Michelle Rhee’s Florida Rep Calls for Astroturf Campaign on Parent Trigger

With a legislative battle looming in Florida, corporate reformers propagandists have their marching orders. Last night, Michelle Rhee’s Florida rep sent out calls for an online comments campaign.

> From: Catherine Robinson <crobinson@studentsfirst.org>

> Date: July 26, 2012 9:58:12 PM EDT

> To: Catherine Robinson <crobinson@studentsfirst.org>

> Subject: rapid responses needed – and a contest!

Hi all,

… starting right now, there will be a monthly contest for the best rapid response. The more comments you leave on blog posts, the more times you can enter! Post a polite and persuasive pro-reform comment and email me the link so I can check it out.

That’s all you have to do!

At the end of the month (August 26th at midnight) I will announce the winner. Not only will that winner get a gift card to the restaurant or store of choice, but he or she will also be promoting the cause of real and transformative change in public schools! What could be better?

Robinson submitted a list of supporting signatures at the Florida Senate Budget Committee on Parent Trigger last spring on behalf of Rhee’s StudentsFirst.  As of yet, Scathing Purple Musings has not received any “polite and persuasive pro-reform”  comments.

UPDATE: Florida educator Diane Hanffman weighs in.

About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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42 Responses to Michelle Rhee’s Florida Rep Calls for Astroturf Campaign on Parent Trigger

  1. flbusbaby says:

    If anyone sees any of these responses, be sure and let us all know,so we can “politely” respond to it. 🙂

  2. Catherine Durkin Robinson says:

    I sent along an email to super-supporters called a Rapid Response Team, asking them to send me their best comments for the chance to win a gift card. I’m disheartened and dismayed that one of them would then forward my email and mischaracterize my intentions.

    Whether it’s the Obama campaign offering to buy a supporter a round-trip ticket to Chicago, or me offering to buy someone what would be a $5 gift card out of my own pocket, recognizing volunteers for their extraordinary efforts is common in grassroots organizations.

    I should know. I’ve spent my whole life organizing and advocating. And so now I’m organizing over 119,000 Florida parents, teachers and concerned citizens. This has subjected me to great levels of heroism and integrity. But it has also exposed me to organized and well-funded hatred and character assassinations.

    My record is clear.

    As a 25-year veteran of campaigns to end apartheid, support animal rights, protect a woman’s right to choose, bring recycling to college campuses, champion the rights of the LGBT community…

    As an 8-year teacher of at-risk youth and ESE students…

    As a canvasser for Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, and Obama in rural Pasco and Polk counties…

    As a concerned mom and PTA officer…

    …nothing prepared me for the level of nastiness and vitriol that descended upon me when I took this job and began to vocally advocate for policies that put students first.

    But nothing will deter me or scare me away. Because last week I spoke with a mom who’s only hope of putting her son in a good school is to break the law and pretend to live in another district. I’ll keep fighting against powerful union and school board interests. I’ll keep fighting…to help her.

    And shame on the rest of you.

    • Alice Mercer says:

      Will this count as entry for the contest I wonder? It is certainly creative.

      • TerryW says:

        I don’t know. Do you think is is pro-reformy enough? I love the Olive Garden! Pick me pick me!

    • PhillipMarlowe says:

      Catherine, you left out “shit talker” from your smashwords bio:
      Catherine Durkin Robinson


      Catherine Durkin Robinson is an opinionated columnist, writer, mommy, wife, best friend, rabble rouser, humorist, blogger, speaker, shit talker and cocktail connoisseur; how many I help you?

    • JJ says:

      Dear. Good for you to have done so much for the causes you believe in. It is so nice to hear of your efforts which I am quite sure have been helpful to others.
      So now you believe that an organization called “children first” actually exists to “put children first.” whatever that means. Dear. As an educator I am sure you know that children do not exist in the air for teachers to pluck out in order to impart all of their knowledge. Children exist in communities, in families, in neighborhoods. They are a part of a whole. It seems like such a lovely thing to say, “children come first.” But in reality children come “along side of”, they come “holding the hand of” they come “along with” the families and communities that support them. And when you actively try to destroy communities and neighborhoods which is what “children first” is actually trying to do, then no, you are not putting children first because you are undermining that which surrounds them. Why don’t you find an organization that calls itself “families first” or “communities first” because that is what really puts children first. Not some organization that has as its goal handing over our childen to interests that put money first.

      • krluebbert says:

        Wow, JJ! I am awed by your true and poetic response. You put it very well when you say children come”along side of” and with their communities and all those communities are made of. We in Philly are having many of the same problems, and we all have to keep fighting to make sure we can educate all the children in our communities.

    • Mark from Maryland says:

      If you really care about the cause you are promoting, why would you try and buy support for it in such a dishonest way. I was on the fence about Michele Rhee and Students First until I saw this blog post. You can’t be for progressive goals while using underhanded and deceitful means. That’s not what progressives do, Catherine.

      And shame on you for not owning up to the fact that what you did was deceptive. Shame on you for offering up your past experiences working for progress to attack those who criticized your mistake. You fucked up, just own up to it and move on. What you did calls into question every single pro-education reform blog comment that’s been posted. Shame on you for trying to make yourself out to be the victim when your arrogance was brought to light.

    • Bryan Bouton says:

      Shame on me? How dare you attempt to heap shame on me as I am working as hard as I can to make sure that students in Florida are given the best education possible…and I would rather die than see public education turned into a money-making business in which the concern is for the bottom line and profits and NOT for the children.
      While “for profit” schools are allowed to pay exorbitant salaries to their administrators all the while doing anything and everything unethical to steal money from the public trust! (http://www.freep.com/article/20120723/NEWS15/207230330 for the salaries; as well as Eva Moskowitz, the head of the Success Academy chain in New York City is paid about $400,000. Geoffrey Canada, who oversees the Harlem Children’s Zone, is paid between $400,000-500,000. Deborah Kenney of Harlem Village Academy is paid more than $400,000….as for the unethical: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/orl-special-charterschools-part2,0,5924982.htmlpage
      and those are just two that come to mind in a moment’s reflection.)
      When you become more than a shill for the money-grubbers and carpetbaggers that have a serious desire to plunder the Billions of dollars spent for public education so they can enrich themselves maybe you can actually converse with me. Until then, grab a roll of Ms. Rhee’s favorite brand of tape and stop talking…oh, and make sure you lick your lips or you; like 35 of her students, will end up in the nurses office with bleeding lips…

    • msndis says:

      I haven’t watched the video yet so I guess it could contain “vitriol” but the actual blog post contains, for the most part, only your e-mail and some facts.

      I just have point out that the Parent Trigger actually helps education venture capitalists take over public schools. The only winners in that case are the investors. Students are just a pawn in their game and, in fact, if you look at the test scores of many charter schools they actually perform worse than public schools and they aren’t buried in as much red tape as public schools yet they still perform worse.

    • Melissa Westbrook says:

      No, shame on you for trying to make the rest of look like we don’t care about children.
      And what school board interests? My school board (Seattle) cares deeply about our children. Quit trying to make ALL teachers and ALL school boards look like the enemy – they’re not.

      As for the parent trigger – we have the nastiest one ever embedded in WA State’s initiative for charter schools (we’ve been smart and avoided them). You support taking over ANY existing school, failing or NOT, by either teachers or parents? If so, again shame on you for trying upend a school and a school district.

  3. Pingback: Character Assassination? « Diane Ravitch's blog

  4. Charlie Yontz says:

    Catherine, No one is questioning your record or what you have done in the past. What is clear is that at least one of your super-supporters was probably not so thrilled with your … methods … in this case. I appreciate your call for them (RR Team) to be polite. No one wants to scare you away. I am sorry that in the past others have treated you poorly, but why would you finish with “shame on the rest of you”. I do not agree with 99 percent of what you are fighting for. I can not agree with the former teacher that could not make it in the classroom that runs studentsfirst.org since she is not representing students or parents in my opinion. You chose what you are doing now, so did she. I will pray for you and I will feel no shame for my beliefs. You are entitled to your opinion. It just “appears” from what you wrote that you are “playing games/having contests” instead of just coming out and encouraging others to defend your views in blogs. Your motives were most likely honest, but it came across as really tacky.

  5. Florida Taxpayer, Registered Voter says:

    No Catherine. SHAME ON YOU. If you have half the creds you claim then you ought to be smart enough to see that the organization you are representing is a corporate astroturf group that serves the interests of hedge funders and billionaires NOT CHILDREN.

    You think you can go after the careers, jobs, and livelihoods of public school employees and get nothing in return but thanks and praise? Think again! We have families, children, mortgages, and rights to speak about our neighborhood schools and tax dollars too. You bet we’re going to come after you with everything we have. Get used to it! You and Michelle Rhee declared war against public schools and public school teachers. We are defending ourselves and we won’t give up without a fight!

  6. CarolineSF says:

    That is quite an unprofessional tantrum for someone in such a polished billionaire-funded operation.

    Given that Students First collects names by deceitful means and then lists those names as members (I’m listed as a supporter — so is Diane Ravitch), the better to inflate its claims of massive support, it’s probably risky to assume your e-mails are going to people who actually support Students First.

    It’s simply dishonest and unethical to bribe people to pose as supporters — as it is to trick people into submitting their names and list THEM as supporters. It’s fair and legitimate for those of us who support public education to expose that trickery; it’s not hatred, character assassination, vitriol or nastiness (let alone “well-funded”).

    Bluster and contrived outrage aren’t an effective response.

  7. Catherine Durkin Robinson– I won’t say anything about your causes here- I mention them all, and their origins, fairly often on my own website, it would be rude to do it here–

    As for getting attacked or having an attack against you go viral on the Internet- I’m a veteran of more flame wars than you can imagine- There’s a certain element that doesn’t care much for my point of view. The first few times it happens it’s scary..

    Generally the idiots aren’t funded or even organized. You say something that catches someone the wrong way– they have a few hundred Facebook friends that think along the same lines, they all have friends too. The next thing you know a bunch of them are leaving not nice comments. Pretty soon everyone is trying to sound nastier (and dumber) than the last guy– You should have seen the comments from the liberal community after Brietbart passed away

    Having a comment threat go ballistic is a risk we all take every time we post… a good friend of mine got hit a couple days ago. She’d posted in support of a rape victim–Most of the comments sounded like they came from 13-14 year old boys- nasty little brats. By the time she looked she 6000 plus obscene, and for some reason, anti Semitic BS comments.. She did what I’m going to suggest you do- Shut down comments, Put everything in the spam file– scan through them, if you see something that looks like a serious threat call the police. Either you or your host have the IP#s. Generally people posting stuff like that believe they can’t be tracked- If it’s serious enough, they can.

    Sorry Bob-didn’t mean to post a whole blog on your site-

  8. “…a $5 gift card …” Wow! Dinner sure is cheap in Florida!

  9. TerryW says:

    Ms. Rhee assassinates the characters of hard working teachers every day. Why is it suddenly so offensive when your feelings are hurt?

    Should I list the accomplishments of thousands and thousands of teachers for you?

    How is it “well funded” if people read your email and then use their computers to send a response you don’t approve of?  

    I didn’t need money…I just needed a brain.

    Did you not think this commercial was mean spirited…pokes fun at the overweight, male gymnansts, the uncoordinated. It was created by your organization…pot calling kettle…HELLO?


    You should take a closer look at the messages Students First sends out on a regular basis….look in the mirror my dear. 

    By the way, what is pro-reform vs. anti-reform? 

  10. Sandra says:

    There is no well-funded or organized effort to villify Catherine Durham. The hyperbole is familiar. Rhee uses the same technique frequently. It earned no sympathy from me. In fact, yiu made things michnworse. The “shame on the rest of you” must mean those who do not belong to Students First. I will not be joining. I am not a teacher, do not work for a non-profit either. I have a private industry job.

  11. Sandra says:

    There is no well-funded or organized effort to villify Catherine Durkham Robinson. The hyperbole is familiar. Rhee uses the same technique frequently. It earned no sympathy from me. In fact, yiu made things michnworse. The “shame on the rest of you” must mean those who do not belong to Students First. I will not be joining. I am not a teacher, do not work for a non-profit either. I have a private industry job.

  12. stlgretchen says:

    Here is an April 2012 article written by Ms. Robinson…


    and I am stunned to see these words:

    “If progressives looked at our goals, they’d see we consistently:

    Value a superior public education.

    Demand an equitable education for everyone, including low-income students and children of color.

    Believe the needs of children should weigh more than the demands of adults.

    Advocate for our nation’s most vulnerable individuals.

    Defend children and public schools.

    Challenge a failing and corrupt status quo.

    Celebrate bold and revolutionary leadership.

    Encourage the empowerment of all parents, regardless of zip code.

    These are clearly progressive values.”

    Since when did using taxpayer dollars to enable “entrepreneurs” to open schools become a progressive value? How is StudentsFirst defending public schools? StudentsFirst wants to do away with public education from what I can tell. Celebrate bold and revolutionary leadership? My question: whose version of “bold” and “revolutionary” are you talking about? Bill Gates? Arne Duncan? Michelle Rhee? What other “elite” do you want to add to the list? Excuse me if I am a bit underwhelmed at these proclamations on why I or anyone else should support Rhee’s vision of what SHE and other corporatists try to pass off as education reform.

    And pray tell, just WHAT does empowerment of parents mean? Come on. Tell the truth. With common core standards and the resulting nationalization of curriculum, parents have zero empowerment in your idea of reform. Local school districts have no empowerment. States have no empowerment. The only ones in power are the corporations setting the standards and assessments using taxpayer money…and they are totally unaccountable to the taxpayers who are funding them.

    I don’t see where Ms. Robinson’s character was assassinated. Folks have just had enough of the slick PR campaign trying to put lipstick on a pig:


    • CarolineSF says:

      Here are some more past writings from Catherine Durkin Robinson:

      Some past writings from Catherine Durkin Robinson:

      Then the Latinos (who only had accents when they said the word Latinos) went all apesh*t on Todd. …

      The Mexicans had Mexicans on the brain. They wouldn’t shut up about themselves.

      the air thick with nastiness and too many “my people were wronged
      worser than your people” nonsense, I turned my baby blues to Officer
      Todd and raised my hand …
      Almost turned to the Latinos and said, “Put that in your mojitos and slurp ’em down, b*tches. Next time – show some g*ddamn respect.”


      • John Chin says:

        Wow. Nice find Caroline. i often wonder what kincd of person blindly followes an organization like StudentsFirst. Catherine Durkin Robinson (CDR) sums it up for me with this article. Basically she is a distracted, self serving, judgemental person that does not take the time to fully educate herself on issues or build meaningful relationships with her peers. I bet she goes through life feeling like she is surrounded by idiots and if only people would be more like her than there would be no problems in the world. I guess that makes her the perfect employee at Students First. Too bad Rhee will probably fire her (if she’s lucky).

  13. John Chin says:

    Take a look at the description on Amazon of the book she wrote recently (I’m guessing 2 years back) called Learning Curves:

    “Carolyn Reardon loved being a full-time mom, but after enrolling her children in preschool, she wanted to do more than just wait for them at home every day. Becoming a high school teacher seemed like the perfect career.

    At first, Carolyn found meaning as an educator, helping students who grew to appreciate her enthusiasm and passion for learning. Carolyn’s caring and dedicated co-workers also became her closest friends. But she noticed a disturbing trend. Many teachers turned to drugs in order to deal with the stress of low pay and impossibly high demands. Others lost themselves in illicit affairs, conducted in unused or empty classrooms, and a few risked it all by seducing their own students.

    Carolyn tried to ignore the sexually-charged atmosphere and cling to her happy marriage, but when an attractive and flirtatious teacher pursued her, Carolyn got swept up in a scandal of her own.

    Learning Curves is a humorous, frightening, and semi-true tale about teaching, temptation, and the sometimes disastrous results – both in and out of the classroom.”

    If you read the article that was mentioned in stlgretchen’s comment, it seems like she might have a problem separating fiction from reality. Interesting. The book costs $1.99, I just might buy it.

  14. Bea says:

    Catherine, not one of the responses I’ve seen regarding your bribery has come from a place of hatred or from a well-funded organization. You represent the funded and haters in this dialog.

    What you are seeing is a viral, grassroots, genuine outrage from parents like me, teachers and others who are deeply dismayed by the nasty tactics deployed by you and StudentsFirst in your quest to undermine our neighborhood public schools in service to your deep pocket founders.

  15. Linda Johnson says:

    The people who put children first are the parents and teachers who care for them each day. Please support them.

  16. twinkie1cat says:

    The only true reform is just the opposite of what groups like Students First want. Real reform consists of the following:
    1. Real teachers teaching in all positions (may be stretched a bit for vocational classes). A real teacher has at least one degree, preferably 2 or more in EDUCATION. HIgh school teachers should also have a minor in their subject area, at minimum, but not at the expense of teaching skills.
    2. Principals and other administrators, especially superintendents, are experienced teachers with good reputations. They are instructional leaders and principals should feel comfortable taking over classes when needed. However, they would not take moderately intellectually disabled, self contained autistic or severe/profound without the presence of the regular paraprofessional for the class.
    3. Teachers have control over curricula and materials they use and are not told to “stay on the same page.” New materials and methods are piloted and evaluated by the teachers who will use them.
    4. Standardized testing is minimized and used to point to changes that need to be made in the techniques or materials used.
    5. No scripted lessons.
    6. Subjects are taught to mastery even if fewer topics are covered.
    7. The more advanced and experienced teachers are encouraged to go to the schools with the most challenging students and are given special perks for doing so.
    8. All kids who appear to have learning or cognitive disabilities are tested and served in the most appropriate environment for that child without concern about cost. Regular education teachers are not to teach special needs students with learning or cognitive disabilities without a co-teacher from special education unless technology is enough to help the special needs child or if she has special skills and the temperment to do Special Education. Quotas of special needs students are ignored because it is recognized that all students are different and one school might have a lot more special needs students than another.
    9. School budgets are never cut or if jobs must be reduced it is done from the top—administrators.
    10. Unions are respected and consulted by the administration for input since they are run by teachers.
    11. Tenure is the reward for doing well and is routinely granted unless the teacher is clearly incompetent after being worked with to improve. Then she may be offered a position as a paraprofessional for a year or two and allowed to rebuild her skills. Firing is only used in cases of bizarre, illegal or abusive behavior. Seniority and advanced degrees are major factors in who leaves if a RIF is required. However, teachers are rarely, if ever, riffed. The unions have input into efforts to improve a teacher’s skills.
    12. Public schools are NEVER run by for-profit businesses or even by non-profits if their leaders are not teachers. A minister is not a teacher unless he or she is a certified teacher.
    13. Teachers evaluate principals and other administrators with whom they have regular contact. When a school is getting a new principal, the teachers have substantial input, especially if they know his or her reputation. Principals must be hired based on what they know, not who they know.
    14. Teachers have a duty free lunch break and planning period ALWAYS, This includes special education teachers who go to lunch and sit with their children to feed them or teach them self care or behavioral skills. Such arrangements require itinerant teachers for art, music and PE.
    15. Classes are kept small, especially those with disadvantaged and/or special needs students. 15 is generally a good size for regular education. Maybe 20 for high school.
    16. The Masters Bump is recognition for efforts to become a true professional and a Masters or National certification are expected or required. A teacher with 5 years or more experience should be, at minimum, working on a Masters unless there are extenuating circumstances—small children, sick parents, etc.
    17. Written lesson plans are not required of teachers with 3 or more years of experience unless they are on a professional development plan.
    Getting the schools to a point where the children are happy and learning and where the teachers want to come to work, in other words, a positive, nurturing environment for both, is real school reform. What is happening now is politics.

  17. Michael Paul Goldenberg says:

    Great taking down (with no funding) of this world-class liar. But please, folks: never let the Rheejects get away with calling themselves “reformers.” They aren’t. They are, and always will be, forces for corporatized educational DEform. They wouldn’t know a progressive reform educational policy if it bit them. And if we keep working hard, at least one of them will. 🙂

  18. stlgretchen says:

    Bob, thanks for opening discussion on what this group does and how they operate. (Although I think Ms. Robinson opened the proverbial Pandora’s Box herself). I did a bit of investigating and discovered Missouri now has NINE lobbyists from StudentsFirst. Don’t you just love that “grassroots” movement? We even have more lobbyists than does Florida!


  19. Duke says:

    At least Mary Bousted, ATL Union President (UK), saw through the facade. In this clip, she
    lambastes Michelle Rhee for her public firing of a principal in D.C. A joy to watch….

    But she lies again and again!

  20. gatorbonbc says:

    Ms. Robinson. You write: “And so now I’m organizing over 119,000 Florida parents, teachers and concerned citizens.” … I politely ask you to verify those numbers.

    Why do I not believe that 119,000 people in Florida agree with you? Well. let me politely explain. I am also an advocate, I also interact/organize tens of thousands of parents. I have yet to ever meet one that agrees with Student First’s ‘transformative’ reform. So, I am politely interested as to where you get the number “119,00”.

    I might also add, politely, that many on the Rhee website did not join out of support for your policies. Many joined to keep an eye on the destructive policies of your organization. Many others joined by mistake after signing a poll regarding Trayvon — the Student First pop up upon signature tricked quite a few of us.

    I politely remind you that very few people in FL or elsewhere agree with excessive standardized testing, selling out public schools to corporate charters, or destroying communities by closing schools. We politely ask you and Student First to stop.

    As far as politeness, I might politely remind you to practice what you preach. I’t s funny… but I have heard that word ‘vitriol’ thrown at us parents before. (see link: http://wp.me/pWHfU-cy ). I stand, politely, in disbelief. Why be be so insulting? I politely suggest that you be more polite.
    To say parents are full of “vitriol” is unbelievably rude not polite. You do remember that we parents are, in fact, the parents, don’t you? How can you, Rhee’s Student First organization, Jeb’s Foundation for FL’s Failure, or any other organization claim to represent parents while also insulting those parents and hurting their children with your harmful policies?

    So, I politely ask: What exactly do you have against caring parents?

    Perhaps this is why you are offering gift cards for polite comments? If so, I politely applaud you for finally reminding those involved in your organizations to be polite.

    That, I might politely add, is long overdue.

    Polite enough?

  21. CarolineSF says:

    @gatorbonbc, this is how many people have unintentionally been tricked into “joining” StudentsFirst: “Others joined by mistake after signing a poll regarding Trayvon — the Student First pop up upon signature tricked quite a few of us.” I and many other fellow education advocates who disagree with everything about the operation have been surprised to find ourselves listed as supporters and receiving StudentsFirst e-mails.

    The fact that this has occurred at all renders ALL StudentsFirst claims about membership numbers invalid. The part that’s a bit amusing is that Ms. Robinson, architect of the gift card offer, was outraged that her e-mail to supposed supporters wound up in the hands of someone who’s not a fan of StudentsFirst and publicized it. She must be unaware that any list of supposed StudentsFirst supporters undoubtedly includes quite a number of people who aren’t fans of StudentsFirst, due to the trickery used to capture names and build up a phony membership roster.

  22. Pingback: One Parent’s Polite Response – #Rheediculous – Money Over Children ? #TryAgainRhee « Continuing Change

  23. Pingback: This #studentsfirst astroturf moment is freaking hilarious—>@cdurkinrobinson @rheefirst « @ the chalk face

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