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Get the Teachers

Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington, DC’s public schools, who left under a cloud after the mayor who appointed her, Adrian Fenty, was defeated in a re-election bid in which Rhee’s contentious tenure was the main issue, is at it again.

Rhee, a shameless self-promoter who already stands accused of lying on her resume about her alleged success as a teacher of elementary students, and who continues to be the subject of a US Department of Education investigation into a test cheating scandal at D.C. schools during her tenure as chancellor, is now trying to lure progressives to support her campaign against unionized teachers by pretending to have the support of the popular petition-circulating organization Change.org.

In an email blast sent out to progressives on Tuesday, Rhee’s organization StudentsFirst.org, says:

Thank you for joining StudentsFirst by signing a petition on Change.org. I’d like to tell you a bit more about what we’re fighting for.

Every morning in America, as we send eager fourth graders off to school, ready to learn with their backpacks and lunch boxes, we are entrusting them to an education system that accepts the fact that only one in three of them can read at grade level.

But studies have shown that in just one year, students with an effective teacher are able to improve by one and a half grade levels. These effects are so significant that the “achievement gap” between low-income or minority students and their wealthier or white peers can effectively be erased by only three consecutive years of highly effective teachers.

It’s time we recognize the value of great teachers. At StudentsFirst, it’s our goal to make sure every child in America has a great teacher in every classroom. From improving teacher evaluations, to ending seniority-based teacher layoffs, to paying effective teachers higher salaries and bonuses, there are many ways we can elevate the teaching profession in this country to a level that reflects its importance and attracts talented individuals to join its ranks.

Recipients of this letter may not have ever signed a StudentsFirst.org-sponsored petition on the petition site Change.org. Nor will they likely know that Rhee’s organization was actually tossed off of Change.org following protests by teachers unions and education activists who pointed out to Change.org that Rhee and StudentsFirst had supported the anti-teachers union campaign of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, that Rhee had been on the transition team of equally anti-teachers union Gov. Rick Scott, and that she and her organization had contributed $70,000 to help another anti-teacher’s union politician, Rep. Paul Scott (R-MI), fight off a recall campaign.

As DC schools chancellor, Rhee fired hundreds of teachers and principals with no due process, promoted friends and lackeys to positions of responsibility and high pay, ignored parent opinions, fostered racist policies that favored white and asian over black  students at some wealthier schools, and, allegedly, oversaw what may have been an epic program of cheating on school assessment tests.  The Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General told me that its investigation into that testing scandal is still ongoing.

In June, Change.org, under intense pressure from labor and education activists, dropped StudentsFirst from its list of petition-circulating organizations.

Rhee’s email letter makes no mention of that expulsion.

The omission is all of a piece with her false resume claim to have had astonishing success at raising the test scores of her 8-year-old students as a young teacher, and to her claim to have had no knowledge of any problem with test scoring integrity while she was Chancellor. (Statistics professor emeritus Thomas Haladyna has said that there is a greater chance of winning the Powerball grand prize than of Washington DC students’ test scores showing so many corrected erasures purely by chance.

Given her documented history of self-promotion and deception, it would be more appropriate — and fairer to the public — if Rhee were to change the name of her organization to RheeFirst.org.

Dave Lindorff is a  founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He lives in Philadelphia.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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