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[ 37 ] January 7, 2013 |

It’s useful that the bipartisan patina Michelle Rhee gave Students First has worn off and her organization is increasingly being shown for what is is–an anti-union Republican front group with an agenda to destroy teachers’ rights.

Rhee purported to be the face of a bipartisan movement to “transform education,” while simultaneously battling Democratic teachers unions and appearing chummy in photo ops with conservative Republican governors like Rick Scott (Fla.) or John Kasich (Ohio).

All the while, a small cadre of influential Democrats stood behind her, helping her craft messages on things like her positions on unions (that they are entitled to collective bargaining on salary issues), and trying to fend off attacks from the progressive community (one in particular thwacked her explicitly for her right-wing contacts). But in the last few months, these Democrats — including the group’s vice president of communications, Hari Sevugan, as first reported by education blogger Alexander Russo — have left the group, ceding control to a group of new hires, including president Kahlil Byrd.

Dmitri Mehlhorn, the group’s former CEO, has left to lead Bloomberg Law. Mike Phillips, who served as Rhee’s chief of staff for communications, took a leave of absence this fall to work on Sen. Chris Murphy’s (D-Conn.) campaign, but ultimately never rejoined. Tali Stein, a former Hillary Clinton fundraiser who led StudentsFirst’s development, left two months ago to focus on other projects. Ximena Hartsock, a Democratic lobbyist, also left.

“There were known to be some significant differences on political strategy and policy matters, especially in StudentsFirst’s approach toward unions and partisanship,” said a source close to the education reform community who declined to be named in order to preserve working relationships.

Byrd, a self-described Republican, once directed communications for Massachusetts Gov. Duvall Patrick’s (D) gubernatorial campaign. He brought with him several other new staffers, press secretary Ileana Wachtel and donor relations manager Kellen Arno.

Students First has also come out with its yearly report card on state education systems. As Doug Henwood points out, the grades have nothing to do with student performance and everything to do with how closely they hew to Rhee’s agenda.

StudentsFirst, the school “reform” outfit led by the notorious Michelle Rhee, is out with a state-by-state Report Card on the nation’s schools. Grades were awarded on the basis of states’ conformity to the standard reform agenda—ease of creating charter schools, ease of firing teachers, ease of hiring teachers who aren’t certified in the traditional fashion, and testing testing testing. In the past, there’s never been any evidence that this agenda actually improves educational outcomes—and this report is no exception. Despite Rhee’s love of testing, there’s no mention of how states that do well under her criteria do on standardized tests compared to those that score poorly. That’s no surprise, really, since states that get high grades from StudentsFirst do worse on tests than those that score poorly.

Henwood uses the term “bogosity” to describe Rhee. Quite appropriate.


Comments (37)

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  1. MAJeff says:

    So, Rhee’s “education reform” is basically a fraud. Who’s funding her grift?

  2. SP says:

    Florida and Louisiana are the top ranked schools in the “report card.” Yes, that Louisiana

  3. Speaking of which, I would keep my eyes on Frontline’s piece on Rhee that airs tomorrow.

  4. the grades have nothing to do with student performance and everything to do with how closely they hew to Rhee’s agenda.

    And they said irony was dead.

    One of the measures by which Rhee’s report card measures schools is whether they have defined-benefit pensions (bad) or 401ks (good). She’s not even pretending anymore.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      At least some Democrats are finally recognizing this and waking up to it.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I’ll be posting on this tomorrow. It’s just amazing.

    • SP says:

      Of course that makes sense- if teachers’ retirement accounts are tied to the performance of the stock market, they’ll have more incentive to teach their kids the fundamentals of the market economy so that in 20 years those children can help create wealth to drive up the market and ensure the teachers a comfortable retirement.
      My god, I just tried to write a parody that is probably in an education white paper at some conservative institute.

  5. cpinva says:

    ms. rhee has been a fraud all along, presented with a shiny patina. bob somerby had her number, when the DC school board originally hired her. it turns out that even a cursory inspection of her resume’, and a little digging, to see if known facts supported her claims, raised serious questions, that the school board didn’t bother to ask. they liked her aggressive, “get tough” approach, which turned out to be “get tough” on unionized teachers which, not surprisingly, had little, if any, impact on children learning. but my, how the republicans loved her! she’s just another education grifter.

  6. somethingblue says:

    Predictably, Yglesias finds “a lot to like” in the report card. Apparently the case for the excellence of Louisiana as an educational model has never before been made in such detail or with such care.

    • Linnaeus says:

      Yglesias’s rationale, that it’s a question of educational policy and not outcomes, isn’t very convincing. I thought outcomes was the whole issue that the “reform” crowd was trying to address. So outcomes don’t matter if the states aren’t doing what the “reformers” want, even if those outcomes are better than those in “pro-reform” states?

      • Barry says:

        You’ve nailed it; they don’t care about outcomes.

      • LeeEsq says:

        Yglesias is at his most annoying and wrong-headed when posting about education. Generally, I find the entire educational reform movement sickening and I loathe standardized testing. The tradtional American education system worked fine, it just needed a better and more fair source of funding than property taxes.

        Is there anyway we can bring back the ideas of Dewey into American society?

    • Yglesias is a perfect example of what going to an Ivy League school gets you, and that thing is not an education.

    • Walt says:

      Yglesias is generally terrible on education reform, but his point there is pretty banal. The report card can be taken as a prediction: if Louisiana schools improve, then the reform agenda is right. If it doesn’t (and really, it won’t), then the reform agenda is bullshit.

      • somethingblue says:

        Except that when it doesn’t you’ll look in vain for the Yglesias post acknowledging that.

        Rheeism cannot fail, it can only be failed.

      • L2P says:

        No, this is just more idiocy.

        Now we have two types of grades – one for “do we like their policy” and one for “is the school actually good.” That’s just ridiculously confusing. So now, when Florida schools fail, Rhee can say, yeah, they have an “F” in actual test scores, but they have an “B+” in policy (just look at those 401k plans!) so actually the schools are doing really well.

        It’s never good to have a bunch of different, confusing benchmarks to compare. This will just make someone like Kevin Drum throw up his hands in five years and say, “Well, at first glance it’s just Sooooo Confuuuuuusing to tell who’s right on this education policy thing! Maybe we should use Rhee’s benchmarks, or maybe we should use test scores! Let’s just not make those conservatives mad!”

        Christ, Yglesias is an idiot.

        • mojo says:

          Drum’s an ed reform skeptic at best and over the past few years has many posts on US test scores increasing, non performance of charters etc. His general even handedness should not be confused for support.

  7. joel hanes says:

    The agreed-upon everyday unit of bogosity is the microLenat

  8. Jeff R. says:

    I followed the link and read a couple of the reports. It’s also a lot of doublespeak. The metrics are “Elevate Teaching” (test teachers, make it easy to fire them, get rid of seniority); “Empower Parents” (school choice, charter schools); “Spend Wisely and Govern Well” (allow state to take over local school districts, 401(k) instead of defined benefit). My home state (Mass.) gets a D+ (D’s on the first two), yet its NAEP scores (FWIW, I know) are number 1 all around. Contra the Louisiana comment above, Massachusetts can only get worse (relaively speaking), so when it does, does this prove something? Or maybe we’ve been doing the right thing all along?

  9. DrDick says:

    The modern “education reform” (deform is more like it) has always only been about the corporatization (and ideally commercialization) of education. They are not interested in education, just profits.

  10. Eli Rabett says:

    So we got these high stakes reading and math tests that the students take and the teachers get graded on. Kid sitting in the back of the class, hates school, hates the teacher, loves taking the test. Right.

  11. apocalipstick says:

    The game was up when Rhee said that students told her what they wanted most in school was “high-quality teachers.’ What a carbuncle that was.

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