Archives for category: StudentsFirst

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.

For months, school officials in many states have warned parents to expect proficiency rates on Common Core-aligned tests to plummet.

They have warned that the proportion of students rated proficient was likely to drop by as much as 30%.

When this happens, it will make public education in America look just as bad as the corporate reformers have been claiming.

When New York administered the first Common Core tests last spring, a copy of one fifth grade test was leaked to a Daily News reporter. She sent it to me and I studied it and concluded that the test questions were similar in difficulty to what was typically seen on an eighth grade NAEP test. I went to the NAEP website, looked at the released items and questions, and ranked the fifth grade test as “difficult” for an eighth grader.

Here is a report that I just received from the testing coordinator of a high-performing school in one of the best districts in New York:

“Just to let you know that because I am my school’s test coordinator I just looked at the scores for the ELA.  We are a “high achieving” school.  Last year only 5 students in grades 3, 4 and 5 got a level 1.  Now it is 32. Approximately 40% of our students scored levels 3 and 4 this year down from about 80% last year.  What does this mean?  Nothing because a test that measures skills that could not possibly be taught and is developmentally too hard is INVALID.”

So why the rush to make the tests so hard that more students will fail?

Rick Hess wrote last fall that many of the “reformers” believe that the terrible results (eagerly anticipated by them) will cause suburban parents to demand “reforms” and an escape from their neighborhood schools.

I can’t help but recall that David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core standards, was the treasurer of the board of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst in its first year. If the Common Core tests produce a collapse of proficiency rates, then it makes Rhee and her attacks on public schools look good. Will everyone run for the exits and demand charters and vouchers?

Sick thought, but inescapable.


Enron may have gone bankrupt, and its employees may have lost their life savings, but it left some people very rich.

Here EduShyster tells the story of Texas billionaire John Arnold. He is one of the lucky few who managed to walk away from the Enron debacle with more than $3 billion. Some former Enron execs are doing time. Not Arnold. You know he must be smart because he got out before the roof fell in, and the bottom fell out.

And how does he spend his vast wealth?

He does what canny investors do: he pours millions into the struggle to privatize American public education. He has given millions to KIPP, StudentsFirst, and TFA. And he has a special interest in making sure that teachers don’t have pensions.

Billionaires have a hard time understanding why anyone needs a pension. They don’t need pensions. Why should teachers get them?

Blogger Crooks & Liars asks why Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst is a nonprofit.

He writes: “If ever there was an organization that stands out as one that should never have been granted nonprofit status and doesn’t deserve to continue having it, it’s StudentsFirst. One look at their 2011 tax disclosures reveals a fat, political, ideological organization. StudentsFirst not only crosses the line, they stomp on it and erase it for their own benefit.”

Nonprofits are allowed to do some advocacy, but as I understand the tax law (let me be the first to say that only tax lawyers understand the tax law and even they sometimes need help figuring it out), nonprofits are not supposed to lobby directly for legislation. Or, maybe do it just a little bit. Or maybe pretend they are advocating but not lobbying.

The tax laws and tax code make no sense. if you view the universe of nonprofits actively lobbying for vouchers, charters, tax breaks, or seeking appropriations and earmarks for entrepreneurs, it makes no sense that they are classified as nonprofits. Some nonprofits lobby on behalf of for-profit corporations, which make handsome donations to the nonprofits.

In some quarters, what is called “reform” is driven by big money, not what is best for students. Yes, Virginia, there is an education industry, and it is like any other industry: it wants a return on its investments.

Arthur Goldstein reviews StudentsFirst’s charge that Mayor Bloomberg and his Department of Education were assigning poorly-rated teachers to high-minority schools.

It is mildly amusing to imagine that StudentsFirst and Mayor Bloomberg are adversaries, as Goldstein points out. They have a shared interest in demonizing teachers, demanding that they be held accountable for test scores, no matter what other factors are at work.

As Goldstein writes:

“I didn’t realize these schools were dispensing more U-ratings, but it’s fairly easy to guess why. For one thing, there is a direct correlation between low-SES and school closings. Schools with high percentages of high needs kids tend not to get high test scores and are therefore considered failing. It’s the school’s fault the kids have learning disabilities, and it’s the school’s fault the kids can’t speak English. No excuses. Just because the kid arrived from the Dominican Republic four days ago, that’s no reason he can’t write that essay about American history.”

In The New Republic, Jeff Guo writes about Michelle Rhee’s brazen attempt to buy the Tennessee legislature. In the last election cycle, she supported hard-right Republicans except for one Democtatic legislator who supports vouchers. This renegade also supported the notorious “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which sought to prevent teachers from discussing homosexuality. (Rhee’s StudentsFirst named the author of the “Don’t Say Gay” as its “Reformer of the Year.)

Guo tries hard to understand how a “reformer” parrots the same education agenda as the far right, ALEC, and others who despise public education and unions. He doesn’t get the connection among Rhee and other corporatist organizations like TFA and Stand on Children.

The grand deception: Using progressive rhetoric, even appropriating the language of the civil rights movement, to advance reactionary goals and privatize public education.

When Michelle Rhee announced on “Oprah” the creation of her group called “StudentsFirst,” she said she would raise $1 billion in one year.

Then she backtracked and said she would raise that amount in five years.

Joy Resmovits of Huffington Post got copies of the group’s tax forms (which are made public), and Rhee is far short of her goal.

“In the fiscal year starting August 1, 2011 and ending July 31, 2012, StudentsFirst raised $28.5 million, more than tripling its $7.6 million fundraising the previous year. During that period, the group’s political 501(c)(4) arm raised $15.6 million and spent $13.4 million. Rhee herself drew a salary of about $300,000.”

At the rate Rhee is raising money, it will take her more than 25 years to raise $1 billion.

A reader shared the following story about a student in Tennessee, where StudentsFirst named an outspoken anti-gay legislator as its “Reformer of the Year.”

“11-year old takes on Michelle Rhee and Students First over endorsing “Don’t Say Gay” lawmaker endorsement. “

“I am Marcel Neergaard, and I am 11 years old. This year I was homeschooled for sixth grade because of severe bullying. If I had gone back to public school, there is a great possibility that I would have taken my own life. That possibility would have grown if a certain bill introduced in my home state of Tennessee had passed into law. This bill was known as the “don’t say gay” bill. Though that bill never became a law, Oak Ridge’s own representative, John Ragan, introduced a new version of the Classroom Protection Act. It is the “don’t say gay” bill, just more homophobic. While he crafted this horrifying bill, he received an award. I wrote a petition to take a stand against this.”

Nicholas Lemann has written a powerful review of Michelle Rhee’s memoir, in which she calls herself “radical.” She is indeed radical. She wants to tear down public education, a basic democratic institution. That is very radical.

As Lemann points out, Rhee has reduced all the problems of American education to the very existence of unions. This can’t offer much hope to the many states where unions are weak or nonexistent. Who should those states blame since they don’t have unions to scapegoat?

Lemann notes that Rhee loves to portray herself as a victim, a woman of courage who stands up fearlessly to the rich and powerful. The reality, of course, is that Rhee is a tool of the rich and powerful.

An excerpt:

“Rhee is a major self-dramatizer. As naturally appealing to her as is the idea that more order, structure, discipline, and competition is the answer to all problems, even more appealing is the picture of herself as a righteously angry and fearless crusader who has the guts to stand up to entrenched power. She is always the little guy, and whoever she is fighting is always rich, powerful, and elite—and if, as her life progresses, her posse becomes Oprah Winfrey, Theodore Forstmann, and the Gates Foundation lined up against beleaguered school superintendents and presidents of union chapters, the irony of that situation has no tonal effect on her narrative. Again and again she gives us scenes of herself being warned that she cannot do what is plainly the right thing, because it is too risky, too difficult, too threatening to the unions, too likely to bring on horrific and unfair personal attacks—but the way she’s made, there’s nothing she can do but ignore the warnings and plow valiantly.”

Of course, she is ridiculous because she has collected tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions, from America’s richest people. Just days ago, she got $8 million from the far-right Walton Family Foundation.

The other point Leman makes is that Rhee has no evidence for her claims. She starts with her conclusions, then looks for “evidence.”

An excerpt:

“Rhee simply isn’t interested in reasoning forward from evidence to conclusions: conclusions are where she starts, which means that her book cannot be trusted as an analysis of what is wrong with public schools, when and why it went wrong, and what might improve the situation. The only topics worth discussing for Rhee are abolishing teacher tenure, establishing charter schools, and imposing pay-for-performance regimes based on student test scores. We are asked to understand these measures as the only possible means of addressing a crisis of decline that is existentially threatening the United States as a nation and denying civil rights to poor black people.”


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