Archives for category: Rhee, Michelle

The Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce announced an “education summit” on February 8, featuring the ever-controversial Michelle Rhee (who canceled out of our debate at Lehigh University on February 6). The original sponsors, in addition to the Chamber, included Target, General Mills, and Thomson Reuters. But then something strange happened, as investigative journalist Sarah Lahm discovered. All the names of the sponsors were removed.


Lahm writes that “controversial education reform purveyor Michelle Rhee will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Summit, and her pending appearance, along with the Chamber’s national support for the Common Core State Standards, sparked protest from some local and national advocacy groups that organize against corporate education reform movements. Word quickly spread through social media, and some of the local groups, such as Minnesotans Against the Common Core and Save the Kids, organized a call-in protest to the Chamber of Commerce and the event’s corporate sponsors. These groups are also planning a “Stand for Kids” rally at the Summit.

“The details of the Summit, which will include not only Michelle Rhee’s speech but also an appearance by former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak, among others, were also brought to the attention of the Minnesota Badass Teachers Association (MN BATs), which is the local off-shoot of the National BAT Association, started in 2013. Their Twitter account, as well as that of other local education Tweeters, includes information about the Summit and appeals to Target, in particular, about their alleged sponsorship of the event.”

Lahm tried to find out why the sponsors disappeared or merely hid their names but she was rebuffed at every turn.

The moral of the story: corporations don’t like controversy.

As readers of this blog know, Michelle Rhee promised to debate me at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania last spring.

The date was set, at her request, on February 6.

Then she demanded a second, and I agreed. (Her second was going to be Rod Paige.)

Then she demanded a third, and I agreed.

Then she said she couldn’t find a third, and she canceled.

Now I learn she is speaking to the Chamber of Commerce in Minneapolis on February 6, where she will bring the message that the way to have great schools is to fire teachers and use test scores as the absolute judge of students, teachers, principals, and schools.

She is speaking during the day so it is not likely that there will be teachers or students present.

I wish she would debate me. I would even accept a fourth or a fifth. We could each bring a team and mud-wrestle.

But no basketball. She would bring you-know-who, and I am not that tall.

Come on, Michelle. Just do it.

John Merrow, who doggedly pursued the cheating scandal in D.C. here takes issue with someone named John Buntin who wrote of a fictional match-up between Michelle Rhee and me.

Merrow chides Buntin for ignorance of the facts that Merrow covered. He sent this letter, but got no reply:

“I have a couple of observations about your Rhee/Ravitch piece that I hope you don’t mind my sharing. The first is a minor quibble about the firing scene. We filmed that as part of my NewsHour coverage–we followed the young Chancellor for her entire three years in DC (12 NewsHour reports). Only later did we include it in our film for Frontline. I allowed Oprah to use the footage, and Davis Guggenheim appropriated it without our permission for “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” although he did eventually pay us for using it.
My second objection is substantial and has to do with Rhee’s record as Chancellor. Not long after she departed, USA Today broke the story of widespread erasures on the DC-CAS, the city’s standardized test, during Rhee’s first and second years. We covered that in our Frontline film.

“However, AFTER the film I obtained a copy of a confidential memo that made it clear just how much she knew of the erasures and how she failed to act. That is summarized here:

“While “Rhee vs. Ravitch” is a compelling headline and a sexy feature, it’s a roadblock to understanding American education. Ravitch is a passionate advocate who argues from facts. In contrast, Rhee’s policies were tried, and they failed. By almost every conceivable measure, the DC schools are no better than before her tenure. In key areas of student attendance, graduation rates, and principal and teacher turnover, they are worse. Central offices in abutting districts have shrunk, but DCPS’ has grown considerably. Even DC’s most recent gains on NAEP, which began 12-15 years BEFORE Rhee’s tenure, seem to have been fueled by an influx of better-educated families (gentrification) and quality pre-school. Here’s a summary:

“I urge you to revisit this story. There is a titanic struggle going on in public education, one that is complex and deserving of coverage. Using Michelle Rhee as symbolic of ‘one side’ is misleading, unfortunately. Wendy Kopp and Teach for America might better represent one side and Ravitch another, although the issue has more than two sides.”

A good response from John Merrow. Read the whole thing as it is quite interesting.

Mr. Buntin, not known to me, should have covered–or pretended to cover–the debate I was supposed to have with Michelle Rhee on February 6 at Lehigh University. She agreed to the debate, agreed to the date but then began making demands about the format. First, she demanded that we needed seconds. She chose Rod Paige, who had been Secretary of Education in the George W. Bush administration. After a long silence and no signed contract, she required that we have two partners. My choices: Pasi Sahlberg of Finland and Helen Gym, parent leader from Philadelphia. Again a long silence. Rhee then cancelled, saying she could not find a second partner. All very puzzling.

During the mayoral campaign in New York City, former CNN anchor Campbell Brown led a campaign against what she portrayed as a serious number of sexual perverts and deviants among the city’s teaching force. Mother Jones decided to investigate what was happening, who was behind the campaign, and here are its findings.

“Shortly after it was launched in June, PTP [Parent Transparency Project] trained its sights on the New York mayoral race, asking the candidates to pledge to change the firing process for school employees accused of sexual misconduct. When several Democratic candidates declined, perhaps fearing they’d upset organized labor, PTP spent $100,000 on a television attack ad questioning whether six candidates, including Republican Joe Lhota and Democrats Bill de Blasio and Anthony Weiner, had “the guts to stand up to the teachers’ unions.” The spot stated that there had been 128 cases of sexual misconduct by school employees in the past five years, suggesting that nothing had been done in response. “It’s a scandal,” the ad’s narrator intoned. “And the candidates are silent.”

“Before founding PTP, Brown raised this issue in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in July 2012. But what she failed to disclose was that her husband, Dan Senor, sits on the board of the New York affiliate of StudentsFirst, an education lobbying group founded by Michelle Rhee, the controversial former Washington, DC, chancellor. Rhee made a name for herself as public enemy No. 1 of the teachers’ unions and has become the torchbearer of the charter school movement. In 2012, her “bipartisan grassroots organization” backed 105 candidates in state races, 88 percent of them Republicans. (Senor was also the spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority following the invasion of Iraq and served as a foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney in 2012.)…

“But there is much more about PTP that is less than transparent, including its sources of funding and its overall agenda. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, PTP may keep its donors’ identities secret and spend money in electoral campaigns, so long as political activity doesn’t consume the majority of its time and money.

“Despite its nonpartisan billing, Brown’s nonprofit used Revolution Agency, a Republican consulting firm, to produce the mayoral attack ad. Its partners include Mike Murphy, a well-known pundit and former Romney strategist; Mark Dion, former chief of staff to Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.); and Evan Kozlow, former deputy director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. The domain name for PTP’s website was registered by two Revolution employees: Jeff Bechdel, Mitt Romney’s former Florida spokesman, and Matt Leonardo, who describes himself as “happily in self-imposed exile from advising Republican candidates.”

“Another consulting firm working with Brown’s group is Tusk Strategies, which helped launch Rhee’s StudentsFirst. Advertising disclosure forms filed by PTP list Tusk’s phone number, and a copy of PTP’s sexual-misconduct pledge—since scrubbed from its website—identified its author as a Tusk employee. (Tusk and Revolution declined to comment. Brown referred all questions to her PR firm—the same one used by StudentsFirst.)….

“Brown’s group paints the unions as the main obstacles to a crackdown on predators. Yet Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, says that the union’s New York City chapter already has a zero-tolerance policy in its contract, and that AFT only protects its members against “false allegations.” New York state law also mandates that any teacher convicted of a sex crime be automatically fired. It is the law, not union contracts, that requires that an independent arbitrator hear and mete out punishment in cases of sexual misconduct that fall outside criminal law. The quickest route to changing that policy may be lobbying lawmakers in Albany, not hammering teachers and their unions.”

Nashville is in the cross hairs of the “reform” (AKA privatization) movement.

Here is a good overview of the situation.

With a respected superintendent nearing the end of his contract, with a mayoral election in the offing, with the school board majority up for grabs in the next election, Nashville is looking like a tasty prize for the privatizers.

And there are so many of them! Start with State Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, who spent two years in TFA but otherwise has no experience as a principal or a superintendent. His major passion seems to be turning public dollars over to charter schools and passing laws to reduce the security and status of teachers. Then there is Governor Haslam, a reactionary who seems to despise public education and has the support of a compliant legislature. And don’t forget Karl Dean, the mayor of Nashville, who is eager to see private interests take control of public education in his city.

Nashville has been ripped asunder by the aggressive demands of the charter school crowd. The district has only 23 charters but those charters have “sucked up almost all the air” out of all public discussion of education, as if they and they alone held the key to success.

Although the district has chartered some 23 privately run schools to operate using district money, the role these charter schools play has sucked up almost all the air at Metro’s Central Office on Bransford Avenue over the past year-and-a-half.

The topic of charter schools — which have the autonomy to operate without the strings normally attached to traditional schools, including issues like how teachers are hired and fired or what class schedules look like — has polarized the district.

The division has created camps of pro-charter advocates, who argue that many of their schools are outperforming the district and MNPS should be more welcoming to the innovation. That has galvanized an equally entrenched anti-charter camp, which warns of the private investors and interests behind such schools and the taxpayer dollars the district must siphon from traditional public schools to fund these new ones. There has been little discussion trying to find a meeting ground in the middle.

The conflicts between the two are seemingly endless, starting in earnest with the district’s school board refusing a charter school targeted to open on the more affluent west side of town; the state fining MNPS $3 million for said rejection; battles with Gov. Bill Haslam, state education commissioner Kevin Huffman and House Speaker Beth Harwell over approval and costs of charter schools; a fight over leaked data showing charter schools kick out students weeks before state test time; embarrassing spats on Twitter and Facebook between board members and charter school advocates; the school board threatening to sue the state for its charter school law; a noisy protest by charter school advocates on the district’s front lawn; holding charter schools’ growth responsible for the district’s money problems; blaming under-capacity schools on the charter-school boom; and most recently, redirecting new charter schools to South Nashville or to convert select failing schools.

Four seats on the school board will be up for grabs in an election in seven months. The school board elections will attract some of the nation’s most notorious corporate reformers, including Stand for Children, Democrats for Education Reform, and Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst (Rhee is the ex-wife of State Commissioner Huffman). The charter school advocates will spend heavily to gain control of the school board, in hopes of expanding the charters and transferring public funds to their own operations.

Make no mistake. This is a well-funded raid on the public treasury, intended to take money away from the public system and hand it over to the friends of those providing the money for the election:

“Democrats for Education Reform is excited to support candidates who will increase the capacity of our public school system to better serve Nashville’s children, whether those candidates are running for school board or in the upcoming mayoral race,” says Alex Little, chair of the Nashville steering committee for the pro-charter-school group, which has been quietly combing the city for board candidates.

Charter school and reform groups are no strangers to investing in politics, dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars into local and state races here in recent years.

At the state level, education-reform lightning rod Michelle Rhee’s Students First organization poured more than $200,000 into legislative races and some local ones, without being shy about throwing massive checks to key candidates.

Last cycle, Metro’s school board races attracted an unprecedented $400,000 among five races and funders of all stripes. Gathering sums more suitable for a bid for state representative than the local school board, Ingram Industries’ Margaret Dolan amassed more than $115,000 for the MNPS board seat she lost to underdog Amy Frogge from Bellevue. In the same cycle, former Teach for America executive Elissa Kim raised some $85,000, largely from fellow TFA types, to beat out the school board’s then-chairwoman, Gracie Porter, in East Nashville.

The biggest players last cycle included the pro-charter crowd, with Mayor Karl Dean and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce bringing influence and some money, and locally organized Great Public Schools and StudentsFirst dishing out dollars. Democrats for Education Reform, working out of Nashville, plans on joining the effort this year. That group is led by Natasha Kamrani, wife of Tennessee Achievement School District head Chris Barbic, whose job duties include taking over or hiring charters to turn around the state’s weakest 5 percent of schools.


G.F. Brandenburg keeps a close watch on D.C. Schools. In this series of posts, he compares academic gains in D.C. before and after the chancellorship of Michelle Rhee. What he finds is a district that was showing steady improvement before Rhee arrived, and where the gains post-Rhee were continuous with earlier trends. He also compares the performance of public and charter schools in the district on NAEP, as well as the scores of different groups of students.

Aficionados of test scores in D.C. will find these posts of great interest:

See here, here, here, and here.

Consider this historical satire. It was written by Paul Horton, who teaches history at the University of Chicago Lab School.


A Modest Proposal for the Gang of Four

(Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush)

Your plan for defeating the yellow dogs of reaction has not been effective. You need to get serious. Because you know very little about the history of revolutionary progress (Mr. Duncan, you were fed the phrase “Potemkin Village” by someone with a reactionary history degree) you need some motivation. If you cannot make this happen within two years, you will not benefit from a future in the Foundation Politburo, you will not be granted a passport, and you will not be allowed to shop in party stores.


To continue the Cultural Revolution in Education we need to break the spirit of the reactionary teachers who insist that there might be value in teaching literary and philosophical classics, languages, culture, and what some describe as the “Humanities.” The Humanities are nothing but selfish, evil Bourgeois reaction that slows the creation of “21st Century Skills” acquisition. All else is pretense: we need 21st century workers and we need them ready for community colleges that will feed our factory dormitories with skilled workers.


We will achieve the global VAM (value added measurement) threshold in four years. Reactionary teachers all over the world will be pitted against each other and resistance will be crushed.


Until then, we need to “Clamp-down” harder (The Clash) to create fear so that the reactionary house of cards will fall very easily.


Strategic Plan:


Year One: Invite criticism from teacher’s unions and compile a list of members of teacher’s unions.


–selectively quote teacher union criticisms of revolutionary reform in revolutionary (corporate) media outlets


–target all union members in appearances on major talking heads show segments


–create “forums” at major universities, Chambers of Commerce, and civic organizations to explain the voluntary nature of all reform efforts


–instruct Red Guard (Teach for America) to receive ideological instruction at Foundation Politburo School


–hire Red Guard into the College Board, Pearson Education, Educational Testing Service, state and local superintendent jobs

–elect Red Guard into jobs on state school boards, into state legislatures and senates


–cozy Red Guard up to Congressmen and Senators, especially those who sit on Education and Budget Committees


–Red Guard will coordinate with ALEC to sponsor “parent trigger legislation” to create more charters and jobs for Red Guard


–pay for Red Guard as Education policy staff for all elected officials


–pay Red Guard to attack, spit on, and humiliate commenters to reactionary blog posts


–hire Red Guard as public and charter school administrators to attack the reactionary yellow dogs who speak of “democratic process,” “progressive education,” and “laboratories for democracy.”


–instruct Red Guard administrators to create intentional “hostile workplace” to intimidate reactionary teachers. All union members should see their files thicken and be exposed to frequent “shake-downs.” The older, more depressed teachers should be further intimidated by frequent negative observations and assessments. At assessment conferences, the sentence “we have viewed your e-mail messages over the past five years and we strongly encourage you to resign” should be shared at the end of negative evaluation.


–pay Red Guard Administrators a bonus for every experienced teacher who resigns or retires



Year Two: Learning from the New York Experience


–have state superintendents “cut” scores so that only those in impoverished neighborhood schools fail


–use “low student attendance” and “overcrowding” to close public schools in underserved areas. This is often a two-step process: close schools for low attendance, then consolidate to create overcrowding to justify opening more charters


–use sticks and carrots to coopt local and national political officials


–congressmen in suburban districts will be told: “if you go with the program we have campaign funds from potential investors for you, if not, you are political toast.”


–corporate leaders will speak often at meetings in well funded suburban districts to gain the support of upper income parents and opinion leaders


–have all revolutionary (corporate) media outlets supplied with talking points that repeat “higher standards,” “21st century skills,” “low test scores mean higher standards,” “voluntary,” “state driven,” “charters are innovative,” and “teachers are lazy reactionaries” every day.


–block all revolutionary media access to reactionaries


–pay for astroturf (disguised Red Guard) protests in favor of new charters at school board and city-council meetings



Year Three: Reeducation Camp: Rat Islands (The Aleutians)


–the Red Guard will be instructed to eliminate all complainers


–reactionaries will be deported to work camp


–reactionaries will be instructed to respect data and will be forced to write programs for educational video games for “Turn it Up” corporation


–Are you a reactionary?



Think about it!



The Friendly Foundation Politburo (Comrade Narrow)

Michelle Rhee argues that the PISA scores prove that America is failing its kids. She believes that the way to get higher test scores for all is higher standards, more tests, more rigor. She also promotes charters, vouchers, merit pay, and evaluation of teachers based on student test scores.

Rhee has a close personal association with the Common Core standards. David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core standards, was the treasurer of the original StudentsFirst board; other members included Jason Zimba, who wrote the Common Core math standards. The only other member of Rhee’s board worked for Coleman’s organization, Student Achievement Partners.

Rhee’s StudentsFirstNY group packed meetings in New York City to endorse Common Core testing and support the Regents’ agenda of rapid implementation of Common Core.

Only Common Core, Rhee argues, can lift our students’ performance on international tests.

Apparently she never read Tom Loveless’s article in which he demonstrated that the biggest test score differences are within states, not between states. Loveless concluded that Common Core would have little or no impact on student achievement.

Despite its recent gains on the 2013 NAEP, the District of Columbia is not a national model.

It remains the lowest performing urban district in the nation.

Its policy of test-and-punish-and-fire have produced a startlingly high attrition rate among teachers.

Churn is not good for schools or for children or for building a culture of collaboration.

Few of the principals hired by Rhee remain in the system.

The real story in D.C.: Thanks to Mayor Vincent Gray, D.C. started universal pre-K, and it is showing benefits in the early grades. A writer in the Washington Post called Gray’s work “a staggering achievement.”

As for the rest of the story, read this article that I wrote for Talking Points Memo.

It is hard to imagine that anyone would want to copy a system built on striking fear into the hearts of teachers and principals.

No successful corporation–large or small– operates in that manner. The best of our nation’s business companies boast of how they carefully select new hires, support them, and pamper them with perks to make them happy in their work.

Success in schooling grows from collaboration, love of learning, experienced teachers and principals, equitable and adequate funding, and leadership that holds itself accountable for its decisions.

Seth Sandronsky, a journalist in Sacramento, reports here on some extraordinary events in that city that should raise eyebrows. Maybe even some hackles.

Read Sandronsky to learn about State Senator Ron Calderon, his brother Thomas Calderon, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, ALEC, the Walton Family Foundation, Pearson, Connections Academy, the Sacramento Bee, and various other characters eager to reform our schools.

I would summarize, but this web is too tangled for me.

Since some readers had trouble opening the link, here is how the story begins:

Papering Over Public K-12 School Reform

By Seth Sandronsky

Private interests are busy paying for political favors from lawmakers at the state Capitol in California, writes Dan Morain, a columnist with The Sacramento Bee:
According to him, what we know about Sen. Ron Calderon, a pro-business Democrat representing Montebello, and snared in an FBI sting operation recently, is just the tip of the dollars-and-politics iceberg.

The good senator has ample company, Morain continues. He mentions other actors and forces in the fetid pay-to-play of California state politics.

Yet his column omits the donor role of a leading public K-12 school reform group under the state Capitol dome. What is going on?
Al Jazeera America’s Oct. 31 unveiling of an FBI affidavit that alleges Sen. Calderon’s multiple alleged wrongdoings includes his brother Thomas Calderon’s meeting with star education reformer Michelle Rhee’s lobbyists. Her StudentsFirst group operates from a national headquarters in Sacramento.

The affidavit alleges that StudentsFirst lobbyists met with Sen. Calderon’s brother on Feb. 20. On Feb. 21, Sen. Calderon introduced a teacher-reform measure, Senate Bill 441 that Rhee’s group supports:

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, Rhee’s husband and never a classroom teacher, backed Sen. Calderon’s SB 441, which failed to pass out of committee. The mayor’s education non-profit, Stand Up for Great Schools, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that accepts hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the big-box retailer, also supported SB 441, which teacher unions opposed.

As Trevor Aaronson of Al Jazeera America reports: “Ronald Calderon’s push for the education bill came after Rhee’s organization provided critical financial support to the political campaign of his nephew Ian Calderon. In May 2012, state records show, StudentsFirst funneled $378,196 through a political action committee to Ian Calderon’s successful campaign for the California Assembly”:

Rhee’s donation to Ian Calderon represents just over eight percent of StudentsFirst $4.6 million of donations to its 501(c)(4) nonprofit. That figure comes from its Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service, for the tax year ending July 31, 2011.
Operating in 34 states now, the IRS allows 501(c)(4) groups to engage in political activity such as lobbying: “Seeking legislation germane to the organization’s programs (as) a permissible means of attaining social welfare purposes.” Oh, and the donor names to StudentsFirst’s 501(c)(4) are secret.

One of the states where StudentsFirst operates is Tennessee. There, Rhee’s ex-husband, Kevin Huffman, is a GOP governor’s appointed state head of public schools.

StudentsFirst’s political donations have swayed lawmakers to evaluate teachers based on their pupils’ standardized test scores: This policy fits with American Legislative Exchange Council’s model legislation for education reform.

Back in the Golden State, SB 441 was a bid to amend the state Education Code. Accordingly, Sen. Calderon’s bill would have potentially changed the education of 6 million kids attending California’s public K-12 schools.

Comparing ALEC’s “Teacher Evaluations and Licensing Act,” part of its “Indiana Education Reform Package,” approved at the 2011 ALEC yearly meeting: ( “chapter 3″ of an omnibus bill) with Sen. Calderon’s SB 441, one sees similar phrases and words. As we know, ALEC is pushing forward across the U.S. with public K-12 school reform bills, using language that corporate lobbyists write and lawmakers vote on.

We turn to Connections Academy, a for-profit online learning enterprise that began in Houston, Texas. Once upon a time, this company co-led ALEC’s education task force.

Enter Pearson, Inc., a $7 billion publicly traded, global firm that profits shareholders through certifying teachers, grading standardized tests, publishing textbooks and providing digital curriculum on iPads. Pearson Connections in August 2011. Connections left ALEC soon after, said Brandon Pinette of Pearson in an email.

However, the state bills that Connections, the second largest online school company nationwide to K12 Inc., supported on ALEC’s education task force are still operative, said Rebekah Wilce, a researcher and reporter for the Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy. K12 Inc., the biggest cyber school firm and formerly owned by Kaplan, Inc., the giant test preparation company, remains a member of the ALEC education task force, according to her.

Meanwhile, The Sacramento Bee financially backs Mayor Johnson’s nonprofit St. HOPE (Helping Others Pursue Excellence ) Development Company: Johnson’s nonprofit, with help from the local school board and billionaire philanthropists such as Eli Broad, converted Sacramento High School to a nonunion charter school after pupils’ scores on high-stakes standardized tests fell in 2003.

Read the whole post, which is fascinating.

PS: Dan Morain, the columnist mentioned in first paragraph, was just named editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee.


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