Education bulldozer Michelle Rhee will announce her resignation as Washington D.C. school czar says the Washington Post. The former Teach For America alum and founder of the New Teacher Project, plans to resign next to Adrian Fenty in a press conference on Wednesday. To say Rhee was a force to be reckoned with in public education would be more than an understatement. It seems even threats from the Wal-Mart foundations to shift their funding elsewhere, couldn’t keep Rhee in the least desired job in education policy.
So what force could pull the most effective educator from the historically least-effective position in public education? Over $1 million! That’s the amount that teacher unions spent supporting a mayoral candidate who is more sympathetic to their needs: that is, one who will limit choice, increase pay, and decrease accountability.
The move away from D.C. has been expected by politicos for a few months and, no doubt, her mailbox is already full of new job offers. Her public support of defeated mayoral candidate (and incumbent) Adrian Fenty (D) all but sealed her fate on September 14, primary day. Rhee questioned now mayoral favorite, Vincent Gray’s, willpower to keep his foot on the accelerator when it comes to making the often unpopular educational decisions that she knows will bring about some real reform.
Rhee’s no-nonsense, CEO style had teachers seeing pink-slips hundreds at a time. And while she made the headlines enough for 15 years, her tenure in D.C. was sadly short. The Washington Post article that broke the story writes of her position in the same way we talk about Chicago Bear’s quarterbacks: 3 years is a long time and results should be immediate and sustaining.
After more than three years in the job, Rhee’s tenure is the longest of any D.C. chancellor or superintendent in the past two decades. Measures of student performance generally improved during her time in the job but sagged in a round of test results released in August.
Like any matter of education policy, significant gains and losses in achievement cannot be expected overnight, and to report “sagging” test scores as an indicator of her failure is simply bad journalism.
So, what can we rhee-member from the Rhee regime; what lessons can we learn? As D.C. is the only directly federally controlled public education system and it is synonymous with failure, bureaucracy, and overspending… we can certainly learn that the federal government has no role in American education policy.
From Rhee specifically, though, we can take a model of education leadership as the new mold by which we measure all administrators. She was fearless, never bowed to union pressures, and always spoke truth to power in a system of smoke and mirrors. It was under her leadership that last spring we saw a new contract ushered in which essentially broke the back of the teacher union. While her performance pay system is flawed, it was built on principle, as was she.
It is my hope that Rhee doesn’t take too long to write her book, go on a speaking tour, or whatever route she chooses, before coming back and giving the old system hell in a new location.