Students First, the controversial education organization founded by former Washington, DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, last year named as its “reformer of the year” Republican Tennessee state Rep. John Ragan (right). Ragan was a winner due to 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 For example, he supported an overhaul to Tennessee’s outdated teacher tenure system, cast an important vote to end arbitrary limits on the number of charter schools in Tennessee, and co-sponsored measures to make it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.
That’s an appropriate, if not particularly exciting, commendation for his efforts. Ragan is, however, rather more noted in progressive circles for another education reform he wrote last year. That would be the legislation known as “Don’t Say Gay,” which would have banned any classroom discussion of homosexuality in grades k-8 and also (somewhat confusingly) required school officials to inform parents if they suspected their kids were gay.
The bill didn’t pass but it does show how Ragan likes to legislate. Students First helpfully explained that it believed “Don’t Say Gay” was,
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.
The organization’s Vice President of National Policy, Eric Lerum, tweeted that Students First “wouldn’t have endorsed had we known.” It also removed the original Ragan award press release from the Students First website.
Nice try. The problem is the organization didn’t say one of those Ragan bills to “overhaul to Tennessee’s outdated teacher tenure system, end arbitrary limits on the number of charter schools in Tennessee” or “make it easier for experienced professionals in science and math to enter the classroom” was its reform of the year. No, it called Ragan the “reformer” of the year. It appeared to just offer a blanket endorsement of Ragan for his awesomeness with regard to schools without, apparently, looking too closely into Ragan’s real educational philosophies.
Students First is famous for reforms Salon’s Katie McDonough (more or less accurately) characterizes as “anti-tenure, anti-union and pro-charter” and a “heavily Republican, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT and anti-choice political candidate endorsement list.”
Or, you know, Don’t Say Collective Bargaining.