Michelle Rhee on the Move: Big Media Blitz, Changes at the Top

Ann Kane
Ever since President Obama's endorsement of her in 2008, Michelle Rhee has been upending the public school system, pushing for more federal and less local control.  Now, she and her group have embarked on a broad media marketing blitz.

A January 8 Frontline documentary, The Education of Michelle Rhee, profiled Rhee's years as D.C. chancellor of schools, and her second book, Radical: Fighting to Put Students First will be released in February.  Also, StudentsFirst recently put out a report which graded all the states based on their education policies.  All of this activity as well as the exit of top personnel signals a new face for the policy organization.

Frontline's promo -- "As Rhee returns to the national stage, FRONTLINE examines her legacy in Washington, DC" -- made me wonder what Rhee's future plans are.  She's never actually left the national stage, so this doesn't make sense unless she's headed for something bigger and more high-profile than being the CEO of StudentsFirst.

The show didn't reveal anything new about Rhee, except that it included an interview with the principal of the school at the center of the cheating scandal, Noyes Education Campus.  Adell Cothorne came on board in 2008, after high numbers of erasures on standardized testing raised a red flag regarding the incredible increases in academic performance under the previous administrator, Wayne Ryan.  An investigation ensued, but Cothorne claims that no one, including Rhee, wanted to hear her damaging testimony at the time and that the D.C. CAS scores at Noyes "dropped 30 percent the year that I was there."

With all the whitewashing that went on during Rhee's tenure (and thereafter), no wonder John Merrow, the show's correspondent, concluded that "the public schools in Washington are still among the worst in the nation and D.C.'s high school graduation rate is dead last."

Michelle Rhee's modus operandi of jack-booting teachers, principals, and anyone else who gets in her way is all for show.  The very data she so heavily endorses and depends on to make tough decisions in hiring and firing apparently means nothing when it comes to moving the needle on the "equality gap" inside inner-city classrooms.

So when StudentsFirst issued its merciless "report card" on states' policies, why should anyone believe what it says?  Yet the press promotes the group as though they are experts when it comes to education reform.

The two highest-ranking states were Florida and Louisiana - each with a B-minus. Alabama, California, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming all flunked, according to StudentsFirst. They were given F's.

Who even asked Rhee to weigh in? Well, if we tweak Alinsky a little -- it's not the power you have; it's the power they think you have -- when someone without the data to prove it acts like she's in charge, then everyone will think she's in charge, right?

Now, several staff members at StudentsFirst have left the lobbying group and gone on to other venues.  The new president of the operation is Khalil Byrd, former CEO of a Third Way organization called Americans Elect -- the "secretive faux grassroots political action committee" set up in 2010 to create an online nominating system for presidential elections.  Byrd professes to be Republican, but he has worked for Democrats Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and now Michelle Rhee.

With new questionable leadership at StudentsFirst and Rhee embarking on another national media campaign to promote her brand, it looks like the self-described "change agent" never stops moving forward.

Read more Ann Kane at Potter Williams Report.

Ever since President Obama's endorsement of her in 2008, Michelle Rhee has been upending the public school system, pushing for more federal and less local control.  Now, she and her group have embarked on a broad media marketing blitz.

A January 8 Frontline documentary, The Education of Michelle Rhee, profiled Rhee's years as D.C. chancellor of schools, and her second book, Radical: Fighting to Put Students First will be released in February.  Also, StudentsFirst recently put out a report which graded all the states based on their education policies.  All of this activity as well as the exit of top personnel signals a new face for the policy organization.

Frontline's promo -- "As Rhee returns to the national stage, FRONTLINE examines her legacy in Washington, DC" -- made me wonder what Rhee's future plans are.  She's never actually left the national stage, so this doesn't make sense unless she's headed for something bigger and more high-profile than being the CEO of StudentsFirst.

The show didn't reveal anything new about Rhee, except that it included an interview with the principal of the school at the center of the cheating scandal, Noyes Education Campus.  Adell Cothorne came on board in 2008, after high numbers of erasures on standardized testing raised a red flag regarding the incredible increases in academic performance under the previous administrator, Wayne Ryan.  An investigation ensued, but Cothorne claims that no one, including Rhee, wanted to hear her damaging testimony at the time and that the D.C. CAS scores at Noyes "dropped 30 percent the year that I was there."

With all the whitewashing that went on during Rhee's tenure (and thereafter), no wonder John Merrow, the show's correspondent, concluded that "the public schools in Washington are still among the worst in the nation and D.C.'s high school graduation rate is dead last."

Michelle Rhee's modus operandi of jack-booting teachers, principals, and anyone else who gets in her way is all for show.  The very data she so heavily endorses and depends on to make tough decisions in hiring and firing apparently means nothing when it comes to moving the needle on the "equality gap" inside inner-city classrooms.

So when StudentsFirst issued its merciless "report card" on states' policies, why should anyone believe what it says?  Yet the press promotes the group as though they are experts when it comes to education reform.

The two highest-ranking states were Florida and Louisiana - each with a B-minus. Alabama, California, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming all flunked, according to StudentsFirst. They were given F's.

Who even asked Rhee to weigh in? Well, if we tweak Alinsky a little -- it's not the power you have; it's the power they think you have -- when someone without the data to prove it acts like she's in charge, then everyone will think she's in charge, right?

Now, several staff members at StudentsFirst have left the lobbying group and gone on to other venues.  The new president of the operation is Khalil Byrd, former CEO of a Third Way organization called Americans Elect -- the "secretive faux grassroots political action committee" set up in 2010 to create an online nominating system for presidential elections.  Byrd professes to be Republican, but he has worked for Democrats Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and now Michelle Rhee.

With new questionable leadership at StudentsFirst and Rhee embarking on another national media campaign to promote her brand, it looks like the self-described "change agent" never stops moving forward.

Read more Ann Kane at Potter Williams Report.