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L.A. Now Live: Michelle Rhee takes on teachers' unions

March 27, 2013|By Joseph Serna
  • Michelle Rhee, center, former chancellor of Washington, D.C., Public Schools, answers questions after delivering a speech titled "Making the U.S. Education System Competitive Globally" to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles earlier this year.
Michelle Rhee, center, former chancellor of Washington, D.C., Public… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Former District of Columbia schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has partnered with Republicans and Democrats to challenge teacher union power and use student test scores in union negotiations.

Join us at 9 a.m. as we discuss Rhee's policies and effect on educators in California and beyond with Times reporters Howard Blume and Michael Mishak.

Rhee can seem pitch perfect in the role of outraged parent and education reformer, distilling complex policy debates into bare-knuckled banter.

In her world, as she recently told crowds in Los Angeles and Sacramento, teacher seniority protections are "whack," principals can be "nutty" and charter schools can be "crappy." Such frank talk has made the controversial former teacher a celebrity and potential political powerhouse.

StudentsFirst, the advocacy group Rhee founded in California's capital, where she lives with her husband, Mayor Kevin Johnson, is positioning itself as the political counterweight to teachers' unions. Funded by entrepreneurs and philanthropists, it's pushing to elect candidates and rewrite policies on charter schools, teacher assessment and other charged issues in at least 17 states, including California.

Teachers' unions and other critics say the group, which spent $250,000 to boost three candidates for the Los Angeles Board of Education in the March 5 election, promotes unproven policy proposals with cash from sources whose main goal is crushing organized labor. Among StudentsFirst's major donors is the Walton Family Foundation, funded by heirs to the fortune generated by Wal-Mart, which has vigorously opposed unions.

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joseph.serna@latimes.com

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