What Michelle Rhee is doing next
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.
| December 6, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories: Armao | Tags: Jo-Ann Armao
Save & Share: Previous: Repeal of don't ask, don't tell: 'If not now, when?'
Next: Who is reading about Sarah Palin -- and why?
Posted by: ProfessorPeabody | December 6, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: gpsman | December 6, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: nanak1 | December 6, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: edlharris | December 6, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: concernedaboutdc | December 6, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: concernedaboutdc | December 6, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: sun52shine | December 6, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: chucky-el | December 6, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ProfessorPeabody | December 6, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: southernrican | December 6, 2010 7:21 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: castleb | December 6, 2010 8:04 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: broadwayjoe | December 6, 2010 8:12 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: efavorite | December 7, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: axolotl | December 8, 2010 7:05 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: rhyeej | December 12, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse