Jan Resseger is the former chair of the National Council of Churches Committee on Public Education, and she has a blog post linking to a very insightful infographic on the organization “Democrats for Education Reform,” the group behind the “Camp Philos” education reform meeting in Lake Placid this week.
The graphic can be found here, and it comes courtesy of Billy Easton of the Alliance for Quality Education. The short version is that, far from being a genuine organization of members of the Democratic party with ideas about education reform, it is a lobbying group designed to influence the policy choices of Democratic party politicians and which has taken huge sums of money from the same interests that have lobbied for aggressive charter expansion, curtailing teacher unions and assessing teachers based on test scores. While Democrats such as California’s Gloria Romero and New York’s Joel Klein have been prominent in the organization, it is extremely clear that on education, they are firmly allied with the pro-testing and pro-privatization forces that have been trying to drive education “reform” further and further away from schools as a locally democratic institution. DFER is largely the creation of Whitney Tilson, founder of hedge fund T2 Partners, who was quoted in this New York Times article about the tenure of Joel Klein:
Charter schools, explained Whitney Tilson, the founder of T2 Partners and one of their most ardent supporters, are the perfect philanthropy for results-oriented business executives. For one thing, they can change lives permanently, not just help people get by from day to day. For another, he said, “hedge funds are always looking for ways to turn a small amount of capital into a large amount of capital.”
I’ve looked at that quote from several different angles: And assuming that it only unfortunately suggests an effort to turn schools into a profit stream, it staggering misconstrues why education costs what it costs. If Tilson meant that a hedge fund can take a small investment in a charter school and turn it into a “large amount of capital” in the form of educated adults, the idea still misses why non-charter schools often need to spend more money to be in compliance with offering an appropriate education to ALL students in their zoned schools. Charter schools’ cost “savings” frequently come from refusing or simply weeding out students who need more intensive and expensive interventions to succeed at school. That’s a bit like praising the economy of a car manufacturer who gets permission to build cars without seatbelts.
It is also emblematic of the age we live in: groups across the spectrum adopt “brands” that can pass a very cursory glance, but which fall apart after more scrutiny. The lesson? Always use more scrutiny – whether it is a chain of hedge fund backed charter schools claiming miraculous results or a supposedly grass roots sounding organization that fronts for those same interests.