Union Ties to Anti-Rhee Site Roil Schools Fight
The USA’s school-reform conversation just got a bit nastier.
A student-advocacy group run by former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee said today that an anonymous website that for months has published sharp and sometimes personal criticisms of Rhee was created last February on a computer registered to the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers union.
The union, Rhee’s group says, later tried to “hide their connection to the site by laundering it through multiple [Internet] addresses.”
A statement released this afternoon by the AFT acknowledged the union’s connection to RheeFirst.com but didn’t back down on its criticisms.
The union hasn’t hidden its criticisms of Rhee; one of its affiliates, the Washington Teachers Union, spent years locked in a bruising contract dispute with the former chancellor. But AFT’s disdain for Rhee rarely got personal, even after she left D.C. and founded a non-profit group called StudentsFirst, which advocates for several policies the union dislikes — foremost among them abolishing teacher retention systems that favor long-serving teachers over those with better evaluations.
By contrast, the anonymous site leads with a message that calls Rhee “the Sarah Palin of public education” and alleges that she’s “all celebrity and very little record.” It vows to set the record straight on Rhee’s accomplishments with reports, news clips, videos and other materials.
The site features a mug shot of Rhee wearing a tiara — until recently, it sported an animation that made Rhee’s nose appear to grow, Pinocchio-style.
Politico first reported the AFT/RheeFirst link on Thursday. The item appeared on the blog of reporter Ben Smith, who has close ties with Rhee. But Hari Seguvan, a spokesman for Rhee, said the organization learned about the link from the Politico item, not the other way around.
The AFT didn’t respond to the Politico item on Thursday, but sent a statement to USA TODAY on Monday that read, in part, “What’s the big deal? RheeFirst.com has been up since March, tracking what Michelle Rhee has said, what she has done and how the media have covered her. All the studies and articles on RheeFirst.com are well sourced and documented.”
It added, “RheeFirst.com has acted as a truth squad, and that’s what it will continue to do.” It also urged StudentsFirst to release a list of its donors “in the spirit of transparency.”
Mafara Hobson, a spokesperson for StudentsFirst, said Monday, “We think our kids deserve better than the brand of poisonous discourse and tactics that the AFT thinks aren’t a ‘big deal’ and which are typical of old Washington special interest politics. We hope that the AFT will join us in shifting the tone of the debate, as well as the substance, so that it no longer focuses on what’s best for the adults in the system, but instead what’s best for the students in our classrooms.”
- A Message from Michelle Rhee (raginghorse.wordpress.com)
- Michelle Rhee: Not So Vocal Now (educationclearinghouse.wordpress.com)
- The Effect of High Stakes Testing and Michelle Rhee (seattleducation2010.wordpress.com)
- Michelle Rhee still refuses to answer questions about cheating scandal (dailykos.com)
- Michelle Rhee Still Dodging the Elephant in The Room: Widespread Cheating On Her Watch (crooksandliars.com)
- On Education: Eager for Spotlight, but Not if It Is on a Testing Scandal (nytimes.com)
- The Battle Over School Reform Has Turned Dangerously Vitriolic (timesoftexas.com)