StudentsFirst doesn’t deserve a medal

A couple of weeks ago, the organization StudentsFirst, which bills itself as “a grassroots movement to reform America’s public education,” released a series of Olympic-themed videos on their Youtube page. The most popular spot featured a man, dressed in a “USA EDU” tank top, flopping around while twirling a ribbon as rhythmic gymnasts do, and compared his embarrassing performance to that of the American education system. The video is short, so it’s best if you watch it for yourself.


StudentsFirst is led by Michelle Rhee, who founded the organization after resigning as Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools (she is perhaps best known for her appearance in the school reform documentary Waiting for Superman, though her role in D.C.’s “Erasuregate” scandal should also be noted). Rhee herself appeared on Meet the Press in late July to debut the above video. Though it has more than 35,000 views on Youtube, it’s hard to gauge if reaction has been more positive or negative, as both ratings and comments for the video have been disabled.

The whole point of the video is to assert that American public education isn’t fit to compete on the world stage, and that notion is furthered by the graphic that says American students are ranked 17th in science, and 25th in math. Though no source is given for these numbers in the video, they’re from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Those numbers, however, don’t speak to an underlying cause, which is the fact that the US has the second highest rate of child poverty of developed nations (Romania is first).

When the information from the PISA report is disaggregated and schools with certain levels of child poverty of compared to other countries with similar levels, the US scores markedly improve. That is not at all to say that child poverty is the sole cause of problems within our public education system, but to completely ignore it is disingenuous.

So not only is the video insulting in its depiction of our students, teachers and administrators as slovenly and bumbling simpletons, but it is also misleading. – Ashwini Yelamanchili

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