Michelle Rhee, the reformist chancellor of D.C. public schools, has announced her resignation effective at the end of October. Thus ends a study in how the muscle of the Teachers’ Unions squelches school reform.
According to the Washington Examiner
“Rhee was appointed in 2007 by (Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian) Fenty, who allowed her freedom to exercise reforms unseen in the District’s historically failing public school system. The new contract Rhee negotiated with the Washington Teachers’ Union in June effectively eliminated tenure and allowed her to fire about 241 teachers, including 165 who received poor appraisals under a new evaluation system. She also fired principals and closed chronically underperforming schools.
“Her take-no-prisoners approach earned Rhee the respect of many fed up with the system and a title line in Paramount Pictures’ documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” which explores broken school systems and paints Rhee as a heroine of reform. Her efforts also bore the first enrollment increase for D.C. Public Schools since the 1970s.
“But her actions incensed the teachers union, whose national union threw $1 million at D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray’s campaign, and the Democratic mayoral primary became a referendum on Rhee’s reforms, with many voting against Fenty because they sided with the teachers.”
Michelle Rhee also ran afoul of the Democratic-controlled Congress, which defunded a private school scholarship program she sponsored that took at-risk children out of poorly performing public schools and gave them private school educations. President Barack Obama, whose own children attend a prestigious private school, supported the defunding move.
Rhee’s resignation, made inevitable when her sponsor Adrian Fenty was defeated in the D.C. Mayor’s race, is seen by many as devastating to Washington-area school children. Teachers’ unions have traditionally opposed school reform since it usually comes at the expense of incompetent teachers and underperforming public schools. Considerations of educating children usually do not enter into the unions’ considerations.
Ironically, Michelle Rhee’s resignation comes around the time that a documentary on the problems of public schools, and efforts to reform them, featuring Ms. Rhee, called “Waiting for Superman,” is showing at movie theaters. The documentary is a devastating indictment of the state of public education in America. Rhee is held up as a heroine for trying to alleviate those problems.
What will come next for Washington-area schools will likely be a slide back into mediocrity, though the charter schools that Michelle Rhee championed will remain. What will come next for Rhee is another matter.
That Rhee will become a national voice for the cause of school reform is without question. Her defeat at the hands of the teachers’ unions may well be a temporary one. The next Republican administration will need a Secretary of Education. There can be no doubt that Michelle Rhee will be on the short list. Thus it may be a case of, “If you strike me down, I shall only rise again stronger.” If Rhee could do for America’s public schools what she attempted to do for schools in Washington D.C., parents and students would be the winners for a change.
Source: Rhee to resign as D.C. schools chief, Lisa Gartner, Washington Examiner, October 12th, 2010