Democratic group hires Romero

Dems for Ed Reform to open state chapter
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Democrats for Education Reform, a national organization that supports charter schools, Race to the Top, and President Obama’s education agenda in general, plans to open its tenth state chapter next spring in California. And it has hired Democratic state Senator Gloria Romero of Los Angeles, who was edged out in the June primary for state superintendent and is termed out this year in Sacramento, to direct the California operation.

DFER plans to open two offices, in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, and is raising $1 million to get off the ground. Its initial focus in California will not be on the Capitol, but on large urban districts, like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, and San Diego, where it will back candidates willing to stand behind DFER’s principles, national Executive Director Joe Williams said Monday. School trustee races are non-partisan, but in many urban districts the choice is often among Democrats.

DFER also could play a role once the state’s open primary law takes effect in June 2012. Under the new system, which voters passed  in June,the two top candidates in primary elections will face off in the November general election, regardless of their party affiliations. In some instances, that could pit a traditional union-backed Democrat against a moderate Democrat backed by independents and Republicans.

Nowhere in its statement of principles does DFER specifically mention teachers unions, but DFER believes the heavy influence of teachers unions has steered the Democratic Party off course. “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,” its statement of principles reads. “Fighting on behalf of our nation’s most vulnerable individuals is what our party is supposed to stand for.”

In supporting more money for public schools, DFER will find itself allied with teachers unions, Williams said. But other positions, calling for more parental choice, mayoral control, teacher pay tied to performance, and authority of “principals and their school communities” to hire teachers – will pit the organization against the California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers, which are big funders of local  school board candidates and Democrats in the Legislature.

In Romero, DFER has found a Democratic leader who not only stood up to but also antagonized CTA. Romero led the effort to pass two elements of a bill this year that was to improve the state’s Race to the Top  application: the parent trigger, giving a majority of parents in a low-performing school the right to demand a charter conversion or other changes, and open enrollment, allowing children in the lowest 10 percent of schools to attend a school in another district. She also has become a big supporter of charter schools. In the June primary for state superintendent, CTA spent a couple of million dollars in the primary for state superintendent supporting Assembly member Tom Torlakson. Romero got 17.2 percent of the vote, 0.8 percentage point behind Torlakson and 1.6 percentage points behind Larry Aceves, a retired superintendent. The lesson from Romero’s defeat, Williams said, is that charter school operators and their supporters must become more politically active.

With strong ties to the Latino and the civil rights communities in Los Angeles, Romero could mobilize support for non-traditional Democratic candidates. Or she could become a lightning rod for opposition to DFER.

Founded three years ago, DFER has spent $17 million on advocacy, including contributions to candidates. The national DFER has backed U.S. Rep. George Miller of Martinez, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a charter school founder and advocate. This election, DFER is backing Andrea “Andie” Corso, a candidate for Sacramento City Unified trustee. Both DFER and the NEA are supporting U.S. Sen.  Michael Bennett, who’s in a tough re-election campaign in Colorado.

Venture capitalists and fund managers are heavily represented on DFER’s board of directors and board of advisers. In California, DFER is likely to hit up Reed Hastings and Eli Broad, two wealthy Democrats who fund charter schools, and EdVoice, a Sacramento-based, non-partisan advocacy organization with a similar mission to DFER.

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9 Comments

  1. Did I call it? I said she’d have a nice job waiting for her in the bounteously funded charter world. I’m quite sure I posted that prediction right here.

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  2. I like that new pix, John.  Fear the Beard takes on a whole new meaning in the world of Californian education policy and politics . . . . . . . wouldn’t want to add a Panda wig, would you?

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  3. Doesn’t the research show that Charter Schools are not showing better outcomes than public schools overall?  If anything, there outcomes are quite comparable; similar.  More energy needs to be spent on improving the professional culture of schools, with children as the primary focus (Professional Learning Communties).  Data should be used to drive decision making for the best student outcomes; not to dump on public schools.

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  4. Just remember that this is the author of the infamous “list of 1000 worst perfroming schools” legislation that in the 2 year history of the list has also included a California Distinguished School award winner each year as well as a number of schools who scored at or above 800 on the API testing. In the first year of the list in the state’s lower counties there were 164 charter schools that scored lower than 799 but were not included on the list because they were protected by Ms Romero’s legislation. Begs the question, “what are charter schools afraid of?’

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  5. I think there’s something to that idea that Romero could be a lightning rod for DFER opposition; she’s hardly known for her diplomacy, as her post-primary statements about that election demonstrate.  DFER deserves much opposition and scrutiny.  Their preferred education reforms constitute an anti-union agenda with an awful track record and precious little support in research.  Many teachers I know who work day in and day out under terribly stressful conditions, in direct contact and providing intensive support to some of “our nation’s most vulnerable individuals” must be cringing at the idea of well-heeled political operatives trying to dismantle the job-protections that allow teachers to be more vocal advocates for their students without fear of retribution.  It’s depressing to see public schools chronically shortchanged, mismanaged, shackled with unworkable political mandates, and then blamed for failing.

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  6. It’ll be interesting to see what Romero can do without Bill Lucia behind the curtain.

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