Superintendent man and the meddling mayor

The Rhee-Johnsons screw with other people’s school systems, Raymond sets The New York Times straight

Bites sometimes gives Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jonathan Raymond a hard time. He doesn’t notice. Snarky alt-weekly columnists are nothing to muckety-muck superintendents. Likewise, a little praise won’t much perturb him, either.

And he does deserve some praise for his recent reality check on Race to the Top. It started with New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman’s praise of President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, which Friedman said set off “a nationwide wave of school reform.” That’s the same Thomas Friedman who was cheerleader for the Iraq War, telling Iraqis to “suck on this.”

Raymond wrote to set Friedman straight about Obama’s education quagmire, saying RTTT “throws education stakeholders into enemy camps” by requiring districts to tie teacher evaluations to test scores—or else get no federal money.

“Are we to assume that without evaluations tied to test scores Sac City teachers, and thousands like them around the country, are working in an unprofessional avocation?” Raymond asked. He continued, “Being married to a former public school teacher, Mr. Friedman should know better.”

Being married to a school teacher, Bites certainly knows better. But Raymond also ought to tell it to The Sacramento Bee editorial board, who has been religiously flogging the idea of tying teacher evaluations to test scores.

Speaking of that whole Waiting for ‘Superman’ cult: What was Sacramento’s first couple doing this election season while hundreds of millions of dollars were on the line for Sacramento schools? Roving the country, trying to screw up other people’s school systems, of course.

Michelle Rhee, patron saint of the teacher-bashing movement, has been using her Sacramento-based StudentsFirst organization—a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization, of course—to funnel money into ballot measures in several states.

In Michigan, StudentsFirst funded anti-union groups trying to defeat a ballot measure that would put the right to organize unions for private and public employees into the state’s constitution. It’s a right that is recognized in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but apparently not one that Rhee thinks Michigan teachers (or any other workers) should have.

“I love teachers. Effective teachers,” she told members of the Michigan state Legislature while lobbying against the measure. By “effective” Rhee means teachers with high test scores: exactly the kind of evaluation system she instituted as chancellor of the Washington, D.C., schools before her boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty, was unelected and Rhee had to follow. The same kind of system that Raymond was warning about in his critique of Race to the Top.

StudentsFirst also poured money during this election into a Georgia ballot measure that, if passed, would make it possible for charter-school companies to get approval from state officials, even if local school boards turn them down. Rhee’s group is one of the biggest contributors—at $250,000—along with Alice Walton, heiress of the Walmart fortune.

And StudentsFirst backed another ballot measure in Bridgeport, Conn., to turn control of the schools over to that city’s mayor. Rhee’s husband, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, personally flew out to Bridgeport to stump for the measure—because, again, nothing important was going on with schools or elections in Sacramento that was more deserving of his time.

Johnson was dubbed by the local newspaper, the Connecticut Post, as “a national leader in education reform” when he came to town. And according to the local reporter, “Johnson said he wished his city was about to switch to an appointed board.” Yeah, bet he did.

Sacramento’s meddling mayor, however, was not appreciated by one of Bridgeport’s local school-board members: John Bagley, also a former NBA player, who played against Johnson back in the day.

“Don’t come into my house and mess with my right to vote!” Bagley wrote in the Post.

“I guess he’s an OK mayor of Sacramento … although I’m not familiar with the politics of a city 3,000 miles away from here,” Bagley said. “Because ’KJ’ decided to fly in from California and support the ongoing efforts to disenfranchise my friends and neighbors, I think he should be whistled for a technical foul. I wish he was here to go one-on-one concerning the subject of democracy.”

You know, actually, it sounds like Bagley understands Sacramento politics pretty well.