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.