Rhee Relishes New Role As National Advocate

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January 11, 2011; Source: Wall Street Journal | Michelle Rhee might have lost the podium that came with her highly visible job as chancellor of the District of Columbia public schools. But even in "civilian" life, where she now heads a new advocacy organization, StudentsFirst, she's anything but hesitant to challenge the status quo.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, Rhee, who left her D.C. job in December, "called Monday for giving students government-funded vouchers to attend private schools, rating principals based on student achievement and getting rid of teacher tenure." The newspaper notes that the former schools' chief acknowledges that her plan "would be controversial and tough to implement" but also is confident that StudentsFirst can get the job done.

"A lot of the reason I started the group is so we can provide the cover a courageous political leader needs to push this agenda," she said. "In these incredibly tough budget times, when school districts will take a big hit, we have an opportunity to rethink public education and put students first."

Just as she faced opposition in D.C., lines are already forming to make this work, which is national and not just local, potentially more challenging. John Wilson, executive director of the National Education Association, criticized Rhee for faulting teachers for lack of student achievement. Similarly, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, dismissed Rhee's plan as "wonderful rhetoric."

According to the Journal, Rhee's plan "focuses on overhauling teacher pay and evaluation plans, giving parents more say in their child's education and spending tax dollars more wisely." Among the elements drawing the ire of teacher groups are calls for ending tenure along with the practice setting teachers' pay based on years of service and number of master's degrees they earn.

If she has her way, teacher pay would be tied to student performance. Not everyone is rushing to criticize. Florida's new Republican governor, Rick Scott, has both appointed Rhee to his transition team and praised her agenda. Once before as Florida went, will so go the nation again?—Bruce Trachtenberg

  • Michael Paul Goldenb

    Tried to post the following here: http://eduoptimists.blogspot.com/2011/01/rheeform.html

    Not sure it made it, so I thought I’d attempt to get it out anyway.


    It doesn’t matter if Rhee’s proposals don’t make sense: she’s anointed. Anointed by the media; by Oprah; by Bill Gates; by her fellow educational deformer Joel Klein, by the think tankers from the education right (and likely other points on the party spectrum, given that just about no prominent American politician appears to care about meaningful reform).

    Further, it doesn’t matter if her proposals WORK. In fact, they’re almost certainly not going to work and I suspect that’s not exactly a coincidence. Because the goal of the entire education deform movement, along with that of the neo-conservative and neo-liberal push on education, is the FAILURE of US public schools.

    One might well take the words of the fraudulent, ‘the sky is falling’ battle cry from the age of Reagan, A NATION AT RISK, and apply them to the current crop of deformers. They are indeed an invasion force dedicated to destroying American democracy and putting our schools and our children firmly in the grasp of Wall Street.

    In that regard, this isn’t a political fight and Rhee’s isn’t a political agenda. It’s much simpler: it’s about M-O-N-E-Y. Public education is a multi-billion dollar cash cow waiting to be milked (until it runs dry) by corporate greed-heads. High-stakes tests advocated for by the publishers of those tests? Curriculum driven by those tests? Content determined by committees dominated by testing companies and publishers?

    As a good friend of mine said decades ago when he worked for McGraw-Hill (and later, Harper-Collins) in educational publishing: there’s no educational philosophy at work here; only what sells.

    Rhee knows about as much about teaching and learning as she does about running a nuclear power plant (and I’m not sure she’s any LESS dangerous given the power to run a classroom, let alone a school, a district, or, Darwin forfend, our nation’s educational policies). Her claim to fame, in her own words, as far as actual teaching goes, was her putting tape on the mouths of “noisy” students at an inner-city Baltimore public elementary school.

    Need we really analyze the idiocy contained in her screeds? The only news would be if she said something useful or insightful. That would be a real ‘woman bites dog’ story indeed.

  • Peter Hudson

    😀 It’s not hard to read between the lines when Rhee is gloating at the prospect of funds for a universal public school system drying up. Let the profiteering begin, as the private sector moves in. The huge contradiction is of course the “government-funded” voucher system. In these tough times (created let’s remember by the very sector being invited by Rhee to move in)where exactly are the government funds to come from? And if they are forthcoming we are likely to see a more expensive rather than a less expensive system. Add to that we already know that measuring student achievement is a total crock leading to some horrible distortions in education which are the opposite of putting students first. There are huge financial incentives to cheat, such as suggesting to certain students that they stay home on testing days. Even if this is resisted, such a system results in schools spending huge amounts of cash in marketing campaigns (not then going into education of students)into looking good rather than being good.

    An earlier commentator is quite correct. This insanity wouldn’t keep surfacing under various fine sounding guises (choice, empowerment and similar sloganeering), if there were not considerable profits to be made as the private sector continues to encroach upon tasks which properly belong in the public sector.