Archives for category: Rhee, Michelle

Jeff Bryant wonders whether Campbell Brown will replace Michelle Rhee as the public face of “reform”? Bryant describes the movement as “Blame Teachers First.”

Bryant suspects that Rhee’s star is fading fast. Bryant describes her as “education’s Ann Coulter.” The lingering doubts about the Washington, D.C. cheating scandal never dissipate, and John Merrow’s latest blog about the millions that Rhee has paid to protect her image have not been enough to stop the slide. He notes that she never collected the $1 billion she predicted and that her organization is retreating from several states. Her biography bombed. She was unable to draw a crowd in many of the states where she claimed to have thousands of supporters. Bryant says she is yesterday’s news.

Campbell Brown is thus next in line to inherit the role as leader of the “Blame Teachers First” movement.

Bryant writes:

“With Rhee and StudentsFirst sinking under the weight of over-promises, under-performance, and unproven practices, the Blame Teachers First crowd is now eagerly promoting Campbell Brown.

“According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Brown launched the group Partnership for Educational Justice, with a Veraga-inspired lawsuit in New York State to once again dilute teachers’ job protections, commonly called “tenure.” The suit clams students suffer from laws “making it too expensive, time-consuming and burdensome to fire bad teachers.”

“An article in The Washington Post noted, “Brown has raised the issue of tenure in op-eds and on TV programs such as ‘Morning Joe.’ But she may be just getting warmed up.”

“Actually, Brown has already been warmed up and is plenty ready to take the mound and pitch. As the very same article noted, Brown started her campaign against teachers some time ago, claiming that the New York City teachers’ union was obstructing efforts to fire teachers for sexual misconduct. Unfortunately for Brown, the ad campaign conducted by her organization Parents Transparency Project failed to note that, as The Post article recalled, at least 33 teachers had indeed been fired. “The balance were either fined, suspended or transferred for minor, non-criminal complaints.” Oops.

“Further, as my colleague Dave Johnson recalled at the time, Brown penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal accusing the teachers’ union of “trying to block a bill to keep sexual predators out of schools.” It turned out, the union wanted to strengthen the bill, not stop it. Double oops.

“Nevertheless – or as The Post reporter put it, “undaunted” – Brown has now decided to take on teacher personnel policies on behalf of, she claims, “millions of schoolchildren being denied a decent education.”

Who is funding the new anti-teacher drive? Bryant describes the familiar organizations that promoted Rhee, such as TNTP, which Rhee founded, as well as Republican operatives.

He writes:

“What emerges from these interwoven relationships, then, is a big-money effort led by a small number of people who are intent on the singular goal of reducing the ability of teachers to have control of their work environments. But to what end?

“Regardless of how you feel about the machinations behind the Rhee-Brown campaign, what’s clear is that it is hell-bent on imposing new policies that have little to no prospect of addressing the problem they are purported to resolve, which is to ensure students who need the best teachers are more apt to get them.

“Research generally has found that experienced teachers – the targets for these new lawsuits – make a positive difference in students’ academic trajectory. A review of that research on the website for the grassroots group Parents Across America concluded, “Every single study shows teaching experience matters. In fact, the only two observable factors that have been found consistently to lead to higher student achievement are class size and teacher experience.”

The new campaign looks very much like the old campaign, with only this difference. Brown does not pretend to be a Democrat.

This is a must-read column by John Merrow.

In it, he says that Michelle Rhee paid $2 million to a politically connected public relations firm (Anita Dunn and SKDKnickerbocker) in D.C. in a one-year period. (Anita Dunn was communications director for the Obama administration from April to November 2009.)

He writes:

“In just one year[1] Michelle Rhee spent about $2 million to buy the public relations services of Anita Dunn [2] and SKDKnickerbocker. It’s a continuing relationship that goes back to early in Rhee’s Chancellorship in Washington, and it’s probably the best money Rhee has ever spent (especially because it was contributed by her supporters).

“Just consider the challenge facing the PR team: The former Chancellor of the Washington, DC public schools ignored clear evidence [3] of cheating by adults [4] on the District’s standardized exams, as Linda Mathews, Jay Mathews, Jack Gillum, Michael Joseloff and I documented in “Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error.”

“But Rhee went beyond covering up the misdeeds. Instead of making a sincere effort to root out the cheaters, Rhee stage-managed four ‘investigations’ so that they cleared her. All the while, a feckless Mayor and the local newspaper averted their eyes, in sharp contrast to the vigorous investigation of a comparable cheating scandal in Atlanta.

“With her test-based accountability schemes discredited and her reputation as a fearless, tough-minded leader severely damaged, Ms. Rhee might have been expected to disappear from the scene. However, that has not happened. Instead, she remains in the public eye, writing op-eds [5] and offering analysis of educational developments. This fall she will be a presenter in the annual “Schools of Tomorrow” education symposium sponsored by The New York Times–even though the subject is higher education.”

He wonders why the District of Columbia was not included in the New Yorker article about cheating scandals.

(Read the original to follow the links.)

Most interesting is his description of an effort to smear him while he was preparing a documentary about Rhee for PBS. Even for a veteran reporter like Merrow, it was intimidating to be confronted with a long list of accusations, intended to undermine his credibility as a journalist.

He deals also with Rhee’s efforts to call herself a Democrat even though her organization, StudentsFirst, funds many conservative Republicans. According to this article in Salon in 2012,

“Rhee makes a point of applauding “leaders in both parties and across the ideological spectrum” because her own political success — and the success of school reform — depends upon the bipartisan reputation she has fashioned. But 90 of the 105 candidates backed by StudentsFirst were Republicans, including Tea Party enthusiasts and staunch abortion opponents.”

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!

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