Archives for category: Rhee, Michelle

Last week, I reported that StudentsFirst had departed from Minnesota and Florida. I assumed the pickings were slim in the former, and the “reform” camp had saturated the state of Florida. Well, there is more to the story, as I learned when I discovered a week-old politico.com in my spam box.

StudentsFirst has also pulled out of Maine, Indiana, and Iowa. It has laid off six staff members. As politico.com reports:

“It’s still active in 10 states, including Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and New York. The organization hasn’t brought in anywhere near the $1 billion that Rhee confidently predicted she would raise when she founded the group in 2010. But she has collected more than $60 million in donations in the past few years. That’s been enough to make sizable contributions to candidates and political committees around the country, to run TV, radio and web ads promoting her education reform agenda and hire top lobbyists to work state capitols from coast to coast. StudentsFirst also maintains a staff of 110 people — up from 75 in 2012.”

If you judge it by its actions, not its rhetoric, Rhee’s organization exists to elect advocates of charters and vouchers, as well as avowed enemies of teachers’ unions, tenure, and seniority. It would be nice if its ads and literature made clear that it raises money for privatization and opposition to any contracts rights for teachers.

Which reminds me: I received an email from a virtual friend in Mississippi today, pointing out that the state had no teachers’ unions and no tenure. He thought that was a good thing. He also mentioned that Mississippi was last in the nation in academic performance. I asked him which part of the state’s agenda should be a national model. I don’t think that unions or tenure necessarily lead to high performance, but there’s no evidence that getting rid of them is a recipe for success.

Michelle Rhee is determined to see that every legislature is taken over by hard-right Republicans who support her campaign against teachers and public schools.

One of her current targets is Alabama.

Here is where she is sending money. All but one of those listed below are Republicans, except Patrick Sellers, who challenged a Democratic incumbent and lost. Governor Bentley returned the $5,000 contribution.

As of current reporting, StudentsFirst has contributed a total of $100,000 to nine candidates in Alabama this year. The recipients, as pulled from AlabamaVotes.gov, are here:

Contributor Amount ContributionDate RecipientName

STUDENTSFIRST $15,000.00 05/23/2014 BARRY RAMON SADLER SR. (Sadler outspent incumbent state school board member Betty Peters10-1, and he lost.)

STUDENTS FIRST $20,000.00 11/15/2013 CHARLOTTE BORDEN MEADOWS (Meadows ran for a house seat. She lost.)

STUDENTS FIRST $15,000.00 05/21/2014 CYNTHIA MCCARTY (McCarty ran for open seat on state school board. She won.)

STUDENTSFIRST $10,000.00 06/02/2014 GERALD DIAL (Dial is incumbent state senator. He won primary, faces opposition in November.)

STUDENTSFIRST $10,000.00 05/09/2014 JIM H MCCLENDON (incumbent house member who challenged incumbent Republican state senator and won.)

STUDENTS FIRST $15,000.00 06/01/2014 MARY SCOTT HUNTER (Incumbent state school board member. She won.)

STUDENTSFIRST $5,000.00 04/24/2014 MICHAEL G. HUBBARD (Speaker of the House. He spent more than $1 million on his re-election in june and beat a Republican primary challenger. Faces Democratic opponent in November. Not a friend of public schools or teachers.)

STUDENTSFIRST $5,000.00 05/22/2014 PATRICK SELLERS (aDemocrat who challenged aDemocratic incumbent in Birmingham and lost.)

STUDENTS FIRST $5,000.00 10/11/2013 ROBERT BENTLEY (Incumbent Governor running for re-election. Returned the money.)

STUDENTSFIRST $10,000.00 05/21/2014 STEVE DEAN (Republican challenger to Republican incumbent. Dean lost.)

STUDENTS FIRST $2,500.00 02/21/2013 STORMING THE STATE HOUSE POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE (this PAC is operated by Mike hubbard, speaker of the house. Studentsfirst gave him money on feb. 21 of 2013, and the House passed the Alabama Accountability Act (Alabama’s voucher bill) on Feb. 28, 2013.)

STUDENTS FIRST $15,000.00 05/30/2014 WILLIAM E HENRY (an incumbent Republican who won his race.)

In this era of duplicity and double-talk, we may never learn the real reason, but one thing is sure: Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst is closing down in Minnesota. It is laying off its single employee. It claims 29,000 members in the state, but it is impossible to verify that number since people often sign deceptive petitions on websites that ask if they support great teachers.

“Earlier this week, StudentsFirst confirmed that it is scaling back operations in Florida to focus on political battles elsewhere. In coming days, it is expected to announce that it’s eliminating staff members in other states — a move a national group spokesman said Wednesday he could not confirm.

“Obviously we can’t predict the future, but we will continue to support our reform partners,” said spokesman Ross McMullin.

“Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, said she’s not surprised StudentsFirst is scaling back.

“National education franchises like StudentsFirst struggle to find an audience in Minnesota because they sell policies developed far away by people who don’t know our schools,” she said. “So they push ideas that appeal to wealthy donors around the country, but don’t quite fit in Minnesota, which has some of the best schools and students in the nation.”

Florida is owned lock, stock, and barrel by the privatizers, so perhaps StudentsFirst is superfluous there. If they are cutting staff elsewhere, that’s good news. Maybe Rhee is yesterday’s news.

Politico.com reports on some of the finances of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst and StudentsFirst Institute, based on the 990 tax form that her group is required to file. During the fiscal year from August 2012 to July 2013, her organizations raised $28.6 million, down slightly from the previous year. She does not disclose the names of her donors (we can all guess: the Koch brothers? Rupert Murdoch? Michael Bloomberg? Eli Broad? Members of the Walton family? Art Pope? Hedge fund managers? Who else disdains public education?).

She spent $2 million for the consulting services of SKDKnickerbocker, which is run by Anita Dunn, who worked closely with President Obama in his first term. She also paid $1.7 million to Change.org, which hosted many of her petitions (“do you want great teachers, sign here”). The article says Change.org cut ties with that lucrative client because of protests by organized labor but that is an overstatement. Many supporters of public education and teachers objected to Change.org presenting itself as “progressive” while promoting a group tat funds rightwing candidates and attacks umbilical education. I am embarrassed to say that I was tricked into signing one of those petitions. When I blogged about it, I got an email from a real person at Change.org informing me that I was a member of StudentsFirst after signing that misleading petition.

She gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to conservative supporters of charters and vouchers.

Her salary is nearly $350,000 a year, not including speaking fees (last reported to be $50,000 per speech but negotiable). A good gig. Sure beats being a teacher.

In addition, Rhee “spent heavily on political activism in the year covered by the tax forms. StudentsFirst gave $500,000 to a business-backed committee in Michigan that successfully worked to defeat a union effort to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution. It also spent $250,000 to support a charter-school campaign in Georgia. StudentsFirst gives to candidates and committees from both parties but many of its biggest political donations went to Republican caucuses and conservative alliances in states including Florida, Maine, Michigan and Pennsylvania.”

When she started StudentsFirst, Rhee said she would raise $1 billion for her agenda to destroy teachers unions, de-professionalize teaching, and turn public education over to private entities. So far, she has raised $62 million. Guess the rightwing billionaires are not as generous as she anticipated. Or maybe the lingering questions about the D.C. Cheating scandal tarnished her image, even among the true believers.

Here is a good example of taking facts to the public: Frank Breslin, retired teacher, writes an opinion article that explains the flaws of Common Core and standardized testing, as well as teacher evaluation based on flawed tests.

Laurel Sturt, a teacher, sent this note, responding to an email from StudentsFirst founder Michelle Rhee. The teacher has Michelle wrong. Michelle doesn’t hate teachers. She just wants to see more of them fired, lose their teaching license, lose their mortgage, and suffer grievously unless they raise test scores every year. Let’s be clear. She appreciates some teachers. The winners. Don’t you get it? Life is a racetrack. Test scores are the metric.

“Michelle Rhee is providing a thank you card for people to give to teachers, with all sorts of glowing compliments to teachers. I just posted this on Facebook:

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, as well as Breathtaking Hypocrisy Week. Here Champion and Defender of Teachers Michelle Rhee encourages us to download a not-so-free card (in exchange for our personal contact info and sign up to volunteer for her). If we’re all she says we are, then why does she hate us so? http://www.studentsfirst.org/page/s/download-this-card-and-show-appreciation-to-a-teacher

You can’t make this stuff up!

Best,

Laurel”

A while back, Michelle Rhee had an article published under her name in the Washington Post criticizing parents who opt thir children out of state testing. Her main reason seemed to be that parents won’t know whether he school is doing a good job unless they see standardized test scores.

Matt Di Carlo, no fan of he opt out movement, here takes issue with Rhee. She doesn’t understand the purpose of testing, he writes.

He writes:

“For example, right at the outset, the article asserts that tests are “designed to measure how well our schools are teaching our children.”

“This is just not accurate. Tests are designed to permit inferences, however imperfect, about how well students know a given block of content (e.g., relative to other students).

“Now, of course, we as a nation also have chosen to use these data to assess schools’ and teachers’ contributions to students’ progress. Done correctly and interpreted carefully, such analyses potentially yield useful information, even if reasonable people disagree on how and how much they should be used. Regardless, an important part of calibrating and designing that role is to understand the tests and what they can and cannot do.

“Michelle Rhee is highly visible and wields vast resources. When she asserts that tests are constructed to do something they’re not, with scarce acknowledgment as to how little we know about using the data in this manner, one can understand why people feel nervous about the standardized testing enterprise.

“Similarly, later in the article, Ms. Rhee goes on to offer the claim that opt-out advocates mistakenly think tests “are designed to pass judgment on students,” and responds that the truth is “quite the opposite” – i.e., that tests are “an indicator of … whether schools, educators and policymakers are doing their jobs.”

“While “pass judgment on students” carries negative connotations (and thus strikes me as a kind of a straw man), the truth is that tests are, at least in many respects, designed for this purpose – to assess (again, imperfectly) students’ knowledge of the material. Moreover, to reiterate, using testing data to draw inferences about the performance of schools, educators and policymakers is enormously complex and difficult.

“This distinction between the measurement of student versus school/educator performance is not semantic (and their conflation not at all confined to this op-ed). The flawed assumption that testing results are, by themselves, indicators of school/teacher performance is poisonous to both education policy and the debate surrounding it, It is, for example, reflected in the consistent misinterpretation of testing data in our public discourse, as well as the painfully crude, sure-to-mislead measures of NCLB.”

Matt is a middle-ground kind of guy. He is always reasonable.

But now, I think, parents are not feeling reasonable. Many believe that their children are cheated of a good education by the current obsession with testing. Many feel that the stakes are too high and the pressure on children and teachers robs schools of the joy of learning. High-stakes testing is out of control, and reasonable people recognize it.

I think they are right.

Peter Dreier, a professor at Occidental College and fervent advocate for public education, asks why public education continues to lavish so much favorable attention in the leaders of the privatization movement while disregarding dissenting voices or–worse–treating our nation’s public schools shabbily.

He suggests that the Republican attack of public funding of PBS may have made the network dependent on the billionaires who favor privatization and view public schools with contempt.

With the sole exception of Bill Moyers, who has run programs about ALEC’s efforts to destroy every public service, and who recently interviewed me about the profit motive in the privatization movement, PBS has made no effort to investigate the assault on public education across the nation.

Dreier contrasts the lavish attention devoted to the privatization propaganda film “Waiting for ‘Superman,'” with the absence of attention to a remarkable new film celebrating the daily struggles of public schools in Pasadena, California. This film, “Go Public,” tells the true story of life in a public school. Will it appear on public television? That’s up to you.

The same might be said of “Rise Above the Mark,” another well-produced film that tells the story of real life in schools today and the insidious efforts to destroy public education by the powerful and complicit politicians.

David Sirota recently compelled PBS to return $3.5 million to billionaire John Arnold, who had underwritten a series on the “pension crisis,” an issue dear to him as a critic of defined benefit pensions.

Maybe Dreier’s critique will encourage PBS to give equal time to our nation’s public schools, not just their critics.

PS: I mistakenly attributed the article to another wonderful Paul–Paul Horton. Wrong! My bad!

You know Common Core is in deep trouble when Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst creates a group to rally round the cause of high expectations. Somehow this new organization pretends to be antagonists to the union but the teachers’ unions have been generally supportive of Common Core. The criticism of the state’s rushed rollout has been nearly universal. Exactly what the demonstrators are supporting is unclear, unless the point is to defend the startlingly high failure rates generated by the state tests. Only 3% of English learners passed. Only 5% of students with disabilities passed. Less than 20% of black and Hispanic students passed. Maybe what StudentsFirst would like best is a test that no one passed. Now, that’s high expectations!

I came across an article in the Washington Post by Michelle Rhee, in which she chastised parents who opted their children out of state tests. This article made me happy, because it shows that the Queen Bee of high-stakes testing is worried. She is worried that the opt out movement is gaining traction. She is worried that parents are sick of the Status Quo of the past dozen years. If parents opt out, there won’t be enough data to fire teachers, to give bonuses, and to close schools. The Status Quo might collapse. How will we know how students are doing if we don’t test them? How will we know if their teachers are any good without standardized tests? How will we know if their school should be closed?

I must say that I was brought to a sharp halt in my reading of this article when Rhee spoke of what happened when her daughter came home from public school, relieved that the last test was over. This puzzled me because Rhee lives in Sacramento, and her daughters live in Nashville. I wondered, was she visiting Nashville that day? Then I remembered that one of her daughters goes to a public school, and the other goes to an elite private school that does not give standardized tests. How does she know how the daughter in the private school is doing? How can she judge her teachers? How will the principals in that school know if the teachers are doing a good job if the kids don’t take standardized tests? It is very puzzling.

And I wondered about one other thing: Michelle Rhee is a fierce advocate for charters and vouchers because she believes in choice. Why doesn’t she believe that parents should be able to choose to say no to state testing? Many voucher schools are exempt from state testing but I haven’t heard her demand that legislators include them. How will they know how their children are doing?

I wasn’t going to write about Rhee, because she seems so yesterday, but then Peter Greene sent me this hilarious post, and I realized I had to write too. But he is so funny! he calls it: “The WaPo Wastes Space on That Woman.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 109,182 other followers