One Message Two Conventions, School Reformer Plays Both Sides

With all the slings and arrows coming her way from the pro-union Save Our Schools brigade why is Michelle Rhee, CEO of StudentsFirst attending the Democratic Convention in Charlotte?

And with her background as a Democrat and supporter of Obama's education reforms, how can she appear at the Republican convention as well?

Ever since former DC Mayor Adrian Fenty hired Rhee to run the city's school system in 2007, the much-hyped education reformer has been a handy target for the Left. Check out any Progressive-Marxist leaning media site dealing with education and Rhee's name will be front and center. It's no secret they despise her.

Armed with a new movie,
Won't Back Down, Rhee will join in a discussion with other panel members including her husband Kevin Johnson, Democrat Mayor of Sacramento and Obama crony. The movie has been backed by conservative monies, but produced by the Hollywood left.

Maggie Gyllenhaal plays "a parent trying to invoke a parent trigger-like law in Pittsburgh. Holly Hunter and Viola Davis also star in the film, which is scheduled for a September 28th release."

Rhee who calls herself a "different Democrat" will be at the pre-screening of the movie on September 3rd in Charlotte. So far four states have parent trigger laws while others are considering them. The idea is that parents who think their children's school is failing can collectively organize and close it down with hopes of replacing it with a better school.

StudentsFirst website:

You and your guests are cordially invited to a pre-screening of Won't Back Down at the Democratic National Convention sponsored by Democrats for Education Reform [DFER], Parent Revolution and StudentsFirst. The film will be followed by a panel discussion with Michelle Rhee, Ben Austin, Joe Williams, Mayor Kevin Johnson and others.

DFER?  Joe Williams, the executive director said this in a 2005 interview with USA Today:

Some conservatives are so obsessed with things like school prayer and creationism that they believe these are education reforms. They also can become obsessed with dreams of beating back unions because they are political adversaries. The practical effect is that Democrats aren't allowed to talk about bold and radical solutions, while Republicans seem to do nothing but talk.

Parent Revolution? Ben Austin heads up this Bill Gates-backed group begun in 2009. Austin's fellow panelist DFER's Williams had suggested the idea for forming a parent group four years earlier in that same 2005 interview.

Public education is about politics, politics is about power, and if parents want control over what happens to their kids, they have to go out there and steal power from someone else. I'm not suggesting that parents be out there running schools, but if they were a little more demanding, we wouldn't be in this mess.

It appears Ben Austin took his fellow traveler's words to heart. In 2009 he had parents from the Los Angeles Unified School District marching to Sacramento to demand "real power to fix their children's schools." Austin himself lives in a gated Beverly Hills community while he throws out phrases like "our schools, our communities, our collective futures."

These sponsors sound very much like community organizers.

Before Rhee heads to Charlotte, she will be taking her message to the Republicans in Tampa. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are two of the panelists who will join Rhee in a discussion of the film.

Bush is one of many Republican politicians backing the StudentsFirst agenda. That's not surprising. Rhee's purported views on education do mirror the conservative mindset. No more teacher tenure, no more gratuitous, unearned soccer trophies for undeserving slackers, no more unions, more school choice for parents, and lots more charter schools.

Rhee's take no prisoners style in DC resonates with Republicans who are fed up with pouring billions into failing public schools. Rhee looks like the answer to their decades old prayers. She's won them over for sure.

Will education be the issue that links both parties? If so, is that a desirable outcome in the current political environment?

Four years ago candidate Obama praised the young DC Chancellor and, like Rhee, suggested "bad teachers" had to be weeded out. In fact, Rhee's reform policies match Obama's Department of Education's agenda to a tee.

In turn, those on the left have suggested Obama's education policies are indistinguishable from both Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush's. The Left says Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's policies are to the right of center while the Right warns of Marxist indoctrination from Duncan's boss.

With all this confusion, the question remains, is Rhee, the spokesperson of education reform, a Democrat or a Republican? Is she left-wing or right-wing? Does it matter?

Read more M. Catharine Evans at Potter Williams Report

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