Saturday, January 28, 2017

Public education advocates cry foul over legislators' private meeting with controversial school reformer Michelle Rhee - The Progressive Pulse

Public education advocates cry foul over legislators' private meeting with controversial school reformer Michelle Rhee - The Progressive Pulse:

Public education advocates cry foul over legislators’ private meeting with controversial school reformer Michelle Rhee 

Some North Carolina public education activists are crying foul over a private legislative meet state lawmakers are scheduled to attend with controversial school reformer Michelle Rhee next month.
Rhee—the former chief of public schools in Washington, D.C., and, at one time, a rumored pick for U.S. education secretary under President Trump—is a “special guest” for an annual legislative gathering hosted by the lobbying group BEST N.C. on Feb. 7.
BEST N.C. (which stands for Business for Educational Success and Transformation) counts powerful North Carolina business leaders among its membership, including retired Wells Fargo banker Walter McDowell, Ann Goodnight of Cary-based software developer SAS and controversial right-wing philanthropist Art Pope.
During her three-year tenure in D.C., Rhee was a highly polarizing figure who stormed into the spotlight in the late aughts, instituting stiff testing-based accountability measures, firing hundreds of teachers and administrators, closing schools and lobbying for an end to teacher tenure rights.
Since leaving D.C., Rhee has also become an outspoken advocate for charter school expansion and private school vouchers, the latter of which is intensely unpopular among public school backers nationwide and in North Carolina.
Next month’s event will also include George Parker, the former president of a D.C. teachers union who once openly clashed with Rhee over her stringent teacher accountability policies but later joined forces with her in Rhee’s StudentsFirst organization, a nonprofit she began after her D.C. posting to lobby for school choice and teacher accountability measures in state legislatures, many of which are particularly popular with GOP lawmakers in North Carolina in recent years.
This week, Policy Watch requested access to next month’s event, but BEST N.C. President & CEO Brenda Berg said no members of the media will be granted access. Berg said such a rule will allow “candid” conversations between participants, which includes an unspecified number of state lawmakers and school stakeholders.
“The legislative gathering is always closed to media, always has and always will be as a promise to members,” said Berg. “Because they want to feel comfortable asking elected officials and experts candid questions off the record.”
That doesn’t sit well with public education leaders who spoke with Policy Watch Friday.
“All organizations have the right to hold meetings,” said Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE), an influential teacher lobbying organization based in Raleigh. “But when you’re having a public dialogue on public dollars and—clearly Michelle Rhee has been a supporter of private school vouchers and that’s a very hot topic here—you would think you would want to have a very open dialogue.”
Natalie Beyer, a Durham school board member and outspoken state public school advocate, called Rhee and Parker “controversial figures, to say the least.”
“I just think it’s alarming and certainly not in keeping with best practices for public engagement,” said Beyer. “Any issues that affect North Carolina public school students should be open for parents and teachers and the press to observe, hear and witness.”
Officials with the N.C. Ethics Commission could not be reached for comment Friday, but, given that state lawmakers are exempted from many of the public gathering requirements imposed on local political bodies, legislators talking education reform at the BEST N.C. forum is not likely a violation of any open meetings laws.
And BEST N.C. is not the only policy organization that holds private gatherings with lawmakers. Berg
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