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Michelle Rhee Puts “Students First”

Michelle Rhee Puts “Students First”

As controversial Chancellor of Public Schools in Washington, DC, Michelle Rhee rocked the boat. She alienated teacher’s unions in asking them to accept a new kind of contract that would set aside automatic pay increases for the possibility of earning much higher salaries based on teacher effectiveness. She cut administrative costs. She got into the classroom to see how the changes were working. And when the 2010 elections rolled around, Rhee was swept out along with her biggest champion, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Now in Newsweek, Michelle Rhee has said that she “isn’t done with education reform.” She’s launching an advocacy organization to improve public schools and put “Students First,” because they’re not reading at grade level, math and science scores are consistently mediocre when compared with other countries, and the dropout rate is atrocious (especially in inner cities).

In the Newsweek piece, Rhee cops to many flaws in achieving results in DC schools: bad communication with parents and teachers, for one. “There is no good way to close a school” she said, especially in this difficult economic climate. But the focus should always stay on what children’s needs are first:

We need a new voice to change the balance of power in public education. Our mission is to defend and promote the interests of children so that America has the best education system in the world.

She points out that school textbook publishers, teachers’ unions, food vendors, and test/prep companies all wield a lot of lobbyist muscle in DC among lawmakers. But kids have no powerful lobbyists, except for what their time-starved and often cash-poor parents can muster.

Rhee also has a lot of critics. And it remains to be seen whether she’ll be able to cut through the red tape of education policy multiplied by 50 states, or stay free of the sway of Big Schools, which has vested interests in the status quo, just like Big Ag and Big Pharma. 
But for now, her message to parents and students that students should come first is welcome news to people who choose to support public schools and to people for whom there is no other option.

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Wikimedia Commons Public Domain, Photo Credit: Iris Harris - U.S. Department of Commerce.

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78 comments

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8:24PM PDT on Jun 20, 2011

Care2's "Emily V." sends me weekly emails promoting this astroturf group, and nobody in Care2 responds to my inquiries on whether they research the funding or political agenda of the groups they sponsor. The latest email subject was, " New York Can't Afford to Fire Great Teachers," Give me a break! Teachers in NY are fired for cause; they are layed off by seniority. This is as it should be. Students First has no magic way to determine educational effectiveness, but only how to determine which employees will be inexpensive and compliant - and amenable to privatizing public education - the primary goal of this "nonprofit." Tell Michelle Rhee to stop the bullshit. Tell Emily V to stop emailing dishonest propaganda.

10:40PM PDT on May 24, 2011

To support private religious schools.

10:38PM PDT on May 24, 2011

Please don't be fooled by this organization. Just today I got an email from Students First.org. The message was signed by Michelle Rhee, of Waiting For Superman fame, the movie that promoted public funding of charter and private schools as a fix for our education system, so I thought I’d better check them out. They advertise themselves as trying to help good teachers and students (with things like a link to ask that good teachers be paid well, etc.). But they are not trying to help our public schools or teachers and they go to great lengths to hide their real agenda. I went to their web site. You have to dig through a lot of links to find out what they are really about. Buried in the fine print, there it is, although even there they don’t come out and say it honestly. They are trying to promote charter schools and fund private and religious schools using tax money taken from public schools. The irony is they state that education is suffering from budget cuts and they want to take even more money from our schools. It's easy to click on their happy sounding links to contact lawmakers without knowing what this organization is really about. Wouldn’t hurt to spread the word, either, as this campaign looks deceptively like it’s trying to support public schools. They say they want to “transform public education.” The truth is they want to destroy it. They are funded by the DeVos family, leaders in the effort to destroy public schools and use taxes to su

11:21PM PDT on Mar 24, 2011

No more free stuff for liberals

7:43PM PST on Feb 7, 2011

These comments are mixed bag . I still wonder if genuine inroads re the goal - if so- I'm on board.

3:32AM PST on Dec 28, 2010

I firmly believe that most teachers care greatly about their students. Blaming teachers is a simplistic tactic that protects us from looking at the real issues of equality, access, and lack of expectation for some students in urban schools. Work with teachers for change and watch what happerns.

10:51PM PST on Dec 13, 2010

Go Girl! thanx :-)

6:22PM PST on Dec 11, 2010

Mary L, I understand what you are saying. But, truly they can't be in it for the money?

1:51PM PST on Dec 9, 2010

I agree with Mary L. and want to add that some teachers out there gave up caring a long time ago and are now just biding their time and collecting their paychecks. There needs to be an overhaul of the system, but it has to be done carefully and with a level head. It's also the fault of many of the teacher's either as they can only go so far with the resources allocated to them by the school boards, the district and the individual school. It's really a team effort, but there are some weak links that need to be addressed.

9:00PM PST on Dec 8, 2010

Kaye, I don't know when you were last in a school, but you might want to go back and see what happens in them now. You'd probably change your mind. Particularly if you go to a large city's "inner" schools.

You'll meet teachers who gave up caring long ago and ones who never did care.

Been there for years, happily out now.

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