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Rhee’s StudentsFirst expands to Missouri

May 2, 2012

StudentsFirst expands to Missouri.

The above linked article is from January of this year, but it is still very relevant to what is happening on the ground with Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst group.

Rhee is a financial juggernaut who is raising millions of dollars from Republicans and Democrats alike.  If you are a California teacher and you think we are safe out here on the “left-coast,” think again.  Rhee is married to the mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson, and she has been touring California trying to push her anti-teacher agenda.

We had a staff meeting at our school recently and our union representatives told us how our school district tried to slip Value-Added Measurement of teachers into the negotiations of our new contract.  I have written time and time again about the lack of validity of VAM, but that is not stopping local school boards and districts from trying to assess teachers based on student test scores.

Opposition to Rhee and the type of “reform” she is selling needs to be strong in order to combat the onslaught of money that she is generating.

Michelle Rhee

The education advocacy group founded by former Washington, D.C., Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee will set up shop in Missouri this winter seeking to help pass laws affecting public education.

StudentsFirst announced Wednesday that it will begin pushing for legislation in Jefferson City to further the organization’s mission — one that centers around school choice and accountability, rewarding teachers based on performance and eliminating wasteful school spending. The group’s plans include lobbying legislators and possibly giving financial support to certain candidates. The organization is in 11 states, according to its website, and recently added Iowa to the list.

“Missouri ought to be proud of its commitment to a strong public education system, but student achievement levels aren’t where they should be and learning gaps between groups of children, such as low-income kids and their wealthier peers, are too large,” wrote Tim Melton, vice president of legislative affairs for StudentsFirst, on the organization’s blog. “We can change this by enacting policies that truly put the needs of children ahead of any other interests in the system.”

While chancellor of the Washington school system from 2007 to 2010, Rhee received national attention for her data-driven approach of seeking to improve education. She drew controversy from teachers unions for opposing tenure and promoting charter schools. In the past year, the U.S. Department of Education began assisting in an investigation into whether gains at some schools occurred due to cheating on standardized tests.

Rhee founded StudentsFirst in late 2010 as a way to impact education on a national level by pushing for changes in state law. Last year, the organization advocated for more than 50 laws in seven states, including Florida, Michigan, New Jersey and Ohio.

Mary Armstrong, president of American Federation of Teachers Local 420, which represents St. Louis schoolteachers, said she’s mostly concerned about charter school expansion. The district already has a policy allowing for teacher merit pay — though it is unfunded by the Legislature — and is working with the district on a teacher evaluation system that considers gains in individual student’s test performance.

“There is no transparency with how money is spent at charter schools,” Armstrong said. And although charter school performance is improving, more than half of St. Louis charter schools performed worse than the school district last year. “Don’t try to cast dispersion on the public schools by saying we’re doing a failing job,” Armstrong added. “All you have to do is look at the test scores.”

StudentsFirst was invited to Missouri by a group of state legislators — Democrats and Republicans, according to the organization.

House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee Chairman Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, spoke to leaders of StudentsFirst about coming to Missouri in the fall.

“StudentsFirst has a very pragmatic and research-based approach to trying to reform education systems and trying to make them better,” Dieckhaus said. “There are a lot of organizations out there that represent the interest of teachers, school board members, administrators. We need more folks in the Capitol building that can truly speak on behalf of parents and students as their priority.”

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