Archives for category: StudentsFirst

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.


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:
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.

Mercedes Schneider here analyzes the tax returns submitted by Michelle Rhee for her two organizations. One engages in political activities, and the other is an advocacy group.

Rhee gives generous contributions to those who seek the privatization of public education.

Schneider notes the close connection between Rhee and the creators of Common Core.

She concludes her review with these thoughts:

“In reading these tax documents, I cannot help but wonder if our democracy is such a farce that it will crumble beneath the weight of the wallets of the wealthy removed. I wonder what it will take for them to realize that they are foolishly destroying the foundation upon which they themselves stand. In their arrogant fiscal elevation they forget that even they require the foundational institutions that form our democracy– public education being one such institution…..

“Here’s a hint: When you hear that a candidate in a local election is being outspent by 10- or 20-to-1, vote for that candidate.”

No surprise: Sacramento gets new charter schools staffed by inexperienced Teach for America recruits, non-union, of course.

Michelle Rhee’s husband is mayor of Sacramento.

How many would choose a doctor or lawyer with five weeks of training? Raise your hand.

Lots of money from the anti-union Walton Family Foundation, as well as Gates and Broad.

Maybe the foundations think that it’s good enough for poor kids, not for their own.

As you may know, Michelle Rhee is holding three “teacher town halls” in which she and Steve Perry and George Parker talk to an audience who are allowed to submit questions.

George Parker was previously the head of the D.C. teachers union; he now works for Rhee.

Steve Perry, once a commentator for CNN, runs a magnet school in Hartford. Earlier this year in Minnesota, he spoke at a public forum and called unions “roaches” and accused teachers of being responsible for the “literal death” of children.

The first was held in Los Angeles, the second in Birmingham, and the third will be held in Philadelphia on September 16. (Ironically, I will be speaking in Philadelphia on the next night at the Free Library.)

G.F. Brandenburg, retired D.C. math teacher, explains here how the “teacher town halls” work.

Philadelphia is a great place to have a genuine conversation with teachers.

The governor cut the state education budget by $1 billion.

Thousands of teachers and other school staff were laid off last spring.

Many schools are opening without guidance counselors, social workers, teachers of the arts, basic supplies.

Teachers should try to attend Rhee’s “teacher town hall” and see what solutions the panel offers.

Joy Resmovits has posted an admiring article about David Coleman, architect of the Common Core standards and now head of the College Board.

It tells you much of what you need to know about the man whose ideas are reshaping what almost every public school students in the United States will know and be able to do.

Note that Coleman tried to be a teacher, he says, but didn’t get hired. And now he will direct almost every classroom in the nation!

Since he couldn’t be a teacher, he went to work for McKinsey, where Big Data is a religion.

Then he founded the “Grow Network,” a company that provided data analysis about assessments.

McGraw-Hill purchased the Grow Network, for what insiders say was $14 million.

Then Coleman founded Student Achievement Partners, which played the leading role in writing the Common Core standards, which received $6.5 million from the Gates Foundation for this work.

At the same time that he was writing the Common Core standards, Coleman was treasurer of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst in its first year of operation. The board had two other members: Jason Zimba, who wrote the Common Core math standards, and a third person who was an employee of David Coleman’s Student Achievement Partners.

Now, Coleman is reshaping the SAT and the AP tests to align with the Common Core.

Obviously, Coleman is an incredibly brilliant and well-educated man. He went to the very best universities. His parents were highly educated (his mother is president of Bennington College).

Since he has never been a teacher, what we must wonder about is his ability to understand that not all children will score over 700 on their SAT, no matter how hard they try. Not all children will go to Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. Not all children will go to Oxford.

We have a federal policy today that seems to have been written by people who got very high scores on their standardized tests and lack empathy for those who can’t do the same.

We remember Molly Ball as the writer for The Atlantic who tried to persuade us in 2012 that Michelle Rhee really truly is a liberal and was taking over the Democratic Party. Of course, since then, we have seen StudentsFirst make campaign contributions to rightwing Republicans and to a handful of Democrats who support vouchers. We even saw her select a Tennessee legislator who sponsored notorious anti-gay legislation (“Don’t Say Gay”) as “reformer of the year.”

Now the same Molly Ball has another article, also in The Atlantic, plaintively wondering why liberals “hate” Cory Booker. I don’t hate Cory Booker.

I don’t agree with his views on education, but I don’t hate him.

But education is the issue that is missing from Molly Ball’s article, except at the very end, when she acknowledges the reasons that liberals have a Cory Booker problem:

“Nonetheless, it seems clear Booker will not be riding to Washington on a wave of esteem from national progressives. Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and a former communications director for the New Jersey Democratic Party, said there’s still time for Booker to earn liberals’ esteem. “There’s a healthy skepticism, given his record of cozying up to Wall Street donors, defending corporations like Bain Capital, and supporting Michelle Rhee’s extreme school-privatization agenda,” Green said. “That said, there’s a real willingness to take a second look, given his airtight commitment to oppose any Grand Bargain that cuts Social Security benefits and his openness to actually increasing those benefits.” Booker, he said, would “earn a lot of goodwill” if he committed to the PCCC-backed proposal to expand those programs. For now, though, the skepticism remains.”

At least, Molly Ball is now willing to concede that Michelle Rhee has an “extreme school-privatization agenda,” which is not exactly representative of the Democratic party.

But she never acknowledges that Booker has views that are closely aligned with Rhee. He supports privatization via charters and vouchers. He was chair of the board of the Wall Street hedge-fund managers’ Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), which pushes for privatization and high-stakes testing. He brought Mark Zuckerberg to Newark and welcomed Teach for America, the Goldman Sachs’ construction of a special housing village for TFA, etc. etc.

Critics of Cory Booker don’t “hate” him. But they wonder why he hates public education and the people who teach in public schools.

Rightwing groups have targeted Tennessee as ripe for privatization on next year’s election.

Last election, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst pumped more than $200,000 into Tennessee races, mostly to Republicans but also to a pro-voucher Democratic legislator.

The pro-privatization groups Democrats for Education Reform and Stand on Children are also likely to add funding to candidates who oppose public education.

These groups want to solidify the control of far-right Governor Haslam and a legislature that is hostile to public schools and professional teachers.

Big corporate and rightwing money can be defeated by an informed public.


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