Steve Peha: Back to Michelle Rhee
While others are focused on the silly argument over whether Joel Klein’s successor as New York City’s schools chancellor, Cathleen Black, is qualified to run a school district (Dropout Nation’s answer is yes), our Contributing Editor, Steve Peha, is still thinking about what he considers the failed promise of the other superstar among reform-mineded current and former school chieftains, former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. He offers some more thoughts today as part of the series Still Waiting in D.C.:
So far, we don’t know if Mayor-Elect Vincent Gray’s interim chancellor, Kaya Henderson, is a dainty scamperer. If she turns out that way, we’ll know what Mr. Gray’s campaign against Michelle Rhee was about: Bring in the bruiser to knock things around, knock her around, and then send her packing, while Dr. Caspar Milquetoast takes the credit for ushering in a new era of consensus-driven leadership—and the coinage of yet another oxymoron. This group leadership thing never makes any sense to me: even a young lad in grammar school, I knew that “leader” was a singular noun. But rules we teach in one part of education are often contradicted in other parts of education.
No matter what happens, while Rhee’s work will survive for years to come, the end of her short tenure troubles me for several reasons. I discussed some of them last month. Here are more:
I had hoped she would become a model of a new kind of big city school leader. At such a young age when she was hired, she could have served her city for decades, ushering in dramatic change while also preserving stability.
I had hoped that Rhee would validate Teach For America’s real promise — that of putting new people into the field of education for long and highly influential careers — would be validated at the highest level. (Perhaps it has been and I just don’t feel it.)
I had hoped that D.C’.s schools would one day become the best urban schools in our nation. In some respects, this is selfishness on my part. I’m just embarrassed that my nation’s capital city treats its citizens so poorly at times.
I had hoped that a replicable model of school governance and successful reform might emerge. Sadly, Rhee leaves nothing replicable behind, least of all her approach to school leadership.
Clearly, I didn’t get what I wanted out of this deal. Sadly, I have no one to insult, threaten, or belittle as a result. For that, there’s plenty of culpability go around. I will admit that Rhee is to me still something of an enigma, a Sphinx-like riddle I can’t puzzle out. How someone so committed to the welfare of children would leave those kids behind after an election result that did not go in her favor.
I’m sad this didn’t work out. I’m frustrated, too, as I’m sure are many D.C. residents, that such a promising opportunity ended so poorly for everyone.