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Michelle Rhee: Busy Helping Republican Politicians’ Causes

January 4, 2012

Michelle Rhee is dangerous to public school teachers, there is no doubt about that fact.  This piece in USAToday talks about Rhee’s influence with local politicians and how she is working to undermine teachers, their tenure, hiring and firing practices, and include even MORE testing in our students’ academic lives.

As I have written many times before, Rhee is no friend to teachers.

More than a year after she resigned as chancellor of Washington, D.C., Public Schools — and nine months after her successor asked D.C.’s inspector general to investigate high erasure rates on standardized tests during her tenure —Michelle Rhee remains as high-profile as ever.

Students First, her Sacramento-based advocacy non-profit, this year successfully lobbied state legislatures in Michigan and Nevada to overhaul teacher evaluations and end “Last In, First Out” policies that many activists abhor.

On a conference call Dec. 13 with supporters, Rhee said Students First would soon enroll its one-millionth member.

And really: What other education wonk finds noisy protesters picketing her speaking engagements?

If the simmering Washington test-erasure scandal is having any effect, it’s not immediately apparent.

Rhee, who stepped down after then-Mayor Adrian Fenty lost the September 2010 Democratic primary, has spent 2011 becoming a political force, lobbying statehouses and helping a handful of like-minded state lawmakers get elected.

In one case, she pushed — unsuccessfully — to help one Michigan lawmaker fight off a recall.

And Rhee says her non-profit’s 1 million members in 2012 will lobby for a re-authorization of No Child Left Behind that places even more emphasis, not less, on the results of standardized tests.

“She clearly understands, to a greater degree than other reformers, the struggle for sustained reform that primarily involves a political battle,” says Marc Lampkin, a Republican strategist and co-founder of Ed in ’08, an education advocacy group that was active during the 2008 presidential election.

Rhee has declined repeated requests to talk to USA TODAY, both during and after the reporting on its D.C. public schools erasures series.

But her spokesman, Hari Seguvan, says that in the past year, Students First and its members have helped pass 50 education measures in seven states, affecting 8.7 million children.

What resistance Rhee has encountered so far has come from educators and activists who already thought her anti-union, take-no-prisoners approach was wrongheaded.

“She represents an approach to reforming education that we think is really destructive and is not going to face the problems of public education,” says Lisa Guisbond of Citizens for Public Schools, a Boston-based public education advocacy group.

Along with a handful of others, Guisbond’s group arranged a boisterous demonstration in November when Rhee appeared at Boston’s Symphony Hall, where marchers carried signs that read, “Erasing Mistakes Doesn’t Put Children First.”

Seguvan says Rhee in the past year has made more than 150 public appearances, with protests in only two or three instances, including a noisy exchange during an Ohio speech and the appearance of placard-waving demonstrators outside a speech at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore.

Guisbond, a mother of two in Brookline, Mass., calls the Washington testing irregularities “Erasergate” and says the growing number of cheating scandals in 2011 is “starting to bubble up to people’s awareness, as it should. It’s starting to be connected to all these high-stakes testing policies, as it should.”

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