Anti-Union Group StudentsFirst Launched Astroturf Campaign to Undermine Teachers
StudentsFirst, the organization founded by Michelle Rhee to battle teachers unions over education policy, has seen better days – having pulled back its chapters in several states and laid off staff. Many are associating its advocacy with being reflexively against the rights of teachers and reflexively for school privatization, a trend in education policy that is starting to wane.
One way for an organization that is starting to lose its base is to rebrand, or to disguise its activities. An email Alternet has obtained shows StudentsFirst emailing individuals in New Mexico (and reportedly other states) offering to pay them to blog and social media comment in favor of its preferred anti-teachers union policies. Here's a copy of the email we received from a source who says it appeared over the summer:
The Truth Campaign for Teachers (TCT) is looking for:
·3-5 New Mexicans who are willing to blog at least twice/week on a variety of pro-reform issues
·3-5 New Mexicans who are willing to comment on/promote content on social media
Ideal candidate is passionate about education reform and is willing to be vocal about issues like the ones StudentsFirst supports.
·TCT would supply them with:
-Daily emails with suggested content and they would choose which topics to write on
-Before posts are final, a TCT write will provide feedback on post to form a compelling blog post
-(Help set up blog if person does not have one yet)
·Prefer that individual is willing to be named but we can work with anonymous bloggers as well
·Trying to get as many volunteers as possible
Social Media Commenters
·Ideal candidates are passionate about education reform
·Have the ability to respond quickly
·Preferred that they a twitter following but not mandatory
This is not a StudentsFirst initiative but if they are interested, we will connect them with partners at the Truth Campaign for Teachers.
Although this email tries to distance itself from StudentsFirst, it echoes tactics the organization used in other states – for example, in Florida, it promised gift cards to people who commented on blogs in support of its ideology. It's also worth noting that the 501(c)3 organization where the “Truth Campaign for Teachers” is registered is the address of OutsideEyes, a firm owned by Matt S. David who has worked with StudentsFirst.
Since the emails went out, a numberof new blogs, including a couple of blogs and twitter accounts in New Mexico, have popped up, all aimed at supporting the StudentsFirst agenda.
It's impossible to prove where funds from this front group have gone, unless it – and StudentsFirst – decide to provide transparency and come clean.