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Chalkbeat reports that the privatizers at “Democrats” for Education Reform have identified their candidates for Biden’s Secretary of Education. They are three big-city superintendents who have worked harmoniously with charter schools.

DFER is an organization of hedge fund managers and financiers who are supporters of charter schools, merit pay, high-stakes testing, and value-added evaluation of teachers. In 2008, DFER successfully advocated for the appointment of Arne Duncan, a supporter of their goals.

Democrats for Education Reform is coordinating a behind-the-scenes push for Chicago schools chief Janice Jackson, the head of Baltimore schools Sonja Brookins Santelises, or Philadelphia superintendent William Hite, according to an email sent to supporters Monday by the group’s presidentShavar Jeffries and obtained by Chalkbeat. All three, Jeffries wrote, would represent a “‘big tent’ approach to education policy making….”

DFER was an influential actor in policy during the Obama administration, but those policies have mostly proved ineffective and/or rejected by teachers. In light of Betsy DeVos’ fierce advocacy for charter schools, DFER’s agenda is out-of-step with the Democratic Party.

In general, though, DFER has found some of its favored policies moving further from the Democratic Party’s mainstream. As a presidential candidate, Biden has proposed a slew of new federal restrictions on charter schools and been critical of standardized testing — a clear shift from the Obama administration, which promoted the growth of charter schools and teacher evaluations linked to test scores. 

“It is certainly the Biden plan,” the campaign’s policy director Stef Feldman said at a recent event, describing the candidate’s agenda for schools. “The vice president is pretty committed to the concept that we need to be investing in our public neighborhood schools and we can’t be diverting funding away from them.”

A number of factors have driven the shift within the Democratic party — including disillusionment with Obama-era reforms, the increased political strength of teachers and their unions, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who is highly unpopular among Democrats and became a figurehead for school choice.

This shifting ground is reflected in DFER’s recent policy agenda, which was signed onto by a few civil rights groups; the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank; and major charter school organizations, including the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The document emphasizes areas of likely agreement with a Biden administration, including expanding access to early childhood education, increasing federal funding for low-income students and students with disabilities, and raising teacher pay. Charter schools get only a brief mention in a section about “choices in quality public schools.”

The Center for American Progress is not a “progressive” think tank. It has long advocated the Obama-era education policies that align with DFER.


Democrats for Education Reform is a group of Wall Street hedge fund executives that decided that schools would improve if they were privatized and adhered to business principles, like pay for performance, no unions, testing, accountability, and private management. DFER likes mayoral control and state takeovers, not elected school boards. Above all, it is mad for charter schools, which honor the principles of business management. DFER has not been dissuaded by the failure of charters to produce better results than public schools. It has not been moved by the charters’ practices of skimming, exclusion, and attrition. It ignores the cascade of charter scandals.

Peter Greene explains the origins of DFER here. The billionaires who founded DFER knew it did not have to win converts within the Republican Party, which embraced privatization. Its target was the Democratic Party, which had a long history of support for public schools.

Peter wrote:

DFER is no more Democratic than my dog. There’s not enough space between their positions and the positions of the conservative Fordham Institute (though I think, on balance, Fordham is generally more respectful of teachers). But for the privatizers to be effective, they need to work both sides of the aisle. Also, RFER would sound too much like a pot advocacy group.

So they’re not really Democrats. And they don’t want to reform education– they just want to privatize it and reduce teachers to easily replaced widgets. And they aren’t particularly interested in education other than as a sector of the economy. I suppose I have no beef with their use of the word “for,” as long as they put it with the things that they are really for– privatization and profit. So, Apoliticals Supporting Privatization and Profit. ASPP. Much better.

To learn more about DFER, read the BadAss Teachers report.

Campaign cash changes minds, DFER knew. And it soon had an impressive stable of Democratic electeds on board. When Andrew Cuomo first ran for governor of New York, he quickly learned that the path to Wall Street required a commitment to charter schools, which meant a visit to DFER offices. He has been a faithful ally ever since.

DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) is an organization founded by Wall Street hedge fund managers to support charter schools. They believe in privatization; they actively undermine public schools that belong to the community. They believe in high-stakes testing, and they strongly support evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students, although professional associations like the American Statistical Association does not. They love Teach for America, because they don’t like experienced professionals or teachers unions.

Their main function is to raise money for political candidates, which gives them immense leverage. Once a political candidate gets on the DFER recommended list, they can count on money flowing in from friends of DFER around the country. DFER does not have a large membership but it has a very rich following among hedge funders and venture capitalists.

In this publication, DFER tries to demonstrate that “school choice” is a Democratic idea. It lists the Democratic politicians who support charter schools. It trumpets the support of the late AFT leader Al Shanker for charter schools, but fails to mention that Shanker turned against charter schools as he saw them turn into a weapon of privatization to undermine public schools and teachers’ unions. Shanker was all for charters before they existed, but he recoiled when he saw what they were becoming. By 1994, he concluded that charter schools were no different than vouchers, and that both were intended to smash teachers’ unions and privatize public schools. PLEASE STOP CITING SHANKER AS A CHARTER SUPPORTER!

Charter schools today are 90% non-union. Real Democrats are not opposed to teachers’ unions.

Charter schools today are more segregated than real public schools. Real Democrats do not support racial segregation.

Everyone who thinks that charter schools are connected to Democratic Party ideals should read Steve Suitts’ powerful book “Undermining Brown,” which shows that the idea of school choice was created by Southern segregations who were fighting the Brown decision.

The DFER document fails to mention that charter schools enjoy the support of Charles Koch, Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump, ALEC, and every Republican governor. School choice diverts funding from genuine public schools. If DFER put out a publication of the governors and Senators and members of Congress who support charter schools, the Republicans would far outnumber the Democrats.

If, as DFER maintains, charters are “public schools,” why did so many of them apply for and receive millions from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, for which public schools were ineligible? Are they “public schools” or are they “small businesses” or “nonprofits” but not public schools?

The DFER report also fails to mention the staggering failure rate of charter schools. The document lauds the federal Charter School Program, created by the Clinton administration when there were few charter schools, but neglects to mention that about 35-40% of the new charters paid for by the CSP either never opened or closed soon after opening.

To be clear: School choice is not a Democratic Party idea, unless you mean the party of George Wallace and the Dixiecrats. School choice is beloved by libertarians who want to destroy public education (ALEC) and by Republicans who want to privatize public education (Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Jeb Bush).

 

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.”)

Why?

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.