Archives for category: StudentsFirst

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!

The Tennessee Mama Bears did some research. They wanted to know who was giving all those “likes” to the StudentsFirst Facebook page.

Here is what they found. It is hilarious. 

Check out the graphics.

 

STUDENTSFIRST’S “LIKES” ON FACE BOOK: PATHETIC POPULARITY CONTEST

03/18/2014
 
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Momma Bears has often wondered about the gullible people who fall for the StudentsFirst sales pitch.  StudentsFirst is an underhanded, astroturf organization funded by corporate billionaires (HERE and HERE).  How on earth do they have over 75,000 “likes” on Facebook?  The people commenting on their posts obviously don’t agree with them (read them when you need a laugh, it is pretty funny).  They rarely get any “likes” at all on their posts despite having 75,000 “members” on their facebook page.

Well, we found the answer…  those gullible people were really not people at all!!!   

StudentsFirst’s Facebook “likes” were bought from Bangladesh!!!   

Michelle Rhee is on a national vendetta against teachers. According to an investigation by a special unit of Al Jazeera, Rhee has poured large sums into a campaign to attack unions and teachers in California, using the services of a politically powerful lobbyist in Sacramento.

Since there is no research to support her campaign to destroy unions and to eliminate due process from teachers, her crusade is either an ego trip or payback for her failure to crush the teachers in DC.

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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.

 

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: http://www.sacbee.com/2013/11/13/5905448/dan-morain-the-investigation-into.html
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: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/13-14/bill/sen/sb_0401-0450/sb_441_cfa_20130423_084911_sen_comm.html

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”:

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/10/31/national-educationreformadvocatesoughtcalderonasinfluence.html

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: http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/tncode/ 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: http://www.alec.org/model-legislation/indiana-education-reform-package/ ( “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: http://www.sthope.org/fund-1.html. 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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