The Blog

Students or Billionaires First? Investigative Reporters Provide Answer

 

(Photo above) Michelle Rhee attacks teachers unions during a January 2012 “listening tour” of Sacramento.

Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the Washington D.C. schools, calls her organization “StudentsFirst,” but a new white paper by investigative reporters at the Center for Public Integrity suggests “Billionaires First” might be a more appropriate name.

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Sacramento educators protest outside StudentsFirst Headquarters

Protesting Students FirstAs part of the national “Raise Your Hand for Our Schools” a group of hale and hearty Sacramento-area educators braved the chill Monday afternoon to leaflet outside the offices of StudentsFirst, the lobbying and education reform group founded by divisive public education critic Michelle Rhee. Teachers called attention to proven education reforms like smaller class sizes and investing more in schools and community partnerships. Rhee’s proposed, unproven policies would weaken teachers’ ability to advocate for students. And since Rhee and StudentsFirst are determined to silence educators, it comes as no surprise that Rhee’s staffers called in the police to investigate the peaceful demonstration. 

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Rhee's Road Show Offers Nothing New

Last night StudentsFirst founder and self-proclaimed education reformer Michelle Rhee held the first of a series of nationwide “teacher town halls” in Los Angeles, in what Rhee describes as an effort to move beyond “the extreme rhetoric and personal attacks overshadowing what’s important: getting every child into a great school with great teachers.” Ironic given the extreme rhetoric and blaming of “bad” teachers and principals Rhee uses as the cornerstone of her "reform" ideas.

Rhee’s co-panelists last night were Dr. Steve Perry, founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet school, who uses what Rhee apparently considers un-extreme rhetoric when he refers to teachers unions as “roaches", and George Parker, the former Washington DC teachers union president who is now a paid Rhee staffer. As expected, last night’s event was very controlled. Audience questions were pre-screened on cards and Rhee and her co-panelists chewed up 90% of the speaking time. How is that a "town hall"?

The panel spent most of the evening talking about accountability and the need to get rid of bad teachers, and how unions were an obstacle to "real" reform. There was little if any discussion of supporting teachers or providing our public schools the resources they need.

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Senate Education Defeats Two Opposed Measures; Third Moves Over Educators’ Objections

At the urging of educators, the Senate Education Committee  on Wednesday again defeated two measures that would have respectively undermined effective teacher evaluations and undercut educators’ right to a fair hearing on misconduct allegations.  At the same time, despite educators’ objections, the panel approved an opposed measure that would privatize higher education online coursework.

All three bills were slated for “vote only” proceedings, but the author of one, Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello), offered some amendments and testimony aimed at moving his CTA-opposed  SB 441.

Continued objections by representatives of Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, CTA and other employee organizations led Senators to defeat the measure.  That action came despite extraordinary efforts by StudentsFirst – the so-called “education reform” group started by disgraced former Washington D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee – which brought dozens of witnesses to the Capitol in hopes of swaying lawmakers.

The defeat of SB 441, a flagship bill for StudentsFirst, is widely viewed as a rebuff to the organization, which has been reported to rely heavily on anti-union groups for funding.  Recent news reports have uncovered the fact StudentsFirst has received millions of dollars from the Walton family, founders of the non-union WalMart superstore chain.

The panel also defeated SB 531, by Sen. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale).  That bill would have rolled back  due-process protections for certificated faculty and eliminated the May 15 deadline for layoff notifications related to reductions in force.  The bill would also have let school boards ignore the rulings of impartial panels reviewing their personnel actions.

The panel’s approval of SB 520, the CTA-opposed higher education measure by Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), sends the online privatization measure to the  Senate Appropriations Committee.

Educators will seek to defeat the bill there.

 

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Capitol News: Rhee, StudentsFirst Launch More Attacks on Teachers, Public Schools

Legislators "Rhee-ject" CTA-opposed measure

A week after lawmakers soundly defeated two parent trigger bills supported by corporate reformer Michelle Rhee and her StudentsFirst organization, they were back at the state Capitol on April 24th.  This time, they were pressing legislators to undermine effective evaluations of educators and to eliminate experience as a key determinant of teacher quality.

On Wednesday in the Senate Education Committee, the disgraced former chancellor of Washington, D.C. schools and her staff members lobbied lawmakers to approve SB 441, a CTA-opposed evaluation measure by Sen. Ron Calderon (D- Montebello).

Calderon is pushing a bad teacher evaluation bill (SB 441) supported by StudentsFirst. We stopped it this week but Senator Calderon has asked for reconsideration of this bill on Wednesday, May 1 in the Senate Education Committee. This bill would negatively impact you and the students you teach.

Only YOU can kill this bill!  Please contact your senator and urge him/her to VOTE NO on SB 441. It's easy to do! Enroll in our text alert system: text CTA ACTION to 69866 and get the updates on legislation!  Sign up today and you will be alerted on SB 441.  The text alerts will connect you to your legislators automatically.

In a second battle in the Senate Education Committee, lawmakers refused to pass CTA-opposed SB 453 that would have given school management the right to lay off educators widthout reference to seniority. Sen. Bob Huff (R-Arcadia) was seeking to keep those educators who are "less costly" because their relative lack of experience places them lower on the salary schedule.

The Rhee forces tagged their bill LIFO – using an accounting term that refers to last-in, first-out profit/cost calculations.  The measure would have left students – many facing difficult hurdles – width less-experienced educators to help them.

SB 453 was a StudentFirst's flagship bill, one they have been pushing in many states and talking about in California for more than three years.

 

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CTA-Opposed Bills Gain May 1 Revote

CTA-opposed bills defeated in committee last week are up for reconsideration. Senate Education Committee on April 24 gave only four votes to CTA-opposed SB 441 (Calderon) and just two votes to SB 531 (Knight).  Both measures needed five votes to pass out of the committee.  But the authors requested and received permission for a “reconsideration,” which means the measures will come up for another vote in the same Senate Education Committee on May 1.

Generally, reconsideration is granted to an author as a courtesy, but the close 4-4 vote on SB 441 – and the pressure being exerted by Michelle Rhee, the disgraced former chancellor of the Washington D.C. school system, and her StudentsFirst organization -- means educators need to re-double efforts to contact senators to make sure the bill doesn’t get the votes to pass.

While Sen. Knight’s SB 531 garnered fewer votes (only two) last week, educators should remain vigilant.

Teachers and other school supporters are contacting members of Senate Education to make sure the bills do not get out of committee, even on a second try.

Members of the Senate Education Committee are:

Senator Carol Liu (Chair): (916) 651-4025 and (818) 409-0400 Senator Mark Wyland (Vice Chair): (916) 651-4038 and (949) 489-9838 Senator Marty Block: (916) 651-4039 and (619) 645-3133 Senator Lou Correa: (916) 651-4034 and (714) 558-4400 Senator Loni Hancock: (916) 651-4009 and (510) 286-1333 Senator Ben Hueso: (916) 651-4040 and (619) 409-7690 Senator Bob Huff: (916) 651-4029 and (714) 671-9474 Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson: (916) 651-4019 and (805) 965-0862 Senator Bill Monning: (916) 651-4017and (831) 425-0401

Briefly, here’s some information and links for more information about the two bills:

CTA-opposed SB 441 (Calderon) would require all permanent certificated educators to be evaluated every three years against four standards, including student test scores.  The measure fails to address weaknesses in the current evaluation systems and eliminates teachers’ voices in the process by removing evaluations from the scope of collective bargaining.  CTA believes in a comprehensive and effective evaluation system that helps practitioners get even better.  SB 441 fails to pass the test.  For more information, see SB 441 documents at cta.org.

SB 531 (Knight) – This bill would roll back the due-process protections for certificated faculty and eliminate the May 15 deadline for layoff notifications related to reductions in force.  Among its major provisions, the bill would make the outcome of an impartial commission’s investigation of charges simply advisory. That means the district can dismiss a teacher even if an impartial panel has found the charges to be widthout merit.  The measure includes other equally onerous provisions.

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“Rhee-jected”: Panel Refuses to Pass StudentsFirst-Supported Anti-experience Bill

StudentsFirst, the group started by Michelle Rhee, the disgraced former chancellor of Washington D.C. schools, came up against a harsh reality in the state Capitol Wednesday morning when the Senate Education Committee refused to approve its flagship legislation.

The panel gave just two votes to SB 453, a CTA-opposed measure by Sen. Bob Huff (R-Arcadia) that would allow districts to lay off their most experienced teachers when funding shortfalls result in personnel reductions.

Sen. Huff argued that the measure would eliminate what Rhee forces have termed “last in, first out” personnel layoff procedures.

CTA advocates and others opposing the bill testified that the measure would lead to the laying off of districts’ most experienced teachers and confuse reductions-in-force width issues relating to teacher evaluation.

For schools, the larger issue is securing adequate funding so that layoffs of any instructional personnel are not needed.

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Educators Urge Senate Education Committee to Reject SB 441 (Calderon)

Teacher-Opposed "Evaluation" Measure Would Undermine Educational Excellence Efforts

Educators are getting in touch width members of The Senate Education Committee to urge them to defeat a poorly conceived teacher evaluation bill on Wednesday, April 24.

Unlike a teacher-backed comprehensive approach that is needed to support teachers and improve student learning, SB 441 by Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) undermines the usefulness of an evaluation system by focusing on just four unproven measures of performance that the bill’s backers “assume” will boost teacher effectiveness.

By focusing on student test scores, the bill fails to  provide a comprehensive look at curriculum or student achievement and ignores the professional performance of teachers. The bill requires student test scores to be included in teacher evaluations—even if the data is unreliable or faulty.

SB 441 also eliminates collective bargaining from the teacher evaluation process. The bill aims to silence the voices of teachers in this important method of improving teaching. Teacher input into the local evaluation process is vitally important to improving the practice of teaching.

The measure is supported by Michelle Rhee—the disgraced former Chancellor of Washington, D.C. schools, who is involved in a scandal over allegedly rigged student test scores—and her StudentsFirst organization.  She and StudentsFirst are also seeking to undermine other important elements of due process and collective bargaining.

A quality evaluation system should serve to seek out, document and support good teaching in order to improve instruction and student learning. SB 441 will do nothing to improve the current evaluation process or provide useful feedback to educators, who are dedicated to improving their practice.

Readers interested in contacting Senate Education Committee members can do so by calling them.

Members of the Senate Education Committee are:

Senator Carol Liu (Chair): (916) 651-4025 and (818) 409-0400 Senator Mark Wyland (Vice Chair): (916) 651-4038 and (949) 489-9838 Senator Marty Block: (916) 651-4039 and (619) 645-3133 Senator Lou Correa: (916) 651-4034 and (714) 558-4400 Senator Loni Hancock: (916) 651-4009 and (510) 286-1333 Senator Ben Hueso: (916) 651-4040 and (619) 409-7690 Senator Bob Huff: (916) 651-4029 and (714) 671-9474 Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson: (916) 651-4019 and (805) 965-0862 Senator Bill Monning: (916) 651-4017and (831) 425-0401

Readers can also learn more about the issue by reviewing SB 441 Legislative Information and CTA's SB 441 Talking Points.

 

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State Democratic Party Slams "Corporate" Reformers, as Rhee Reels Under Cheating Accusations

Microsoft's Gates Recants His Support for Tying Student Test Scores to Teacher Evaluations

The California Democratic Party during its state convention this past weekend approved a resolution reaffirming its support for public education and hitting Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst and other "corporate reformers," whose ostensible efforts to help public education are being funded by wealthy corporate interests width anti-public school agendas.

The Democratic Party's resolution – passed unanimously – followed the release of a confidential memo that shows StudentsFirst founder Michelle Rhee was aware of and took no action on the widespread cheating scandal that rocked Washington, D.C., public schools while she served as chancellor.

That memo was uncovered by veteran education reporter John Merrow and has generated a lot of media attention. News stories have focused on the scandal and on the failure of Rhee's "reform" package, including her unproven assertions that student test scores are an effective measure of teaching quality.

Meanwhile, Microsoft founder Bill Gates reversed course earlier this month after a study he funded found that tying test scores to teacher evaluation does not improve teacher effectiveness. His letter in the Washington Post is worth the read, as is a Los Angeles Times editorial piece, LA Times: Gates' warning on test scores.

Read the latest from John Merrow: Who Created Michelle Rhee?

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Rhee ignored warnings of widespread cheating in DC

From Education Votes:

The release of a confidential memo showing that Michelle Rhee, StudentsFirst founder and CEO and former Chancellor of DC Public Schools, was made aware of widespread cheating on standardized tests as early as 2009 but made no attempt to discipline the cheaters, is prompting parents and educators to take a second look at public schools’ overreliance on standardized testing. While only a single teacher was let go for cheating, Rhee fired more than 600 teachers for low test scores, sending a strong message that her priority was higher test scores at any cost.
Read John Merrow's detailed coverage of the cheating scandal.

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