Saturday, March 28, 2015

Who Put the D in DFER?

DFER stands for Democrats for Education Reform, a group that has the distinction of possessing a name in which none of the words are accurate.

The Democrat part is a fun piece of trivia. One of the key founders of DFER is Whitney Tilson, a big time hedge fund manager (you can read more about him here). Leonie Haimson has a great quote from the film version of Tilson's magnum opus about ed reform, "A Right Denied," and it's a dream of mine that every time somebody searches for DFER on line, this quote comes up.

“The real problem, politically, was not the Republican party, it was the Democratic party. So it dawned on us, over the course of six months or a year, that it had to be an inside job. The main obstacle to education reform was moving the Democratic party, and it had to be Democrats who did it, it had to be an inside job. So that was the thesis behind the organization. And the name – and the name was critical – we get a lot of flack for the name. You know, “Why are you Democrats for education reform? That’s very exclusionary. I mean, certainly there are Republicans in favor of education reform.” And we said, “We agree.” In fact, our natural allies, in many cases, are Republicans on this crusade, but the problem is not Republicans. We don’t need to convert the Republican party to our point of view…”

It's kind of genius. Like if I wanted to keep Wal-Mart out of town, just declaring myself a Wal-Mart executive and announcing repeatedly that Wal-Mart doesn't want to build in my town and convincing a bunch of actual Wal-Mart executives to join my organization and to start promoting my anti-building-in-my-town agenda. 

Watch DFER's video or read their statements of belief and vision. Their narrative is clear. Public schools are failing because entrenched bureaucracy and those damn teacher unions have ruined everything. So we need to blow up public schools by using standards to create tests that will provide proof of how much public schools suck; then we can replace them with charters and choice.

DFER may have started as a thinly-disguised attempt to infiltrate the Democratic party, but they have bought their way in quite successfully in some regions. The intro video features a parade of elected Dem officials (though it's not recent-- in the video Cory Booker is still mayor of Newark) who are proud to lay the responsibility for failing public schools on the backs of teachers.

Why tell this story? Again-- most of the names behind DFER are big time hedge fund managers. Ripping open markets is a win-win; you have the satisfaction of helping lesser beings with your superior knowledge, and you can make a buttload of cash. You can see both on display in this insider story of the charterista assault on Bridgeport. You can also make your contributions to politicians running in key education elections (right now DFER would like to help Anthony Williams become mayor of Philly).

DFER is no more Democratic than my dog. There's not enough space between their positions and the positions of the conservative Fordham Institute (though I think, on balance, Fordham is generally more respectful of teachers). But for the privatizers to be effective, they need to work both sides of the aisle. Also, RFER would sound too much like a pot advocacy group.

So they're not really Democrats. And they don't want to reform education-- they just want to privatize it and reduce teachers to easily replaced widgets. And they aren't particularly interested in education other than as a sector of the economy. I suppose I have no beef with their use of the word "for," as long as they put it with the things that they are really for-- privatization and profit. So, Apoliticals Supporting Privatization and Profit. ASPP. Much better.

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