At the request of Governor Kasich, Michelle Rhee’s pro-charter school organization, Students First, will be presenting to members of Ohio’s House and Senate today during their respective Finance Committee meetings (9:00 & 3:00, respectively). While we might initially expect Rhee’s group to be talking to the education committee, the fact that they are discussing “Public Education Reform” clearly identifies the reason for their invitation to present — the next state budget and a school funding model (two years overdue…).
Rhee is best known as starting out in Teach for America before her meteoric rise as the darling of education reform when she overhauled the D.C. public schools before exiting amid a cheating scandal, leaving the district in tatters with her failed policies. Rhee is also well-known for her cross-country tour promoting the film Waiting for Superman, a movie centered around an “island of excellence” charter school that was help up as a model for what schools should be while avoiding significant discussions around all of the exceptions in practices that the school was allowed to implement and the funding it received from private sources to augment less than adequate public funds.
StudentsFirst is Michelle Rhee’s national lobbying and advocacy group that pushes for test-based teacher evaluation and expansion of school choice (as a replacement for the concept of public school support). The group has used its revenues to set up shop in 16 states, where it’s advancing legislation that abolishes or revises teacher tenure, opens the door for the creation of charter schools and parent trigger laws, which allow parents to take over management decisions at failing schools.
Rhee has been in Ohio before, working to support education deform through her support of Senate Bill 5 in 2011. According to a Huffington Post article from May 2011:
How much work StudentsFirst actually did on SB5 is not entirely clear. While Klaffky said he was tasked with putting language into the controversial bill, Hobson insisted that the group’s primary focus was on the budget, HB153. The reason SB5 was put on the lobbying disclosure, she said, was because Klaffky simply discussed the matter with StudentFirst officials.
That explanation, however, appeared to contradict local reports, which had Rhee personally asking Kasich to include performance pay for teachers in SB5. It also did little to win over critics of Rhee, who argued that the former chancellor’s willingness to work with the likes of the Ohio governor gave him the type of cover needed to make sweeping changes to the collective bargaining law. Adding amendments to the bill, the logic goes, inherently supports the bill.
“It now turns out that Michelle Rhee hired a close friend of the governor to lobby in favor of SB5,” said Piet van Lier, head of Policy Matters Ohio who has worked on education in Ohio and opposes SB5. “This bill would require merit pay and test-based evaluations for teachers, neither of which has solid research support as a way to improve schools.”
“SB 5 also dramatically weakens teachers’ rights to collective bargaining at traditional public schools and would prohibit charter school teachers from forming a union at all,” van Lier added. “Rhee’s support for this bill shows pretty clearly that she opposes collective bargaining for teachers.”
Rhee claims to speak for the Democratic Party on education while 90 of the 105 candidates backed with funding by StudentsFirst were Republicans, including many Tea Party enthusiasts and strong voucher supporters who wish to redirect funding away from the public school system and the majority of our students.
Such blatant acts of de-funding and education deform can be found hidden in the code words that StudentsFirst will undoubtedly use in today’s lame duck meetings in an attempt to obfuscate their financial goals and convince the Ohio legislature that shifting unlimited funding to vouchers and charter schools will be good for all and that “it’s for the children.” I challenge them to prove that their claims that districts do not have a focus on students already. The reality is that too much interference from these corporate special interest groups places absurd mandates upon schools that keep them jumping through so many hoops that focusing solely on children is often forced to take a back seat to bureaucratic red tape. As you’ll read in the policy statement excerpt below, Rhee’s organization presumes that student results and adult interests cannot co-exist on an equal plane, when the reality in the public schools in that the adult interests ARE the students and that if uninformed and misguided organizations like StudentsFirst and the Ohio General Assembly would simply get out of the way of professional educators and let them get back to their primary job of TEACHING instead of testing, then the number of hours of actual classroom instruction might increase by 20-50%.
StudentsFirst Policy Priority 3: Districts should use resources efficiently to ensure sustainable spending that puts students first. Districts should be managed through structures that ensure a focus on student results rather than adult interests.
StudentsFirst believes that district governance and funding decisions must be made through the prism of student learning and family empowerment rather than adult political and parochial interests. For too long schools have suffered as the result of misdirected accountability. All spending should tie to student achievement [i.e., test scores] and the structures in place should be directly accountable for the results.
StudentsFirst will support laws and policies that support smarter resource allocation and governance designed to consistently prioritize students and student learning above all other choices.
In today’s challenging fiscal climate [where private CEOs are still being paid obscene salaries and bonuses], states must consider the possibility that school districts long accustomed to budget growth must now learn to reallocate the resources they already have — in particular toward uses that effectively promote student learning and raise the standards of the teaching profession. But first, we need to examine the governmental structure in place to make these important decisions.
Outdated governance structures have long been exploited to serve the interests of adults above those of children. Far from providing expert guidance, local school boards are often obstacles to real reform and properly aligned spending priorities. Communities with failing schools deserve governance structures and budgeting policies that put students first.
Rhee is not a friend of public education, and her organization’s narrow focus, political double-speak, and implication that schools aren’t focusing on student learning make StudentsFirst an enemy of ALL education. The uninformed lies they spread about the focus of the adults are part of an intentional smear campaign against each and every professional who works in a school every day in an effort to best serve the children that enter the building.
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