Home edreform Does StudentsFirst deserve a seat at the policy table?

Does StudentsFirst deserve a seat at the policy table?

Does StudentsFirst deserve a seat at the policy table?

In August I blogged about the intersection of money, politics, and educator evaluation here in Iowa. Today, reporter Mike Wiser quotes me in his Sioux City Journal article about the growing presence of StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee’s advocacy organization, in our state:
We have seen the rise of influence of outside advocacy groups that are essentially buying access to the political process. There are lots of good ideas out there in the marketplace of ideas, but what worries me is when those ideas come attached to a big donation check, well, we know money talks in politics. [this should not be read as me saying that StudentsFirst has good ideas!]
During my interview with Mike, he asked me if I thought StudentsFirst deserved a place at the policy table. Brain-fried from a long day of working with principals, I think I mumbled that I don’t know how organizations get selected for statewide committees or what the criteria are (or should be). But maybe it’s best to turn the question around…
If an outside advocacy organization
pushes for educational reforms that result in smaller, not larger, student achievement gains;
admonishes that student achievement is critically important but then issues report cards for each state that reflect ideological preferences rather than actual student learning outcomes;
argues that we need more quality teachers while simultaneously advocating that we lower the bar for teacher preparation;
thinks merit pay is a good idea even thought it isn’t working (again) in school systems that are trying it;
continues to advocate for high-stakes testing despite the National Research Council’s conclusion that such mechanisms have been a complete failure;
wants teachers to be evaluated by students’ standardized test scores even though such schemes have been proven to be operationally unreliable, statistically invalid, systemically biased, and legally questionable;
disfavors school boards and desires mayoral control of urban school systems even though research shows that it is ineffective;
argues for more charter schools despite a growing body of research showing that they don’t perform better than public schools (and often are worse) and that they also result in increased racial, ethnic, disability, and socioeconomic segregation;
favors school vouchers even though Congressional evaluations found that they didn’t improve student achievement in Rhee’s own district of Washington, D.C. (mirroring results from both Milwaukee and Cleveland);
wants to reduce the complexity of schools to simple letter grades even though that makes no conceptual sense;
is led by someone whose purported Washington, D.C. success is compromised by a cheating scandal, whose schools are now worse off than before her arrival, and who routinely lies about her accomplishments;
is led by someone who believes that communities should not be democratically involved in their schools;
anoints an anti-gay politician as ‘Reformer of the Year’;
hides behind local ‘astroturf’ groups to create the appearance of support for its agenda;
stages artificial ‘town halls’ to create the appearance of support for its ideas;
pays people to leave fake positive reviews of an anti-public school film for which it’s advocating; and, generally,
has few policy proposals, if any, that are supported by peer-reviewed data, research, or evidence (and, indeed, are usually contradicted by such research);
but is more than willing to lavish large contributions around so that it floods local school board elections with unprecedented monies and is the biggest contributor to state legislative races, do you think it deserves a seat at the policymaking table?

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