In a blockbuster story at Salon.com, Jeff Bryant threads together the two key school “deformer” stories of the past week. Michelle Rhee’s star seems to be fading even as Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor who has turned herself into an opponent of job protections for teachers, seems to be rising as the darling of those intent on scapegoating school teachers.
Bryant writes: “For years, Michelle Rhee the former District of Columbia schools chancellor, has been upheld in the media as someone with the formula and fight required to ‘fix’ public schools. Others–okay, yours truly—have likened her more to an ‘education Ann Coulter,’ providing lots of attention-getting optics for a movement made up of rich and powerful people who press their belief that what ails public education most is ‘bad teachers.’ Supported by shadowy money and shaky science, these wealthy folks have created a ‘blame teachers first’ campaign that seeks to address education problems rooted in inequality and low investment by attacking teachers’ job protections and professional status. Their efforts are, of course, ‘for the children.'”
Summing up the ways Rhee’s impact and reputation seem to be fading, Bryant links to reports that show her organization, StudentsFirst, has proven to have neither the members nor the organizing clout Rhee has claimed. He reports that Rhee carries the stain of a likely, but not fully investigated and therefore unproven, scandal in Washington, DC, where it looks as though teachers and school administrators erased the answers on hundreds of students’ standardized test answer sheets and and corrected them. He describes Rhee’s boasts of rising scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress during her tenure in Washington, DC, and then reports that rising scores were about the same as those of her predecessors, that DC’s students’ NAEP scores overall continue to be relatively low, and that the test score gap between poor and wealthier students in Washington, DC widened during her tenure. Bryant concludes his summary of Rhee’s fade with the news from last week that Rhee’s national organization, StudentsFirst, has quietly closed a number of its statewide offices—first in Minnesota, followed by Florida, Maine, Indiana and Iowa.
At the same time according to Bryant, Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor, seems to be rising to prominence as the spokesperson for the same causes that have been championed by Rhee and StudentsFirst. Brown has launched the Partnership for Educational Justice to underwrite legal costs and a public relations campaign for a planned series of Vergara copycat lawsuits like the one in California, bankrolled by David Welch, a Silicon Valley multimillionaire who opposes teachers unions. The first of these copycat lawsuits was filed in New York last week. (This blog has covered the Vergara decision and Campbell Brown’s involvement in copycat lawsuits here, here, and here.
Bryant points to a strong convergence of interests between Michelle Rhee and Campbell Brown. Brown’s husband is Dan Senor, an investment banker on the board of StudentsFirst NY. Brown also seems to be connected with TNTP—formerly The New Teacher Project that was founded by none other than Michelle Rhee. Like Teach for America, TNTP runs alternative summer certification programs for college graduates who lack training in education. According to Bryant, “An analysis of the website associated with Brown’s effort to revamp teacher contracts has revealed that much of the site’s content appears to be written by TNTP without any attribution to the group…. Metadata from various documents included in the site list the author as Elizabeth Vidyarthi. Vidyarthi works for the TNTP communications department.”
Bryant concludes: “With Brown as the new figurehead of the Blame Teachers First campaign, proponents may feel that a fresh face on a stale product is all they need to win over acceptance of their unfounded ideas. Don’t buy it.” I urge you to read the material Bryant has compiled here. You may also want to read the additional article referenced below…
Addendum… more evidence to undermine the reputation of Michelle Rhee:
In a post just yesterday John Merrow, the reporter for the PBS News Hour, published another of his scathing pieces on Michelle Rhee. Merrow has criticized Rhee for covering up a cheating scandal while she was chancellor of the schools in Washington, D.C. In the new piece, Merrow charges: “Michelle Rhee is smart, talented, hard-working, charismatic and ambitious, but, in the public education arena she is a fraud. That this truth is not widely acknowledged is a tribute to the PR skills of Anita Dunn of SKDKnickerbocker.” “In just one year Michelle Rhee spent about $2 million to buy the public relations services of Anita Dunn and SKDKnickerbocker. It’s a continuing relationship that goes back to early in Rhee’s Chancellorship in Washington….” (Anita Dunn is the political strategist and public relations executive who served as the White House Communications Director in the first year of President Barack Obama’s first term. This blog has also noted, here, that Anita Dunn’s SKDKnickerbocker has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of public relations services for Eva Moskowitz and her New York Success Academy Charter Schools.)
In this post, Merrow shares the e-mail he wrote that was forwarded by the recipient and ultimately sent to StudentsFirst. A smear campaign was subsequently launched against Merrow in letters sent to Frontline, the News Hour, PBS, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Merrow was accused of misrepresenting facts, actively digging “dirt” on Michelle Rhee and making false allegations. Here, he writes, is the e-mail that provided what he calls “the slender thread” for the campaign designed by SKDKnickerbocker to destroy his reputation as a journalist:
“We are editing a powerful documentary about Michelle Rhee, the controversial educator who has become a national figure. After she left Washington, strong evidence of widespread cheating on standardized tests in roughly two-thirds of her schools emerged, along with a paper trail that indicates that the Chancellor declined to investigate the situation, despite being urged to do so by the official in charge of testing. When test security was eventually tightened—after three years—scores declined precipitously. In fact, at half of the schools with the highest erasure rates, where scores had jumped as much as 50%, achievement scores are now below where they were when the Chancellor took office.”
Merrow stands by every word of the statement and writes that he resents the three months he had to spend assembling the evidence to defend himself against the allegations and clear his reputation.