Accountability Betsy DeVos Biden Billionaires Charter Schools Corporate Reform Democrats for Education Reform DFER School Choice Testing VAM (value-added modeling)

DFER Names Its Candidates for Secretary of Education

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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.

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