Archives for category: DFER


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.

In this fall’s school board elections in Cincinnati, one of the candidates will be a TFA alum who is trying again after almost being kicked out of the Democratic Party three years ago.

Ben Lindy is the director of Teach for America in Cincinnati. He attended elite suburban schools, then graduated from Yale College and Yale Law School. After he taught in rural North Carolina, he tried to start his  political career by running for state representative in Ohio. He was nearly censured and booted from the Democratic Party at that time when union officials discovered that he had written a law journal article that was anti-union and that was cited in a Supreme Court case to hurt the cause of collective bargaining. In that paper, he argued that collective bargaining agreements raise the performance of high-achieving students and lower the performance of “poorly achieving students.” On the face of it, this claim is absurd, first, because there are many different variables that affect student performance, especially in the state he studied, New Mexico, which has one of the highest child poverty rates in the nation. Consider also that the highest performing states in the nation–Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey–have strong teachers’ unions, while the lowest performing states in the nation (mainly in the South) do not.

The 2016 effort to oust him from the Democratic Party failed by 26-21. When he was questioned about this stance on organized labor, he claimed to be pro-union but claimed that he hadn’t give much though to union issues.

Lindy showed a lack of knowledge about some labor issues. When asked his stance on prevailing wage, he said: “This is an issue I’d like to know more about.”

“I’m not hearing how you’ve evolved,” said Pat Bruns, a committee member who sits on the state board of education.

Lindy is a prodigious fund-raiser, which is enough to recommend him to some party leaders.

But party leaders should check where Lindy’s campaign cash is coming from. If it is coming from “Democrats for Education Reform,” bear in mind that these are hedge fund managers who are anti-union and anti-public schools, who favor TFA and merit pay. If it is coming from “Leadership for Educational Equity,” that is TFA’s political arm, which is anti-union and pro-charter school.

Be informed before you vote.





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?


This is good news!

The House Appropriations Committee issued its budget report. Betsy DeVos requested an increase for the federal Charter Schools Program, from $440 million a year to $500 million. But the education appropriations subcommittee cut the appropriation to $400 million. This is a program that is riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse, as the Department of Education’s own Inspector General pointed out in the past, and as the Network for Public Education pointed out in its recent report called “Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Recklessly Takes Taxpayers and Students for a Ride.”

Thank you to Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), chairperson of the education appropriations subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. She is a deeply knowledgeable member of Congress who is committed to equity and works tirelessly to meet the needs of the American people for well-funded public schools

The NPE report found that one-third of the charter school funded by the federal government either never opened or closed soon after opening, costing taxpayers close to $1 billion in wasted funds.

Here is the report of the House Appropriations Committee. It increased the funding of well-respected programs that DeVos and Trump wanted to slash or kill, while cutting back on the Charter Schools Program (start reading at page 182).

Just in the last year, Secretary DeVos gave $116 million to a single charter chain, IDEA, which intends to flood the small El Paso district with charters; and she gave a grant of $86 million to KIPP. This concentration of funds in the hands of corporate charter chains was certainly not the intent of the program, which was meant to spur start-ups and innovation, not to enlarge established charter chains. KIPP, in particular, is amply funded by the Walton Family Foundation and a dozen other major foundations. It is hard to understand why this wealthy and powerful charter chain needs federal aid.

Charles Barone, the policy director of DFER (the hedge fund managers’ organization that pretends to be Democrats), expressed disappointment!

The Democratic state parties in California and Colorado have denounced DFER as a corporate front that should drop the word “Democrat” from its title.

Real Democrats support public schools, democratically governed and open to all, not corporate charter chains or private management.

By the way, the NPE report had no external funding. It was produced by the research of our brilliant staff and written by Carol Burris and Jeff Bryant.



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.

This article by Ross Barkan reminds us of why Andrew Cuomo never won the hearts of progressives and never will. He really is not a progressive, and he has many tricks up his sleeve to prevent unified Democratic control of the Legislature. He is now playing urban Democrats against suburban Democrats. He will pull any trick to foil his arch-enemy Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City. He persuaded suburban Democrats to pledge unity, based on the phony claim that the Big City doesn’t pay its “fair share” of the costs of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. As the article shows, NYC does pay a fair share, and Cuomo likes to pretend he is not in charge of the agency, which is currently struggling with an aging infrastructure and poor service. Fixing it is Cuomo’s job, but he is a shirker.

Correction: New York State teachers’ union did not endorse Cuomo or anyone else on the Democratic primary. However, it remains a fact that Cuomo has repeatedly insulted teachers and imposed a draconian (and failed) teacher evaluation plan. Cuomo still loves charter schools because they are the hobby of Wall Street, and their billionaire backers support Cuomo.

He periodically reminds us who he is and what he cares about.

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!

In the education world, we have become accustomed to the intrusion of billionaires into local and state school board races, bundling money for candidates committed to privatizing—not helping—our public schools. The most prominent such group calls itself Democrats for Education Reform, but we have no way of knowing whether its contributors are Republicans or Democrats. Some of its most prominent members are billionaires who donate to both parties, depending on which candidate is likeliest to protect charter schools and low taxes.

This post in the Blog “Crooks & Liars” notes a broader phenomenon of Republican billionaires inserting their money into Democratic primaries to choose rightwing candidates.

I noted on Twitter and on this blog that Politico’s Morning Education recently published a lengthy interview with DFER spokesmen about where they plan to target their millions, which school board elections they plan to invade, without noting that DFER represents Wall Street and contains not a single educator in its midst. Politico didn’t bother to question why hedge fund managers in New York and Connecticut are swaying elections in Colorado and California. Nor did they point out that DFER was censured by the Democratic parties in both states, which said they stop calling themselves Democrats because they represent corporate interests. I don’t know nor does Politico whether DFER is actually a Republican front group with one or two show Democrats.

Politico Morning Education has NEVER interviewed a critic of Corporate Reform, has NEVER discussed the distorting effect of outside money bundled by hedge funders on state and local school board elections. Why do the Waltons—a fiercely anti-union, anti-public school family of billionaires—invest in school board elections across the nation? Why is this story NEVER reported by Politico? Why do they keep hands off the billionaires intent on privatizing public schools?

Conversely, why has Politico never seen fit to interview public school supporters other than National Union leaders? Why have they never interviewed Carol Burris or Anthony Cody or Julian Vasquez Heilig or Jesse Hagopian or the BATS?

When the Network for Public Education released a carefully researched 50-State report ranking states on their support for public schools, Politico did not consider it worthy of even a mention, let alone a paragraph with a link to the report.

What gives at Politico Morning Education?