The influence of Michelle Rhee and Chris Christie: Education reformers’ revolving door

New group probes connections between for-profit education corporations and federal policymakers

Topics: Arne Duncan, Department of Education, Education Reform, Unions, AFT, Sabrina Stevens, Ted Mitchell, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, , ,

The influence of Michelle Rhee and Chris Christie: Education reformers' revolving doorMichelle Rhee (Credit: AP/Jeff Chiu)

A new progressive education group, formed to fight business-backed bipartisan education reform consensus, announced Tuesday it was filing  Freedom of Information Act requests regarding for-profit groups’ influence in federal policy. The new group, Integrity in Education, says it’s seeking communications between officials with “known connections to for-profit education corporations,” and “any ethics waivers filed for department leaders and staff.”

“When we see people who are, you know, coming from organizations that are funded by people who can profit from a policy, then serving in an executive role that allows them to carry that out, and then going back to work with the kinds of organizations and the same kinds of funding interests, then that really does concern us,” Integrity in Education executive director Sabrina Stevens told Salon.

Stevens said her group was “troubled by what we’ve seen so far” from the Obama Education Department, citing a 2011 Harvard Business Review essay by Joanne Weiss, Secretary Arne Duncan’s then-chief of staff, which stated that “the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.”

Stevens argued that the essay suggested Weiss, who had led Obama’s Race to the Top program, “was so excited about Common Core not necessarily because of its impact on students, but because of the opportunities it opened up for the marketplace, and for for-profit companies that could quickly scale and take advantage of a national market.”

The Department of Education did not immediately respond to a morning inquiry. Addressing a National Assessment Governing Board parent summit Monday, Secretary Duncan said that “Both South Korean and U.S. citizens believe that the caliber of teacher matters tremendously, and the great teachers make a huge difference in children’s lives. The difference is: They act on their belief. We don’t. We talk the talk, they walk.”

You Might Also Like

Asked about Obama’s October choice of NewSchools Venture Fund chief executive Ted Mitchell as Duncan’s new undersecretary of education, Stevens told Salon she found it “deeply troubling,” given that his past work was “funded by organizations that do stand to directly profit off education policy.” NewSchools Venture Fund did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Stevens told reporters that she faced a “culture of fear and compliance” during her own time as a public school teacher. “When people like Chris Christie and Michelle Rhee were throwing around buzzwords like ‘accountability,’” she charged, she and her co-workers were “drowning” in standardized tests, and “literally had to stop teaching in order to convince the government that we were teaching.”

Asked about the new group’s funding sources, Stevens, a former staffer for the American Federation of Teachers union, had been “generously funded” by its board chair Deborah Sagner, the president of the Sagner Family Foundation and vice president of the Sagner Companies real estate firm. Stevens said the group would seek to develop a small-donor base, and would “look forward to sharing information about our partner organizations that we work with on campaigns.”

Stevens suggested that the results of the FOIA requests might help explain the Obama administration’s education approach. “Listening to Arne Duncan speak about education,” she told reporters, “really isn’t that different from listening to Michelle Rhee talk about it, or Jeb Bush, or Chris Christie.”

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...