Friday, August 15, 2014

Michelle Rhee leaving StudentsFirst

What should Rhee's Report Card say?

This from Politico's Morning Education via email:
The Huffington Post reports that Michelle Rhee, former D.C. schools chancellor, is stepping down as CEO of StudentsFirst. StudentsFirst spokesman Francisco Castillo confirmed to Morning Education that the group is zeroing in on a candidate for president who will manage day-to-day functions for the group, which is hoping to announce a name soon.

Rhee has recently taken on other education jobs, and her professional path hasn't exactly been a smooth ride. 'She's been really brutally attacked personally, and StudentsFirst has not been as effective as she wanted,' a former prominent StudentsFirst staffer, who declined to be named, told HuffPo. 'It's been frustrating. It's not totally shocking that eventually even she would decide to step away.'

The organization has recently pulled out of five states. Its relationship with a New Jersey partner organization ended about a year ago. And losing Rhee means StudentsFirst will lose its main attraction.

'While I respect Michelle Rhee's passion and tenacity, I don't agree with her approach to education,' American Federation of Teachers President told Morning Education upon hearing the news. 'For children to succeed, their schools need to be safe, collaborative and welcoming places that foster trust and high expectations, and have a spirit of real teamwork. The approach Michelle Rhee championed - resisting collaboration, fixating on testing, attacking teachers and dividing communities - is antithetical to that, and it undermined our working together to grow the capacity of our workforce, secure the resources our kids need, and build the confidence of parents and our broader communities in public education.'


Four years ago, former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee took her star power on Oprah to announce the creation of StudentsFirst. She set the sky-high goal of raising $1 billion to transform education policy nationwide. Now she's stepping down as CEO, and activists who share her vision say she never found a way to use her celebrity status to drive change. In fact, they say StudentsFirst was hobbled by a high staff turnover rate, embarrassing PR blunders and a lack of focus. She alienated activists who could have been allies and many saw her tactics as imperious, inflexible and often illogical. "There was a growing consensus in the education reform community that she didn't play well in the sandbox," one reform leader said. What was Rhee's biggest contribution to the cause, according to some activists? Drawing fire away from them as she positioned herself as the face of the national education reform movement.

This from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Can StudentsFirst survive without Michelle Rhee at the helm?

Former DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee will reportedly leave the top spot of the education reform advocacy group StudentsFirst, throwing into question the future of the 4-year-old organization she founded to transform American schools.

Her departure from the CEO role poses a challenge for StudentsFirst as Rhee was the focal point, a lightning rod for both controversy and fundraising. The organization has already pulled out of Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Maine, and Minnesota.

The group remains active in Georgia. "StudentsFirst has no intentions of slowing down in Georgia. In fact, Georgia is one of the states where we're focused more heavily since we shifted resources away from other states. Michelle Rhee is fully committed to education reform and leading StudentsFirst," said spokesman Lane Wright.

As an ex StudentsFirst staffer told Huffington Post: "In practice, this has always been about Michelle. I'm not claiming that she's egomaniacal, but the power of this movement has been that this is a Democratic teacher of color, and so the ability of the traditionalists to write all this off as billionaire white male Republicans was very, very hard to do when Michelle had the profile that she did."

Writing in his popular education blog a year ago, Stanford professor emeritus Larry Cuban cautioned the future of StudentsFirst depended on the staying power of Rhee: “Compared with the efforts of the deep-pocketed Koch brothers in influencing state legislatures through the American Legislative Exchange Commission (ALEC), or the well-funded Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), Rhee’s organization is minor league in political acumen,  expertise, and experience in political advocacy. Nor does StudentsFirst have any bench strength; it is all Michelle. If  she leaves the organization out of fatigue or pique, no more StudentsFirst. Moreover, such political work to be effective is back-channel and under the media radar. Such work is not Michelle Rhee, considering her few years in Washington, D.C. and since.”...

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