Michelle Rhee’s Pattern of Deceptive Marketing


Just day’s after PBS reporter John Merrow blew the door off Michelle Rhee’s cover-up of widespread cheating that occurred on her DC watch, she looked for a like-minded crowd of education reform partisans for comfort and affirmation. What better place than the republican caucus of the Florida legislature?

Reeling from opposition to their test-based accountability regime, charter school fetish and sudden friendly fire on common core, Rhee’s advice was sought on the later. As without common core, the whole thing collapses. Michelle McNeil of Education Week has this about the conversation Rhee had with Florida republican legislators:

When she was in Florida talking about her issues, Rhee said 80 percent of the questions came from legislators about the common core. The problem isn’t that legislators are against the standards, the problem is they’re starting to hear concerns and rumblings of opposition, she said.

Her advice to them?

Reframe the debate.

“This is being framed as, ‘The federal government is trying to stick something down your throat,'” Rhee said.

“You need to reframe the debate,” Rhee said she told the Florida lawmakers. “This is about China kicking our butts. Do you want China to kick our butts? No!”

She said that states and advocacy groups were able to coalesce around the common core when the effort was just getting off the ground, and now that the hard work of implementation is ongoing, those same coalitions need to stick together.

“I do think that there has to be a very strong defense of the common core,” she said.

Some of the best defense of common core has been coming from teachers as they understand that it refocuses curriculum on critical thinking, the  utilization of text and application of knowledge.  Why Rhee didn’t make this argument is telling. Perhaps it’s because reformers like Rhee and her acolytes in the Florida legislature also have to have standardized tests –  something that’s going to be impossible to put into the same stew with common core.

Rhee’s advise is another example of her deceptive, false choice marketing plan. So making common core and test-based accountability is somehow about “China kicking our butts.” Rhee’s suggesting to Florida legislators that they create a China-straw-man in the minds of their constituents as an enemy that can only be defeated with common core and standardized tests.  Her insistence that “reframing the debate” this way – instead of honest advocacy – is fear-based demagoguery.

Just days after Rhee spun talking points for Florida legislators, her organization, StudentsFirst found itself in another Florida controversy. The senate sponsor of Parent Trigger legislation, Kelli Stargel, was touting the existence of a petition of supporters that Rhee’s organization had generated.  After several attempts by members of the media to get the petition, Miami Herald reporter Kathleen McGrory finally obtained it and contacted people on the list.

On Sunday, The Herald/Times sent an email to each person who had allegedly signed the online petition. Of the 241 who responded, 212 confirmed their signatures.

“I signed it electronically,” wrote Woodie H. Thomas, III, a Palm Beach Gardens attorney. “I’m for any catalyst that brings meaningful change to the public school system.”

But 29 people said they had not signed the petition.

“I did NOT join my name to a petition in support of the so-called Parent Empowerment Act,” wrote John Raymaker, of Tallahassee. “Instead, I signed a petition OPPOSING this act. More deceitful, incredibly dishonest tactics!”

Alan Dorfman, of Delray Beach, said he had signed, but felt duped.

“Further information received after signing makes me believe that at best, I didn’t get the whole story, or at worst, I was fooled by the signature request,” he wrote.

A StudentsFirst spokesman, Calvin Harris,  predictably stood by their petition and added further justification:

“Giving parents a way to get their kids out of failing schools by providing educational options is the right thing to do — we don’t need a petition to tell us that,” Harris said. “But it is heartening to see that there are hundreds of names of parents, educators, and other concerned citizens making their voices heard and demanding equal access to a quality education.”

Ignoring the existence of fraudulent signatures by Harris shows what’s become part of Rhee’s “fake but accurate” strategy on Parent Trigger. This is best portrayed in this email  Scathing Purple Musings (SPM) received from one of the out-of-state petition signers – a self-described member of StudentsFirst.

if you had not thought that the petition was “a false document” and if 500 of 700 parents took part – instead of “50 of 700” – would you have supported the petition?

do you support some mechanism by which the pernicious lack of accountability in our public schools’ can be redressed?

If you answer is “a yes” to these questions then I’m with you.

The failure of our schools is one of the biggest problems our nation faces. Yet it seems like it should be such an easy problem to fix. All we have to do is get a work force to openly recognize that it has a great job and that it should demonstrate this by accepting efforts to implement accountability. We have to get the teachers to support this . . .

AND we have to get elected representatives to stop pandering to the teachers union in return for electoral support!

Is there any petition – somewhere in this country – that would enable our schools to fire the 10% least competent teachers in our children’s schools?

Maybe for those of us who sincerely believe in educational reform – and have seen our lives go by without ever being able to achieve it – what Michelle Rhee and Studentfirst is offering is all we have.

As I stated in an earlier email, “. . . the teachers who I came to see first hand as I coached tended to be lazy, uncaring, unskilled, unfair AND ENTRENCHED. . .”and this tragic state of affairs is widespread!

It’s at least widespread  in XXXXXXXXXXXX where I was able to see “from the inside” how little effort teachers were able to make without ever suffering any significant consequences.

Making matters worse,  for this – collectively speaking – meager effort, some Long Island, New York  teachers received an annual total compensation package that in many cases exceeded $220k!

This for a part-time job with life-time job security!

The parents of the students that these teachers taught could only dream of having a job with the salaries, pension plans, health plans, work rules, time off, and job security that their children’s teachers had. However – and this is the confounding, depressing, and tragic part of this problem – most parents did/do not grudge their child’s teachers this generous compensation. Rather, all they seek is a sincere effort by teachers to teach.

Our children deserve this.

Good teachers deserve this.

Scathing Purple Musings (SPM)had been having a friendly exchange with this person, but has not yet responded to this note made in response to the above:

“if you had not thought that the petition was “a false document” and if 500 of 700 parents took part – instead of “50 of 700″ – would you have supported the petition?”

(SPM) I find this extremely troubling as it’s an indication you appear willing to somehow brush aside evidence of fraud from an organization which advancing legislation which affects the manner legislators spend taxpayer money. It’s not dissimilar to “fake but accurate” and “the ends justifies the means,”

“do you support some mechanism by which the pernicious lack of accountability in our public schools’ can be redressed?”

(SPM) This is a familiar rhetorical questioning trick which today’s education reformers use. It’s designed to trap the person being questioned with getting the answer that’s desired. Moreover, the education reform movement has staked out the position that “accountability” is standardized test data. Your assertion that “what Michelle Rhee and Studentfirst is offering is all we have,” is terribly naïve and narrow.

Now that Rhee’s DC record is slowly being revealed as a myth based on cheating and her role in the cover-up is becoming clear, her organization’s utilization of fraudulent petitioning is not unsurprising. Your narrative is consistent with that narrative and your anecdotes are consistent with what she puts out through StudentsFirst.

It’s turning out that Rhee’s DC miracle is a fraud and that she and her successor Kaya Henderson – both Teach for America alumni – are involved in a cheating scandal cover-up. With a similar scandal and cover-up currently being prosecuted in Atlanta, Rhee’s days as an education reform rock start are numbered. In the mean time,  it comes as no surprise that the millions of dollars she’s been receiving from billionaires is being used in spin doctoring and faux petitioning. Such deliberate attempts to deceive are becoming typical of Rhee’s activities which are intended to benefit adults…..first.

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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5 Responses to Michelle Rhee’s Pattern of Deceptive Marketing

  1. Great piece but I am troubled by the notion that some think our schools are failing. Our schools don’t create policy or assign budgets, and they didn’t eliminate the arts and trades and create a one size fits all standardized test taking agenda. Finally only the ignorant demonize our schools (and teachers) because they can’t overcome the effects of poverty, the informed thank god for our schools (and teachers) because if it wasn’t for them, then Poverty would be worse.

  2. D'Alta says:

    Didn’t even get all the way through the blog posting. Will read the rest in a minute. I am so tired of politicians wanting my grandchildren and their friends to “kick China’s butt!!” If we were concerned about China, we would bring all of our jobs home and penalize American CEOs for taking American jobs there and to other off-shore places. The way to “beat China’s butt,” is to not import their goods nor our jobs!!! Rhee and Pearson et al. are only concerned about making money for themselves and their cronies! One of the ways to do this is to create a subservient class of workers by destroying American public schools — where children are taught to think critically and creatively.

  3. Hannah says:

    If China’s winning anything, it’s the number of people working in deplorable conditions. Is that our goal? Have as many people as possible, working as cheaply as possible, in inhumane conditions so the country can “look good???” That’s the ultimate crime of narcissism.

    • Yes, and what’s ridiculous about Rhee’s statement too is this: imagine if China’s test scores included all its adolescent children, not just the ones in Shanghai who are fortunate enough to attend decent schools. Tens of millions of people in China are illiterate. When it comes to education, China is not going to be kicking anybody’s butt for a long time.

  4. Andrew 360 says:

    Hi Bob,
    Few things:
    1) I just discovered your blog and like it. Color me purple, too. Skeptical of both sides of the aisle, with values that can’t be illustrated with one ink color.
    2) It is my hope that any future core curriculum includes education about the language of sales/marketing–how to spot it, how to evaluate it, how to see passed it. Political speak would be a big part of it, hopefully.
    3) Would you be interested in contributing posts to another site? Along with a couple other individuals, I recently started “Florida Skeptics” (.com). Our desire is to feature Florida writers addressing a full range of topics (hasn’t Big Foot been beaten to death already?).
    Again, kudos to you.
    Andrew

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