Monday, July 06, 2009

Democrats for Education Reform special email list

Forgive the corny analogy, but the 4th of July is a perfect day for an email about liberating the Democratic Party from the oppressive stranglehold of the teachers' unions...

If you care about education reform (which I hope is everyone receiving this email) and have the ability to write an occasional check to a Democratic politician who is supporting education reform legislation, I hope you'll join a special Democrats for Education Reform email list.  Even a monthly $10 check makes a difference!  Before I describe this list further (see below), allow me to give some background on why this is so important.

About five years ago, after many years of involvement with fantastic organizations like Teach for America and KIPP that are making a huge impact, I came to the horrifying realization that my party – the Democratic Party – was utterly screwing its most loyal (and vulnerable) supporters, low-income minority children and their families, in the single most important area for these families: schools.  My party had sunk to defending an indefensible status quo, often supporting legislation that would cripple organizations like TFA and KIPP. 

The reason was simple: the system – which has a total budget of over $600 BILLION annually, rivaling healthcare, Social Security and defense as the largest area of government expenditure – was working just fine for the adults, who, to advance their interests, had become well organized and politically powerful.

David Gergen highlighted what was going on a few years ago at TFA's 15th anniversary conference.  Looking out at a room filled with hundreds of TFA alums, many of whom were doing amazing things in the classroom, starting or working for organizations like KIPP, etc., he ended an hour of remarks and Q&A with the following caution:

"With all of your passion, energy and entrepreneurship, you will win many battles, but I worry that you'll lose the war because your enemies are fighting an entirely different battle."  (This is not word-for-word what he said; it's my best recollection.)

When I spoke with him afterward, he made it clear that he was talking about political battles. 

I see what he warned about every day: remarkable, inspirational education reformers and entrepreneurs are swamped with the overwhelming day-to-day work of launching and running amazing schools and school-reform organizations, while those who want to kill these schools are, with a horde of lobbyists, working the back rooms of Congress, state capitals and city halls, where deals are struck in the middle of the night...

After getting angrier and angrier about this state of affairs for a while, I decided to do something about it and, along with with a handful of other like-minded Democrats, founded DFER to engage in a political battle on behalf of millions of schoolchildren who are being poorly served by our educational system.  Our goal is to create a counterweight within the Democratic Party to the entrenched interests of the status quo.  (Below is our Statement of Principles.)

Given that we are outmanned and outspent 1,000:1, DFER has massively exceeded our modest expectations.  In short, it is going amazingly, unbelievably, shockingly well!  Thanks to a handful of courageous, visionary politicians (starting with President Obama) and the efforts of DFER and a handful of other individuals and organizations, the tide is shifting – so much so, in fact, that I'm convinced we're in the midst of a once-in-a-generation tectonic shift on this issue within the Democratic Party. 

I have never been involved with any organization that has had so much impact in so little time with so few resources (and I speak from experience: I'm currently on 11 nonprofit boards and have observed countless others over time).  DFER's Executive Director Joe Williams, a couple of invaluable staff people, and a few dozen supporters, with very little money, are running the table and ROCKING the Democratic Party and the educational establishment.  It's one of the most remarkable and exciting things I've ever seen, much less been involved with.

I'm in the investment business, so I spend my days looking for investments that, over time, might double or triple my money within a few years.  Now compare that to the political arena, in which I've seen a $3,500 investment result in a $1.5 million return within a matter of days – that’s a 429-bagger (I'm not making this up)!  The return on capital here is unbelievable – and best of all, the capital isn't being returned to me, but rather to benefit kids who just need a decent education to have a chance in life.

I'm asking for your support.  Here's what you can do to help:

1) Make a charitable donation to the 501c3 charitable organization associated with DFER, Education Reform Now.  Email Beverly Francis at for details on how; and

2) If you're willing to write checks to politicians, join our special email list to receive periodic emails (1-3 per month) from Joe asking for support for one or more Democratic politicians related to a particular education reform battle (a recent example was the successful fight in Rhode Island whereby the legislature voted to fund mayoral academies, charter schools run by suburban mayors). 

This is a private email list only for friends of DFER – in them, Joe shares confidential information about DFER's political strategies, etc.  Therefore, we must know who each person is before adding them to the list.  There are currently only a few dozen people on the list and we'd very much like to expand it.  If you'd like to join, please email Brienne Bellavita, at and include the following information:
- Your name and contact info

- Brief information on who you are and why you're interested in education reform

- Your best guess regarding the amount of political giving you might be able to do related to DFER.  Examples of possible replies: "an occasional $100 check", "Regular (monthly) $500-$1,000 checks", etc.  (This is important because certain events require a minimum donation.)
Thank you!


PS--While I am an active board member and supporter of DFER, I don’t run DFER; Joe Williams does.  Thus, the views I express in my emails are mine alone and don’t always reflect DFER’s (in fact, I’m sure Joe and my fellow DFER board members and supporters sometimes cringe when they read some of what I write).


Democrats for Education Reform
Statement of Principles
A first-rate system of public education is the cornerstone of a prosperous, free and just society, yet millions of American children today – particularly low-income and children of color - are trapped in persistently failing schools that are part of deeply dysfunctional school systems. These systems, once viewed romantically as avenues of opportunity for all, have become captive to powerful, entrenched interests that too often put the demands of adults before the educational needs of children. This perverse hierarchy of priorities is political, and thus requires a political response.

Both political parties have failed to address the tragic decline of our system of public education, but it is the Democratic Party – our party – which must question how we allowed ourselves to drift so far from our mission. Fighting on behalf of our nation's most vulnerable individuals is what our party is supposed to stand for.
Democrats for Education Reform aims to return the Democratic Party to its rightful place as a champion of children, first and foremost, in America's public education systems.
We support leaders in our party who have the courage to challenge a failing status quo and who believe that the severity of our nation's educational crisis demands that we tackle this problem using every possible tool at our disposal.
We believe that reforming broken public school systems cannot be accomplished by tinkering at the margins, but rather through bold and revolutionary leadership.  This requires opening up the traditional top-down monopoly of most school systems and empowering all parents to access great schools for their children.
We know that decisive action today will benefit our children, our party and ultimately our nation.

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