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Advocacy: How StudentsFirst Botched Things In TN -- Or Didn't

Screen shot 2013-07-11 at 4.48.15 PMThe curious thing about Jeff Guo's recent New Republic article about StudentsFirst's efforts in Tennessee  Michelle Rhee in Tennessee) is that @_jeffguo starts out blaming StudentsFirst for botching things in Tennessee but later on admitting that it was infighting among legislators that led to the dismal results.

These things happen all the time -- screaming headlines and bold claims in the first few paragraphs of a story that never quite backs up what it (or its editors) promise.

Let's see if I back up my claims against the piece, or suffer the same humiliating dropoff in the last few sentences.


Guo's thesis is clear at the start:  

"How did StudentsFirst bluster into Tennessee with its massive war chest in 2011, only to have gained so little two years later?"

However, deep into the piece another quite different conclusion is reached:  

"Farmer’s group claimed victory when all three [Rhee-suported] bills failed to pass. But it was disorganization within the GOP that fumbled the bills."

Hmm.  Where's the causal connection between StudentsFirst's arrival and behavior and the mishaps and failures that readers were expecting?  

There's not much, really.  Things went awry for reform efforts.  StudentsFirst was there.  Therefore, StudentsFirst was the cause.  

Personally, I need more than that -- much more, actually. 

Some other points worth noting:  

(1) It's not clear that StudentsFirst and others of its ilk such as Stand For Children are capable of working together, much less coordinating efforts. Doesn't Guo know that the two organizations are rivals as much as allies? 

(2) While StudentsFirst's endorsements skew Republican, its campaign contributions are more evenly balanced (58/42), especially when considering the Republican control of many states like Tennessee.  See some of my recent posts about this.

(3) The parent trigger actually does have a track record in California, where it's been used to convert schools into charters, restaff schools, and remove a principal in whom parents had lost confidence. See LA School Report for all the details on this.

(4) The reality that campaign fundraising doesn't guarantee victory is nothing new in politics -- it happens pretty much every election cycle.  So why do we let journolists make hay with it when a big money candidate or cause loses a race?  

(5) Rhee's agenda has indeed become more aggressive and narrow -- a sprint rather than a marathon - but criticizing her impatience only makes sense if you want to criticize others -- gay rights activists, for example, or immigration reform advocates  -- for seizing momentum and energy to push though as much as possible. There's nothing unusual or wrong about pushes like this.

(6) You can criticize StudentsFirst for being explicitly political, or you can criticize it for being politically inept -- but you can't do both without losing reader credibility and perhaps revealing that you main purpose is to criticize StudentsFirst rather than to shed light on what's actually happening, or why, or even how.

Previous posts:  StudentsFirst 2012 Spending On Local Board RacesStudentsFirst Misses Fundraising Goal, Triples BudgetStudentsFirst 14-State 2012 Candidate Spending

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And this is an exaggeration:

The parent trigger actually does have a track record in California, where it's been used to convert schools into charters, restaff schools, and remove a principal in whom parents had lost confidence. See LA School Report for all the details on this.

The parent trigger has converted one school (Desert Trails, Adelanto) into a charter -- but that school hasn't opened as a charter yet. That will happen in the fall.

The parent trigger has removed a principal (Weigand Elementary, LAUSD -- and, contrary to the intentions of the petitioners, the entire teaching staff except one left with the principal), but the school hasn't opened with the new staff yet. That will happen in the fall.

The parent trigger was indirectly responsible for the fact that a charter opened a couple of miles from a targeted school (McKinley Elementary, Compton), but a tiny fraction of the families at McKinley who were supposedly clamoring for a charter transferred to the new charter.

It's premature to claim it has a track record -- put it that way.

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