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The hedge fund managers created an organization called “Democrats for Education Reform” to advocate for charter schools and high-stakes testing, including evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students (VAM).

In the comments section, someone recalled that George Miller was one of the architects of No Child Left Behind, and I remembered having an unpleasant encounter with Miller in 2010, after the release of my 2010 book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. I was invited by Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro to a private dinner at her home to talk about the book to the Democratic members of the House Education Committee, and Miller was there. In my talk, I was highly critical of NCLB. Miller was outraged. He defended it vociferously.

Yesterday I remembered that I had received an invitation to a fundraiser in 2012 for George Miller from DFER at a posh restaurant in Manhattan. The cost of each breakfast was $1,250. Miller did  not have an opponent. I did not attend.

Miller has since retired. I was told that Nancy Pelosi relied on him as the leading education expert in Congress

Here is the list of Democrats (pro-charter, pro-high-stakes testing) endorsed by DFER in 2012. You may be surprised to see who is on the list, including Congressman Bobby Scott, who succeeded Miller as the leading Democrat on the House Education Committee, and Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, now a leading voice for gun control, but sponsor of the Murphy Amendment to ESSA, which was intended to preserve the George W. Bush punitive consequences of testing. Although every Democrat on the Senate HELP committee (including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders) supported the Murphy Amendment, it was defeated by the Republican majority on the committee. Had it passed, schools would still be judged by AYP. And, of course, Jared Polis was on the DFER list; he is now running for governor of Colorado. He is a zealous supporter of charter schools.

This year, DFER’s big cause is the governor’s race in California, and their candidate is Antonio Villiraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles, who is carrying forward the DeVos agenda of privatization by charters.

Maurice Cunningham is a professor of political science in the University of Massachusetts who has become very interested in “dark money.” He doesn’t write about education policy per se, but he keeps raising uncomfortable but necessary questions about who is funding attacks on public schools, teachers, and unions.

In this post, he wondered why DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) released a poll showing that the public is opposed to raising the pay of teachers who are in the “excess pool.”

He searched the DFER website and could not find the poll or the methods or the questions.

He writes:

How were the questions worded? The story describes the teachers as being in the “excess pool’ — educators who lost their positions because of poor performance or job cuts, or who principals don’t want to hire — now working as co-teachers or in other positions.” But did the question ask if respondents favored “unwanted teachers” to get paid? Or did they favor teachers in the “excess pool” to get paid? Or something else? You’d likely get different responses based on the wording. And the question would need to explain what those terms meant. The “unwanted teachers” are working after all, and what if they aren’t wanted because of inept or misguided administrators? That’s why they have a union to protect them in the first place.

The School Committee is set to vote on a contract negotiated between the city and the Boston Teachers Union in which all teachers including those in the excess pool would get a raise. DFER MA State Director Liam Kerr says that voters “When presented with the facts” don’t want the excess pool teachers to get the raise. But voters weren’t presented with these facts because the contract was just finalized and the poll was conducted in May. And to go back to the nature of the questions asked, “the facts” presented were selected by DFER MA.

Which leads to a larger problem: as Neil Postman argued years ago in Amusing Ourselves to Death, poll respondents often have a limited understanding of the topic being presented to them. From the depths of my ignorance of the topic of the excess pool, I’ll confess I don’t understand the nuances of the issue or the practical application.

That leads us back to taking DFER MA’s word on this. What (or Who)? Is DFER? We don’t know, because it is a dark money front that hides its contributors. Sure the organization is represented in Massachusetts by Mr. Kerr, but he’s an agent. Who are the principals? In other words, show me the money. Who is putting up the money for the political activities of DFER MA? Maybe they are selfless do-gooders too shy to make their names know. But until DFER Ma comes clean about who really controls its political operations (hint: it is hedge fund money, probably from New York), there is every reason to regard their pronouncements with deep skepticism.

We know that DFER is hedge fund money. What we don’t know is their end game. They are zealously pro-charter. They are anti-union. Their board members are very rich. Why are they worried that somewhere a teacher might get a raise of $5,000 when that is the kind of money they spend on a good dinner?

Blame it on the Trump Effect.

Shavar Jeffries, executive director of the hedge fund managers’ Democrats for Education Reform, resigned from the board of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charters.

Eva has been an outspoken supporter of Trump, DeVos and their pro-charter, pro-voucher agenda.

Jeffries quit.

He has not resigned, however, from DFER, which supports the charter part of he Trump agenda.

“Moskowitz, who has reprimanded reporters for what she called “a kind of rooting against” Trump, is on the other side of the spectrum.

“She has publicly welcomed Ivanka Trump and House Majority Leader Paul Ryan into her schools, and taken heat from her own staff for her slow response to a call to protect undocumented and transgender students in her schools. She has defended her ties to the White House and Republican leaders as an attempt to reach bipartisan consensus on education reform.

“Moskowitz’s praise for DeVos has been echoed by the leaders of the Center for Education Reform and National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.”

Th Center for Education Reform is led by Jeanne Allen, formerly of the far-right Heritage Foundation. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is led by Nina Rees, formerly chief education advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney. Why would anyone be surprised that these Republican-led, pro-privatization organizations support Trump?

At a public comment session of the Denver school board, Kate Burnite, a student who had just graduated from DPS, scolded the entire Denver school board for taking dark money from the Koch brothers, DFER, and other outside groups who love charters. All seven board members were funded by corporate outsiders.

Kate called upon the board to represent the people of Denver, not the big money that funded their campaigns.

She is well-informed and fearless. Watch the proceedings. Find Kate’s 2 minute speech at two hours into the proceedings.

Or you can see it on Facebook here:

Also be sure to watch the mother at one hour and 40 minutes into the livestream, who asks why the board closed Gilpin, which she described as the best integrated school in Denver, where test scores were on the rise.

The hedge-fund manager group called Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) is conducting an aggressive telephone campaign in D.C. to promote the Common Core and high-stakes standardized testing. The rhetoric is deceptive, as usual.

Jeffrey Anderson writes in the Washington City Paper:

“In a one-party city with a civic focus on education, an advocacy group like Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) sounds as wholesome as Mom and apple pie. Everyone in D.C. is a Democrat, right? Who isn’t in favor of education reform?

“Aided by such safe assumptions, the New York-based PAC recently injected itself into a complicated school debate when it employed phone banking that connected D.C. residents with their respective school board members.

“Residents around the city received calls on behalf of DFER to tell them that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) is proposing to “hold schools accountable not only for the academic achievement of students but also for the growth that students make on their achievement at whatever level they start out.”

“Sounds like a winner, right?

“The callers then offered to direct residents to their representative on the D.C. State Board of Education to “let them know you support this proposal.” They then asked, “May I put you through?”

“What the campaign does not tell citizens is that the proposal presents the school board with complex decisions in an ongoing policy debate that is central to a virtual culture war over public education reform in America.

“Nor does it disclose that Democrats for Education Reform is a PAC that raises money from corporations, foundations, and influential philanthropists to back political candidates who favor standardized testing and the Common Core standards—and apparently seeks to directly influence elected school board members on contentious policy issues.


“OSSE’s draft plan is based on the federal “Every Student Succeeds Act,” which requires states to create a new school accountability system beyond the standardized math and reading tests of “No Child Left Behind.” The idea of Every Student Succeeds is to provide states with flexibility to also measure performance in science, social science, art, and other indicators of school quality.

“Under the plan DFER is promoting, 80 percent of school accountability for elementary and middle schools is based on standardized tests in reading and math and a complex formula meant to determine student “growth.” (Most of the remainder is based on attendance and re-enrollment.) The accountability system not only rates schools relative to one another but also sets guidelines that will influence educational and administrative priorities.

“Proponents of the plan, such as DFER’s D.C. director Catharine Bellinger, believe that a school rating system should be based on single test scores that reflect performance on college and career-ready exams, such as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).”

Here is a safe bet: Not one member of the board of DFER sends their children to a school that is ranked by test scores or uses standardized tests to rank students.

Now that DeVos is leading the national movement for privatization, DFER can concentrate its energies on testing and ranking other people’s children.

It seemed odd to see that Democrats for Education Reform praised the nomination of Betsy DeVos, the hard-right crusader for vouchers and for unregulated, unaccountable charter schools.


Why would they do that? Why would any progressive Democratic group (ho, ho) endorse a woman known for her support of anti-gay, anti-progressive, pro-evangelical, white Christian causes?


Mercedes Schneider explains: DeVos gives money to DFER. Not a lot, by DeVos standards. To right-wing groups, they give millions. To DFER, not so much. They sell out cheap. They praise a woman who is by no means a progressive, appointed by a president-elect in league with white supremacists and neo-Nazis–and call themselves “Democrats for Educational Reform.” Ironic. Sad. Embarrassing. Absurd. What would you call it?

Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) issued a statement congratulating Betsy DeVos on her selection by Donald Trump to be Secretary of Education. The statement expressed the hope that Trump might “disavow” his hateful rhetoric. Note that the DFER statement does not mention vouchers, which is DeVos’ most cherished goal, nor does it acknowledge that DeVos paid out $1.5 million to Michigan legislators to block ANY oversight of charter schools. Nor does it refer to Michigan’s for-profit charters, which are 80% of all charters in the state. Nor does it make any mention of public schools, which enroll 94% of all public school children (excluding those in religious and independent schools, which are about 10% of the total).


The reformers are in a pickle. They can’t claim fealty to Trump, because they pretend to be Democrats. But Trump has embraced the reformer agenda, lock, stock and barrel. This statement is one way of handling their dilemma: embrace DeVos–a figure who finances the far-right and wants completely unregulated, unaccountable choice, and simultaneously chide Trump for his hateful rhetoric. Pretend to be Democrats while saluting her. Search for any gift she ever made to a real civil rights group to offset the tens of millions the DeVos has invested in rightwing groups that are hostile to equity. Let’s watch to see what other “reformers” come up with, now that Trump and DeVos are the new face of “reform” and do not hide their desire to jettison public schools.



New York, NY – In response to President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos to the post of Secretary of Education, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) President Shavar Jeffries released the following statement:


“DFER congratulates Betsy DeVos on her appointment as Secretary of Education, and we applaud Mrs. DeVos’s commitment to growing the number of high-quality public charter schools.


“However, DFER remains deeply concerned by much of the President-elect’s education agenda, which proposes to cut money from Title I and to eliminate the federal role on accountability. These moves would undermine progress made under the Obama administration to ensure all children have access to good schools. In addition, our children are threatened by many of the President-elect’s proposals, such as kicking 20 million families off of healthcare, deporting millions of Dreamers, and accelerating stop-and-frisk practices. We hope that Mrs. Devos will be a voice that opposes policies that would harm our children, both in the schoolhouse and the families and communities in which our children live.


“Finally, regardless of one’s politics, Trump’s bigoted and offensive rhetoric has assaulted our racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, causing millions of American children to perceive that they are less than full members of our communities. We hope Mrs. DeVos will push the President-elect to disavow such rhetoric.”



The NAACP’s decision to call for a moratorium of charter school expansion until laws can be revised to provide accountability and transparency. This decision sent shock waves inside the corporate reform echo chamber. Would they still be able to call themselves leaders of the civil rights ipissue of our time if the NAACP disagreed with their aggressive efforts to privatize public schools?

The right wing reform headquarters called the Center for Education Reform in D.C. put out a press release accusing the NAACP of caving in to pressure from teachers’ unions. Of course, that implies that the corporate-funded conservatives at CER care more about black children than the NAACP and its national convention. Hard to believe.

Then Shavar Jeffries of the Democrats for Education Reform (the hedge fund managers’ pro-charter advocacy group) issued a statement saying that the great African-American scholar W.E.B. DuBois would be shocked to see the NAACP turn against charter schools and privatization.

Jersey Jazzman calls out Jeffries for apparently never having read DuBois. JJ points out that DuBois was clear about his commitment to an elite education for “the talented tenth.” Maybe Jeffries was acknowledging that charters are only for a small elite (which Mike Petrilli called “the strivers”). If so, that case should be stated openly and clearly, instead of pretending that charters could save “poor kids in failing schools.”

JJ also notes that DuBois was a Marxist and it was unlikely that he would support the privatization of public education. Or that he would be able to tolerate an alliance with Wall Street and hedge fund managers.

This post was written in 2014, but it remains relevant today. DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) raises large sums of money from hedge fund managers to promote charter schools. The free market has been very good to hedge fund managers, and they think that public schools should compete in a free market too. They are not in the game to make money, but to promote their ideology of free-market competition. DFER and its related organizations, like Education Reform Now, and Families for Excellent Schools, are spending millions of dollars in places as far-flung as Denver and Massachusetts. It may be confusing to the public to see “Democrats” promoting school choice and accountability, since these have always been Republican ideas for school reform. But, it made no sense to create a group called Republicans for Education Reform because Republicans don’t need to be convinced to private public schools.

Leonie Haimson, parent advocate (and a member of the board of the Network for Public Education), asks:

How did this happen? How did our electeds of both parties enable corporate interests to hijack our public schools?

Her answer:

A small band of Wall St. billionaires decided to convert the Democratic party to the Republican party, at least on education — and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams – or our worst nightmares. And now we have electeds of both parties who are intent on helping them engineer a hostile takeover of our public schools, which has nothing to do with parent choice but the choice of these plutocrats.

What can you do about it?

Contact the Network for Public Education and find out how you can become active in your local or state organization that supports public schools and opposes privatization.

If you live in Massachusetts, join parents and educators who are fighting Question 2, which would allow unlimited expansion of charters to replace public schools.

Get involved.

In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of dollars poured into a race in Massachusetts for a State Senate seat. 

The incumbent Pat Jehlen opposes Question 2,  the measure on the state ballot in November to increase charter schools by 12 a year forever. 

Her opponent, Leland Cheung, supports Question 2. 

Jehlen was supported by the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Cheung was financed by the hedge fund managers’ group Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). 

Jehlen debated a representative of DFER, instead of debating Cheung. 

Jehlen won overwhelmingly, by a vote of more than 13,000 to less than 4,000.

Some think this race presages the vote in November,  in which pro-charter groups are prepared to spend millions of dollars to promote Question 2.