SFER – The $7 million+ “student run” Corporate Education Reform Industry Front Group

An update on Students for Education Reform, Inc.

SFER is a model of how the Pro-Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry works to control the narrative surrounding public education while seeking to “win the hearts and minds of federal, state and local policymakers.

Dedicated to promoting the privatization of public education, more taxpayer funds for privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools, the Common Core, the Common Core testing scheme and a host of anti-teacher initiatives, Students for Education Reform, Inc. (SFER) was created in late 2009,  according to their narrative, by a couple of undergraduate students at Princeton University.

Claiming to have over 100 chapters across the country, the “student run” advocacy group has, as of late last summer, collected more than $7.3 million since its inception to fund their “education reform” activities.

According to the organization’s most recent Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 990 reports (2014), in addition to the $5.7 million that has flowed into SFER’s coffers as of September 1, 2014, an additional $1.6 million has been collected by a closely-related company called the SFER Action Network Inc. which appears to serve as the political arm of SFER and formed in 2013.

Although Students for Education Reform is “run” by students, the self-described “grassroots” group is governed by a Board of Directors that is made up of some of the biggest corporate executives and players associated with the Corporate Education Reform Industry.

SFER’s website reports that the present Students for Education Reform Board of Directors includes;

April Chou (Chair) – The Chief Growth Officer at the KIPP Bay Area Charter School chain.

Adam Cioth (Treasurer) – The founder of Rolling Hills Capital hedge fund and a major funder of the public school privatization movement.

Christy Chin – The Managing Director of the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, the philanthropy arm of the venture capital firm, Draper Richards.  The Foundation is one of SFER’s funders.

Stuart Cobert – The Deputy General Counsel at the Unilever Corporation.

Justin Cohen – The President of Mass Insight, a major corporate education reform consulting company.

Shavar Jeffries – Recently appointed President of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), Jeffries was recently the unsuccessful “education reform” candidate for Mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

Nancy Poon Lue – A Partner in the Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund

And Chris Stewart, Director of Outreach and External Affairs for the Gates Foundation funded Pro-Corporate Education Reform Blog called Education Post.

Until recently the SFER Board also included acclaimed education reform financier Jonathan Sackler (Whose activities include funding the Achievement First Inc. charter school chain, forming ConnCAN and 50CAN and serving on the Board of The New Schools Venture Fund) and Rebecca Ledley (A member of the UP Academy Charter School Company and spouse of Charles Ledley, who serves on the Board of Directors of Education Reform Now (ERN) and its affiliate, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER.)

Earlier SFER Board members included Brian Olson, who presently serves as Chairman of ConnCAN and Matthew Kramer, President of Teach for America. Kramer also served with Sackler on the 50CAN Board of Directors.

The Board of Directors for SFER’s political arm, SFER Action Network Inc. is chaired by SFER’s Board Treasurer, Adam Cioth.  SFER Action Network’s Board also includes SFER Board members Chris Stewart a Rebecca Ledley.

Other members of the SFER Action Network Inc. Board include Meg Ansara and John Petry.

Ansara is a Washington D.C. consultant who worked with the education reform group Stand for Children for many years.

Petry is infamous for his relationship with Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter school chain and his role in getting her company off the ground and supporting it through the years.  Perty is also the co-founder of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER.) and previously served as Chairman of Education Reform Now. (ERN)

So where is SFER getting its money?

Although SFER claims to have sprung up on its own, its formation  can be traced directly to Education Reform Now (ERN) which served as SFER’s initial fiduciary and has provided SFER with at least $1.6 million since its inception.

Education Reform Now (ERN) is actually a conglomerate of three different corporate entities.

As Nation Magazine and others have reported, Education Reform Now (ERN), Education Reform Now Advocacy, Inc. and Democrats For Education Reform (DFER) are all part of the same “Education Reform” advocacy apparatus.

DFER, the group’s Political Action Committee has spent millions to undermine public education and support pro-corporate education reform candidates and initiatives.

For example, DFER spent about $1 million on television attack ads against the Chicago Teachers Union during that union’s successful strike.

DFER also joined with the Koch brothers, ALEC and a series of anti-union, right-wing groups to fund efforts to limit the ability of organized labor to use payroll deductions for political activities.

Like many other corporate education reform groups, SFER has been especially aggressive in working to keep people from identifying where the front group gets its funds.

An earlier version of SFER’s website reported that the entity’s “funding partners” included 50CAN, ConnCAN, Teach for America, Stand for Children, Kickboard and the Breakthrough Collaborative.”

However that information has disappeared from SFER’s present website.

What is known is that the Walton Foundation (Wal-Mart Family) gave SFER $250,000 in 2012, $650,000 in 2013 and $300,000 in 2014.

During the same time period, the Walton Foundation also gave 50Can $8.5 million and another $6 million to Education Reform Now.  Some of those funds may have made their way to Students for Education Reform (SFER.)

SFER may also have collected Gates Foundation funds, Gates provided 50CAN with more than $2.4 million between 2012 and 2014.

Another donor of record to SFER is The New Schools Venture Fund which is not surprising since Jonathan Sackler served on both organizations’ boards and Adam Cioth and Brian Olsen are members of the New Schools Venture Fund Leadership Council.

A description of how SFER works can be found in a 2014 Minnesota Post article entitled, “A ‘crazy’ amount of money is being spent on Minneapolis school-board races;  Reporting on massive amount of outside money was being spent on the race for the Minneapolis school board, the Minnesota paper reported;

The Student for Education Reform (SFER) Action Network Fund reported receipts of $26,000, $23,500 of which was a single donation from Adam Cioth and the remainder from Ben Whitney.

An investment banker, Cioth sits on SFER’s board. He is active both in the charter and traditional public school sectors, as well as the nonprofit startup New Schools Venture Fund. Ben Whitney headed up George Bush’s 2004 Minnesota campaign and chairs the board of the education advocacy group MinnCAN.

According to the disclosures, the SFER effort donated $16,000 worth of canvassing to MinnCAN’s political committee, the 50CAN Action Fund. It also paid for $4,350 worth of 50CAN literature and spent $5,000 for voter files and organizing software.

In addition to SFER’s contributions, the 50CAN Action Fund reported receiving $4,305 in cash from the student group and $10,000 from Arthur Rock, a San Francisco venture capitalist who sits on the board of Teach for America.

The 50CAN Action Fund took in a total of $35,000 and spent some $13,000 on campaign materials.

Local Republican financier Benson Whitney, chair of the board of the education reform organization MinnCAN (the state-level branch of 50CAN) and a supporter of Samuels, gave $2,500 of the $26,000, while California charter school investor and SFER board member Adam Cioth provided the other $23,500 in funds.

Another leading example of how SFER works can be found via the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), the corporate funded group seeking to “transform” the teaching profession by undermining teachers, teacher education programs and attacking teacher unions.

NCTQ’s dedicates a page on their website to proudly proclaim their allies and partners include…. Students For Education Reform (SFER) along with a list of other education reform groups including;



Democrats for Education Reform

DFER Colorado

DFER Illinois

DFER Massachusetts

DFER Michigan

DFER New Jersey

DFER New York

DFER Rhode Island

DFER Tennessee

DFER Washington

DFER Wisconsin

Education Reform Now

Educators 4 Excellence

MarylandCAN: Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now

Mass Insight Education & Research Institute

MinnCAN: Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now

NYCAN: New York Campaign for Achievement Now

PennCAN: Pennsylvania Campaign for Achievement Now

RI-CAN: Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now


When Diane Ravitch was asked about SFER in an interview she responded;

“I find it bizarre that students at any level would demand more standardized tests, and would demand that teachers be held accountable based on student test scores…Why would students promote a method that testing experts say is inaccurate for measuring teacher quality and that promotes narrowing the curriculum and teaching to the test?” – Diane Ravitch

To read more about Students for Education Reform (SFER) check out the following links;

Astroturf Activism: Who is Behind Students for Education Reform? (The Nation)

$tudent$ for Education Reform  (EduShyster)

How $tudent$ 4 Education Reform Jumped the Shark (EduShyster)

How to spot a fake ‘grassroots’ education reform group (Washington Post)

Students For Education Reform? Not the Change We Need (Good Magazine)

Rethinking “Youth-Led” – Students for Education Reform (Gen Y Not)

Michele Rhee’s StudentsFirst “education reform” group gives Louisiana a B-, Connecticut a D+

Michele Rhee and her corporate education reform industry advocacy group are back with their annual “report card.”

Over the last three years Rhee and StudentsFirst (called GNEPSA here in Connecticut) have been one of Governor Malloy’s strongest supporters, helping to fund the most expensive lobbying campaign in Connecticut history.  To date, Rhee and her fellow corporate education reform industry advocates have spent over $6 million to push Malloy’s “education reform” initiatives.

This week Rhee and StudentsFirst issued their 2013 report card on schools.

Louisiana, once again, comes in first in the nation.  Connecticut pops up far down the list.

Rhee gives Louisiana a 2013 grade of B- and Connecticut a grade of D+.

Is the report card based on how students perform?

Nope, as the following chart indicates, Connecticut students easily outperform Louisiana students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test.

Reading Connecticut Louisiana
Percent at Goal 83% 68%
Percent at Proficient 45% 24%


Is it that Louisiana does better with select populations?

Nope, same result.  Connecticut does better.

Reading (Percent at goal) Connecticut Louisiana
White 89% 81%
Black 68% 54%
Hispanic 67% 69%
Low income/poverty 67% 60%


Is it that Louisiana does a better job closing the Achievement Gap between student populations?

Nope, here is the data about the gap in scores between higher performing students (those at the 75th percentile) and lower performing students (those at the 25 percentile).

Reading Connecticut Louisiana
 Achievement Gap 45 points 44 points


So what is it that Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst are measuring?

As StudentsFirst explains, “Unlike most report cards, ours doesn’t look at test scores. Instead, it focuses on whether each state’s laws prioritize the interests of students and families.”

By Rhee’s definition, Louisiana is best in the nation because it has the strongest anti-teacher, anti-union and charter school laws and Louisiana does the best job diverting public funds to charter schools and other privatization efforts.

According to StudentsFirst;

“Louisiana has established itself as a national leader for creating innovative and important student-centered education policies. The state has adopted meaningful educator evaluations, and it requires districts to base all personnel decisions, as well as compensation structures, on classroom effectiveness. Louisiana is also a leader for empowering parents with choice and information. The state provides parents with useful and easy-to-understand information regarding school performance in the form of an A-F school report card. In addition to their traditional neighborhood schools, parents can choose from a robust network of public charter schools or take advantage of an opportunity scholarship program that prioritizes low-income students stuck in low-performing schools. The state also has some policies that promote better use of resources, but could improve fiscal transparency by linking student outcomes and taxpayer dollars spent and provide greater staffing flexibility to school leaders. Finally, the state has created an innovative alternative governance structure to turn around failing schools through the Recovery School District, which serves as a model for governance intervention across the nation.”
When it comes to elevating the “Teaching Profession,” Louisiana gets an A- (Connecticut gets a C)

On “Empowering Parents,’ Louisiana gets a C+ (Connecticut gets an F)

And when it comes to the concept of “Spend Wisely and Govern Well,” Louisiana gets a C- (Connecticut gets a C)

Michelle Rhee’s message to Connecticut students, parents, teachers and citizens is that when it comes to educational achievement, even though Connecticut does better across the board, the state should follow the lead of Louisiana and continue to undermine its public education system.

The sad reality is that Governor Malloy and his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, are actually following Michelle Rhee’s advice.

Here is Diane Ravitch’s post on the Michelle Rhee “Report Card” http://dianeravitch.net/2014/01/14/studentsfirst-issues-another-ludicrous-state-report-card/

Corporate Education Reform Industry spends nearly $4.7 million on Connecticut lobbying, little of it telling the truth.

Pro-public education commentator Wendy Lecker has written another “must read” piece, this time pointing out the fact that corporate education reformers are either unwilling or unable to tell the truth as the spin their political stories to try and convince elected officials and the public to support their “education reform” agenda.

Lecker, like many of us, has heard the latest round of ads that side-step the truth in a politically self-righteous attempt to convince us that we can improve out public education system by handing it over to private corporations and charter schools.

This new $1.5 million advertising campaign by a front organization called, ironically enough, A Better Connecticut, is just one more step in the most expensive lobbying effort in Connecticut history.

Here are the latest numbers;

To date, since Governor Malloy took office, the corporate education reform industry has spent at least $4,650,721.54 on lobbying, breaking all Connecticut records for the most expensive effort in history to buy up Connecticut Public Policy.

The following chart reveals the players in this scheme.

Following the chart is a link to Wendy Lecker’s latest piece in the Stamford Advocate, Bridgeport Post and other Hearst media outlets.

Corporate Education Reform Organization Amount Spent on Lobbying
Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN) $1,121,672.17
Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc. (ConnAD) $758,969.00
A Better Connecticut $1,490,000.00
Students First/GNEPSA (Michelle Rhee) $876,602.08
Achievement First, Inc. (Dacia Toll/Stefan Pryor) $237,504.22
Connecticut Council for Education Reform  (CCER) $126,559.85
Students for Education Reform (Michelle Rhee) $15,714.22
Connecticut Charter School Association/N.E. Charter School Network $22,000.00
Excel Bridgeport $515.00
Teach For America $1,185.00


Wendy Lecker: Imagining where all that money could have gone

“Proponents of corporate-driven education reforms seem to believe that the notion of telling the truth is a low priority. Take for example the false claims being made by charter school advocates about the size of waiting lists for charter schools.

In as diverse locations as Massachusetts and Chicago, charter lobbyists having been pushing charter school expansion by claiming lengthy waiting lists. In both locations, investigations by journalists at the Boston Globe and WBEZ revealed that the waiting list numbers were grossly exaggerated, often counting the same students multiple times. As a Massachusetts legislator noted, raising the charter cap based on artificial numbers “doesn’t make sense.” Unless, of course, your main goal is charter expansion rather than sound educational policy

Another common theme promoted by charter schools is the questionable claim of amazing success. Recently, Geoffrey Canada of the famed Harlem Children’s Zone gave an online seminar in which he boasted a 100 percent graduation rate at his schools. However, if one looks at HCZ’s attrition rate, the true graduation rate is 64 percent. Many have also noted that Canada kicked out two entire grades of children because of sub-par test scores.

Here in Connecticut, ConnCAN, the charter school lobby, is the prominent peddler of shaky claims and half-truths about charter schools.

Recently, in an effort to promote the expansion of charter schools in Bridgeport, Jennifer Alexander, the CEO of ConnCAN, Inc. declared that nearly 80 percent of charters outperform their host districts. However, data from the State Department of Education reveals that about 90 percent of Connecticut’s charters serve a less needy population than their host districts: fewer poor children, fewer English Language Learners or fewer students with disabilities, with most having a combination of two or three of these categories.

Considering poverty, language barriers and special education needs are the prominent factors influencing standardized test scores, it is not much a feat to have higher test scores with a less challenging population. ConnCAN’s claim is hardly an indication of success or innovation.”

Read the rest of Lecker’s commentary piece here: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Imagining-where-all-that-money-4526450.php#ixzz2TlStOU64

Beware! Education Reformers Are Coming for Your School Board (cross-posted from Diane Ravitch)

(Cross-posted from http://dianeravitch.net)

A big thank you to the nation’s leading pro-public education blogger Diane Ravitch for allowing me to write a guest post for her daily blog.  I’m re-posting it here on Wait, What? or you can read it here: http://dianeravitch.net/2013/02/02/beware-education-reformers-are-coming-for-your-school-board/

During the 2012 election cycle, we saw the corporate “education reform” lobby begin to play their hand when it comes to the notion of local control of public education.  Their approach is a simple one.  If you don’t agree with our position, we’ll simply change the rules or work to defeat your local elected board of education.

As far as the corporate education reformers are concerned, the end justifies the means and if the cost of getting what you want requires destroying our nation’s age-old commitment to local control of education, so be it.

And we certainly aren’t talking about local parents banding together to ensure that their voices are heard.  We are talking about billionaires and millionaires and the major education reform companies, organizations and foundations dumping tens of millions of dollars into state and local efforts to elect handpicked accomplices or even, where necessary, changing the rules to make it easier to open charter schools and dismantle the core elements of a broad-based public education system.

Take for example the political involvement of education reformer and New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg.  Mayor Bloomberg has been a very busy guy.  Not only is he the Chief Executive Officer of New York City where he is leading a successful effort to privatize much of that city’s public education system, but he has become a leading example of this “my way or the highway” approach to destroying local public education.

In Bloomberg’s case there was his $20,000 check for Residents for a Better Bridgeport, a political action committee seeking to do away with the democratically-elected board of education and replace it with one appointed by the local pro-education reform mayor.  There was also the $75,000 check to California Charter Schools Association Independent Expenditure Committee, and on the same day in October, Bloomberg wrote a check for $10,000 to Neighbors for School Board 2012 (Oakland). The three “education reform” candidates that the group was supporting in Oakland also received checks from Bloomberg for the maximum allowable amount.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg dropped a check to Education Voters of Idaho for $200,000 to defend a set of reform proposals and $80,000 to Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, reformer Tony Bennett, who has now moved his destructive activities to the State of Florida.

In state after state, the super-rich, corporate executives and education reform entities spent millions to influence local elections.  When the final reports were filed in Bridgeport, the corporate education reform industry and its supporters spent more than $560,000, a state record, in their effort to take away the right of local citizens to elect their own board of education.  In that case, they failed, but they are already moving forward on efforts to undermine what’s left of the democratically-elected board.

In “So You Wanna Buy a School Board Seat…,” fellow pro-public education blogger, Edushyster, wrote about the situation in Minneapolis, Minnesota while another pro-public education blogger Jersey Jazzman wrote “How To Buy a School Board Race 3000 Miles Away,” about the same thing happening in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

In Minnesota, the push to elect a pro-charter school, TFA alumnus came from Teach for America and 50CAN, a national charter school lobbying group, as well as, other corporate executives.  50CAN was set up by Connecticut resident and education reform activists Jonathan Sackler, a corporate director of Purdue Pharma. The present Chairman of 50CAN is Mathew Kramer, the President of Teach for America. 

It will come as no surprise, but Sackler, with a check for $50,000, was also the largest donor to the Bridgeport effort that is mentioned above.

And in New Jersey, Jersey Jazzman asked, “Why would California multi-millionaires be interested in a school board race in the small city of Perth Amboy, NJ?

It seems absurd, and yet it’s true: four wealthy Californians and one wealthy Coloradan – heavy hitters in the tech, financial, and health care sectors – have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to a slate of candidates running for the school board in Perth Amboy, a city of 50,000 with a majority Hispanic population.

From Connecticut to California and New Jersey to Idaho, the story is the same.  The charter school industry is spending record amounts to lobby government officials and buy local boards of education. 

But their tactics are very clear.   Backing up their lobbying effort is a broader strategy to change the rules and change the players as a way of ensuring they can build their charter schools and further privatize America’s public education system.

If General Eisenhower were alive today, it wouldn’t simply be the military-industrial complex he’d be warning us about, it would be the even more devious and dangerous education-industrial complex.

Keep your eyes open and don’t be surprised to find these corporate reformers playing their politics with your local boards of education.

News Flash: Corporate Education Reformers Spend $563,000 and counting in Bridgeport loss

The final reports from Bridgeport’s November 2012 education reform referendum are in and it turns out that the corporate education reform industry and its supporters spent at least $562,955.16 in their effort to pass Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s anti-democracy initiative, a proposal that would have eliminated the City’s democratically elected board of education and replaced it with one appointed by the mayor.

In the end, Residents for a Better Bridgeport, the political action committee formed by Mayor Finch and his supporters, spent a total of $275,671.80 in the November 2012 referendum campaign that ended with Mayor Finch’s plan going down to defeat by a nearly 2 to 1 margin.

Excel Bridgeport, the corporate funded education reform group that has been lobbying for Bridgeport’s public school privatization efforts reported spending $101,803.36.

And when the dust settled, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst (which goes by the name of Great New England Public School Alliance) spent a total of $185,480.

Organization Reported Total Spending
Residents for a Better Bridgeport $275,671.80
Excel Bridgeport $101,803.36
StudentsFirst/GNEPSA $185,480
TOTAL $562,955.16


Taken together, the level of spending by the education reformers broke all Connecticut records for a referendum vote.

Residents for a Better Bridgeport:

In their final campaign finance report, Residents for a Better Bridgeport reported raising another $94,444 in the final week of the campaign, bringing the total amount the group raised (and spent) to over $275,000.

Late corporate campaign donations came in from the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, The Charter Oak Challenge Foundation; Bridgeport based Enviro Express Inc., Mellon Bank, Danbury’s Morganti Group Inc., Bridgeport’s Trefz Corporation and Webster Bank, as well as a number of smaller corporate donations.

Webster Bank’s contribution was for $10,000, Mellon Bank put in $5,000 and the Trefz Corporation added $7,000 to the campaign effort.

The Charter Oak Challenge Foundation, which was created by Andy Boas, the Chairman of Achievement First – Bridgeport’s Board of Directors, gave the anti-democracy political action committee $14,000.

According to the Charter Oak Challenge Foundation’s website, the charity “was founded to help children and families who have the ability to succeed but need financial support to realize their potential. Its founder, Andy Boas, wanted to improve the languishing conditions in Bridgeport by funding a meaningful program for children’s education.”

The final report also revealed that Jonathan Sackler gave the PAC a check for $50,000 just after the last pre-election report was due.

Sackler was the early funder behind Stefan Pryor’s creation of Achievement First, Inc., the larger charter school management company that owns 20 schools in New York and Connecticut and is working to get approval to expand their present schools as well as build new schools in Connecticut. Stefan Pryor is now Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.

Sackler was also the funding force behind the corporate education reform advocacy groups ConnCAN, ConnAD, and the national education reform advocacy group 50-CAN.

Most recently, it came to light that Sackler hosted a major fundraiser for Prosperity for Connecticut, the political action committee affiliated with Governor Malloy.  Collecting over $42,000, Sackler’s May 2012 fundraiser was the most successful event Malloy’s political action committee has had to date.

What is particularly noteworthy about Sackler $50,000 donation is that since Residents for a Better Bridgeport was registered as a “Referendum PAC,” the maximum allowable donation under Connecticut law was $14,442.90.

How Residents for a Better Bridgeport PAC believes it could legally accept Sackler’s $50,000 donation is not clear.

Finally, the Residents for a Better Bridgeport final report included a $1,000 contribution from Connecticut Future PAC, Inc.  Connecticut Future PAC, Inc. was the independent “super-PAC” created to support Chris Murphy’s campaign for the United States Senate.  The PAC, which spent over $485,000 to support Murphy’s campaign, donated $1,000, after Election Day, to the Finch referendum effort.

According to the final report, Residents for a Better Bridgeport PAC spent about $55,000 more on direct mail, $57,000 for phone banking services and $25,000 more for polling.  Much of the remaining funding went to at least 132 campaign workers, who in the case of the Residents for a Better Bridgeport were labeled “consultants.”

Excel Bridgeport, Inc:

In its final report of the campaign, Excel Bridgeport reported that they spent a total of $101,803.36, of which $66,900 went for direct mail.

Excel Bridgeport’s direct mail vendor was a company called Campaignswon.   According to the company’s website, one of the firm’s partners is Bridgeport’s Jorge Cabrera.

Cabrera is also Excel Bridgeport’s “Community Organizer” and while the Excel Bridgeport campaign finance reports show various reimbursements to Cabrera for supplies, they do not report any in-kind contribution of time.  Failure to report direct or in-kind expenditures is a violation of Connecticut campaign finance law.

Much of Excel Bridgeport’s remaining expenditures went to cover the costs of more than two dozen field staff who were paid for services described as “direct outreach and/or holding signs.”

StudentsFirst/Greater New England Public School Alliance (GNEPSA):

In an earlier report, StudentsFirst/Great New England Public School Alliance reported paying $97,000 to a company called FieldWins for door-to-door canvassers.  FieldWins is a New York company that formed a parallel entity in Connecticut.  The final set of reports from Michelle Rhee’s organization indicated that later in the campaign she paid $35,000 to a company named SKD Knickerbocker for television ads and another $53,480 to FieldWins for additional canvassing services.

And $700 for Vallas’ Haitian Activities:

And one of the strangest twists, after spending nearly $563,000 in their failed attempt to persuade Bridgeport voters to undermine their own democratic rights, Residents for a Better Bridgeport ended the campaign with surplus funds of $702.79.  The political action committee donated the $700 to Los Angeles based J/P Haitian Relief Organization.

In February 2011, Bridgeport Superintendent of School, Paul Vallas, joined the J/P Haitian Relief Organization’s Board of Directors.


It has remained unclear what compensation or benefits, if any, Vallas receives from his work in Haiti but the Foundation’s annual report indicates that last year they provided over $60,000 in “in-kind” services for that education program.

Campaign Finance Violations:

As Wait, What? readers know, following complaints I filed with the Connecticut’s State Elections Enforcement Commission, the Commission voted to authorize individual investigations into alleged campaign finance violations by Residents for a Better Bridgeport, Excel Bridgeport and Michelle Rhee and her Great New England Public Schools Alliance.  These most recent reports reveal a number of other apparent violations of Connecticut law.

Future posts will outline these myriad of campaign finance issues.

Readers will also recall that these latest donations come on top of tens of thousands of dollars in previous donations from companies and individuals that do business with the Finch Administration or rely on Mayor Finch and the Bridgeport Democrats for support.

Earlier contributions to Finch’s referendum efforts included;

Aquarion Water Company which donated $14,000

Bridgeport Hospital which donated $14,422.90

Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Company $14,000

CT Coalition for Advancement Now (ConnAD) $14,000

Harbor Yard Sports & Entertainment which donated $14,442.90

Jarvis Group LLC, NY (in-kind video) $14,376.40

Pullman and Comeley law firm $7,000

St. Vincent Medical Center which donated $14,400

United Illuminating which donated $10,000

In addition, there were some large individual contributions including one for $25,000 from Bradford Evans, a Senior Advisor at Morgan Stanley and a $25,000 contribution from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.


Stay tuned for more about the legal troubles facing Bridgeport’s education reformers.

Education Reformer Michelle Rhee tells Connecticut: You Suck!

First Governor Malloy proposed the most anti-teacher, anti- union “education reform” bill of any Democratic governor in the nation.

While minor changes were made, the final bill was touted as a major victory for the corporate reformers.  It promoted the expansion of charter schools and took a major step forward in the effort to turn our public schools into testing factories.

The day after the bill became a public act, Governor Malloy was the guest of honor at the home of Jonathan Sackler, Connecticut’s leading financial backer of “education reform” advocacy efforts in the state.

Sackler and Malloy’s Commissioner of Education formed Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management company that owns twenty charter schools in Connecticut and New York. Sackler then went on to form a variety of state and national education reform organizations.

The event, a fundraiser for Malloy’s Prosperity for Connecticut political action committee was the largest grossing event Malloy has had to date, bringing in over $41,000.

Nearly all the donors were connected to Achievement First, ConnCAN, ConnAD, 50-CAN or one of the national charter school organizations.  The Chief Operating Officer of Michelle Rhee’s organization, StudentsFirst, was among the donors.

See the Wait, What? post on Malloy’s “Education Reform” fundraiser here: http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/01/02/malloy-affiliated-political-action-committee-cashes-in-on-education-reform-bill/

Now, StudentsFirst has released what they are calling their “first-ever State Policy Report Card.”

And Rhee and her organization have given Connecticut a grade of D+

Despite having one of the finest public education systems in the nation, Rhee says Connecticut should follow the lead of states like Louisiana and Florida which got grades of B.


Pick any indicator and THE LAST THING CONNECTICUT should want to do is follow the lead of Louisiana

How about 8th Grade Reading?

Take a look at the NAEP National Test results:

Connecticut’s low income students score higher than the state-wide average for all students in Louisiana. 

Percent of Connecticut students at Goal 8th Grade Reading
ALL 83%


Percent of Louisiana students at Goal 8th Grade Reading
ALL 66%


We want to follow the lead of Louisiana?

StudentsFirst brags, “Unlike other education report cards, ours doesn’t look at test scores or teacher performance, but focuses solely on whether state laws are giving schools the tools to do the best job for our kids.”

The best laws that give our schools the tools to do the best job for our students?

Michele Rhee and StudentsFirst have FINALLY taken off their masks and are showing themselves for who they are.

This isn’t about our students!

This is about destroying unions, promoting charter schools and privatizing public education in the United States.

You can find Rhee’s “Connecticut Policy Report Card” here:  http://reportcard.studentsfirst.org/state-detail?state=Connecticut&utm_medium=email&utm_source=StudentsFirst&utm_content=Get+the+grade+Find+out+how+well+STATENAMEyour+state+is+doing+on+everything+from+education+spending+to+school+choice&utm_campaign=20130107ReportCardLaunch&source=20130107ReportCardLaunch

And the full report here:


And for two very different views of Michele Rhee, compare this New York Times piece to this PBS-Frontline piece:




Malloy affiliated Political Action Committee cashes in on education reform bill:

In the financial world, I think they call it Return on Investment, or, in the parlance of Wall Street ROI.

On May 29, 2012, Governor Malloy’s education reform bill became Public Act 12-116.

Twenty-four hours later, Malloy was ensconced at the 10,000 square-foot, $8.5 million, Greenwich, Connecticut home of corporate education reform financier Jonathan Sackler for a fundraiser that netted the Malloy affiliated Prosperity for Connecticut Political Action Committee more than $41,000.

Sackler, who helped Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, create Achievement First Inc., the large charter school management company that owns at least 20 schools in Connecticut and New York, also played a pivotal role in forming Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now Inc. (ConnCAN), Connecticut Coalition for Education Advocacy (ConnAD) and 50-CAN, the national organization that has inserted ConnCAN-like organizations into the education reform debate in Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey,  New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.   ConnAD was a primary funder behind the lobbying effort to pass Malloy’s education bill last spring, and more recently, helped fund Mayor Bill Finch’s failed effort to eliminate a democratically elected board of education in Bridgeport and replace it with one appointed by the Mayor.

Malloy’s financial patrons included the chairman and board members of Achievement First, Inc. as well as board members of Achievement First-Bridgeport, Achievement First-Amistad and Achievement First-Elm City, with most donating the maximum $750 per person allowed under Connecticut law.

A total of at least six members of ConnCAN’s small Board of Directors, along with numerous members of ConnCAN’s Advisory Board were also in attendance or provided checks for the event.  At least two senior board officers of Excel Bridgeport and the President and Vice President of the New Beginnings Family Academy, another charter school in Bridgeport also donated.  ConnCAN’s former CEO, Alex Johnston gave, as did the spouse of the Connecticut Director of Teacher For America.

The Vice Chair of Eva Moskowitz’s infamous New York City based Success Academy Charter Schools dropped $1,500 on the event, thanks to donations from board members and his wife, while another donation came from a board member of the Newark, New Jersey, Team Charter School chain, which is owned by KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, a “national network” of 125 charter schools around the Country.

The event, a veritable who’s who of corporate education reformers, included the Chief Operating Officer of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, a couple of national board members of Teach For America, members of KIPP’s national board of directors, a board member of New Leaders Inc. (a program to “train” school administrators in the ways of education reformers) and one of the founders of the national group, Democrats for Education Reform.

Donations for the event came from as far away as Miami Beach, West Palm Beach, Vero Beach, Pacific Palisades, Teton Village, Wyoming, McLean, Virginia, Los Angeles, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, along with multiple checks from education reform/hedge fund managers from New York City.

Connecticut billionaire Steven Mandel kicked in $750, along with his associate, Meghan Lowney, who spent so much time and effort pushing the Malloy Administration’s illegal, and eventually failed, attempt to take-over the Bridgeport School System in 2010.

When not funding Governor Malloy’s political action committee or various Connecticut and national education reform organizations, the attendees and donors to the Sackler fundraiser are busy running hedge funds and investment companies.  The donor list included CEOs, Presidents and Directors of Alternative Investment Group, Belenos Capital, Brookside International, Carl Marks & Co., Carter Morse & Mathias, Conatus Capital, Dawson Capital Management, Five Mile Capital Partners, Greenwich Capital Markets,  Gotham Capital and Gotham Asset Management, Jaws Estates Capital, Lone Pine Capital, North Bay Associates, Salmon River Capital,  Sessa Capital, Shumway Capital, Structured Portfolio Management (SPM) , Tilson Mutual Funds and Viking Global Investors, just to name a few.

According to information first reported by the Hartford Courant’s investigative reporter, Jon Lender, Sackler’s May 30, 2012 fundraiser was one of at least fourteen fundraisers the political action committee, Prosperity for Connecticut, held between October 2011 and October 2012.  As of its last State Elections Enforcement Report (October 28, 2012), the PAC reported that it has raised a total of just over $205,000.

With donations related to the May 30, 2012 party totally over $41,000, it appears that Sackler’s education reform house party may be the single most profitable event the PAC has held.

For Lender’s story see: http://articles.courant.com/2012-12-08/news/hc-lender-column-pac-contributions-1209-20121208_1_dannel-p-malloy-ferry-business-bridgeport-ferry

A minor side-note:  With no expenditure listed for food and beverages for the May 30, 2012 event and no “in-kind contribution” of food and beverages listed from the event’s host, it would appear that the attendees weren’t provided any food or beverage for their efforts.  Alternatively, of course, the PAC violated state law by failing to properly report its official expenditures or in-kind contributions, in which case a fine should be forthcoming should the State Election Enforcement Commission take notice of the PAC’s election law violation.

TFA Leaders and Education Reform commentators make Diane Ravitch even more relevant

Teach for America (TFA) provides some outstanding young people with a unique, short-term opportunity to teach in some of America’s poorest schools.  Some of these dedicated individuals even use that opportunity as an alternative route to a longer-term career in the teaching profession.

But the founders and leaders of TFA have a very different agenda.  First and foremost, they make a lot of money.  TFA’s founder and CEO pulls in just under $400,000 in salary and benefits.  Over a dozen of the top TFA executives make more than a quarter of a million dollars each.

In addition to making huge amount of money, TFA is about advocating and lobbying for “education reforms” that include a variety of anti-teacher positions including the excessive use of standardized testing, the expansion of charter schools and efforts to end tenure and seniority.

But most notably, like so many of the corporate education reformers, the top leaders and supporters of TFA are is viciously anti-union.

Take for their reaction to a recent blog post by Diane Ravitch.

Ravitch’ s post was a tribute to the teachers and staff of the Sandy Hook Elementary School, with special attention to heroic teachers and staff who died protecting the children.

After highlighting each hero, Ravitch noted that;

“Oh, and one other thing, all these dedicated teachers belonged to a union. The senior teachers had tenure, despite the fact that “reformers” (led by ConnCAN, StudentsFirst, and hedge fund managers) did their best last spring to diminish their tenure and to tie their evaluations to test scores. Governor Malloy said, memorably, to his shame, that teachers get tenure just for showing up. No one at Sandy Hook was just “showing up.”

Governor Dannel Malloy has led the effort in his state to expand charter schools and high-stakes testing. He appointed a state commissioner of education who co-founded a charter chain. He said, memorably, that he didn’t care how much test prep there was so long as scores go up. Sandy Hook is not that kind of school.

Let us hope Governor Malloy learned something these past few days about the role of public schools in their communities.

Newtown does not need a charter school. What it needs now is healing. Not competition, not division, but a community coming together to help one another. Together. Not competing.”

Diane’s observation was 100 percent accurate.  It was not only a perfectly appropriate thing to say, but others have said the same thing.  Certainly Wait What? readers have read very similar sentiments here, albeit put less eloquently.

But what is so interesting is that over the last 48 hours, dozens of veteran education reformers and TFA advocates have been on the war-path, purposely misleading people about the post, while condemning Dr. Ravitch and through her the rest of us who have been speaking out and paying tribute to the extraordinary teachers of Newtown Elementary School.

David Rosenberg, of Teach for America tweeted, “The latest post by @DianeRavitch on #Newtown is truly reprehensible.  She should retract it”

And “education reform” champion, RiShawn Biddle, who has listed himself as a consultant to at least one education reform group here in Connecticut, wrote, “Over the past few years, Dropout Nation has had plenty to say about once-respectable education historian Diane Ravitch… she discredits herself with every tweet and blog post, there has been more than enough evidence to show that the Camille Paglia wannabe doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously by anyone. So it isn’t shocking that Ravitch debases herself further with a piece on her eponymous site on last week’s massacre of 26 teachers and children in Newtown, Conn., that shows her to be the kind of intellectual opportunist that would take advantage of tragedy to score points.

“Ravitch decided to spend much of the piece defending traditionalist thinking, as well as arguing against Nutmeg State Gov. Dan Malloy’s school reform efforts (including the expansion of charter schools, Ravitch’ s bogeyman of late).”

“As your editor, I’m not even going to dissect her arguments or her insinuations because it is not the right time for all that at all. Nor am I going to do some pearl-clutching, or call for Ravitch to be banished to some imaginary hinterland. I’m not even happy to be commenting on this piece at all. What I will say is that Ravitch is engaging in pure intellectual demagoguery in obituary form. This is absolutely, positively inappropriate to do. Not even Fleet Street writers, whose tradition of skewering the deceased in obituaries is legendary (and often admirable in a way), would defend this. Certainly Ravitch could have found a more-appropriate topic through which she could argue for her positions. She could have even devoted her piece to discussing how the Newtown massacre is an opportunity for all of us to build caring cultures for our children. Yet Ravitch has proven incapable of such decency or logical thinking. And this fact speaks loudly about Ravitch’s capacity for thoughtfulness, sensitivity, and decency.”

Wait, What?

So let’s get this right.  Diane Ravitch correctly points out that these teachers were career professionals that all belonged to a union, some of them had tenure, while others were working toward tenure…AND THAT ALL OF THEM were negatively impacted by legislation proposed by Governor Malloy.  In return she is described as someone who is incapable of decency or logical thinking.

Diane Ravitch’s comments were absolutely and totally correct.  These teachers were career professionals, they did belong to a union, some did have tenure and some were working toward tenure AND ALL OF THEM WERE negatively impacted by Governor Malloy’s “education reform” plan.

You can defend Malloy’s plan if you want, but you can’t say Connecticut’s new “education reform” bill didn’t impact these heroes and all the other teachers and school professionals in Connecticut!

Mr. Biddle, it is you who should take a look in the mirror.  Then you’ll see what someone unable to engage in telling the truth or logical thinking looks like.  Your politics of hate is not welcome in Connecticut.  It wasn’t welcome when you supported Governor Malloy’s anti-teacher, anti-union proposal last spring and it certainly isn’t welcome here as we grapple with the unimaginable horror of December 14, 2012.

Yes, there are people trying to capitalize on the tragedy, but it certainly isn’t those of us who are providing our readers with the truth.  It is the people like the TFA leadership and this Mr. Biddle who are the ones who should be ashamed of themselves.

Another faux pro-public education group targets Connecticut

It started with Achievement First, Inc., the charter school management company co-founded by Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

Then came the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), the Connecticut Coalition for Advocacy Now, (ConnAD), Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst (calling itself the Great New England Public School Alliance, GNEPSA) and Students for Education Reform (SFER, an off-shoot of 50-CAN, which, in turn, grew out of ConnCAN)

When Governor Malloy proposed his “education reform” legislation earlier this year, these groups, funded by millionaire and billionaire hedge fund owners, along with the Gates, Walton and Broad Foundations, engaged in the most costly lobbying, advertising and public relations effort in Connecticut history.

Since then, many of the same organizations funded Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s record spending effort to eliminate Bridgeport’s elected board of education and replace it with one appointed by the mayor.

Now, with the next session of the Connecticut General Assembly only a few weeks away, comes that news that a group called “Educators 4 Excellence” is opening operations here, as the corporate reformers seek to continue their efforts to privatize and undermine Connecticut’s public education system.

Educators 4 Excellence is a two year-old organization, funded by the Gates Foundation (among others) and set up by the corporate education reform trifecta of Education Reform Now (ERN), Education Reform Now Advocacy (ERNA) and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

Most recently, these groups were among the primary funders behind the multi-million-dollar, anti-teacher, anti-union television advertising campaign that ran during this year’s Chicago teacher’s strike.

This week Educators 4 Excellence announced that it is hiring a “Founding Executive Director” for a new Connecticut chapter.

Educators 4 Excellence is headed by two former Teach for America (TFA) recruits.  Their stated goal is to create, “an elevated, prestigious teaching profession in which educators are leaders both in and outside of their classrooms to drive positive outcomes for students.”

In order to achieve that goal, Educators 4 Excellence campaigns to end seniority, institute merit pay and replace tenure with what the group calls “earned tenure,” in which teachers who are able to push up standardized test scores are provided with greater job security and financial bonuses.

Based in New York City, Educators 4 Excellence has already created chapters in Los Angeles and Minnesota, with Connecticut being their next target.

According to their advertisement, “Reporting directly to the Co-Founders/Co-Chief Executive Officers and serving as a member of E4E’s senior leadership team, the Founding Executive Director, Connecticut will help launch Educators 4 Excellence-Connecticut (E4E-CT). The Founding Executive Director will have strategic and operational responsibility for E4E-CT staff, programs, growth, and execution of its mission to elevate the voices of teachers in Connecticut state and local education policy.”

The organization has been growing quickly, if not in members, at least in resources.  Thanks to unnamed donors, the Educators 4 Excellence budget skyrocketed from $339,000 in 2010 to $1.9 million in 2011.

Or, as Educators 4 Excellence put it, “In just one year, we have grown into a national movement of teachers leading the charge to change our education system.”

Last year the group primarily focused on supporting Mayor Bloomberg’s effort to destroy tenure in the New York City Schools, writing, “We applaud Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to make tenure decisions more meaningful.”    This year, the group has also been one of the most vocal supporters of New York’s new, ill-fated teacher evaluation system.

Wait, What? readers may remember that here in Connecticut, the corporate education reformers ran television ads blasting the teacher unions and suggesting that legislators were modifying Malloy’s proposals in order to sell out to the unions.

Perhaps it is only an uncanny coincidence, but during the recent battle in New York, the Educators 4 Excellence partners, Education Reform Now and Democrats for Education Reform ran television ads that included one parent saying, “Albany’s listening much too much to the teachers union,” and a second parent, looking to the camera and saying, “Stop listening to the teachers union.”

In Connecticut, some of the most offensive, anti-teacher ads that were run in support of Malloy’s education reform bill were paid for by ConnCAN’s sister organization, ConnAD.  Those ads were produced by a company called SKD Knickerbocker.

In the small world department, SKD Knickerbocker is the very same company doing the anti-teacher ads, but in this case they were paid for by Educators 4 Excellence’s allies, Education Reform Now and Democrats for Education Reform.

The connections don’t stop there, but we’ll cover the next piece in a future blog post…

Michelle Rhee’s Husband Fined for Ethics Violations in California, is Connecticut next?

The country’s leading public education advocate, Diane Ravitch, has a post on her blog today with the news that Kevin Johnson, the Mayor of Sacramento California, and husband of education reformer Michelle Rhee, has been fined $37,500 by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, for failing to report donations of at least $3.5 million to a number of his personal initiatives, including his Teach for America education reform effort and his “Think Big Arena Task Force”.

Among the unreported donations was $500,000 from the pro-education, ultra-conservative Walton Foundation, operated by the family that owns Wal-Mart.  The Walton Foundation has also provided funds to education reform groups active in Connecticut.

California may not be the only state investigating alleged illegal activities by Mayor Johnson, Michelle Rhee or their related organizations.

Based upon a complaint I filed, Connecticut’s State Election’s Enforcement Commission has opened an official investigation into the alleged campaign finance violations of Residents for a Better Bridgeport, the political action committee that was created to support Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s unsuccessful effort to eliminate Bridgeport’s democratically elected Board of Education and replace it with one appointed by himself.

The complaint identified a variety of alleged violations perpetrated by Residents for a Better Bridgeport including failure to reveal donations and expenditures, as required by law.

Last week, I filed two additional complaints, one against Excel Bridgeport and the other against the Great New England Public Schools Alliance, the front group set up by Michelle Rhee’s organization, StudentsFirst.

According to the complaints, neither Excel Bridgeport nor GNEPSA came close to fulfilling its legal obligation to file reports on time or properly account for donations and expenditures related to their campaign activities for Finch and his referendum.

One of the additional issues raised in the complaints relate to who paid for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s trip to Bridgeport where he campaigned with Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas on behalf of Finch’s anti-democracy referendum.

Neither Citizens for a Better Bridgeport, Excel Bridgeport or GNEPSA reported any expenses related to Mr. Johnson’s campaign swing through Bridgeport.

The complaints allege multiple violations of Connecticut law.  Each of the three groups could face significant fines should they be found guilty.

You can find Diane Ravitch’s blog post here: Rhee’s Husband Fined for Ethics Violation