interview late last month. Asked the source of the $4 million, a spokeswoman the figure comes from their “supporters” and “contributors.”

— In Colorado’s battle for governor, DFER is backing Rep. Jared Polis, a House education committee Democrat who’s running against state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a Republican.

— The race to replace term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper has proven divisive for Colorado Democrats — the state teachers union backed another Democrat, Cary Kennedy, during the primary. Allies of Kennedy sought to tie Polis to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her support for private school vouchers. Polis founded two charter schools, but hasn’t shown support for vouchers or federally funded private schools in Congress. When Kennedy lost to Polis, the state teachers union released a statement that didn’t even mention Polis’ name.

— In Connecticut, DFER is supporting Ned Lamont, the Democratic hopeful looking to replace Gov. Dannel Malloy, who’s not seeking reelection. And the organization is pushing for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s reelection in New York.

— In California, DFER wants to lift Marshall Tuck to victory as state schools superintendent. Tuck is an education reform advocate who has run both charter schools and district schools in Los Angeles. In 2014, he narrowly lost a bid for state schools chief to Tom Torlakson, the current superintendent, who had the support of teachers unions. Tuck will face another Democrat, state Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, in the general election this fall.

— DFER in addition is launching a social media campaignon what it means to be an “education progressive.” The group defines that term as fighting to spend more money on public education while embracing “new ideas” to bring about faster improvement. Some of those ideas, like stronger test-based accountability measures, have faced staunch opposition from progressive groups like teachers unions. But DFER is pushing new polling results that President Shavar Jeffries says illustrate strong support. More on that polling here.

— Jeffries, who recently sat down with Morning Education, stressed that more than half of Democratic primary voters, African American voters and Hispanic voters don’t think public schools are changing or improving fast enough. The poll also found broad support for public school choice — a divisive issue for the Democratic Party — and more equitable funding for public schools, particularly disadvantaged ones. The results stem from two nationwide phone polls of more than 1,000 voters each between May and July of this year. The poll was conducted by consulting firms Benenson Strategy Group and 270 Strategies.

Would it be asking too much to hope that Caitlin Emma and the crack reporters on the Politico team might consider interviewing a critic of billionaire “Reformers.” Maybe a teacher? Say, someone like Steven Singer or Peter Greene or Mark Weber, or other well-informed critics of the intrusion of billionaire know-nothings into education policymaking? Maybe Carol Burris of the Network for Public Education?