Commentary on Rhee's departure reveals education reform's fault lines
TAMPA -- This morning marks a milestone in national education reform: Michelle Rhee, the controversial chancellor of the school system in Washington, D.C., has resigned.
Her departure had been seen as inevitable following the defeat of Mayor Adrian Fenty in a primary election.
But with federal Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the heads of both national teachers' unions coming to Tampa tomorrow, we're particularly fascinated by the eulogies already rolling in on Rhee's career and what they say about the current state of education reform.
Duncan lauded her this morning in a statement: "Michelle Rhee has been a pivotal leader in the school reform movement and we expect she will continue to be a force for change wherever she goes."
American Federation of Teachers union president Randi Weingarten, who had described Rhee's hardball tactics as a "scorched earth" policy, offered far less: "Although we had legitimate differences about how to do it, Michelle Rhee and the AFT never disagreed on whether the District of Columbia’s public schools were in need of reform. Despite our differences, there is no questioning her commitment to the goal of improving education in Washington, D.C. We wish her success in her future pursuits."
Weingarten offered more praise for Rhee's successor, deputy chancellor Kaya Henderson, whom she described as a constructive negotiator who "believes in collaboration as the path to creating excellent schools for all children."
Such collaboration between districts and unions is Duncan's stated reason for visiting the Hillsborough County school district, which raises an interesting question: Does the future of national education reform lie in Rhee's my-way-or-the-highway style? Or will Hillsborough point the way toward a kinder, gentler approach?