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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?

The Democratic Party in Colorado and California have passed resolutions attacking Democrats for Education Reform as a phony, corporate-controlled front organization and demanded that it stop sullying the Democratic Party by using its name.

In New York, where hedge fund money flows freely to DFER, it continues to be a political player, having no popular political base but owning corporate politicians who wants its campaign contributions. It has filled the vacuum left by the collapse of the phony “Families for Excellent Schools,”also funded and owned by billionaires who never set foot in a public school.

Now DFER in New York is speaking out to call for more school closures and more privately owned charter schools.

If only New York’s Democrats had the fortitude of their counterparts in California and Colorado and were brave enough to call out DFER as DINOS, whose only purpose is to destroy public schools in communities of co,or.

Democrats for Education Reform is a political action group that raises money for Democratic candidates who will support high-stakes testing and charter schools.

Here is its list of candidates for the 2018 elections.

Most notable on the list:

DFER endorsed Marshall Tuck for State Superintendent of Instruction in California. The Network for Public Education Action Fund and the Los Angeles Times endorsed his opponent Tony Thurmond.

DFER endorsed Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut for re-election. When the ESSA bill was written to replace NCLB, Murphy introduced an amendment (“the Murphy Amendment”) to retain all the punitive features of NCLB. Fortunately, his amendment was defeated.

DFER endorsed Senators Corey Booker (NJ) and Michael Bennett (CO) for re-election. No surprises there. Both are well-known supporters of school choice. Booker has even supported vouchers and charters.

DFER endorsed Congressman Bobby Scott for re-election. He is the chair of the House Education Committee.

Regaining control of the House and possibly the Senate this fall override any concerns I have about these candidates. If I lived in their state or district, I would vote for them. But if any of them aspire to higher office, I will do whatever I can to stop them because privatizers should not be rewarded.


Marla Kilfoyle and Melissa Tomlinson of the BadAss Teachers Association wrote this analysis of the organization called Democrats for Education Reform, known as DFER. It was organized in 2005 by a small group of hedge fund managers. Its purpose is to promote charter schools by funding candidates for Office who share its goal. It also supports test-based evaluation of teachers and high-stakes testing of students. Its inaugural meeting was held at a luxurious apartment in New York City in 2005, where the speaker was Illinois Senator Barack Obama (as recounted in Stephen Brill’s admiring account “Class Warfare”).

During the Obama campaign of 2008, the candidate’s spokesperson on education was Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University. It was widely assumed that she would be Obama’s Secretary of Education. But DFER recommended Arne Duncan, a charter enthusiast known by DFER, and Duncan it was. Obama and Duncan’s Race to the Top embodied DFER’s principles. It propelled the proliferation of charter schools, school closures, Common Core, VAM for teachers, and high-stakes testing for students. It was a complete failure when judged by its announced goals of closing achievement gaps and lifting test scores to the top rank on international tests.


Democrats for Education Reform is an organization founded, funded, and led by hedge fund managers who support charter schools and high-stakes testing. They raise money to elect likeminded people across the country and are a key part of the Dark Money world of fundraisers for privatization of public schools.

On Saturday, the Colorado Democratic Party passed a strong resolution opposing privatization of public schools and demanding that DFER stop calling themselves “Democrats.”

Here is the story of the state Democratic convention, as reported in Chalkbest.

Colorado has been fertile ground for corporate reform, and DFER has been a source of funding for candidates for the state board, the Denver board, and other critical races. Senator Michael Bennett, once a superintendent of the Denver public schools, is a DFER favorite. So are two current candidates for governor, Jared Polis (who is so rich he doesn’t need DFER money) and former TFA State Senator Michael Johnston, who drafted the state’s harsh and ineffective teacher evaluation law.

Vanessa Quintana, a political activist who was the formal sponsor of the minority report, was a student at Denver’s Manual High School when it was closed in 2006, a decision that Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, then Denver’s superintendent, defended at an education panel Friday.

“She said that before she finally graduated from high school, she had been through two school closures and a major school restructuring and dropped out of school twice. Three of her siblings never graduated, and she blames the instability of repeated school changes.

“When DFER claims they empower and uplift the voices of communities, DFER really means they silence the voices of displaced students like myself by uprooting community through school closure,” she told the delegates. “When Manual shut down my freshman year, it told me education reformers didn’t find me worthy of a school.”


Leonie Haimson writes here about the stunning rebuke administered by the Colorado Democratic Party to “Democrats for Education Reform” last Saturday. 

It is hard to overstate the commanding position of DFER in that state. Senator Michael Bennett is DFER-approved. So are two of the leading Democrats running for Governor. DFER’s Dark Money has captured the Denver school board.

Until now, no one has stood up to them. No one could match their cash.

Will DFER survive this denunciation? Of course. But their stamp of approval might turn into a stigma for real Democrats. Real Democrats do not support the DeVos privatization agenda. Real Democrats support public schools u dear democratic control.

Leonie writes:

”Let’s hope that the Colorado vote is a turning point, and that it is no longer politically or ethically acceptable for progressive Democrats to act like Republicans when it comes to education policy.”

Wouldn’t that be great?


The group that calls itself “Democrats for Education Reform” represents hedge fund money and Wall Street and advocates for charter schools and high-stakes testing. Although it has no evident connection to education other than its name, it has funneled campaign contributions and Dark Money into state and local elections to support privatization of public schools. It has strongly backed test-based evaluations of teachers, despite the evidence against it.

Today, the Colorado Democratic Party voted on a minority report critical of DFER. The motion required a 2/3 voice vote. It passed easily.

The motion said:

”We oppose making Colorado’s public schools private, or run by private corporations, or segregated again through lobbying and campaign efforts of the organization called Democrats for Education Reform and demand that they immediately stop using the Party’s name, I.e., “Democrat” in their name.”

To learn about DFER, read this:

Click to access IntendedConsequencesofDFER.pdf




I posted the 2012 Democrats for Education Reform list of electoral favorites, which included Cong. George Miller of California, then chair of the House Education Committee and an architect of NCLB; Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who fought to keep high-stakes testing and NCLB punishments in the new ESSA and is now a possible candidate for president in 2020. A few years ago, the California Democratic Party passed a resolution denouncing DFER for advancing corporate policies and urged them to drop the D from their name.

Miller was the most powerful Congressional Democrat on education issues, and Nancy Pelosi follliwed his lead. Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott is now chair of the committee, and he too was on the DFER LIST.

A reader who lives in Miller’s district describes what happened:

“Miller was my Congressman. I too had an unpleasant encounter with him at a local hearing where he showed up to personally push to convert one of the high schools in my district to charter. Since then that high school has among other things, experienced huge teacher turnover. Key senior classes have had multiple substitutes with “emergency crediamtials.” They hired an “executive director” whom they pay a quarter million dollars a year,! whose primary job seems to be opening more charters in our county who will hire him as a “consultant” and who hired his wife as an administrator for a salary of $170,000 per year. He also recently put one of the Candidates for Superintendent if the County Office of Education on his payroll as an “Assistant Prinicipal”. The County Office approves charters if they are turned down at the District level.”