Michelle Rhee, controversial superintendent in Washington, DC, announced her resignation Wednesday. Just a few days ago Arne Duncan’s successor in Chicago, Ron Huberman, announced that he will leave as well based upon Mayor Daley’s surprise decision not to stand for reelection. Also, Mark Roosevelt in Pittsburg announced his departure after five years. Both Roosevelt and Rhee will leave behind newly penned contracts both of which will dramatically change teacher evaluation and compensation.
Although both Roosevelt and Rhee describe themselves as change agents, clearly Rhee has been the darling of those who advocate that disruptive change is the only path to improvement in urban education. Joel Klein remains Chancellor of the New York district, albeit diminished by the drastic drop in test scores which emerged after New York re-calibrated their state tests. Pittsburg is somewhat of an outlier in that the mayor does not control the schools and Roosevelt worked harder to bring the AFT local into the fold.
What is notable about Roosevelt is how he got to his position in Pittsburg. I knew Mark as a former politician from MA. He was the House Chair of the Education Committee and I was President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association during a very stormy period of education reform politics in Massachusetts. More to the point, his pathway to the superintendency was through the Broad Superintendents Academy, which is a 10 month boot camp for business executives interested in becoming urban superintendents. Eli Broad, founder of the Academy, is one of the “Billionaire Boys” (as Diane Ravich refers to them – a small group of uber- successful entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates, John Walton, Eli Broad, etc.) By most accounts (including his own), Roosevelt has made significant progress in Pittsburg. He is a finalist to become the president of Antioch College in Ohio, which closed its doors and was purchased by its alumni. So with Mark Roosevelt it will be “been there, done that”.
Rhee’s “take no prisoners” approach is one which sadly resonates with the media and makes her tenure even more noteworthy in its implications for the future. This approach to education reform is premised on a few notions that have most recently been mythologized by NBC with its Education Nation: tenure and teacher unions are the chief obstacles to reforming America’s schools, and monetary incentives will motivate teachers to improve their ability to raise test scores. If you think this is not true, you need only watch this panel which was part of Education Nation. The panel was “moderated” by Steven Brill, and was ostensibly about attracting and retaining teachers. Brill’s biases shine through almost immediately. The panel includes a teacher from New York, Michelle Rhee, Geoffrey Canada (CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone), NEA and AFT presidents, and a gentleman from the Gates Foundation.
If you take the time to watch this, you will see how a powerful set of wrongheaded notions have taken on a life of their own.