Archives for category: StudentsFirst

Larry Lee reports here about the departure of StudentsFirst and the Black Alliance for Educational Options from Alabama.

They set up camp in Alabama to advocate for charters and vouchers. Not to advocate for children, but to advocate for alternatives to public schools.

They met with some success. The appeal of charters and vouchers in the Deep South is a restoration of segregation, while claiming it is “all about the children.”

They left. They packed their bags and went away. They had no roots in Alabama. They didn’t stay to advocate for the children.

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!

 

 

 

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 New York Times has a fascinating article today about how a handful of very wealthy people invested in Andrew Cuomo and the Republican majority in the State Senate to gain control of public schools in Néw York City and state. The article says they want to continue former Mayor Bloomberg’s policies of closing public schools and replacing them with charter schools and tying teacher evaluations to test scores.

The leader of this effort, the story says, is former chancellor Joel Klein, who now works for rightwing media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Unmentioned is the undemocratic nature of this purchase of public policy. There was a mayoral election. Bill de Blasio won handily, after making clear his opposition to Bloomberg’s education policies. So, the reformers lost at the polls but used their money to nullify the voters’ choice.

This teacher blogger says that the worst line invented by the reformers‘ PR team is “It’s all about the kids,” which seems to imply that teachers don’t care about their students. Right up there among toxic and accusatory lines are “Students First” and “Students Matter.” I would add “Children First” as another insulting trope. Also “Stand for Children,” which critics call “Stand on Children.” All imply that teachers have been putting their own interests first, or they don’t think children matter.

 

 

Who really, truly cares about the kids? Not their teachers, not their parents, but billionaires, hedge-fund managers, entrepreneurs, politicians.

 

 

This insulting rhetoric trips lightly off the tongues of reformers, along with assertions of wanting “to save poor kids from failing schools” by closing their school and handing the kids over to privatizers.

 

 

“Raging Horse” saw this teacher-bashing reach the height of absurdity or the depths of slime in a statement made by Carmen Arroyo, a member of the New York State Assembly, defending Cuomo’s test-based teacher evaluation plan.

 

 

She said:

 

 

“Those teachers that [sic] are responsible and are doing their job, those teachers that [sic] sacrifice their families and themselves for the children they serve are going to be protected. Those that are not good, better get a job at McDonalds…..”

 

 

Raging Horse blogger writes:

 

 

“Any system that demands the sacrifice of a person’s family is deranged and any public official who demands such is unfit for public office. Any people who stand for such deserve what they get.”

AlterNet reports that StudentsFirst has found a new project. It is seeking people willing to flood social media with anti-union, anti-public school, “reform” views.

 

The new group is called “The Truth Campaign for Teachers.” The email that landed on AlterNet’s doorstep is targeted on New Mexico, but the writer assumes that other states may have the same campaign.

 

Here’s a copy of the email we received from a source who says it appeared over the summer:

 

The Truth Campaign for Teachers (TCT) is looking for:

 

·3-5 New Mexicans who are willing to blog at least twice/week on a variety of pro-reform issues

 

·3-5 New Mexicans who are willing to comment on/promote content on social media

 

Bloggers

 

Ideal candidate is passionate about education reform and is willing to be vocal about issues like the ones StudentsFirst supports.

 

·TCT would supply them with:

 

-Daily emails with suggested content and they would choose which topics to write on

 

-Before posts are final, a TCT write will provide feedback on post to form a compelling blog post

 

-(Help set up blog if person does not have one yet)

 

·Prefer that individual is willing to be named but we can work with anonymous bloggers as well

 

·Trying to get as many volunteers as possible

 

Politico had more on this new astroturf group, which is off to a slow start:

 

SEEDING THE FIELD: Eager to amplify voices in support of education reform, StudentsFirst has backed an initiative to nurture – and compensate – a new crop of online activists. The organization, founded by former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee, has been providing staff support and fundraising help to the Truth Campaign [http://bit.ly/19xK15c ], which publishes a blog highly critical of teachers unions. The Truth Campaign, in turn, urges supporters to get active promoting ed reform on social media. When they do, they can earn money from the campaign, though Recruitment Manager Drew Hazouri won’t say how much. He won’t say, either, where the group gets its funding – only that StudentsFirst has been supportive. “Our mission is to create voices,” Hazouri said. “We’re creating a community.”

 

– So far, Hazouri said he’s launched at least 10 online activists. None appears to have caught fire on social media – at least, not yet. Jonathan Piliser, a former Teach for America corps member, has posted thousands of tweets but has just 78 followers. Maggie Paynich, an Atlanta real estate agent, launched her blog [http://bit.ly/1CIgLUI] with a flurry of posts but only had time for one so far in April. Still, the activists say they believe they’re making a difference. Piliser said he’s getting “several thousand hits a week” on his blog [ http://bit.ly/1afbWI0%5D, which in recent weeks has advocated for merit pay and in favor of the PARCC exams. No one tells him what to write, he said: “It’s my voice.” As for the stipend, neither Piliser or Paynich would discuss it, except to say that it’s not a full-time salary. “When I become important enough to have my salary posted publicly,” Paynich said, “then I guess you’ll know how much I make.”

Luke Brinker writes in Salon about “Michelle Rhee’s favorite wing nuts.” He says that StudentsFirst, flush with hedge fund cash, is spending freely on hard-right GOP candidates.

He writes:

“Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor and the longtime public face of the education “reform” movement, makes no secret of the fact that her nonprofit organization StudentsFirst backs Republican politicians. In 2012, the self-described Democrat’s group threw its support behind conservative candidates in state legislative races around the country, overlooking many GOPers’ extreme stances on issues like abortion and LGBT rights in its quest to elect candidates who subscribed to the group’s agenda of increasing the number of charter schools, weakening teachers’ unions and tenure protections, and reinforcing an approach to education that emphasizes high-stakes standardized testing. This year, Rhee is once again lending her organization’s financial might to a set of Republicans with hard-right views, as StudentsFirst aims to keep a Republican-led coalition in control of the New York state Senate.

“In its fight to keep the chamber in the GOP’s hands, StudentsFirst launched New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, a political action committee that quickly became the biggest spender on behalf of Republican Senate candidates. Among its most generous benefactors have been some of the hedge fund world’s boldface names; Daniel Loeb of Third Point LLC and Julian Robertson, formerly of Tiger Management, each ponied up $1 million, Elliot Management’s Paul Singer donated $500,000, and Louis Bacon of Moore Capital Management has also contributed to the group.

“Flush with Wall Street cash, New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany has lavished more than $1 million on ads for four right-wing state Senate candidates; the ads denounce higher taxes and public campaign financing and all but one cast New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a foe of the “reform” movement, in the role of left-wing bogeyman….”

Politico.com reported that StudentsFirst chose a staunch advocate of charters, vouchers, and privatization to replace Michelle Rhee. (As usual, the word “reformer” is a synonym for privatization and hostility to teachers’ rights):

“STUDENTSFIRST PICKS NEW PRESIDENT: Longtime education reformer Jim Blew has been selected by the StudentsFirst Board of Directors to serve as the group’s new president, replacing former D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Blew has served as an adviser to the Walton Family Foundation on a host of K-12 education reform issues and he has directed campaigns for the Alliance for School Choice and its predecessor, the American Education Reform Council. He steps in at an integral time for StudentsFirst – when news broke in mid-August that Rhee was stepping down, reform activists said [ http://politico.pro/1rt7Uh8%5D she was leaving a trail of disappointment and disillusionment in her wake. Four years ago, Rhee pledged to raise $1 billion to transform education worldwide. But StudentsFirst has been hobbled by a high turnover rate. And activists said Rhee failed to build critical coalitions, instead alienating activists who should have been her allies with strategies they found imperious, uncompromising and even illogical.”

When will the media acknowledge that Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst is a rightwing group, not “liberal” or “Democratic”? When election time comes round, it reliably supports Republicans, who can be counted on to endorse school privatization and to undercut teachers and their unions (if they have one). Occasionally, StudentsFirst finds a Democrat who supports vouchers, but the overwhelming bulk of their money goes to Republicans, as in the current election in New York.

In 2012, while Rhee was still running the organization, 90 of the 105 candidates it endorsed were Republicans. This number included far-right conservatives in the Deep South. In 2013, StudentsFirst selected its “reformer of the year,” who was Tennessee Representative John Ragan, who was notorious for his “don’t say gay” legislation.

Liberal? No. Far-right, anti-union, anti-teacher, anti-public school. Willing to honor a stridently homophobic legislator. Sad.

 

PS: The New York Daily News reported that the $1.75 million was raised in one week from only 5 people. Two were named; they are hedge fund billionaire/millionaires.

Yesterday, we remarked on the candid remarks of the StudentsFirst executive director in Ohio, who said that most charters in his state “stink” and should be closed down. That was a hopeful sign that at some part of the reform movement might be willing to bend on its anti-teacher pro-privatization agenda.

But today we learn from Eclectablog in Michigan that StudentsFirst has fired an ex-state legislator who was recalled by voters. He is, says Eclectablog, known for his homophobic remarks. When he was recalled, he was chair of the House Education Committee, and StudentsFirst gave him a campaign contribution of $73,000.

Eclectablog writes:

“Given their long history together, it’s not too surprising that StudentsFirst, which spends much of its time attacking teachers, trying to destroy public schools, and promoting for-profit charter schools across the country, would hire Paul Scott. Because, hey, nothing says “students first” like hiring an extremist homophobe who rails about the evils of teaching children about contraception while impregnating an staffer to whom you aren’t married.”

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