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Topic: StudentsFirst Shuts Down In Minnesota
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
StudentsFirst Shuts Down In Minnesota
Posted: Jul 13, 2014 6:59 PM
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From The Star Tribune [Mpls, MN], Friday, July 11, 2014. See
StudentsFirst pulls up stakes in Minnesota

The controversial group fought for basic-skills exams, teacher evaluations.

By Kim McGuire

StudentsFirst, a controversial nationwide school reform group that
has frequently clashed with teachers' unions, is shutting down its
Minnesota office.

Kathy Saltzman, state director of StudentsFirst Minnesota, confirmed
Wednesday that the group has decided not to maintain a paid staff in
Minnesota, where it has about 29,000 members. She is currently the
group's only Minnesota-based employee.

The national group, headed by former Washington, D.C., schools
chancellor Michelle Rhee, has been part of a movement aimed at
improving education in ways that many teachers think unfairly target
them. It has pushed for greater accountability among teachers, fought
to overturn laws that protect teacher tenure and supported
standardized testing. It has frequently aligned itself with
Republican lawmakers who support charter schools and school vouchers.

"The decision was made based on the continually changing legislative
climate," Saltzman said of the move to close Minnesota's branch. "We
will, however, continue to have a presence here through our members."

Earlier this week, StudentsFirst confirmed that it is scaling back
operations in Florida to focus on political battles elsewhere. In
coming days, it is expected to announce that it's eliminating staff
members in other states - a move a national group spokesman said
Wednesday he could not confirm.

"Obviously we can't predict the future, but we will continue to
support our reform partners," said spokesman Ross McMullin.

Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, said she's not
surprised StudentsFirst is scaling back.

"National education franchises like StudentsFirst struggle to find an
audience in Minnesota because they sell policies developed far away
by people who don't know our schools," she said. "So they push ideas
that appeal to wealthy donors around the country, but don't quite fit
in Minnesota, which has some of the best schools and students in the
nation." [Emphasis by JPB]

StudentsFirst was founded in 2010 by Rhee after she left her post in
Washington. Known for her tough talk and willingness to push back
against the education establishment, Rhee oversaw the group as it
opened offices in 18 states. In 2011, it began operating in
Minnesota; it hired Saltzman a year later.

During StudentsFirst's relatively brief time in Minnesota, the group
has opposed efforts to scrap what is known as the basic-skills exam
for teachers, fought back an attempt to delay the implementation of a
law requiring statewide teacher evaluations, and lobbied for more
funding for state early-learning scholarships.

"StudentsFirst and Kathy Saltzman have really been an effective voice
for students and for teachers," said Jim Bartholomew, education
policy director for the Minnesota Business Partnership. "But most of
all, I think they've worked to truly put students first by ensuring
that they have an effective teacher."

Many of StudentsFirst's most vocal opponents privately admit to
liking Saltzman, a former state senator who once led the Minnesota
Reading Corps, a statewide effort aimed at making sure students can
read well by third grade.

During her four years in the Senate, Saltzman sponsored legislation
to boost literacy, tighten controls on charter schools and ease the
way to alternative paths to teacher licensure.

Earlier this year, teachers, school administrators and state
Department of Education officials howled when StudentsFirst gave
Minnesota a "D" in an education-policy report. In a move that created
backlash from teachers, Rhee spoke the next month at an education
conference in St. Paul.
Saltzman said she's liked working with Rhee because of her
common-sense approach to education reform.

She's not sure what she'll do next, but Saltzman said she wants to
keep working to close Minnesota's stubborn achievement gap between
white students and students of color.

"I am very proud of the work we've done in Minnesota, because I think
it's raised the visibility of StudentsFirst overall," Saltzman said.
Kim McGuire * 612-673-4469

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