Don’t Say ‘Reformer’

By Andrew Ujifusa — May 02, 2013 1 min read
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cross-posted from the Rules for Engagement blog

by Nirvi Shah

This week, StudentsFirst apologized for naming Tennessee lawmaker John Ragan one of its reformers of the year in 2012 because the Republican is the primary sponsor of legislation that would require a counselor or other school official who learns that a student has engaged in homosexual activity to report this information to the student’s parents.

The measure was quickly lumped in with similar previous Tennessee proposals nicknamed “Don’t Say Gay” bills.

In a statement Monday, the group’s vice president for legislative affairs Tim Melton said:

More than a year ago, StudentsFirst endorsed and highlighted Representative John Ragan in Tennessee because of his support of several education policies for which we advocate. For example, he supported an overhaul to Tennessee's outdated teacher tenure system, cast an important vote to end arbitrary limits on the number of charter schools in Tennessee, and co-sponsored measures to make it easier for experienced professionals in science and math to enter the classroom. However, a bill he introduced this year, HB 1332, is an ill-conceived, harmful piece of legislation that would have represented a backward step for Tennessee schools and kids. StudentsFirst did not at any time support HB 1332 and will not support any similar legislation, whether in Tennessee or any other state. Thankfully, members of the Tennessee legislature agreed, and did not allow the bill to move forward.

An opinion blogger for, Peter DeWitt, was unimpressed with the apology by the reform organization founded by former District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, however, noting that Ragan’s bill was not his first anti-gay act. “Ragan has been introducing and supporting anti-gay legislation, as well as voting against protecting victims of child abuse, since he was elected in 2010,” DeWitt said over at the Finding Common Ground blog.

And Salon notes that “StudentsFirst has refused to rescind the honor it gave Ragan, though it has since removed a link from its website encouraging supporters to donate to him.”

Although Ragan was named a StudentsFirst reformer of the year in 2012, the organization is reacting now because of a piece in the Democratic-leaning Daily Kos from last week.

DeWitt notes something I have written about before: The majority of students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender are bullied at school, and many find their school experiences so unbearable or threatening, they actually skip school.

“Unfortunately,” DeWitt continued, “Rhee and her staff at StudentsFirst are so focused on making the public school system look bad that they only focused on the fact that Ragan supported a ban on capping the number of charter schools in Tennessee and that he supported using high stakes test scores to evaluate teachers and administrators.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.