Mike Beversluis

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Michelle Rhee and the future of America's educational system


Jake Tapper: Obama's Big Test on Education?

In March, Josh Patashnik of The New Republic took a closer look at PEBO and education, writing that Obama "has long advocated a reformist agenda that looks favorably upon things like competition between schools, test-based accountability, and performance pay for teachers. But the Obama campaign has hesitated to trumpet its candidate's maverick credentials. As an increasingly influential chorus of donors and policy wonks pushes an agenda within the Democratic Party that frightens teachers' unions and their traditional liberal allies, Obama seems unsure how far he can go in reassuring the former group that he's one of them without alienating the latter. And this is a shame, because Obama may represent the best hope for real reform in decades."

Likely not encouraging Rhee is Obama's pick to head up his transition efforts on education: Stanford education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, whom many in the education reform community eye warily, as too closely allied with teachers unions.

Members of the pro-reform group Democrats for Education Reform see Darling-Hamilton as someone who thinks more funding is the answer and say "Darling-Hammond's approach is dangerous. Without genuine reform, money pumped into a district like Newark is wasted."The liberal American Prospect suggests that Obama's naming Darling-Hammond, "a teacher quality expert who opposes merit pay and is more critical than supportive of NCLB, signals that Obama wishes to avoid a fight with the unions. He'll spend his political capital on energy and health care instead."

That would be very unfortunate.

MORE:

Rhee Tackles Classroom Challenge
By Amanda Ripley / Washington Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008

Rhee has promised to make Washington the highest-performing urban school district in the nation, a prospect that, if realized, could transform the way schools across the country are run. She is attempting to do this through a relentless focus on finding--and rewarding--strong teachers, purging incompetent ones and weakening the tenure system that keeps bad teachers in the classroom. This fall, Rhee was asked to meet with both presidential campaigns to discuss school reform. In the last debate, each candidate tried to claim her as his own, with Barack Obama calling her a "wonderful new superintendent."


Obama and Education
Callie Shell / Aurora for TIME

Michelle Rhee is a Democrat, but she came very close to voting for John McCain in November. She chose Barack Obama because one of her closest friends had begged her to give him a chance. "It was a very hard decision," she says. "I'm somewhat terrified of what the Democrats are going to do on education.


If only Nixon could go to China, then I suspect, only Democrats can break the teacher's unions. And schools are more important than eating bird's nest soup with Mao.

DCist worries that the TIME cover up above is sexist:

This cover illustrates a couple of interesting phenomenons: fame-for-D.C. and outright sexism. Rhee may be a bureaucrat with a lot of authority, but with all due respect, she is still, at the end of the day, merely a bureaucrat. Yet by nabbing the cover of Time and a profile in this month's Atlantic Monthly, Rhee appears to be this city's biggest celebrity.

And yet her high profile does not afford her much respect. No celebrity not famous for flashing her underwear can expect quite such negative treatment by the media as Rhee. In both Time and the Atlantic, she is depicted as a mean old schoolma'am. In the Time cover, at least, she is symbolically (if cheesily) projecting authority. The Atlantic picture is a deliberate effort to make her look like a wraith. A caption underneath a photo accompanying one September 2007 Washingtonian profile mentions that Rhee is mounting a "charm offensive," but by the photo alone, you wouldn't know it.

I don't see it. How is her picture with a broom different than the attention Joe Clark received, along with his famous baseball bat? Rhee is a brusk, loose canon, and so presenting her as such is accurate and not projection. That said, the Atlantic is known for dirty photographer tricks, so maybe there is some fire beneath that smoke.

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