Archives for category: StudentsFirst

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.

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.)

Georgia has an important run-off for State Superintendent of Education in the Democratic Party on July 22. If you care about the future of public education in Georgia, please vote.

Valarie Wilson came in first in the primary, with 32% of the vote. The runner-up, Alisha Thomas Morgan, received 26%.

The Network for Public Education has endorsed Valarie Wilson, a strong supporter of public education. In reviewing her list of contributors, it appears that almost all of them live in Georgia. Wilson’s total contributions, after taking out loans, was $178,147. Of those, $174,572 came from supporters who live in Georgia; $3,575–or 2%-came from outside Georgia.

Valarie was elected to the local school board in Decatur in 2002 and served as its president from 2005-2011. She was elected president of the Georgia School Boards Association in 2012-13.

Her opponent, Alisha Thomas Morgan, has been endorsed by the corporate reformers, the hedge fund managers and billionaires, who support privatization, charters and vouchers.

On Morgan’s website, she boasts that she has been endorsed by the Wall Street hedge fund managers group, Democrats for Education Reform; by the voucher-loving American Federation for Children (Betsy DeVos of the Amway fortune, sister of Erik Prince of the infamous Blackwater security company); by Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst; by billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s daughter Emma Bloomberg; by billionaire Eli Broad; and by Frank Biden, brother of Joe Biden, who manages a for-profit charter corporation in Florida called Mavericks.

Most of Morgan’s funding comes from out-of-state donors. Morgan has collected $21,203 from citizens of Georgia. She has collected $70,675 from out-of-state donors.

Here is the list of outside donors to Morgan.

LastName FirstName Cash_Amount
Aluise Joseph 500
American Federation for Children Action Fund-Georgia PAC 3700
Arnold John 1500
Bender Benefits & Insurance 3000
Bing Jonathan 250
Blew James 500
Bloomberg Emma 500
Bloomberg Emma 500
Bloomberg Michael 3700
Bloomberg Michael 6300
Bradley Katherine 1000
Bradley Sean 200
Broad Eli 3700
Broad Eli 6300
Conforme Veronica 250
Cunningham Peter 200
Deane-Williams Barbara 150
DeLaski Kathleen 500
DeVos Jr. Richard & Elisabeth 6300
Dostart Steve 250
Dostart Steve 250
Duncan Damon 250
Elisa Louis 100
Elisa Louis 100
Ferguson Wilkie 250
Fields Jarett 75
Fisher John 1000
Francis Gregory 200
Fuller Howard 250
Fuller Howard 250
Gaal Michael 250
Gordon Scott 250
Groff Peter 250
Groff Peter 250
Hilton Adriel 100
Hilton Adriel 100
Holifield Johnathan 250
Huizenga J.C. 2500
Jackson-King Carolyn 150
Johnson Alex 250
K12 Management Inc. 2000
Kihn Paul 250
Kihn Paul 100
Kirtley John 3700
Ledre Jr. Reo 200
Leslie Kent 200
Lomax Michael 250
Martin Rayne 100
McGriff Deborah 250
Nellons-Paige Stephanie 500
payton jr tony 150
Peabody Malcolm 500
Powell Jobs Laurene 6300
Rees Nina 500
Revenaugh Martha 500
Ritchie Daniel 3000
Rudall David 250
Russell Jerome 500
Schilling John 150
The Alex’s Group LLC 150
Thiry Kent 4300
Thompson Elizabeth 100
Thompson Elizabeth 100
Tilson Whitney 250
Total 70675

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.

Gary Rubinstein wondered how the “reform” sector reacted to the two big events of the past two weeks: the Vergara decision and the Gates Foundation’s advice to suspend test-based evaluations for teachers for two years. Reformers like Arne Duncan, StudentsFirst, and The New Teacher Project were delighted by the Vergara decision, which strikes at job protections for veteran teachers (more openings for newbies). Teach for America was unusually silent.

But what about the Gates moratorium? He found some confusion among the usual cheerleaders for high-stakes testing. Again, Teach for America stayed out of the fray. Reformers split into two camps.

Gary writes:

“You’ve got Bill Gates, who is essentially the Secretary of Education in this country, saying to slow down on this. And you have StudentsFirstNY, though not yet StudentsFirst, saying that slowing down is a mistake. And maybe this is all for show, some good cops and some bad cops — as long as things continue to move in the ‘reform’ direction.

“But I do think that the fact that any ‘reformers’ support a slow down is a big deal. You see, if I were a ‘reformer’ and I had confidence in the golden calf known as value-added, I would be against the slow down. Since the concept of value-added is that if it was already accurate enough to be 35% or 50% (in Denver) for teacher evaluations, then the harder (more ‘rigorous’) Common Core exams would not make it any less accurate. This is the whole point of value-added. It shouldn’t matter, to a value-added believer, if the new tests are more difficult. Everyone is working under the same handicap so the value-added formulas should, in theory, account for that.”

Two years is about all the time left to Duncan. What happens next? Maybe by then even the politicians will realize that VAM is a failed idea.

EduShyster has figured out who were the real winners in the Vergara trial.

First, of course is the public relations firm behind Students Matter, which is now the go-to group for civil rights issues, just as if the Brown decision had a PR firm and was bankrolled by one wealthy guy. Then there are the lawyers, who will clean up as litigation to replicate Vergara moves from state to state. Also the Billionaires who love low-income children more than those who actually work with them every day. Lots of winners. Oh, yes, and students, although it is not so clear what they won.

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”

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!

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