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Founded 2010
Founder Michelle Rhee
Type Political lobbying
Focus Teacher evaluation based on student achievement, ending teacher tenure and seniority preferences
  • Washington, D.C.
Area served
United States
Key people
Michelle Rhee

StudentsFirst is a political lobbying organization formed in 2010 by Michelle Rhee, former school chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools, in support of education reform.[1] The organization worked to pass state laws on issues such as expanding charter schools and teacher tenure reform. On March 29, 2016, it announced some of its state chapters would merge with 50CAN, and its Sacramento headquarters would downsize.[2][3]

Policy Positions[edit]

StudentsFirst organizes its policy agenda into three categories: "elevate teaching," "empower parents," and "govern well."[4]

Under what it calls "elevate teaching," StudentsFirst has sought to eliminate the "last in, first out"—or LIFO -- seniority system for laying off public school teachers,[1] based on the premise that such a system promotes a sense of "adult entitlement" among teachers.[5] The organization also supports teacher evaluation systems based on improvement in student test scores,[1] and does not believe such assessment systems cause teachers to alter the test scores.[6]

"Empower parents" refers broadly to policies that allow for increased choice in where a student attends school, such as increasing accessibility to charter schools and providing opt-out options for students whose local public school is deemed "low-performing." StudentsFirst supports parent trigger laws, such as the California law that served as the plot for the movie Won't Back Down.

"Govern well" refers to policies in regards to school spending and resource allocation.[7]

In January 2013, StudentsFirst published a "policy report card" evaluating each of the 50 states' public educations laws and rules against its own policy agenda.[8] The survey suggested states publicly finance charter schools, institute test-linked "performance pay packages" for teachers, repeal laws capping class sizes, and end teacher tenure. No state received an "A" and only two states, Florida and Louisiana, received "B"s.

Political Activity[edit]

According to the Los Angeles Times, StudentsFirst "spent nearly $2 million" in the 2012 general election cycle "to support 105 candidates across the country,"[9] 90 of whom were Republicans.[10]

StudentsFirst supports the Student Success Act, legislation signed into law by Governor Rick Scott of Florida;[11] Michigan legislation that will remove a teacher's tenure status after a bad evaluation;[12] and similar proposals in Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.[13] The organization's activities have been the subject of significant coverage with articles appearing in the Huffington Post,[14] Fast Company magazine,[15] National Public Radio,[16] Education News Colorado,[17] The Washington Post,[1] The New York Times,[18] USA Today,[6] and the DailyKos.[19]

The organization has received seed money from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, a backer of educational reform in school districts.[6] As of May 2011, it had 21 staff members, and planned to engage in lobbying, the drafting of legislation and the backing of candidates for elected office.[6]

In October 2011, StudentsFirst launched an initiative to defend Michigan Republican Paul Scott against a recall effort,[20] dedicating nearly $70,000 to the initiative.[21] Scott's opponent in the upcoming race, Bobbie Walton, said StudentsFirst's involvement in the local election was "evidence of a national push to discredit teachers unions."[22][neutrality is disputed] On November 8, 2011 Scott was recalled.[23]

Former chairman Joseph P. Watkins as named Receiver of Schools in Chester, Pennsylvania in 2012.[24]

Board of directors[edit]

As of September 2013, the members of StudentsFirst's Board of Directors are[25]


Appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2010, Rhee announced a goal of raising $1 billion and garnering one million members. In actuality, the organization reported it have raised $7.8 million in its first fiscal year and $28.5 million in its second.[26]

StudentsFirst has received funding from Michael Bloomberg as well as the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. The latter committed $20 million to the initiative in 2012, to be paid out over a five-year period.[27][28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Turque, Bill. "D.C. Schools Insider - Rhee: D.C. school bureaucracy makes 'no sense'". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 29, 2010.
  2. ^ Keierleber, Mark (29 March 2016). "The 74 Exclusive: Ed Reform Groups StudentsFirst and 50CAN to Merge". The 74. Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  3. ^ Resmovitz, Joy (29 March 2016). "Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst will merge with education advocacy group 50Can". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "'Last In, First Out' Hurts Students, Teachers, and Communities". Retrieved May 29, 2010.
  6. ^ a b c d Bello, Marisol; Gillum, Jack (May 5, 2011). "Inquiry sought into D.C. test scores". USA Today. Retrieved May 29, 2010.
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Los Angeles Times, "Taking a crack at California's education system," March 26, 2013
  10. ^ Denvir, Daniel (Nov. 17, 2012). "Michelle Rhee’s right turn". Retrieved 2013-01-09.
  11. ^ "Florida". Retrieved May 29, 2010.
  12. ^ "Lawmakers seek tenure reforms, say firing bad teachers too costly". Detroit Free Press. May 20, 2011. Retrieved May 29, 2010.
  13. ^ "Movement to Reform Our Schools Gaining Ground". Retrieved May 29, 2010.
  14. ^ Larry Strauss (February 11, 2011). "Students First and Other Lies". Huffington Post. Retrieved May 29, 2011.
  15. ^ "Michelle Rhee Wants to Spend $1 Billion Fixing Education". Fast Company Magazine. January 12, 2011. Retrieved May 29, 2010.
  16. ^ "Former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee Aims To Put 'StudentsFirst'". NPR. February 26, 2011. Retrieved May 29, 2011.
  17. ^ "Michelle Rhee's next move: Students First". EdNewsColorado. December 14, 2010. Retrieved May 29, 2010.
  18. ^ "Change the Teaching Profession - Room for Debate". The New York Times. January 26, 2011. Retrieved May 29, 2011.
  19. ^ Laura Clawson (May 26, 2011). "Rhee's 'Students First' lobbied on Ohio's SB 5". Daily Kos. Retrieved May 29, 2011.
  20. ^ "Michelle Rhee group StudentsFirst spends thousands to support Rep. Paul Scott in recall fight". Flint Journal. October 25, 2011. Retrieved October 26, 2011.
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ Bell, Dawson (2011-11-08). "Rep. Paul Scott recalled, concedes defeat". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 2013-03-10.
  24. ^ Hardy, Dan (August 27, 2012). "New Chester Upland chief is change agent and lightning rod". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  25. ^
  26. ^ Resmovitz, Joy (2 July 2013). "Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst Missed Its Fundraising Goal, Tax Documents Reveal". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  27. ^ Simon, Stephanie (May 15, 2012). "Michelle Rhee, Education Activists Targeting U.S. Schools, Backed By Big Bucks". Huffington Post (originally from Reuters). Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  28. ^ Simon, Stephanie (June 25, 2012). "StudentsFirst Spending: National Education Reform Group's Partial Tax Records Released". Huffington Post (originally from Reuters). Retrieved March 25, 2014.

External links[edit]