Today, Michelle Rhee is expected to announce her resignation as D.C. Schools Chancellor. While speculation had been growing about her fate as the D.C. public schools head in the wake of Mayor Adrian Fenty’s primary loss last month, some who had their ear to the ground expected Rhee to stay in her chancellorship for some time.
Since taking office two years ago, Rhee has fired hundreds of ineffective teachers and administrators, closed poor-performing schools, and reworked contracts to include performance pay. Not surprisingly, union opposition to Chancellor Rhee’s reforms has been strong.
In the nation’s capital and throughout the country, education unions have worked to thwart attempts to reform the failed status quo, seeing any opening for children to escape monopoly public school systems as a threat to their power. While Washington, D.C. still has a long way to go to improve the school system, Chancellor Rhee has worked to place the well-being of children ahead of the demands of special interest groups such as the education unions.
And district children have been the beneficiaries of Rhee’s efforts. While still below the national average, D.C. fourth-graders led the nation in reading improvement on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
But Chancellor Rhee’s efforts to do what’s best for children have meant that many adults are finally held accountable for poor performance. Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas notes that whenever the boat is rocked, the people who have taken cover under the safety of the status quo are sure to get angry.
Rhee was probably pushing for many good reforms, but the more she pushed for them the more incentive the edublob had to win the next election, remove her from office, and undo her efforts. And eventually they did.
What is certain is that Chancellor Rhee was working to significantly remake the underperforming and unsafe D.C. public school system. And early indications suggest that her reform plan was getting results. Indeed, her efforts are the antithesis of the lip service many other elected officials have given to education reform.
On Monday, President Obama met with the five children taking part in a charter school lottery featured in Waiting for Superman. His meeting with the children – a symbolic effort to paint the administration as favorable to reforming the abysmal public education status quo detailed in Davis Guggenheim’s new documentary – comes on the heels of his remarks about school reform to Matt Lauer during NBC’s Education Week:
You can’t defend a status quo in which a third of our kids are dropping out. You can’t defend a status quo when you’ve got 2,000 schools across the country that are dropout factories — and they really are — where more than half of the kids are dropping out.
Yet, just outside the doors of the White House, the best drop-out prevention program in the country has been in place for the past five years: The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. In fact, 91 percent of students who used a scholarship to attend a private school of their choice graduated high school. Just 49 percent of children in D.C. public schools graduate.
But, because of pressure from education unions, the administration and some members of Congress are working to phase out the successful voucher program, which provides scholarships of up to $7,500 to low-income D.C. children to attend a private school of their choice. At a fraction of the more than $18,000 per-pupil spent in D.C. Public Schools, the Opportunity Scholarship Program has been an unequivocal success.
If the Obama administration really cared about results, they would work to get more than photo ops with children hoping for a bright future. Instead, the administration would stand-up for school choice and other proven reforms – as Chancellor Rhee has stood up for reform so successfully during her tenure – and would ensure every child has a chance for a safe and effective education. And they would do this at whatever cost – even if it means losing the support of “big” education.