Much has been said and written in recent weeks about the future of District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. With DC Mayor Adrian Fenty failing to win re-election, many have speculated (and with good reason) that Rhee’s tenure in DC will end very soon. Rhee campaigned heavily for Fenty in the DC mayoral election and called the election of his opponent, Mayor-Elect Vincent Gray, a devastating blow for the public school students of the District of Columbia.
After Fenty’s election as Mayor of the District nearly four years ago, he appointed Rhee as the Public Schools Chancellor, with the charge of shaking the “failing school system” up, and Rhee did not disappoint. During her reign, Rhee has grown in infamy by closing schools, firing teachers, and completely overhauling that capital city’s school district with reforms including stricter teacher evaluations, more administrative control over teaching assignments, and tying teacher pay to student achievement . Her actions have made her a sworn enemy of many teacher unionists and villified her for many public education traditionalists.
But after leaving her post in the Distict, Rhee, who is undeniably one of the most controversial figures in public education today (see Paramount Pictures’ “Waiting for Superman”) will seemingly have her pick of top-level administrative posts. She has been talked about for top jobs Iowa, New Jersey, and Chicago just to name a few. So why does this woman who so many public education professionals and advocates have villified seem to be so highly sought after? The answer is simple. Whether you love her or hate her, you must admit that she’s about change; not incremental change, but the “tear the structure down to its foundation and build it again” variety of change. That kind of change is messy, and it usually pisses a lot of people off. But in places where people have grown tired of the status quo and the results it has produced, Michelle Rhee’s brand of change is attractive.
So my purpose here is not to assess Rhee’s progress in DC.We’ll take a more indepth look at what’s going on with the DC schools another day. Today, I simply tip my hat to Michelle Rhee for not being afraid to shake things up. It is clear that when she got to DC the system was broken. Time will tell whether what she’s done will make a difference, but no one can deny the fact that she tried to make things better; and for trying, I commend her.