Michelle Rhee, 40, Chancellor of the District of Columbia public school system, announced her resignation today. After the defeat of progressive reformer Mayor Adrian Fenty to the chairman of the DC city council Vincent Gray, it was clear that Rhee would no longer have the backing of the office of the Mayor in her quest to improve quality education to District students. According to the article, the resignation was ‘mutually agreed’ upon. Read: Gray wants her out to install someone more malleable with respect to the unions, and who won’t cry foul when the high standards Rhee set aren’t met.
Rhee has proven to be an effective reformer, implementing plans that boosted not only overall testing scores, but graduation rates as well. Rhee showed little compunction in taking on teachers’ unions, famously stating: ‘Collaboration and consensus building are quite frankly overrated in my mind.’ She took on the unions, she fought them, and she won. She took one of the most dysfunctional school districts in the country, and put it on the right track.
And now she’s going to leave. It’s quite sad that she is. Most of the reforms that she’s implemented are still in their infancy, and it’s not clear if her successor will seek to enforce the same lofty standards that put the system on its current upward trajectory. It’s entirely possible that another Democratic party loyalist hack will get the job and let the unions run the district for their benefit, instead of the benefit of the students. But, when Fenty lost his primary bid, and his successor was in place, it was clear that Rhee could no longer count on the same political cover that Fenty could provide. Gray would not have offered that same level of support.
At stake is $75 million in federal funds from the Race to the Top Program. I hope, sincerely, that the Administration holds the district to implementing the plans it committed itself to in order to win the grant in the first place. Whether or not they will remains to be seen.