Follow the money

Critics of StudentsFirstNY take aim at donors' ties to Romney

As we reported last week, the education advocacy group New Yorkers for Great Public Schools has been laying low this summer. But in its first big splash, the group is directly attacking the financial ties of StudentsFirstNY, an advocacy group that prompted them to form in the first place earlier this year.

In a report scheduled to be released tomorrow, the group dug into the political contributions of people who are supporting StudentsFirstNY and StudentsFirst, an associated national organization headed by Michelle Rhee.

In the report, titled “Students First Romney First”, the group calls out supporters of both the local and national organizations for also supporting Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Supporters of both StudentsFirstNY and StudentsFirst have contributed over $2 million to either the Romney campaign or third-party super PACS that support Romney, the report says.

The report focuses on people who sit on StudentsFirstNY’s board who either work for Romney or have helped fundraise for his campaign. That includes two members who used to back President Obama but have since crossed party lines. Hedge fund managers Daniel Loeb and Paul Tudor Jones, who founded the Robin Hood Foundation, have been vocal critics of the Obama administration for its handling of the national economy. After originally supporting him in 2008, they have recently helped fundraise to defeat him in the 2012 election.

Three other board members who support Romney are Kenneth Langone, founder of Home Depot, and Dan Senor, one of Romney’s senior campaign advisors, and Peter Kiernan, CEO of Kiernan Ventures.

In addition to serving on its board, Loeb and Jones also gave StudentsFirstNY $75,000 each in July.

StudentsFirstNY and New Yorkers for Great Public Schools stand at ideologically opposite sides of a debate on education policy that is getting increased attention in the distant 2013 New York City mayoral race. Both groups are jockeying for the attention of the Democratic candidates, although neither group has officially laid out specific policies that they would support.

The labor-backed New Yorkers for Great Public Schools generally seeks to roll back contentious policies favored by the Bloomberg administration, such as the practice of closing struggling schools and opening non-union charter schools to replace them. In its report, the group says that support for Romney from StudentsFirstNY backers is a sign of what its version of education reform in New York City will resemble.

“StudentsFirst NY is supporting market-driven restructuring and privatization of schools that goes even further than what Mayor Bloomberg has implemented in the past decade,” the report says.

The reform movement in education policy that has emerged in the last half-decade, one that pushes for greater teacher accountability measures and high-stakes testing, has been debated and dominated primarily by the Democratic party and largely left Republicans out of the conversation. Groups such as Democrats for Education Reform have built their credibility around the idea that Democratic politicians can support policies that unions oppose and still find support in the party.

But StudentsFirstNY is different in that it strives to be a bipartisan organization.

“We are proudly a bipartisan organization, with Democrats, Republicans and independents, because improving education shouldn’t be a partisan matter,” Glen Weiner, a director for StudentsFirstNY, said in a statement. Weiner said that board members have contributed at least $1 million to Obama as well and said that did not include bundling.

Weiner criticized the report as ranging “from absurd to dishonest” and accused the United Federation of Teachers of being disingenuous.

“Clearly, the teachers union is so desperate to suppress a serious conversation about improving teacher quality and expanding school options for kids that it has set up a front group to threaten elected officials and concoct conspiracy theories that, in many cases, better describe itself,” Weiner said in the statement.

The UFT, a driving force behind New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, is of course no stranger to crossing party lines when it comes to political contributions, either. Over the last decade it has given about $1 million to state committees to support Republican candidates.

The full report is below.

Students First Romney FIrst

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.