Hubris First

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Michelle Rhee is on the comeback and at war with the "special interests"


Ms. Rhee, one of the best recognized, and most polarizing, figures in public education, answered Monday with timed appearances on "Oprah" and the cover of Newsweek. The media splash said as much about her ability to market herself and her brand of school reform as the details of her next chapter. 

She announced she would lead a new advocacy group, StudentsFirst, setting a highly ambitious target of raising $1 billion to promote "transformative reform," primarily by backing laws and political candidates, from local school boards to Congress. 

The group will solicit memberships for as little as $5 per month, but it will also take advantage of changes in campaign finance laws that allow it to broadcast political advertisements paid for by rich individuals and corporations. 

"The ultimate goal is to shift the power dynamic of education in this country, which I think for far too long has been dominated by special interests, whether the teachers' unions or textbook manufacturers," Ms. Rhee, 40, said in an interview. One issue she would tackle, she said, was the practice of laying off teachers, according to their contracts, by seniority rather than classroom effectiveness. 

"We won't shy away from the fight," she said. "We're a little too obsessed right now with harmony in public education. How can we all come together and collaborate? That's been happening the last 30 years, and because we've been trying to smooth each other's feathers over and make the adults happy," students have suffered, she added.

Yes. It's "the adults." The disdain for actual people dripping from that quote is sad. This is how you make lifelong enemies out of would-be allies.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/12/hubris-first/67665/