Michelle Rhee And Rupert Murdoch: Thick As Thieves?

When Rupert Murdoch gave his testimony earlier this week in London, former New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein was sitting directly behind him. After a stormy tenure in New York City where he fought teachers unions and closed schools

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When Rupert Murdoch gave his testimony earlier this week in London, former New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein was sitting directly behind him. After a stormy tenure in New York City where he fought teachers unions and closed schools according to the Michelle Rhee School Destruction Model, he left and took what looked to be a cushy job at News Corp helping Murdoch launch his for-profit education products.

Getting in the middle of another public dustup was the last thing on his agenda when he joined Murdoch’s media empire last November as a $2 million-a-year executive vice president, leaving his flap-prone post as chancellor of New York City’s school system to sit on News Corp.’s board of directors and advise the company’s entry into the for-profit education market. Klein is nothing if not savvy in the ways of big media companies; his wife, Nicole Seligman, is chief counsel for the Sony Corp.

But Klein doesn't just have ties to Rupert Murdoch. He's also "like this" with Michelle Rhee from his time in New York.

GothamSchools.org, in 2009:

Michelle Rhee touted her red-track/green-track teacher pay proposal last night at Pace University, saying it’s made such a splash that Mayor Bloomberg asked Chancellor Joel Klein if they could bring a similar model to New York. The proposal, which is being negotiated with the D.C. teachers union right now, would award some first-year teachers nearly $40,000 raises in exchange for giving up their tenure rights — while others could choose a “red” path where they retain tenure but are paid less.

Rhee said the model came up in a recent chat with Klein, who she said she speaks to regularly to share “best practices” and to commiserate. Klein told her that Mayor Bloomberg had asked if they could bring the red/green plan to New York.

“Apparently Klein said to him, ‘Not even you have enough money to do all of that in New York City,’” she said. Rhee’s plan, if passed, will be financed by private philanthropy for the first five years, she said.

See that private philanthropy claim there at the bottom? This is a Rhee hallmark. She rides into school districts on promises of private benefactors if only those schools will just clean up their acts and get it together the way she envisions. She doesn't name the private benefactors, so let me name a few who spend millions of dollars on Rhee's enterprises: Devos, Walton, and the Friedman foundations, whose sole goal is to turn public school districts private.

She'll deny that, of course, but as was reported over at Daily Kos, she slipped up and let it out with regard to Tennessee:

In essence, Rhee has been edging out of the closet on this issue, showing her opposition to collective bargaining first and foremost through her actions, but slipping every now and then and letting it come through in her words. That's what happened in Tennessee over the weekend, in which she talked about her support for school vouchers privatization, and:

She also praised the Tennessee legislature for its recent stances on education, calling its work "aggressive and courageous laws."

That would be a clear reference to the Tennessee bill eliminating collective bargaining and preventing teachers' unions from making campaign contributions or lobbying the state legislature; it was passed at the same time as a bill allowing corporations to give direct contributions to political candidates. To this point, Rhee has been working the "Democrat who saw the light" angle as she works overwhelmingly with Republicans. That image has deteriorated to the point where she had to shore up her credentials as a non-Republican by hiring DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan to shill for Students First. But at this point, you have to wonder why she's making the even a halfhearted effort to pretend she's anything but a John Kasich-Rick Scott-Scott Walker Republican when it comes to education issues.

The Nation ties it up in a nice neat package:

But what’s been less well understood is the impact the scandal might have on Murdoch’s attempt to make a profit off the American public sector, most notably through seeking to provide technology services, such as data-tracking systems and video lessons, to public school districts. Last November, shortly after hiring Klein, News Corp. acquiredWireless Generation, an education technology firm that had worked closely with Klein during his tenure as chancellor on two projects: ARIS, a controversial (and buggy) data system that warehouses students’ standardized test scores and demographic profiles; and School of One, a more radical attempt to use technology to personalize instruction, reorganize classrooms, and reduce the size of the teaching force.The acquisition put Klein, who was set to supervise Wireless Generation, in an awkward position vis à vis city ethics regulations.

Back to those non-profits for a minute. It's no secret that Rhee has set a goal of securing $1 billion in donations for her Students First organization in order to evangelize her message to reform privatize our public school system and destroy unions. Those goals are perfectly in line with Murdoch's business model with regard to his education products too. So do they have a connection, given the common links with Klein? Possibly, as The Nation reports.

But scrutiny on Murdoch’s school agenda is growing. Aware of the media titan’s relationship with former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, education reporter Alexander Russo tried to find out if Murdoch had donated toStudentsFirst, Rhee’s PAC. The group’s goal is to act as a political counterweight to teachers’ unions.“After two days of emails and phone calls—they must have been freaking out behind the scenes trying to figure out what to do—a Rhee spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny the Murdoch money,” Russo wrote.“Our policy doesn't allow me to reveal who our donors are or aren't,” the spokesman said.

Watch this space for more. It would be great if the FBI would look at those ties in addition to what they're already investigating. I'll be watching.

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