Archives for category: Rhee, Michelle

The world of rightwing corporate reform is ever-changing. It seems like only yesterday that Michelle Rhee announced her intention to challenge teachers’ unions, destroy tenure, and take away due process from teachers across the nation. She said she would raise $1 billion in a year and gather 1 million members for her new organization, which she called StudentsFirst, because (she said) teachers don’t care about students, only billionaires really care. She did raise some money–only $7 million or so, far from $1 billion–and she spent it trying to elect Tea Party Republicans and others who support charters and vouchers. Her organization turned into the public voice of anti-teacher, anti-public school activism. But in 2014, she stepped back from the national stage to help her husband Kevin Johnson, the Mayor of Sacramento (whom she married in 2011), and joined the board of Scott’s Miracle-Gro. She also assumed the chairmanship of her husband’s charter chain, St. Hope.


And now we learn that Michelle Rhee is folding the tents of StudentsFirst and merging it with 50CAN. The latter organization is funded by hedge fund managers and the Sackler family of Connecticut, whose fortune was made from pharmaceuticals, specifically the opiod drug Oxycontin, that is now causing so much addiction and death across the nation. Forbes says they are the 16th richest family in America. Jonathan Sackler’s daughter Madeleine made a documentary about Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain called “The Lottery.” It gave viewers the impression that these were the world’s most magical schools, and any child lucky enough to win the lottery would have a blessed life. Never having attended a public school, she bought into the myth that they are horrid places that one must escape from, and that charter schools are sort of like the private school she attended in Greenwich.


The leader of StudentsFirst is Jim Blew, who most recently worked for the Walton Family Foundation (e.g., Walmart money), which funds StudentsFirst, Teach for America, KIPP, and every organization that promotes the privatization of public education. Now Blew will head the California branch of StudentsFirst, whatever is left of it after the merger.


What a close and tight knit world the corporate reformers live in!




Last night I posted a story about new allegations of sexual molestation of minors by Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento, husband of Michelle Rhee, and former basketball superstar.


This story by an investigative reporter for an alternative weekly in Sacramento may be even more shocking, because the sexual allegations are not new. Why does this appear in a small alternative newspaper? The Sacramento Bee has been a reliable cheerleader for Mayor Johnson.


Cosmo Garvin of The Baffler describes in elaborate detail the way Johnson governed, with patronage, cronyism, a private email system that kept most governmental decisions secluded from public scrutiny, and money–lots of money–for those on the Johnson team.


Garvin writes:


He and his wife, Michelle Rhee—once the brightest star in the corporate-backed “education reform” movement—showed up at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. An adviser told Johnson’s hometown newspaper, the Sacramento Bee, that the couple was a “modern-day version of Bill and Hillary Clinton.” There was talk about a run for California governor or U.S. Senate.


At his peak, KJ was a figure to behold, an urban policy entrepreneur and brander-in-chief selling #Sacramento 3.0, a “world-class” city where kids would take Uber vehicles instead of buses to their charter schools, “never check out a library book,” and have “more smart devices than toothbrushes.”


In July 2014, Johnson rented the Sacramento Convention Center and threw himself a big party—a twenty-fifth-anniversary fundraising gala for St. Hope Academy. He raised $1.2 million at the event, largely from real estate developers and others with business before City Hall.


St. Hope is Mayor KJ’s charter school and development company. More than that, it’s his brand—the foundation of his own career in educational reform and politics. The keynote speaker at St. Hope’s silver jubilee was the NBA’s biggest-ever star, Michael Jordan, whom Johnson interviewed on stage, fittingly enough, about “developing your brand….”


By the fall of 2015, Johnson’s political career was effectively over. He was under scrutiny, again, for allegedly molesting a sixteen-year-old girl two decades before. And he was facing a new allegation of sexual misconduct; a city employee had filed a sexual harassment complaint. The City of Sacramento’s legal advisers warned Johnson not to hug or touch anyone at city events. So Johnson, deciding two terms in office were enough, announced that he will not seek reelection this November. His exit will coincide with the opening of the new arena, easily his most significant mayoral achievement.


Meanwhile, debt service on the bond-financed arena will reach about $18 million a year, draining money from the city treasury. Sacramento’s city finance department is warning that the city’s spending is already “unsustainable” and budget deficits are imminent. For now, however, Johnson is being credited with a dramatic makeover of the new arena district—where a decaying shopping mall had been before.


Aside from the arena, Johnson’s other legacy is something I call KJ Inc. It’s a particular way of doing public business, and it’s also a political machine: a blended network of nonprofit auxiliary organizations, political cronies, and paid city staff, powered by unlimited donations from downtown developers and corporate benefactors.


Last year, Johnson sued me for filing public records requests for city emails, part of an ongoing project to better understand KJ’s mingling of public resources with his private nonprofits. The suit appears intended to economically damage the small alternative weekly I write for—the only media outlet in town to write critically about Johnson’s arena deal, or his educational reform campaign, or his use of city resources for his private agenda. We’re still in court.


The lawsuit, the arena, KJ’s talent for diverting public resources for private gain, even the sex-creep stuff: to me, these facts seem to hang together under a common theme. The guy has boundary issues.


The mayor’s charitable vehicle is St. Hope, which runs charter schools. Johnson took over Sacramento High School and turned it into a charter. What had once been a comprehensive high school for 2,000 students became a school of 900, which required students to apply. Of course, test scores went up when the school was no longer open enrollment.


Garvin writes:


The flagship nonprofit of KJ Inc. is, of course, St. Hope. As mayor, Johnson has been able to leverage, from real estate and other local interests, about $3 million in donations to support the family business. The biggest donors include Sacramento’s biggest sprawl developer, Angelo Tsakopoulos; arena developer Mark Friedman and his family; and Kevin Nagle, part owner of the Sacramento Kings and majority owner of the Sacramento Republic soccer team. Nagle is also on the St. Hope board of directors. All these men have been big donors to Johnson’s election campaigns and to his strong-mayor ballot measure. But while they are limited by strict political campaign contribution limits, they can give unlimited amounts to Johnson’s nonprofits.


They, along with other business interests, also give heavily to Johnson’s Sacramento Public Policy Foundation (SPPF), which is more closely associated with Johnson’s job as mayor. SPPF collects donations from interested parties who want to curry favor with the mayor, and then distributes the cash to various policy initiatives under Johnson’s direction. For a time, these initiatives included an environmental brand called Greenwise Sacramento and an arts program called For Arts’ Sake. Neither of these groups ever did much, and both are now dead links on Johnson’s website.


The real project of SPPF is Johnson’s “Think Big” initiative, which the mayor advertises as a way to “promote transformative projects that catalyze job creation and economic development.” But Think Big would be more accurately described as a public relations shop for stadium subsidies, coordinated out of City Hall, with the labor of city employees.


The entanglement of public and private interests are by no means limited to Johnson. Other mayors have done the same, though so few adroitly.


This promiscuous mingling of public and private interests is now business as usual in Sacramento. Only rarely does it get Johnson in any trouble. In 2012 the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission fined Johnson $37,500 after learning that $3.5 million in behests to Johnson’s nonprofits from the Sacramento Kings and other donors had not been properly reported. Johnson called the nondisclosure a clerical error.


More typically, the operations of KJ Inc. go on with no public scrutiny at all. That’s especially true of Johnson’s use of City Hall to advance his brand of education reform, which seeks to roll back teacher protections and turn many more public schools into charters.


Johnson served on the board of the California Charter Schools Association. As president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Johnson pushed through pro-charter resolutions to speed the school privatization agenda on a national scale.


As it happens, the charter hustle is a Johnson family business. His (then future) wife and former St. Hope board member, Michelle Rhee, was hired by D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty as the first Chancellor of D.C. public schools in 2007. That year, the city passed reforms that took power away from D.C.’s elected school board and put control of the schools in the mayor’s office. This “mayoralization” of schools is a favorite KJ policy reform.


Mayor Johnson’s education reform organization is called Stand Up for Sacramento Schools, located in the same building as Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst offices.


Garvin says that “Stand Up for Sacramento Schools” does “next to nothing” for the public schools. It is funded by the Waltons and Eli Broad, to promote the corporate education reform agenda. It has showcased Teach for America, City Year, and multiple showings of “Waiting for ‘Superman.'” Last summer, it received $400,000 from the Walton Family Foundation.


It is mostly a political organization, leveraging the mayor’s office to promote Johnson’s ideological brand of educational reform, and to promote Johnson himself.


This prime directive is spelled out in a 2011 email from Johnson to a potential Stand Up recruit—cc’d to Johnson’s executive assistant, a city employee. KJ says a large part of Stand Up’s function is to support his efforts to “advocate for much-needed legislation around policies such as Race to the Top, ESEA [No Child Left Behind], and LIFO (‘last in, first out’).” LIFO is the practice of laying off teachers with less seniority, a policy much in vogue among educational reformers. Johnson also mentions Stand Up’s support for “parent trigger” laws in California, which enable parents to vote to turn neighborhood schools into charters.


Garvin goes on to describe how Johnson and his buddies managed to take over the troubled National Conference of Black Mayors, bankrupt it, and create a new organization led by–who else?–Kevin Johnson.


Mayor Johnson made a fine art of pay-to-play, as this paragraph shows:


In June 2014, Uber gave a $50,000 check to the AAMA. In August, Mayor Johnson penned an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle praising Uber as an exciting part of “Cities 3.0” and arguing against new regulations for such ride-share companies. In September, at the USCM fall meeting in Sacramento, Johnson held an entire session on the “sharing economy,” featuring Uber CEO Travis Kalanick as a speaker. Days before, the Sacramento Kings had announced that Uber was the official ride-sharing service of the Sacramento Kings.


There is more, much more.


One wonders, on reading this long and alarming story, where was law enforcement? Does California have ethics laws for public officials? Does no one care about the use of taxpayer dollars? Why was the Sacramento Bee quiescent? Were there no civic watchdogs?


In 2012, the University of Hawaii invited Michelle Rhee and Kevin Johnson to lecture on the subject of “Ethics in Education.” The video is posted here, if you are a glutton for more. 


Ironic that what finally ended Kevin Johnson’s ascent was not his public-private deals, not his financial transgressions, not his political machinations, but allegations of sexual abuse of children.







Michelle Rhee was a failure in D.C.: despite nearly nine years of Rhee-Henderson policy, it remains one of the nation’s lowest-scoring districts. Rhee created StudentsFirst, funneled money to hard-right a Republicans, then supposedly retired from the organization.


Like a robot programmed to demolish public education and teachers, StudentsFirst keeps moving along, doing what it was created to do. Now it is active in Alabama, spreading campaign cash to rightwing politicians. Read Larry Lee’s account of their Alabama activities.


Behind StudentsFirst lies a foundational lie. That lie is the claim that they know what should be done to improve education. Their example: Washington, DC.


Why does anyone listen to them?



The public schools of the District of Columbia began their era of radical “reform” in 2007. The City Council, desperate for a quick fix to the low test scores and bureaucratic dysfunction of the school system, believed the much-heralded claims of a “New York City miracle,” supposedly due to mayoral control. The D.C. Council adopted mayoral control, hoping for the same miracle. Hard-charging Mayor Adrian Fenty, acting on the advice of NYC Chancellor Joel Klein, hired Michelle Rhee to be the Chancellor of the D.C. school system in 2007.


Rhee became the national face of the new reform movement. She closed schools, despite community protests. She fired principals and teachers. She ridiculed anyone who spoke of poverty as making excuses. She negotiated a sweeping teacher evaluation system and made war with the teachers’ union. She appeared on the covers of both TIME and Newsweek. She even won plaudits from both Presidential candidates during one of their debates in 2008. According to TIME, Rhee had a plan to fix the D.C. schools. She even predicted she would make it the best urban district in the nation.


Rhee was a lightning rod for admirers and critics. In 2010, Mayor Fenty lost his bid for re-election; Rhee was the central issue. She resigned, and the new Mayor Vincent Gray appointed Rhee’s deputy Kaya Henderson, fearful of offending the powerful supporters of Rhee and her methods. Henderson pledged to continue Rhee’s initiatives, but with a less confrontational style.


So after eight years, how did D.C. students do on the new PARCC test? Recall that D.C. won a Race to the Top Grant and embraced the Common Core standards.


The results are in, and they are appalling.


“District of Columbia officials released results from a recent citywide elementary school exam Monday, and the scores are abysmal. Less than a quarter of students met expectations in either math or English.


“Among all eighth grade students who took the test, just 3 percent met expectations in math, while 8 percent of seventh graders met the math expectations, according to Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test results….


“Of all the D.C. public school students in grades three through eight who took the test, only 25 percent met English expectations, and just 21 percent are on the correct level in math achievement.


“Around half of individual elementary schools didn’t have a single student who exceeded expectations in math….


“In October the test results for high school students showed just one in 10 sophomores is on track to be prepared for college.


“The vast majority of city schools scored flat zeros in math preparedness, with the 10 percent average being largely propped up by two premiere magnet schools with rigorous admission standards.


“Kaya Henderson, chancellor of DC Public Schools, called the test results “sobering,” and called for more “strategic investments” in the city’s failing schools.”


G.F. Brandenburg, retired D.C. Teacher and lose observer of the District’s schools, says the combination of all-testing-all-the-time and putting half the students in unregulated charter schools was not successful.


Eight years of reform and what was accomplished? D.C. reforms cost many hundreds of millions of dollars. Many professionals were fired. There was little or no benefit to students. In Wendy Kopp’s last book, “A Chance to Make History,” she points to D.C. as an example of Teach for America’s ability to reform an entire district. That story line just dissolved.


Who will be held accountable? Who will really put students in the District of Columbia first? If any district can be considered a full-scale trial of the new punitive, competitive, business-style approach to education, it is the District of Columbia. How sad.





Read more:





ESPN had planned to release a documentary about the life of NBA basketball star and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson (who is married to the controversial Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the District of Columbia public schools). The documentary was supposed to be released on October 20. However, the sports network has canceled the release of the film. 

Tickets to tonight’s showcase of the documentary Down In The Valley in Sacramento, Calif., just got collectable. It may be the only public viewing the ESPN-produced film, about how Kevin Johnson saved the local NBA franchise, ever gets. Mere hours before showtime for the local premiere at a downtown theater, ESPN said that the movie has been pulled from the schedule of the network’s 30 for 30 series.

“We are re-evaluating the content presentation of it and delaying the premiere,” ESPN vice-president John Dahl said in an interview with SI’s Richard Deitsch. “I think the most important thing here is to make sure it’s clear that we are not tone deaf and we’re aware of a renewed focus on certain issues.”

The documentary was originally set to air on October 20. An ESPN source tells Deadspin that the Worldwide Leader has “decided to open up the film and take a look at where we may make some adjustments……”

Johnson, the former NBA star and now mayor of Sacramento, Calif., has been the subject of a recent series of stories about financial investigations and sexual abuse allegations that have trailed him from his playing days through his second term as the chief executive of his hometown.

The young woman who charged Kevin Johnson with sexual abuse many years ago has come forward to tell her story.

Johnson was a major basketball star at the time. He is now Mayor of Sacramento and is assumed to have ambitions to be Governor of California. He is married to Michelle Rhee, the controversial former Chancellor of the District of Columbia public schools.

The accuser was 15 at the time of the alleged incident. He was 29. She is now 36.

Koba [the accuser] says Johnson cut off contact, but eventually agreed to pay her $230,600—she received an initial payment of $59,000, nearly $92,000 went into a trust, while the rest went to legal fees, her mom, and medical costs to treat her mental health.
The agreement, she says, was signed by her and Johnson, and it’s in a safety deposit box in Arizona that can only be opened if she and his lawyer are there….

Koba says she spent the settlement on tuition and other things on one semester at University of San Francisco. She says she dropped out, saying she didn’t want to look back on her degree knowing Johnson’s money paid for it. She eventually got her degree from the University of Arizona.

Johnson’s office released a statement on Friday saying “These allegations are two decades old. They were thoroughly investigated and rejected by law enforcement and reported in the media. They weren’t true then, and they aren’t true now, period.”

The original story, with greater detail, was reported in Deadspin.

If it is untrue, Mayor Johnson should sue her for defamation. Or he could send his lawyer to open the safety deposit box to prove his innocence.

The Weekly Standard, a conservative publication, writes that Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento (husband of Michelle Rhee Johnson) is caught up in a growing number of scandals.

Despite little national coverage, scandals surrounding former NBA star and Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson have been intensifying over past few months. Monday’s report at Deadspin is a good place to start — things have gotten so bad that Johnson’s allies are accusing a local paper that’s done a lot of damning reporting on Johnson of racism.

As Deadspin notes, there’s “a variety of sexual, financial, and ethical improprieties” swirling around Johnson. Among other things, the mayor is suing — and being sued — by the National Conference of Black Mayors. And Johnson is also accused of using public money and resources for his own personal benefit involving work done for the National Basketball Players Association.

That last scandal is particulary interesting, because it mirrors accusations made against him in 2009, when he was accused of misusing federal grants meant for the Americorps program by Gerald Walpin, the inspector general of the Corporation for National and Community Service….
Mr. Walpin made a referral to the United States prosecutor in Sacramento, recommending that Mr. Johnson and Mr. Gonzalez face criminal charges and be banned from future contracts.

According to Walpin, the chairman of the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service, Alan Solomont, was a major Democratic fundraiser and was unhappy with his reports pointing out the misuse of federal money. Johnson was also said to be close to the Obamas, and shortly afterward the president abruptly fired Walpin from his job. The firing set off a flurry of inquiries from a bipartisan group of senators concerned that Walpin’s firing had been been politically motivated. There were also allegations that the U.S. attorney in Sacramento, Lawrence Brown, filed an ethics complaint against Walpin to help lift a ban on Johnson receiving federal funds as well as curry favor with the White House. Brown was seeking a presidential appointment to become United States attorney for the Eastern District of California.

Now Johnson remains mired in scandal six years later and is being accused of allegations of corruption very similar to what was first alleged by Walpin. And in the intervening years, the Obama administration has acquired quite the reputation for selectively enforcing laws against compromised allies and for the vigorous prosecution of political enemies on dubious grounds. Johnson’s current troubles certainly suggest that the president was wrong to fire Walpin, and are an unpleasant reminder of the Chicago-style politics that have come to define this administration’s questionable uses of political power.

Long-time readers of this blog know that we have had a more or less steady procession of trolls who have inhabited these precincts. They lurk. They come and go. Some are grumpy. Some argue; some take a thread and take it off point. Some are annoying. I leave them alone so long as they live within the rules of the blog (no insulting your host because you are in my living room, no cursing, no conspiracy-mongering, a basic level of civility—and no monopolizing the comments section).

I have never asked others who blog what they do with their trolls. I just play it by ear. On severe; occasions, I have banned them when they broke the rules. Sometimes I put them in a queue to moderate their comments before they are posted to make sure they don’t continue their bad behavior. I give them a warning before there are consequences. But I am generally very tolerant.

It turns out that there are people who actually study troll behavior and offer advice about how to deal with them. The New York Times recently published an article on “the epidemic of facelessness.” This is a phenomenon new to our age, in which people communicate without having face-to-face contact. Much online interaction is between complete strangers. Online interactions can sometimes allow people–in their anonymity–to unleash a level of rage and hostility that they would never express in a face-to-face encounter. Some people have received death threats or rape threats online from total strangers, which happens to be criminal activity.

Stephen Marche writes:

What do we do with the trolls? It is one of the questions of the age. There are those who argue that we have a social responsibility to confront them. Mary Beard, the British historian, not only confronted a troll who sent her misogynistic messages, she befriended him and ended up writing him letters of reference. One young video game reviewer, Alanah Pearce, sent Facebook messages to the mothers of young boys who had sent her rape threats. These stories have the flavor of the heroic, a resistance to an assumed condition: giving face to the faceless.

The more established wisdom about trolls, at this point, is to disengage. Obviously, in many cases, actual crimes are being committed, crimes that demand confrontation, by victims and by law enforcement officials, but in everyday digital life engaging with the trolls “is like trying to drown a vampire with your own blood,” as the comedian Andy Richter put it. Ironically, the Anonymous collective, a pioneer of facelessness, has offered more or less the same advice.

Rule 14 of their “Rules of the Internet” is, “Do not argue with trolls — it means that they win.

Rule 19 is, “The more you hate it the stronger it gets.”

Ultimately, neither solution — confrontation or avoidance — satisfies. Even if confrontation were the correct strategy, those who are hounded by trolls do not have the time to confront them. To leave the faceless to their facelessness is also unacceptable — why should they own the digital space simply because of the anonymity of their cruelty?

There is a third way, distinct from confrontation or avoidance: compassion. The original trolls, Scandinavian monsters who haunted the Vikings, inhabited graveyards or mountains, which is why adventurers would always run into them on the road or at night. They were dull. They possessed monstrous force but only a dim sense of the reality of others. They were mystical nature-forces that lived in the distant, dark places between human habitations. The problem of contemporary trolls is a subset of a larger crisis, which is itself a consequence of the transformation of our modes of communication. Trolls breed under the shadows of the bridges we build.

In a world without faces, compassion is a practice that requires discipline, even imagination. Social media seems so easy; the whole point of its pleasure is its sense of casual familiarity. But we need a new art of conversation for the new conversations we are having — and the first rule of that art must be to remember that we are talking to human beings: “Never say anything online that you wouldn’t say to somebody’s face.” But also: “Don’t listen to what people wouldn’t say to your face.”

Given the national reach of the blog, I won’t be inviting any trolls for dinner. But there is an important point here: face-to-face contact tends to dissipate the rage that anonymity and facelessness promote. There is no way to make that happen, unfortunately. So we should just bear with one another, listen to those who join with us to argue every last point, be patient, be civil, and don’t jump to judgment.

In the previous post, I recounted the various health issues I dealt with this past year, but I left out one. A few months ago, I learned that I had cataracts in both eyes. I had to have them operated on, one month apart, this summer (as Bette Davis supposedly said, growing old is not for sissies.)

I called around in search of a highly respected eye surgeon. With some trepidation and much hilarity (cue the nervous laughter), I settled on Dr. Michelle Rhee of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. She seemed very professional and skilled when I met her.

The first surgery is over. My left eye is healing well. Thank you, Dr. Rhee.

One of life’s little ironies.

Mercedes Schneider has some questions for Campbell Brown. Brown, who once worked for CNN, is now the face of the “reform” movement, at least the teacher-bashing wing of it. She has created an organization that filed a lawsuit opposing teacher tenure in Néw York. Her ostensible motive is to get sexual predators out of the classroom.

Schneider reviews the teachers’ contract in question and wonders whether Brown knows that it was negotiated by Joel Klein. She also wonders why Brown has been silent on the same issues regarding a certain mayor of a certain city in California.

Schneider is perplexed by Brown’s selective indignation. She cites the case of a Department of Education hire (not a member of the teachers’ union) who confessed to multiple charges of statutory rape. Brown’s silence is deafening. She quotes from Patrick Walsh, a teacher-blogger in Néw York City.