A Public School Administrator I Can Admire
The more I read about Michelle Rhee, the more I respect her. She’s the Chancellor of the Washington DC public schools, a thankless job to say the least. That school system is really bottom of the barrel. So bad that Ms. Rhee was appointed as a fixer and cleaner-upper. She wants to make the system a national leader by 2015. Big ambitions f’shure.
Ms. Rhee did not come into public school administration by the usual route. She attended private schools and received a degree in government, then went to teach in inner-city Baltimore as part of the Teach for America program. She left teaching to get a master’s degree, then returned to TFA as a project director. Needless to say, she is not beholden to the teacher unions.
In a recent WSJ article, her latest plan to admit a little fresh air of merit into the teacher pay/tenure system is discussed. All to the good, I say, and more of it, too. But it will be a miracle if she can pull off even this much. As she says in the article:
“Tenure is the holy grail of teacher unions, but it has no educational value for kids; it only benefits adults.”
Yah, and guess who the teachers’ unions are working for in the first place? D’oh! So I wish her well in her battles against the WTU Borg.
In an interview on PBS, commenting on the fact that some people don’t like what she’s doing, Ms. Rhee said more to gain my admiration:
MICHELLE RHEE: I’m not running this district by consensus or by committee.
JOHN MERROW: So it’s not a democracy?
MICHELLE RHEE: No, it’s not a democracy. We’re not going to make every decision within this district by taking a hand count.
JOHN MERROW: Are you a benevolent dictator?
MICHELLE RHEE: Benevolent dictator? Maybe.
JOHN MERROW: “Dictator” is OK?
MICHELLE RHEE: If by dictator, you mean somebody who, at the end of the day, is fully comfortable being held accountable for, you know, the results and is going to be incredibly decisive about the direction that we’re heading in, then yes.
Woot! You go grrrl! You can read what the whiners have to say in that say interview — it’s actually a transcript of a piece for the News Hour.
Marion Barry, that avatar of dignity in politics, despises Ms. Rhee and once said to her:
“Let me be succinct, because my time is running out,” Barry retorted. “Talk to other people on this, because I think you’re absolutely wrong … I know you want to do it the right way, but I think that’s causing us more problems than we need to have.”
Bwa ha ha ha. Doing it the right way is causing problems? Yah, and who is experiencing what kinds of problems, Marion? Could it be that the very people who are responsible for the DC schools’ legendary dysfunction are not experiencing smooth sailing in their little fiefdoms these days? Ya really think that’s a problem? Ya make me laugh.
And in an article in The Atlantic, a Kevin Carey of Education Sector is quoted thusly:
“There doesn’t seem to be any difference between her on- and off-camera personas,”
Kev, that would be a demonstration of the concept known as authenticity. In other words, Ms. Rhee is who she is. She is not an actor, as I suppose you expect all people with a little power to be. Another reason to admire her.
Ms. Rhee may yet be pulled down by the mob before she can get enough done to hold. She reports directly to DC Mayor Fenty, not to the school board. If/when Fenty fails to be re-elected mayor, I’m sure Ms. Rhee will be out the door toute suite. Then the Borg will run the DC schools again. But until/unless that happens, hope remains.
And the final sweetener: she puts her treasure where her mouth is. Her own children attend DC public schools. Unlike our new ruler, the former Senator Present, who talks a good game, but has yet to deliver anything. He recently decided to send his children to Sidwell Friends School, that same old same old place for DC elites’ children.