National Advisory Board

Members of DFER’s National Advisory Board Include:

Joe Williams, Executive Director Emeritus; Joe Williams has built a reputation as one of the most effective strategists and coalition-builders in the education reform community. He is a nationally recognized analyst and public speaker on education policy and politics, reaching thousands of listeners in audiences from coast to coast each year.

Joe is also one of the most prolific writers and commentators in the education reform world, often tapping into his experience as a newspaper reporter and author to make the case for reform. He previously worked as an award-winning education journalist for the New York Daily News and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He has written extensively on education politics nationally and has served as a non-resident senior fellow for the Washington-based think-tank Education Sector. He is author of the book Cheating our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.)

Joe lives in New York City where his children attend the city’s public schools.

Read more about Joe here.


Barbara O’Brien, Chair; former Lieutenant Governor of Colorado; currently serves on the Board of Education for Denver Public Schools; current President of Get Smart Schools, which develops and supports school leaders and leadership teams for public schools that dramatically improve the achievement of all students, especially low-income and minority students in urban school districts; she is also a founding member of the DFER Colorado Advisory Board.


Peter Groff, Vice Chair; former President of the Colorado State Senate; the first African-American in Colorado to ascend to the post, and only the third African-American in the nation’s history to hold the gavel as State Senate President. His 25 years of public service include serving as a Visiting Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education and as President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS).


Michael Benjamin, former New York State Assemblyman; an outspoken champion of lifting the charter school cap, Race to the Top education reforms, and school choice while in office, and the former head of the Bronx Board of Elections; he was one of the first elected officials in New York State to endorse President Barack Obama in August 2007.


Terrance Carroll, former Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, who was the first African-American to have held the position; serves on the board of trustees for both the Metropolitan State University of Denver and the National Western Stock Show, and is a member of the Executive Board of Denver Area Council and Boy Scouts of America; also a founding member of the DFER Colorado Advisory Board.


Craig Johnson, former New York State Senator; a longtime champion of bold education reforms as a Democratic member of the New York State Senate, Johnson is currently a managing director at McKenna Long & Aldridge, LLP and the chairman of the Democrats for Education Reform New York advisory board.


Tony Payton, former Pennsylvania State Representative; during his tenure in the General Assembly, Payton was at the forefront of education reform in Pennsylvania; he introduced legislation to create the Pennsylvania Youth Commission and authored the REACH Scholarship Initiative; he sits on the advisory committees and governing boards of Squash Smarts and the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center, Tech Impact PA, Operation Understanding, and Philly Youth Poetry Movement.


Maureen Stapleton, former Michigan State Representative; the daughter of a police officer and a Detroit Schools administrator, Stapleton was recognized for her advocacy on behalf of the City of Detroit and children during her tenure in the legislature; she was noted as an education reformer and lauded for her work on teacher tenure reform and her sponsorship of a Parent Notification Bill.


Mary Ann Sullivan, former Indiana State Representative; Sullivan coauthored and sponsored bills expanding Indiana’s public charter school law and dramatically changing teacher evaluation and licensure; currently, she serves as a consultant with the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL) at the University of Indianapolis.


Buzz Thomas, former Michigan State Senator and Representative; Thomas spent 14 years in the Michigan legislature, including serving as Democratic Floor Leader in the Senate and as Democratic Leader in the House; he was Co-Chairman of the 2008 Michigan Presidential campaign of Barack Obama; in 2013 he founded and co-chaired Turnaround Detroit, the super PAC credited with electing Mike Duggan, Detroit’s Mayor.