Michelle Rhee Is Out


The darling of the reform movement, is Audi Five:

Rhee survived three contentious years that made her a superstar of the education reform movement and one of the longest-serving school leaders in the city in two decades. Student test scores rose, and the teachers union accepted a contract that gave the chancellor sweeping powers to fire the lowest-performing among them. 

But Rhee will leave with considerable unfinished business in her quest to improve teaching, close the worst schools and infuse a culture of excellence in a system that has been one of the nation's least effective at educating students.

My sense of this hasn't changed much since the election. I think a better politician than Adrian Fenty would have handled this a lot more deftly, and not allowed the teacher union's and "the community" to effectively become synonymous.  I strongly believe that an elected officials job isn't simply to devise solutions, but also to get a critical mass of the electorate to buy into those solutions. 

I do not doubt the strength of the teacher's unions in the District. But it's very hard for me to believe that among black parents grappling with the problems of D.C. schools there isn't some crucial portion that could have been peeled off. The inference that black District parents, en masse, are somehow more interested in making sure teachers keep their jobs, then they are in making sure their kids are able to secure jobs of their own, doesn't ring true to me.

There are reformers in Harlem too, many of them calling for--and executing--the exact same kind of accountability measures. Surely, Courtland Milloy's race-baiting invective (along with his rightfully pilloried sense that government exists to provide jobs instead of services) represents one black Washington. But it doesn't represent all of black Washington, any more (to take it back to Adam) than the Tea Party represent all of "real America."

With that said, I think we should be really careful about signaling the death knell for school reform. A smart mayor, would find a head for D.C.'s schools who could build on the good work that Rhee has done, and convert those natural community constituencies for school reform into allies.

We'll soon see if Vincent Gray is that mayor.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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