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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 12/ 6/2010

What Michelle Rhee is doing next

By Jo-Ann Armao

Anyone who watched Michelle Rhee these last three and a half years as she upended Washington's troubled public schools shouldn't be surprised by her decision to start up a new national organization dedicated to school reform. From the get-go -- when she was first named D.C. schools chancellor by Mayor Adrian Fenty -- she said she was no career bureaucrat; Washington would be her first and last stint as school superintendent. Then there's the fact she hates being bossed around, so it was clear she needed a job where she was in charge. Add in her passionate belief that student interests are often overlooked in the debate over education reform and her clear antagonism toward teacher unions and StudentsFirst was not surprising.

Rhee is announcing today -- in a column in Newsweek and an appearance on Oprah! -- that she is starting a new national movement aimed at transforming public education in America. She aims to raise a boatload of money and members -- $1 billion and one million members is the goal for the first year -- to reshape education. That means trying to influence legislation, impact elections and foster program reforms in local school districts.

Rhee's decision about her next step came as she licked her wounds in a Hawaiian getaway following Fenty's defeat in the September primary. Because the political playing field had upset her reform of the schools, she needed to upset the political playing field. As she wrote in Newsweek, "When you think about how things happen in our country -- how laws get passed or policies are made -- they happen through the exertion of influence.... Education is no different. We have textbook manufactures, teachers unions and even food vendors that work hard to dictate and determine policy. The public employee unions in DC, including the teachers union, spent huge sums of money to defeat Fenty. But there is no organized interest group that defends and promotes the interests of children."

Now, there is a certain irony in Rhee -- whose Achilles' heel in D.C. was said to be her lack of political skills - wanting to play a political role on the bigger, national stage. I wouldn't underestimate her, though. Just as an "Inconvenient Truth" nourished a grass roots movement for climate control, so has "Waiting for Superman" -- of which Rhee is a star -- tapped into the nation's discontent with its schools. No doubt she also will be helped by the new Republicans in Congress and in the nation's state houses, whose members are less likely to kow tow to the interests of organized labor. More to the point: when the then-relatively unknown Rhee was unveiled as Fenty's choice for schools chancellor, most people (and I include myself here) thought him out of his mind. No way could this 30-something who had never been superintendent before ever make a difference. No matter what you think of Rhee, there can be no argument that she helped to fundamentally change how the city -- not to mention the country -- approaches education reform.

By Jo-Ann Armao  | December 6, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Armao  | Tags:  Jo-Ann Armao  
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You go, girl!

Posted by: ProfessorPeabody | December 6, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Somehow, my countrya$$ hillbilly grandparents learned enough to make it through college.

I'm still waiting for an explanation of how that happened, in 19 fricken 20.

Posted by: gpsman | December 6, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

A tax free $1 billion to lobbyists for privatizing public schools and funneling taxpayer dollars to Wall Street/hedge funds. How is this reform, and how is it putting students first?

"Charters are edging out traditional public schools in Harlem and other poor neighborhoods —and the charters are overwhelmingly controlled by hedge fund directors and finance capitalists who sit on the boards of directors that are legally responsible for running a charter and establishing its financial, educational and personnel policies. (There is a more than a little irony that New York, home to one of the fiercest battles for community control of schools in the 1960s, is now a prime example of rich white billionaires controlling the education of low-income children of color.)"

Posted by: nanak1 | December 6, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

gpsman, Jo-Ann Armao won't be able to tell you, neither would Michelle Rhee.
She doesn't think much of public school teachers and public school students, as evidenced by this blog posting of hers:
"Should teachers’ unions spend millions on political campaigns?

Oct 25, 2010
Today I received the following email from an exceptionally bright young person:

“I'm a 13-year-old 8th Grade Student at a Private School, but I came up with a good point whilst researching some after seeing "Waiting for Superman."

The Teacher's Union is to back up all teachers. The Union spends tens of millions each election on presidential campaigns. I don't know about everyone, but if I were a teacher, and saw my union spend $50M on an election campaign rather than me, I'd be enraged! Those millions could go to paying the teachers extra.”

I thought it was a very insightful, but I wonder what others think. In particular, what do teachers think?"

Posted by: edlharris | December 6, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Jo-Ann, that evil looking smile is so very reminicent of Freddie Kruger. Anywho, you can beat the drum of FORMER chancellor Rhee all you like in the self interest of Kaplan University, but now, as then, the people will not be drinking that kool aid. You need to find something better to do with your time. Like going to journalism school and learning the concept of 'objective' reporting.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | December 6, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Krugar: You decide.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | December 6, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

If you can pull this off, my hat and support will be with you. Let me know where to send my $1 donation.

Posted by: sun52shine | December 6, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Me, Me, ME says Michele Rhee.
Sounds like another Sarah Palin.
Me, Me, ME!
Quits her job to get RICH, just like Sarah Palin.

Posted by: chucky-el | December 6, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Where do I send my contribution?
Keep up the good work, Michelle!

Posted by: ProfessorPeabody | December 6, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

I don't know about the D.C. area but the Jacksonville,FL Times-Union newspaper had a story saying she is going to be part of the transition team for the new Governor of Florida, Rick Scott. Mr. Scott who has Zero political experience does have one answer to every problem he has seen so far in state government "Privatization". I will follow what she recommends since Florida has been known in the past few years for being in the bottom tier of states when it come to funding public education. That Lack of funding has been sited by a few professional organizations as the number one problem, lets see what she recommends. Average per pupil spending in Florida= $6,056, in Connecticut= $10,001.

Posted by: southernrican | December 6, 2010 7:21 PM | Report abuse

What I would like to see Ms Rhee do next is teach inner city junior high school classes for at least two years. Once she is "evaluated", i.e., judged by students, their parents, her administrative superiors, and her colleagues in the profession, we will know whether or not she is qualified to pontificate on educating our children. How is she rated by her colleagues in the same situation? What can she teach them by her example, not just her words. Appearances on tv shows like Oprah and the Colbert Report are not sufficient testimony to her "people skills."

Let her be done to as she has done and would do to others, then ranked on a scale of 1 to 5. Now that would be a learning experience we might all benefit from.

Posted by: castleb | December 6, 2010 8:04 PM | Report abuse

Who cares about Michelle A. Rhee except you?

All that matters is Rhee is finally out of D.C. and can't hurt area teachers and black kids anymore ... we hope.

How is it that none of the Post's previous "reporting" on Rhee turned out to be true: no appointment as Education Secretary, no selection as schools chief for Montgomery County, Newark, or Atlanta, no marriage to K. Johnson, no picking through hundreds of six or seven figure job offers?

Maybe these jurisdictions realized that Rhee could not satisfy the published minimum requirements for any public school teaching vacancy in the Western Hemisphere, huh?

Posted by: broadwayjoe | December 6, 2010 8:12 PM | Report abuse

"The public employee unions in DC, including the teachers union, spent huge sums of money to defeat Fenty."

Right - keep repeating it - people will fall for, they're such chumps, as the Post must know from its reader research.

Of course The Post and its more astute readers know that Gray had a serious funding disadvantage compared to Fenty and Gray won anyhow. Fenty's fortune came from from private interests.

Posted by: efavorite | December 7, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

u still don't get it, efav. yes, G had an order of mag less in his campaign coffers proper that are subject to public disclosure. but the unions--all of them--through in-kind sweat effort (canvassing, GOTV, etc.) organized by union people (if not the union orgs themselves) and cash outlays for expenses (signs, logistics) gave Gray a tremendous boost. these numbers do not show on Gray's own campaign expenditures, and were substantial. Nonetheless, he seems so far to be something other than a tool of Local 6, which is good, because the new pres. intends to make war on DCPS, in line w "Teachers First," even though many good teachers find this unneeded and embarrassing.

Posted by: axolotl | December 8, 2010 7:05 AM | Report abuse

All those who disagree with Ms. Rhee and make disparaging remarks over her handling the administrative aspect of the DC education system, have never seemed to care to look into such a horribly dismal state of the student academic performance for decades and, it appears, themselves have never made any action to improve the K-12 kids' performance or any criticism toward those who for years were in charge of the school system and who ran the system with laid-back, aimless approach perhaps out of fear of offending those - perhaps it could be seen as politically incorrect - who are the main culprits who created this awful state of disrepair, they being the teachers, administrators, or parents. It is so easy to criticize the one who has no political base in DC and who has threatened the cozy, scratching-each-other's back system that sat with inaction as long as it was to their benefits, while completely neglecting the main reason for their existence, the educating the kids. When the kids perform poorly year after year no matter how much money was spent and no matter what kind of program was implemented, it becomes very clear that the cause of the failure has to do with the people who run the system. Ms. Rhee may have been naive and too fervent but amateurish in politcal maneuvering, her message was very clear; sadly for various reasons the DC community at large could not tolerate her and more likely not forgive her for divulging their lack of passion, ineptitude, and the corruption in the core of their mind. Alas, their pretentiousness will have the upper-hand once again and the education and by extention the community as a whole will suffer through another failure for years to come. After all, it is always so difficult for any of us to accept "my fault" and to make correction accordingly.

Posted by: rhyeej | December 12, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

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