Michelle Rhee Plans to Leave Post as StudentsFirst CEO, Report Says

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 13, 2014 2 min read
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Michelle Rhee will leave her position as CEO of the StudentsFirst advocacy group by the end of the year, Joy Resmovits of the Huffington Post reported Aug. 12, citing three sources close to the organization.

Rhee, the former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, founded StudentsFirst and plans to remain on the group’s board, the report says. Francisco Castillo, a spokesman for the group, told Resmovits that Rhee remained committed to “leading” StudentsFirst, but he didn’t specify if that referred to her position on the board of the group, or other activities. The group is in the process of hiring a new president to take over day-to-day operations.

UPDATE: In an Aug. 13 blog post on StudentsFirst’s website, Rhee touts the 2 million members of the organization and the 130 new policies the group has successfully lobbied for: “Not only that, but we’ve helped elevate and shift a bipartisan national conversation around education. In states across the country, people are debating education policies including teacher tenure, standards, and accountability through a student-focused lens like never before.”

Rhee wrote that she plans to spend more time with her family, and that the time is right for a “shift in the day-to-day management of the team” at StudentsFirst.

Students First has 13 active state-level affiliates and advocates for policies that strengthen school choice, require teachers to be evaluated on student performance, and weaken “last in, first out” teacher hiring practices, among others. The group has published report cards of state education policy based on these factors, and has also been a donor to ballot initiative campaigns and to state legislators, the significant majority of whom are Republicans.

Rhee’s impending departure from the group is the biggest, but only the most recent story involving her increasing workload outside of StudentsFirst, as well as StudentsFirst’s diminishing national presence.

At the beginning of August, she agreed to become chairwoman of the board of the St. Hope charter school management organization in Sacramento that was founded by her husband, Kevin Johnson, the city’s mayor. Roughly a week later, Scotts Miracle Gro, which sells lawn and seed products, announced that she had joined its board of directors under the name Michelle Johnson.

Meanwhile, last month, StudentsFirst confirmed that it was largely shutting down five of its state affiliates, including those in Florida and Minnesota. The reasons behind the closing of those affiliates varied by state, but StudentsFirst’s retreat from nearly a third of the states it operated in at its peak raised questions about the group’s long-term strength and the scope of its mission.

As Resmovits notes, the role Rhee had assumed as a member of the vanguard for “education reform” may be taken up by Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor who is at the forefront of efforts to change teacher tenure and dismissal rules. Rhee recently hailed Brown’s effort in the face of criticism:

StudentsFirst Founder and CEO Michelle Rhee speaks at a panel at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s 9th Annual CEO Business Climate Summit in San Jose, Calif., in 2012. (AP File Photo)

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