Rhee Relishes New Role As National Advocate

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