I received the following letter from two BAT teachers who heard that Michelle Rhee is planning to speak in Birmingham and intends to portray herself as “a civil rights leader” in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is well-known that Dr. King worked closely with labor unions–not against them–to improve the lot of working men and women.

It may have been forgotten by now that when Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, he was there to help sanitation workers who were trying to organize a union.

Dr. King understood the importance of building coalitions, not setting group against group, parents against teachers.

The BAT teachers wrote the following commentary about Rhee’s pending visit to Birmingham:



Why Alabama Doesn’t Need Michelle Rhee

     by BATs – Marla Kilfoyle and Terri Michal


The corporate reform agenda Michelle Rhee represents is NOT about Civil Rights!


Michele Rhee does not promote educational equality for the African American community. She and her StudentsFirst organization profits while schools in predominantly urban minority communities are being closed around the nation. It is beyond comprehension that Rhee would speak during any celebration of the Civil Rights movement and that she be considered to speak at the 16th Street Baptist Church where 4 young girls were murdered in a bombing spurred by hate and prejudice. Let’s consider what Rhee has done to further civil rights – nothing. In fact, Rhee along with Rep. Jay Love and Charlotte Meadows (a former StudentsFirst Lobbyist) helped to push for passage of the Alabama Accountability Act which opened the door for Charters in the state. The problem is that these charters are not designed to elevate the poor and/or minority.  In fact the Southern Poverty Law Center is currently challenging the law because it contends that transfers are inaccessible to Alabama’s poor families.  Low income parents can’t afford private school tuition even with the new tax credit but to make matters even worse, it siphons off money that should be spent on resourcing and assisting failing schools in these communities and transfers it to the private sector.


Let’s look at the effects Michelle Rhee and her Corporate Reform agenda has had in other urban communities around the United States:

The most disturbing effect of Ms. Rhee’s reform effort is the widening gap in academic performance between low-income and upper-income students, a meaningful statistic in Washington, where race and income are highly correlated. On the most recent NAEP test (2011), only about 10% of low-income students in grades 4 and 8 scored ‘proficient’ in reading and math. Since 2007, the performance gap has increased by 29 percentile points in 8th grade reading, by 44 in 4th grade reading, by 45 in 8th grade math, and by 72 in 4th grade math. Although these numbers are also influenced by changes in high- and low-income populations, the gaps are so extreme that it seems clear that low-income students, most of them African-American, generally did not fare well during Ms. Rhee’s time in Washington. Washington’s high school graduation rate is the lowest in the nation. Rhee closed more than 2 dozen schools.*

March 2011 USA Today reported on a rash of ‘wrong-to-right’ erasures on standardized tests and the Chancellor’s reluctance to investigate. With subsequent tightened test security, Rhee’s dramatic test scores gains have all but disappeared. Consider Aiton Elementary: The year before Ms. Rhee arrived, 18% of Aiton students scored proficient in math and 31% in reading. Scores soared to nearly 60% on her watch, but by 2012 both reading and math scores had plunged more than 40 percentile points.*
One of the first things that happened during Rhee’s time in D.C. was that she announced that there was a multi-million dollar shortfall in the education budget. Shortly thereafter, she fired 241 D.C.P.S teachers, citing the need to make huge budget cuts. After the firings, the monies were suddenly found. Rhee and her CFO, Noah Webman, said that the problem with the missing millions was “accounting mistake.” Once the lost money was restored to the education coffer’s books, Rhee went on a hiring spree, filling many vacancies with….you guessed it!…Teach for America teachers. Later, Webman said, under oath, in a hearing with the DC city council, that he and Rhee had devised the “accounting error.” Currently, one of the teachers fired is pursuing a fraud charge against Rhee. This past April, a DC judge has said that there is evidence enough for the case to move forward.*  Furthermore, Rhee’s history as Chancellor of D.C. has left children, predominantly children of color, in a school district that has the lowest graduation rate in the country. 
Ms. Rhee appointed 91 principals in her three years as chancellor, 39 of whom no longer held those jobs in August 2010. Some chose to leave; others, on one-year contracts, were fired for not producing results quickly enough. Several schools are reported to have had three principals in three years.*  Child psychiatrists have long known that, to succeed, children need stability. Because many of the District’s children face multiple stresses at home and in their neighborhoods, schools are often that rock. However, in Ms. Rhee’s tumultuous reign, thousands of students attended schools where teachers and principals were essentially interchangeable parts, a situation that must have contributed to the instability rather than alleviating it.*
Rhee flies around the country donating money to politicians. She does not promote educational equality for the African American community. She and her StudentsFirst organization supports charters and voucher systems. This educational agenda has supported the closing of urban schools, predominantly in African American communities (Chicago, Philadelphia), instead of providing resources to keep these community schools open as Beacons of Light for kids that live in these neighborhoods. 
John Merrow – “A Story About Michelle Rhee That No One Will Print” http://takingnote.learningmatters.tv/?p=6490


The bottom line, our urban communities CANNOT be improved by closing our schools, firing our teachers, and diverting funds to private organizations.  They also CANNOT be improved by hiring Teach For America teachers, who are usually underqualified and unprepared to teach to the whole child, or through increased testing. (Testing IS NOT teaching!)  What can help? Programs like The Leader In Me* that debuted at A.B. Combs Elementary School in North Carolina and is now being implemented worldwide or Alabama’s own Better Basics* program that is currently implemented in only 43 schools in central AL despite its successes. We invest more than 8 million dollars a year in Alabama on testing alone…Isn’t it time we invest in our STUDENTS?



The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Schools:


Better Basics:



The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was thrust into the public eye when, in 1963, a bomb exploded killing four innocent black girls.  The members of the black congregation were targeted because of the color of their skin.  This was a turning point in the civil rights movement.


Now, 50 years later, Michelle Rhee wants to be a part of a panel discussing civil rights and education that is taking place in the church .  Michelle Rhee knows nothing of civil rights. This must be stopped.  Please contact Rep. Terri Sewell at (205) 254-1960 Twitter @RepTerriSewell and Mayor William Bell at (205)254-2283

His Executive Secretary’s email is kelli.solomon@birminghamal.gov It seems they have no twitter account.  There is NO direct way to get in touch with the mayor.  Governor Bentley may be contacted by twitter @GovernorBentley  and by phone  (334) 242-7100


Marla Kilfoyle  is a teacher, an activist, and one of the founders of the Badass Teachers Association. She lives in Long Island, New York.

Terri Michal is an activist, the founder of SOS Support our Students and an Administrator at Badass Teachers Association. She lives in Huntsville, AL. You can contact her at somewhere_itn@hotmail.com