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Rhee Passes on Education Secretary

By Ed O'Keefe

D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee – a darling of the school reform movement who recently graced the cover of Time magazine – today removed her name from consideration as the next secretary of education.

Michelle Rhee
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee listens to a community member during a meeting, Oct. 10, 2008. (Photo -- Sarah L. Voisin/Post)

“I do not want to be secretary of education. I love my job as the chancellor. I have the best boss in [D.C. mayor] Adrian Fenty and I'm not going anywhere." Rhee said on WTOP-FM's “The Politics Program with Mark Plotkin earlier today.

"I think that the person who serves in that role has to be a real reformer. Has to be someone who's going to be incredibly strong on accountability. Will keep No Child Left Behind intact with making some tweaks," Rhee said of the next education secretary. "Right now lots of Democrats are talking about gutting the law, which I think is a huge mistake."

Rhee recommended New York City school chancellor Joel Klein for the job, calling him, "unafraid to tackle some of the most difficult challenges that face us in public education today." She continued: "I think it's that kind of fortitude that we need in this position. It would speak volumes about what's going to happen in the next four years."

The chancellor's pass on the job comes as New York Times columnist David Brooks today wrote about finalists to lead the Education Department.

As in many other areas, the biggest education debates are happening within the Democratic Party. On the one hand, there are the reformers like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, who support merit pay for good teachers, charter schools and tough accountability standards. On the other hand, there are the teachers’ unions and the members of the Ed School establishment, who emphasize greater funding, smaller class sizes and superficial reforms.
During the presidential race, Barack Obama straddled the two camps. One campaign adviser, John Schnur, represented the reform view in the internal discussions. Another, Linda Darling-Hammond, was more likely to represent the establishment view. Their disagreements were collegial (this is Obamaland after all), but substantive.

Brooks notes that Obama straddled the reform and status-quo viewpoints throughout the campaign and that education observers nervously await his final pick.

So who might Obama pick?

The Post predicts Klein, a "known as a crusader for reform"; Colin Powell, who "would draw instant attention to his pet causes, such as reducing the high school dropout rate"; and Chicago schools CEO Arne Duncan, whose "Chicago connections presumably would help give him access to Obama."

Who do you think should lead the Education Department? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | December 5, 2008; 5:56 PM ET
Categories:  Revolving Door  
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