Archives for category: StudentsFirst

The New York Times has a fascinating article today about how a handful of very wealthy people invested in Andrew Cuomo and the Republican majority in the State Senate to gain control of public schools in Néw York City and state. The article says they want to continue former Mayor Bloomberg’s policies of closing public schools and replacing them with charter schools and tying teacher evaluations to test scores.

The leader of this effort, the story says, is former chancellor Joel Klein, who now works for rightwing media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Unmentioned is the undemocratic nature of this purchase of public policy. There was a mayoral election. Bill de Blasio won handily, after making clear his opposition to Bloomberg’s education policies. So, the reformers lost at the polls but used their money to nullify the voters’ choice.

This teacher blogger says that the worst line invented by the reformers‘ PR team is “It’s all about the kids,” which seems to imply that teachers don’t care about their students. Right up there among toxic and accusatory lines are “Students First” and “Students Matter.” I would add “Children First” as another insulting trope. Also “Stand for Children,” which critics call “Stand on Children.” All imply that teachers have been putting their own interests first, or they don’t think children matter.



Who really, truly cares about the kids? Not their teachers, not their parents, but billionaires, hedge-fund managers, entrepreneurs, politicians.



This insulting rhetoric trips lightly off the tongues of reformers, along with assertions of wanting “to save poor kids from failing schools” by closing their school and handing the kids over to privatizers.



“Raging Horse” saw this teacher-bashing reach the height of absurdity or the depths of slime in a statement made by Carmen Arroyo, a member of the New York State Assembly, defending Cuomo’s test-based teacher evaluation plan.



She said:



“Those teachers that [sic] are responsible and are doing their job, those teachers that [sic] sacrifice their families and themselves for the children they serve are going to be protected. Those that are not good, better get a job at McDonalds…..”



Raging Horse blogger writes:



“Any system that demands the sacrifice of a person’s family is deranged and any public official who demands such is unfit for public office. Any people who stand for such deserve what they get.”

AlterNet reports that StudentsFirst has found a new project. It is seeking people willing to flood social media with anti-union, anti-public school, “reform” views.


The new group is called “The Truth Campaign for Teachers.” The email that landed on AlterNet’s doorstep is targeted on New Mexico, but the writer assumes that other states may have the same campaign.


Here’s a copy of the email we received from a source who says it appeared over the summer:


The Truth Campaign for Teachers (TCT) is looking for:


·3-5 New Mexicans who are willing to blog at least twice/week on a variety of pro-reform issues


·3-5 New Mexicans who are willing to comment on/promote content on social media




Ideal candidate is passionate about education reform and is willing to be vocal about issues like the ones StudentsFirst supports.


·TCT would supply them with:


-Daily emails with suggested content and they would choose which topics to write on


-Before posts are final, a TCT write will provide feedback on post to form a compelling blog post


-(Help set up blog if person does not have one yet)


·Prefer that individual is willing to be named but we can work with anonymous bloggers as well


·Trying to get as many volunteers as possible


Politico had more on this new astroturf group, which is off to a slow start:


SEEDING THE FIELD: Eager to amplify voices in support of education reform, StudentsFirst has backed an initiative to nurture – and compensate – a new crop of online activists. The organization, founded by former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee, has been providing staff support and fundraising help to the Truth Campaign [ ], which publishes a blog highly critical of teachers unions. The Truth Campaign, in turn, urges supporters to get active promoting ed reform on social media. When they do, they can earn money from the campaign, though Recruitment Manager Drew Hazouri won’t say how much. He won’t say, either, where the group gets its funding – only that StudentsFirst has been supportive. “Our mission is to create voices,” Hazouri said. “We’re creating a community.”


– So far, Hazouri said he’s launched at least 10 online activists. None appears to have caught fire on social media – at least, not yet. Jonathan Piliser, a former Teach for America corps member, has posted thousands of tweets but has just 78 followers. Maggie Paynich, an Atlanta real estate agent, launched her blog [] with a flurry of posts but only had time for one so far in April. Still, the activists say they believe they’re making a difference. Piliser said he’s getting “several thousand hits a week” on his blog [, which in recent weeks has advocated for merit pay and in favor of the PARCC exams. No one tells him what to write, he said: “It’s my voice.” As for the stipend, neither Piliser or Paynich would discuss it, except to say that it’s not a full-time salary. “When I become important enough to have my salary posted publicly,” Paynich said, “then I guess you’ll know how much I make.”

Luke Brinker writes in Salon about “Michelle Rhee’s favorite wing nuts.” He says that StudentsFirst, flush with hedge fund cash, is spending freely on hard-right GOP candidates.

He writes:

“Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor and the longtime public face of the education “reform” movement, makes no secret of the fact that her nonprofit organization StudentsFirst backs Republican politicians. In 2012, the self-described Democrat’s group threw its support behind conservative candidates in state legislative races around the country, overlooking many GOPers’ extreme stances on issues like abortion and LGBT rights in its quest to elect candidates who subscribed to the group’s agenda of increasing the number of charter schools, weakening teachers’ unions and tenure protections, and reinforcing an approach to education that emphasizes high-stakes standardized testing. This year, Rhee is once again lending her organization’s financial might to a set of Republicans with hard-right views, as StudentsFirst aims to keep a Republican-led coalition in control of the New York state Senate.

“In its fight to keep the chamber in the GOP’s hands, StudentsFirst launched New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, a political action committee that quickly became the biggest spender on behalf of Republican Senate candidates. Among its most generous benefactors have been some of the hedge fund world’s boldface names; Daniel Loeb of Third Point LLC and Julian Robertson, formerly of Tiger Management, each ponied up $1 million, Elliot Management’s Paul Singer donated $500,000, and Louis Bacon of Moore Capital Management has also contributed to the group.

“Flush with Wall Street cash, New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany has lavished more than $1 million on ads for four right-wing state Senate candidates; the ads denounce higher taxes and public campaign financing and all but one cast New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a foe of the “reform” movement, in the role of left-wing bogeyman….” reported that StudentsFirst chose a staunch advocate of charters, vouchers, and privatization to replace Michelle Rhee. (As usual, the word “reformer” is a synonym for privatization and hostility to teachers’ rights):

“STUDENTSFIRST PICKS NEW PRESIDENT: Longtime education reformer Jim Blew has been selected by the StudentsFirst Board of Directors to serve as the group’s new president, replacing former D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Blew has served as an adviser to the Walton Family Foundation on a host of K-12 education reform issues and he has directed campaigns for the Alliance for School Choice and its predecessor, the American Education Reform Council. He steps in at an integral time for StudentsFirst – when news broke in mid-August that Rhee was stepping down, reform activists said [ she was leaving a trail of disappointment and disillusionment in her wake. Four years ago, Rhee pledged to raise $1 billion to transform education worldwide. But StudentsFirst has been hobbled by a high turnover rate. And activists said Rhee failed to build critical coalitions, instead alienating activists who should have been her allies with strategies they found imperious, uncompromising and even illogical.”

When will the media acknowledge that Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst is a rightwing group, not “liberal” or “Democratic”? When election time comes round, it reliably supports Republicans, who can be counted on to endorse school privatization and to undercut teachers and their unions (if they have one). Occasionally, StudentsFirst finds a Democrat who supports vouchers, but the overwhelming bulk of their money goes to Republicans, as in the current election in New York.

In 2012, while Rhee was still running the organization, 90 of the 105 candidates it endorsed were Republicans. This number included far-right conservatives in the Deep South. In 2013, StudentsFirst selected its “reformer of the year,” who was Tennessee Representative John Ragan, who was notorious for his “don’t say gay” legislation.

Liberal? No. Far-right, anti-union, anti-teacher, anti-public school. Willing to honor a stridently homophobic legislator. Sad.


PS: The New York Daily News reported that the $1.75 million was raised in one week from only 5 people. Two were named; they are hedge fund billionaire/millionaires.

Yesterday, we remarked on the candid remarks of the StudentsFirst executive director in Ohio, who said that most charters in his state “stink” and should be closed down. That was a hopeful sign that at some part of the reform movement might be willing to bend on its anti-teacher pro-privatization agenda.

But today we learn from Eclectablog in Michigan that StudentsFirst has fired an ex-state legislator who was recalled by voters. He is, says Eclectablog, known for his homophobic remarks. When he was recalled, he was chair of the House Education Committee, and StudentsFirst gave him a campaign contribution of $73,000.

Eclectablog writes:

“Given their long history together, it’s not too surprising that StudentsFirst, which spends much of its time attacking teachers, trying to destroy public schools, and promoting for-profit charter schools across the country, would hire Paul Scott. Because, hey, nothing says “students first” like hiring an extremist homophobe who rails about the evils of teaching children about contraception while impregnating an staffer to whom you aren’t married.”

Stephen Dyer has some amazing news in his excellent blog. I recently reposted his analysis of charter school performance in Ohio, which is mostly dismal. Nearly half the charters in the state earned a grade of F on their state report card.

Now he reports the following:

“StudentsFirst Ohio’s Executive Director Greg Harris has made some pretty important statements. Last year, he said in the Akron Beacon Journal that “a lot of times it has to do not with how well your school is performing, but how well your lobbyist is paid.”

“To hear a pro-charter organization say we need to get politics out of the argument and implore the legislature to stop pouring more money into bad charters was unheard of before last year.

“Harris was at it again this morning in the Columbus Dispatch. Here’s what he said:

“But the group will also warn parents against the slick advertising campaigns of bad charter operators.

“We think a lot of them (charters) need to be closed, because they’re not doing a good job,” Harris said. “We think charters have a role in the education base, but we also think most of the charters in Ohio stink…..”

“To hear that Ohio’s charters have serious quality issues is unheard of from Ohio’s charter school advocacy community, until now.

“I know Harris a bit, having worked with him while he was at Knowledge Works and since. He’s a good, sincere person who really does not like bad charters because he really believes in good ones. And while we differ on some major topics, on this we agree: Ohio’s Charters mostly stink, and the bad ones need to be shut down.”

This is good news. Will the Legislature and Governor Kasich listen?

Mercedes Schneider reviews Michelle Rhee’s time in office as chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools. She concludes that Rhee was a failure. She wanted principals and teachers to be accountable to her while she was accountable to no one.

Schneider concludes that Amanda Ripley’s adulatory TIME cover story about Rhee as the person who would “fix” D.C. Schools and show the rest of the nation what to do was the basis of Rhee’s rise to national prominence. Schneider challenges both Rhee’s record and Ripley’s undeserved praise.

Schneider ends by challenging Ripley to write another story ifor TIME about how Rhee failed to accomplish her goals in D.C. and as CEO of StudentsFirst. Time for a correction. Will Ripley do it?

Chris Roberts, a new teacher in Ohio, was attracted to the message of StudentsFirst. He was impressed by what he read and by “Waiting for Superman.” He joined and was invited to apply for their Teachers for Transformation Academy. He was offered a stipend of $5,000 to be StudentsFirst Teacher for Transformation Fellow in Ohio. But in his fourth year of teaching, he had an epiphany. He realized that StudentsFirst was wrong about everything that mattered to him as a teacher. He turned down their offer and the $5,000. And he wrote an eloquent letter to explain why.

This is a small part of a powerful letter:

“Now after four years in the classroom, my view of education has changed. Now, I am not so convinced that the StudentsFirst agenda is what is best for students. Those “older teachers” whom I felt didn’t deserve the seniority protections were actually some of the most helpful people I’ve ever come across. Their years of experience meant they had a wealth of classroom management advice to share. They weren’t stubborn curmudgeons as portrayed by those trying to “reform” education. They are some of the most caring, loving people I’ve known. Are there a couple of bad eggs every once in a while? Yes. But that is the case in any profession. You occasionally will find a bad doctor, hence malpractice suits. But instead of “reforming” the medical field and basing doctors’ evaluations on patients’ health, politicians instead push for tort reform to make it harder to sue doctors. I guess you could say that Republicans are pushing to protect bad doctors. One of the problems that I see with eliminating seniority protections boils down to money. Schools are strapped for money, it is nearly impossible to pass a levy and the state seems content with defunding. The more experienced teachers tend to be the most “expensive”. Despite their ratings and evaluations, I could see many schools getting rid of those teachers not because they perform poorly, but because it would be cheaper to bring in a new hire. Students could suffer from this.

“As a parent, I have a problem with the evaluation systems being pushed by StudentsFirst and other corporate-driven reformers. With teachers’ evaluations being based on progress on student test scores, that means students must be tested to an extent never seen before. In every single class, multiple times a year, students are taking more standardized tests. My six-year old daughter told me this summer that she was afraid to go to first grade “because of the tests”. She is afraid she won’t do well on them. That is pathetic. Children should be excited to go to school and learn, but school has become more about tests rather than learning. School is about getting a certain score on a certain test. Education policies are killing children’s natural curiosity and desire to learn. I can’t help but wonder if this is intentional. Are there certain people out there who want to destroy public schools through excessive testing, defunding, and unfunded mandates in order to make people “want” privatization of schools? It sometimes seems like it. Whether intentional or not, unfortunately StudentsFirst’s agenda aligns with this style of reform that we have been seeing take over the public education conversation. Although I believe in free market capitalism, I see that in the case of education the more private corporations get involved in education, the worse our schools get. There are large corporations making these tests, the politicians force these tests upon our schools, and the test companies also make the textbooks and curricula for the schools to follow. It is a terrible marriage of big business and big government and children are the ones taking a hit. Teachers are becoming scripted robots and these corporations are making billions from our tax dollars, which could instead be going towards improving our schools. I, for one, do not want my children subjected to so much testing.”


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