Close observers of 21st-century education reform realize that champions of charter schooling, teacher evaluation, and accountability are routinely characterized as right-wingers bent on undermining public education. Thus, the education-reform battles are usually depicted as left versus right or blue versus red, with progressive teachers unions as well as their allies fending off the attacks of right-wing reformers.

These tropes are omnipresent. The most visible indicating education reform-such as Teach for America (TFA) as well as other charter school networks and also the foundations that fund them-are characterized as neoliberal, corporatist, conservative, and right-wing. In the Atlantic, the KIPP charter schools happen to be attacked for his or her role “in the project of neoliberalizing public goods.” [1] Success Academies founder Eva Moskowitz continues to be excoriated for promoting a Trojan horse which contains “Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos.” [2] The Walton Family Foundation has been dismissed as “conservative” or “deeply conservative” by the Huffington Post [3] and historian Diane Ravitch. [4]

Regarding Teach for America, Rethinking Schools has published “An Open Letter to New Teach for America Recruits,” which reads: “Many of you without doubt believe you are joining a progressive education justice movement; that's the message TFA sells very well. But TFA is not progressive. The width=\”690\” />

The political imbalance among Walton grantees was modestly less pronounced than among Gates grantees. Since Walton Family Foundation has a larger set of grantees, we tracked results for a sample of 194 organizations receiving support from Walton (sucked from the 380 organizations listed in the foundation's financial report). Of those 194 organizations, 125 had at least one staffer create a recorded campaign contribution. These Walton grantees included organizations for example Teach for America, KIPP, Education Reform Now, 50CAN, the 74 Media, Chalkbeat, and also the Education Trust.

In total, we found 3,887 political campaign contributions from employees of those 125 organizations. Of those contributions, 3,377, or 87 percent, went to Democrats. On average, the dollar value of contributions to Republicans among Walton grantees was higher than those to Democrats. As a result, 74 percent, or $1,239,958 from the $1,685,207 in total contributions, went to Democrats. Whether measured in contributions or funds contributed, staff at grantees from the “very conservative” Walton Foundation clearly favor Democratic candidates over Republican ones with a margin of somewhere between 3-to-1 and 7-to-1.

We conducted a similar analysis for any set of scholars who focus on education reform: the presenters at most recent conference of the Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP). We examined the presenters at AEFP due to their investment in evaluating reform initiatives for example charter schooling, school turnarounds, and teacher-evaluation systems. AEFP is different from the much larger and older American Education Research Association, whose members include the majority of the nation's education professoriate and tend to be skeptical of policies such as school choice and test-based accountability. Indeed, AEFP split in the American Education Finance Association to create a research organization more hospitable to the analysis and discussion of reform. AEFP's membership is drawn, mainly, from public policy and economics departments. In a nutshell, AEFP could be understood as encompassing many of the more reform-minded economists and econophiles who study education. Considering that, it seems worth going through the degree to which AEFP is home to more conservative, Republican-friendly academics.

To compile our AEFP sample, we identified what they are called and institutional affiliations of everybody who was listed as a presenter at AEFP's 2021 conference [17] and then searched for each individual to identify their campaign contributions.

In total, we researched information on all 749 scholars who presented in the AEFP 2021 national conference. Of those 749, we found at least one campaign contribution from 74 people. Those 74 people designed a total of 336 contributions worth $78,308. Of these 336 contributions, 324, or 96 percent, visited Democrats. And of that $78,308, $75,958, or 97 percent, visited Democrats. Of the 74 AEFP presenters who made campaign contributions, only four had ever given to a single Republican. Like the Gates and Walton grantees, AEFP is nearly entirely populated with individuals who offer the Democratic Party.

Information on AEFP conference participants also allows us to glean some sense of how politically active education reformers are. For Gates and Walton grantees, we do not know the universe of employees who might have given. But for AEFP, we know that 74 of 749, or 10 percent, of individuals have led to political campaigns. Based on, only 0.68 percent [18] of the adult US population made campaign contributions during the 2021 election cycle exceeding the $200 minimum requiring that the form be completed. When we restrict our AEFP sample towards the 2021 election cycle and eliminate those who gave less than $200, we have seen that 23, or 3.07 percent, of the AEFP sample contributed, relative to 0.68 percent for the general population. That means that AEFP presenters contributed to campaigns at approximately four to five times the rate of American adults.

The countless researchers and analysts involved with AEFP are an essential constituency within the education-reform world. Their evaluations and scholarship help shape public knowledge of education reform and whether or not this works. Thus, that the ideological views of those that study education reform align with those pursuing those efforts raises useful questions about the role of potential biases, blind spots, and groupthink.

Remarkably, the deep blue hue of Gates and Walton education grantees (and reform-friendly education researchers) rivals the leftward lean we see in Democratic precincts such as Hollywood and public-employee unions. For example, the Center for Responsive Politics, which operates, reports that 78 percent of campaign contributions from the TV, movies, and music business go to Democrats since 2000. [19] If we consider only movie production and distribution (e.g., producers, actors, directors, technicians, and agents), then 90 percent of the contributions made since 2000 went to Democrats. [20]

Meanwhile, public-sector unions have given 90 percent of the contributions to Democrats in the last 2 decades. In other words, Hollywood and public-employee unions are just as liberal as advertised, however the allegedly right-wing ranks of K -12 education reformers grow to be every bit as one-sided in their partisanship (Figure 2).

Some readers may wonder whether education reform leans toward Democrats simply because everyone in K -12 education is a Democrat. In short: Nope. For instance, Education Week polling reports that simply 41 percent of educators identify as Democrats, with 27 percent identifying as Republicans and 30 percent as independents. [21] Even the National Education Association (NEA), the country's largest teacher union, gives a larger slice of its campaign contributions to Republicans compared to the workers of Gates education grantees (Figure 3). Since 2000, 93 percent of NEA PAC money went to Democrats. [22] Staff from the grantees funded through the “very conservative” Walton Foundation are barely more favorable to Republicans than are members of the country's largest teacher union.

These results paint an unexpected picture of education reform: one of a movement dominated by Democratic partisans. Actually, the school-reform community's leftward tilt is wholly at odds using the popular narrative that school reform may be the project of right-wing privatizers-and with reformers' claims that theirs is a centrist, bipartisan movement. Indeed, it is fair to wonder how these depictions have grown to be so detached in the reality of who populates the world of education reform.

This lack of right-leaning representation has important implications for education reform's practice, popularity, and political prospects. Because of the paucity of Republicans (or of individuals inclined to support Republican candidates), it is no great surprise that school reform appears to reflect the politically progressive impulses from the contemporary left. One consequence is this fact (overlooked) ideological homogeneity may create an echo chamber that hinders the movement's ability to detect and address political and practical challenges. These risks are heightened by reformers laboring underneath the mistaken impression that their coalition is politically and ideologically diverse-when the information suggest it is not.

Education reform's political uniformity also offers implications for its political prospects. More so compared to many major policy areas, K -12 policy is shaped in the local and state level. Especially considering that two-thirds or even more of the states are conservative or politically contested-including such reform bellwethers as Colorado, Indiana, Louisiana, and Tennessee-reform suffers towards the extent that it struggles to anticipate and address Republican concerns or speak credibly to Republican audiences. Indeed, unencumbered by Republicans in their midst, school reformers have discovered themselves energetically embracing aggressive progressive stances on hot-button issues such as immigration, tax policy, and gun control. Meanwhile, given the ongoing resistance to reform from prominent Democratic constituencies, a Democrats-only reform coalition faces an all natural ceiling on its prospects.

All this matters for at least three good reasons. First, that education reform seems to be populated by Democrats raises obvious questions regarding the political and ideological breadth of the movement. A coalition whose staff and scholars are so identified with one political party will probably suffer when forging bipartisan coalitions, finding new converts, or anticipating and addressing opposition concerns. Reform advocates who support a Democratic Party that's lurching left might not know (or care) how their proposals and rhetoric are perceived by those in the center or on the right.

Second, that major foundations allocate their funds in this manner is noteworthy. After all, the Gates and Walton foundations spend considerable time developing comprehensive strategies, surveying their grantee portfolios, and looking methods to advance their agendas in a number of political contexts. Despite such efforts, they have few Republican-leaning organizations within their grantee mix. An open question is whether foundation giving helps fuel reform's partisan tilt or perhaps is a reflection of it. The answer may reveal the dynamics of educational philanthropy and, perhaps, on why a lot of its efforts have encountered rough sailing.

Third, it's remarkable to determine how far the truth is in the commentary about K -12 school reform. Observers of the national conversation would not suppose school reform is equally as left-leaning as such liberal bastions as Hollywood and public-employee unions. Reform critics, for ideological and tactical reasons, have opted to explain Democratic reform organizations as right-wing. Journalists and analysts have accepted these charges at face value, helping frame public discourse about schools and schooling. We suspect these assertions also have fostered not just confusion among the public but also miscalculations made by reformers and public officials.

Education reform's partisan tilt might help explain a number of its setbacks and reversals of recent years. A movement whose membership is so thoroughly partisan are affected when forging bipartisan coalitions and winning converts. This really is doubly true in a time of deep political polarization. Quite simply, a movement for education reform this monochromatically blue is an unhealthy movement. How Democrats have started to so heavily dominate education reform-and why this state of affairs went unremarked-are questions that need further analysis and reflection. Whether one is gone to live in cheer these bits of information or jeer them, those questions are fascinating, timely queries that deserve serious scrutiny going forward.

1. Jason Blakely, “How School Choice Turns Education right into a Commodity,” Atlantic, April 17, 2021,

2. Andrew O'Hehir, “Eva Moskowitz, Public Education and also the Crisis of Neoliberalism,” Salon, September 16, 2021,

3. Julia Sass Rubin, “CREDO's Study of Charter Schools in NJ Leaves Many Unanswered Questions,” Huffington Post, February 9, 2021,

4. Diane Ravitch, The Death and Lifetime of the truly amazing American School System (Ny: Basic Books, 2010).

5. Katie Osgood, “A wide open Letter to New Teach for America Recruits,” Rethinking Schools 28, no. 3 (Spring 2021):

6. Chiefs for Change (@chiefsforchange), “Chiefs for Change is really a nonprofit, bipartisan network of diverse state and district education Chiefs,” Twitter, September 6, 2021,

7. Are a symbol of Children Washington, “Our Values,”

8. 50-State Campaign for fulfillment Now, “Prospectus 2021 -2021,”

9. Naomi Schaefer Riley, “How Trendy Politics Is Killing Teach for America,” New York Post, April 18, 2021,

10. Teach for America, “House Immigration Bills Fall Shorts,” June 21, 2021,

11. Educators for Excellence, “Letter towards the US Education and Justice Departments: Preserve School Discipline Guidance to Protect Students' Civil Rights,” July 10, 2021, .

12. Education Trust, “The training Trust's Priorities for Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act,” , 2021,

13. Jonah Edelman and Randi Weingarten, “School Vouchers Don't Just Undermine Public Schools, They Undermine Our Democracy,” Los Angeles Times, May 31, 2021, .

14. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “Awarded Grants,”

15. Walton Family Foundation, “2021 Grants Report,” https:\\\\2021-grants-report .

16., “Donor Lookup,” .

17. Association for Education Finance and Policy, “Association for Education Finance and Policy 43rd Annual Conference,”

18., “Donor Demographics,” .

19., “TV/Movies/Music: Long-Term Contribution Trends,” .

20., “Movie Production & Distribution: Long-Term Contribution Trends,” .

21. Alyson Klein, “Survey: Educators' Political Leanings, Who They Voted for, Where They Get up on Key Issues,” Education Week, December 12, 2021, .

22., “National Education Assn,”

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