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Update: StudentsFirst Continues To Expand Despite Controversy

image from laschoolreport.comAs I noted yesterday on Twitter, reform critics, union leaders, and even some mainstream journalists like to suggest that StudentsFirst and other reform advocacy groups are dripping with money for electoral politics, neglecting to mention (perhaps they don't know?) how much teachers unions and other labor groups shovel into the process each year.

Last year, for example, StudentsFirst contributed less than $2 million to California races -- a pittance compared to union and other established stakeholder contributions.  If there's an 800 pound gorilla in the school reform debate, it's the veteran stakeholders not the newbies. 

On a related note, EdWeek's Andrew Ujifusa has a new post up suggesting that reform critics shouldn't be overly distracted by the possibility of the testing scandal bringing Rhee down because "the momentum behind the kind of policies Rhee's group supports may have too much power, time, and cash behind them" in DC as elsewhere. This seems like a good point to reiterate, considering that so many Rhee haters are thinking she's going down immediately.  

Ujifusa also notes that StudentsFirst is steadily expanding its state level operations nationally, which brings me to the news that StudentsFirst has hired a new political strategist, Fabian Nunez, to help move its agenda forward in Sacramento.  Nunez (pictured) is one of the town's most influential power brokers, according to the LA Times (as well as a longtime friend to the state teachers unions).  Hiring lobbyists and former elected officials to head state advocacy efforts is a tried and true approach, though it creates challenges for multi-state organizations trying to keep some sort of brand uniformity in place.  Rumor is that StudentsFirst is also hiring a state director (Nunez is an outside consultant.) Click the link for an interview I did with Nunez last week -- some of what he has to say about balancing the union voice in Sacramento seems interesting.


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I think this post is misleading.

Though I'm sure my comment will disappear, here are some corrections.

Not being stupid or uninformed, we education "reform" critics are well aware that teachers' unions are major campaign donors. The difference between them and operations like StudentsFirst is that teachers' unions represent stakeholders who are part of the communities involved in those elections, and their money comes from those stakeholders.

Operations like StudentsFirst and DFER are outside groups funded by outside money (Walton, Gates, Broad and similar sources).

Teachers' unions have genuine membership made up of those stakeholders. StudentsFirst has fake membership, mostly if not entirely made up of names (including mine) collected from people who were not aware they were "joining" the group, while DFER doesn't seem to be a membership organization. I'm not saying that organizations without mass membership can't be valuable or valid, but it's apples and oranges to compare those operations to teachers' unions.

Stand for Children was an interesting one because it DID start as a genuine grassroots membership organization (I have a good friend who helped found it) before being corrupted and selling out to the "reform" interests, leaving members who were aware of what was going on horrified.

Reform critics, again, are generally not stupid or uninformed, so we're well aware of Rhee's Teflon coating and actually do NOT expect her to topple. The USA Today expose of D.C. cheating, joined by the Washington Post's Jay Mathews' commentaries, didn't even make a dent, and that was two years ago.

I do believe that deceptions fall apart eventually -- having learning the ed-reform ropes by following Edison Schools -- but Rhee's Teflon is substantial and will keep her unscathed for a good long time.

As for Nunez, his job description is "dance with who brung you," so he's saying what he's paid to say. I'd rather listen to someone who's expressing his actual opinions.

CarolineSF - your tone and demeanor betray your infirmity. Just listen to yourself. Please tell me you're not a teacher - I wouldn't want you within the same city limits as my children. Stay away from children please. If you're what teachers' unions are protecting then the tragic flaw in their work is self-evident.

While I am also afflicted by the infirmity of questioning the purity of StudentFirst's motives, I will say this: they hire handsome dudes.

Michelle Rhee may leave Students First behind but she will not topple, she will run for Congress.

The post isn't misleading at all, Caroline:
" "the momentum behind the kind of policies Rhee's group supports may have too much power, time, and cash behind them" in DC as elsewhere. This seems like a good point to reiterate, considering that so many Rhee haters are thinking she's going down immediately."

Russo has finally abandoned the convention that hired advocates need to pay lip service to integrity, to the truth, or to "the civil rights issue of our time".

Power, time, and cash is what's behind it. There's no stopping it then, is there?

The deception these opinion-molding hacks are engaged in is now of themselves, and their paying clients. The world is finally watching, and is revolted by the whole show.

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