Democrats for Education Reform is a political action committee supported largely by hedge fund managers favoring charter schools, merit-pay tied to test scores, high-stakes testing, school choice (including vouchers and tuition tax credits in some cases), mayoral control, and alternative teacher preparation programs.

As Pedro Noguera noted in a recent Nation article:

Market-based reforms like performance pay for teachers, the excessive emphasis on charter schools as alternatives to traditional public schools and the distribution of federal funds—once treated as entitlements to compensate for poverty—through competitive grants all represent a disturbing continuity with the policies of the past. The Obama administration gets some credit for not ignoring education despite being preoccupied with several formidable challenges. But the new initiatives do not reflect the change many hoped Obama would deliver.

NB: I reserve the right to remove offensive and/or inappropriate comments.

10 Responses to “About”
  1. Van Schoales says:


    I thought I’d say hello….as you know I’m the new head of Education Reform Now. I just went through your site and I have to say that I’m generally impressed that you have most of the information correct.

    Who are you? It’s not clear from your website. I’d welcome any and all oversight as well as discussion/debate about how to improve our public education system. I’m also interested in your agenda beyond being concerned that some hedge fund folks are on our board.

    Thanks, Van

  2. kennethlibby says:


    Thanks for leaving comments on DFER Watch. My name is Ken Libby and I put the site together as a way to provide more information about DFER (and ERN/ERN Advocacy).

    I have a background in teaching (although very little time in the classroom as the lead teacher), and a number of years of experience working with children in a variety of settings. The political side of education fascinates me, and I’m generally interested in public policy issues.

    I do hope you’ll correct me on any factual errors on DFER Watch. I generally try to provide links to primary documents or articles, but there are a few bits of info that may have slipped onto the site without solid documentation.

    As for my agenda, I’m all for supporting public schools. Yes – that would include (semi-private) charter schools, but there are major concerns about how we go about using these schools to strengthen our education system. In particular, I believe the pro-charter crowd makes claims about their effectiveness that are highly suspect and/or deceptive; that charters are pushed as a way to replace public schools; that lax financial oversight and regulation can/will lead to corruption; and that competition/market-based reforms will hurt rather than help our public schools. I have additional concerns about E/CMOs, privatization, and for-profit education providers.

    I’m concerned that DFER/ERN is pushing merit pay tied to test scores even though experienced psychometricians have urged us to take great caution. Some of the concerns about merit pay stem from the technical implementation, and some of it boils down to philosophical concerns about a narrowed curriculum, teaching to the test, and the urge for teachers/principals to cheat the system. We often conflate quality learning environments with high test scores.

    There is certainly a lot of room for improvement in our public schools – on this we do not disagree. The argument really begins when solutions are proposed. I do not believe our reliance on “data-driven decision making” and “no excuses” mentality is enough to improve our schools; that linking teacher hiring/firing decisions to test scores is good for students or teachers; and that the proliferation of charters is justified given their performance. I think our kids deserve better.

    Thanks again for visiting DFER Watch.


  3. joan says:

    Dear Van,
    My reasons for visiting DFER Watch are focused on specific features of the reform model and the effects on teachers and students experiencing high risk of school failure. As a former teacher, school administrator, and educational researcher, I am concerned that a competitive business model that includes merit pay and teacher evaluations based on standardized tests will not translate into improving public schools.

    First, The single most predictive factor of poor school performance is poverty. That fact trumps all other factors, including poor teaching, inadequate curriculum materials, and class size. All research supports this fact. Look at the schools that are successful. They do not subscribe to merit pay and mass firings that you endorse for inner city schools.

    Second. Children from inner city schools need to have some hope that education will lead to a prosperous future. In reality, when they leave the school building, their communities have nothing to offer in the way of employment. Their economic mobility is severely limited by business practices that refuse to pay wages that would lift people above the poverty level.

    Third. Business needs to take some responsibility for the poverty in communities. They lobby against tax increase, leverage their influence to eliminate workers protections, refuse to pay pensions or health insurance to part time and low wage earners. Their practices created the very impoverished conditions in communities that contribute to student school failure. When business donates money to schools for projects, computers, etc. that donation is tax deductible. Thus draining the needed money from the communities that need it just to pay the electric bill or buy paper.

    Fourth. Charter schools are not the “magic bullet” that will save needy children. They don’t even teach all needy children. They will not serve students with moderate to severe special education needs. Some students with severe disabilities cost up to $50,000/per student to educate. How can charters justify receiving tax dollars, exclude these students, yet claim to serve the neediest students?

    Fifth. Teachers are not motivated by salaries to improve their practices. They aren’t real estate salesmen or stock traders who work to hide their secrets from colleagues to gain a bonus or defeat a competitor. Effective teachers and schools staffs collaborate and share information. Merit pay will not improve performance in schools or classrooms but will drive teachers to resent their colleagues and destroy collaboration.

    Sixth. Standardized tests are not designed to evaluate quality teaching practices. That means that the scores are invalid as a measure of instructional quality. It is analogous to evaluating an oncologist on the number of patients who die from cancer. The physician’s patient death rate does not measure treatment quality. There are too many other mitigating factors, just as there are other factors children experience in their communities, schools and classrooms. Not all students are the same just as not all cancer patients are the same.

    Finally, I do not want to see public schools destroyed by: (a) draining scarce tax dollars into unsustainable charters designed on fallacious information, (b) excluding children with disabilities or those who are at the highest risk for failure, or (c) teachers demoralized by a market driven ideology that does not translate into quality instruction.

    Joan C. Grim
    University of Tennessee

  4. What an incredible resource! Thanks so much for doing this.


  5. Van Schoales says:


    I understand what you are against but not sure at all what you think will lead kids out of poverty. Is it money? Do we need to pour more funds into TN schools? Is that the problem? And if so, how much and what should we expect in terms of results? Many schools and districts do need more funds (I live in CO and spend time in CA where funds do need to be increased) but I see no evidence that student performance will increase without some dramatic reforms of the system.


  6. indy frustrated says:

    I appreciate the frustration on the part of teachers who are suspicious of standardized tests and performance-based pay. I’m not in love with standardized tests, either. I think the real issue we’re missing is that no large inner-city school bureaucracy has ever been able to reform itself, even if a mayor or the State took over. The bureaucracy itself is insidious in its love of mediocrity.

    New Orleans, with its highly decentralized model, has had five years of increasing success with its model. Students are gaining faster in New Orleans than in the rest of Louisiana. The enemy is not teachers; the problem is large inner-city school bureaucracies. They allow mediocre principals and teachers to stay in their positions way too long.

  7. limpia says:

    Joan’s points seem clear. Overall, societal problems such as lack of a decent minimum wage are to be corrected.The richest make so much more than they have in the past, leavest crumbs for the rest. Furthermore, in order to enlarge a middle class and ,thereby, raise scores it might be helpful for us to become a nation in which things are produced, and people are gainfully emplyed- as it was when i grew up in the 60′s.

    It seems to me that charters often assure fascism from the top-and who would be the teachers there? Those who have incomes from other sources, and therefore, can accept the payrate and the lack of security. Public schools can certainly incorporate programs, and regularly do, when experienced teachers and supervisors are consulted. With less waste than the waste seen by programs put inplace by novices, such as Joel Klein, who has tried a myriad of untested and ill conceived ideas. As a social worker in nyc schools for 23 years, I have seen the folly of Klein and Bloomberg, as well as the talent, hard work and success of most of the teachers whom i know there.

  8. I. Wells says:

    Dear Ken,

    I’m an administrator in a university and have been increasingly concerned by the education policies being pushed on public schools around the country for the last 11 years. I stumbled upon your site while researching Bellwether Education Partners, who just sent a survey to federal i3 grant applicants, saying they have funding from the Rockefeller Foundation to do some research on the public-private partnerships of that grant’s requirements.

    Finding the Bellwether website, I saw the link and excerpt from the Eduwonk blog on its home page. Eduwonk makes it difficult to figure out that Bellwether partner Rotherham is the author/owner of the blog, yet he claims to be “transparent.” The post Bellwether’s site pointed to (and which points back to Bellwether) was dismissive of legitimate education research on and objections to unachievable-by-design requirements of NCLB. It had an odor of right-wing talk show rhetoric in its disrespectful, arrogant tone.

    Bellwether should not be hired by anyone wanting legitimate impartial research, given their heavy involvement in pushing public policies that legitimate research does not support. Not to mention their leadership’s arrogance and blatant dishonesty in presuming to suggest to policy makers that they know what’s good for schools and students everywhere and under all circumstances.

    Of course Rotherham’s attacks on public education in the name of “the kids [NCLB is] designed to look out for” –i.e., low-income, immigrant, those with disabilities and children from politically disenfranchised communities– are a smoke screen, created to disguise his and his cronies’ power and money grabs. These attacks are the same nonsense we’ve been hearing for years from Frederick Hess, “Checker” Finn and their allies. And the ranks of the politically disenfranchised and their children are growing rapidly as the middle class disappears and corporate money swallows democracy whole.

    It seems to me that very soon only the mega rich will have education worthy of the name if the rest of us do not act.

    Besides this blog, let me recommend another source for accurate information on our situation:

    “Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools,” by Joanne Barkan http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=3781

    I highly recommend it for understanding more about how the Broad (with which Bellwether is connected), the Gates and the Walton Family Foundations are taking the “public” out of public schools, and why we as citizens, educators, and working people need to step up and save this essential democratic institution.

    Thanks for providing this resource. To your concerned readers and respondents: let us act courageously to champion truly publicly run and publicly funded schools. To do otherwise is to disregard the best of our national heritage, and abandon future generations and the future of our country.

    I. Wells
    University administrator

  9. CitizensArrest says:

    Poverty must be addressed as a separate issue. Schools cannot be the primary, or even secondary conduit through which we focus our efforts on this. They can be a component, but they must stick to their primary mission, teaching. Decoupling schools in this way forces an honest focus on poverty itself, and forces real attention to be paid to this 800 ton gorilla.

  10. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own weblog and was curious what all is required to get set up? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny?
    I’m not very web smart so I’m not 100% certain. Any recommendations or advice would be
    greatly appreciated. Cheers

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