As many New Yorkers rushed home to escape the 30 degree weather Tuesday night, Juan Pagan stood on the sidewalk on 42ndstreet between Madison and Fifth Avenue, chanting in anger.
The target of Pagan’s ire: Michelle Rhee, the founder and CEO of the “Student First” movement, which pushes for better education by getting rid of teachers that aren’t good enough and redirecting funds from schools that aren’t making the cut.
Over 40 parents, teachers, and students joined Pagan outside the Cornell club in a protest organized by New Yorkers for Great Public Schools (NY-GPS), a city wide coalition, to protest a private book signing for Michelle Rhee’s new memoir ‘Radical, Fighting to Put Students First’, which came out earlier on Tuesday.
“Rhee is very right-winged,” said Porsche Armstrong, one of the protesters. “Her money making-policies are harmful to our children in the public education system and she continues to push for failure.”
The former chancellor for Public Schools in D.C., Rhee brings together her personal life story and her plan for improving America’s public schools in single manifesto. But, according to the Washington Post reporter who covered her tenure as D.C. school chancellor, Bill Turque, the book fell short of mentioning some of the stories used by Rhee in her campaigns that were challenged as misleading or untrue.
The demonstrators in Midtown were angered by the book launch and signing. “This issue impacts real people,” said Josh Hyman, a NY-GPS member. “A few people get to go to an invite only book signing in private club and ignore this gathering.This is evidence that those behind StudentsFirst continue to push for failure”
According to NY-GPS, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has closed down more than 140 public schools in the last 12 years. The same survey showed that 60 percentof the new elementary and middle schools he replaced them with were actually performing worse.
In a statement to NYC Lens, Erin Shaw, the spokeswoman for StudentsFirst said, “It’s unfortunate that union bosses spend their day attacking Michelle instead of having a constructive conversation about why our current education system is failing our kids.”
The Parent’s Rhee-port card, as organizers dubbed the protest, was an open mic night for concerned parents and teachers to vent out. They were cheered on with the crowd’s signature chant, heard from blocks away: “Rhee, Rhee,Rhee get out of NYC.”