Education-reform documentary Waiting for Superman got a fancy red-carpet premiere in DC on Wednesday night. One problem: the movie fêtes Michelle Rhee, who is likely on her way out as DC Public Schools chancellor because her ally, Mayor Adrian Fenty, lost DC's Tuesday primary. Rhee led big, dramatic reforms in the school system, and the primary was seen partly as a referendum on her. Will Rhee's experience become a "cautionary tale" for those pushing real school reform, as The New Republic's Seyward Darby asks? Here's the debate on what DC and school reform could be like, post-Rhee.
The Director's Take Davis Guggenheim responds to Seyward Darby's question, saying he doesn't think the Fenty-Rhee ousting would necessarily "change his film's impact." Rather, he says: "I think all of the frenzy over this [movie] is showing that people are paying attention and the stakes are really high." Meanwhile Lesley Chilcott, the producer, also thinks Rhee will leave an impressive legacy: "Overwhelmingly, whether you agree with how it was done, the results can't be disputed. I hope it's inspirational to other leaders."
- Not Much of a Chance Rhee Will Stay, Unfortunately, writes Colbert King at The Washington Post, despite some thinking Rhee might be "asked to stick around" in the next administration. "Unfortunately, she took that decision out of [Fenty opponent] Gray's hands when she decided last week to work publicly for his defeat in the mayor's race." King's colleague Ezra Klein agrees: "Gray's [teachers'] union supporters did not back his candidacy only to have Rhee survive the election."
- 'Change in D.C. Schools Could Be Profound,' writes Seyward Darby at The New Republic. Rhee has "closed down underperforming schools, revitalized special education, revamped teacher evaluations, pushed for performance pay, fired educators who aren't up to snuff, supported the expansion of charter schools, garnered large sums of private donor money, and seen students' test scores rise." She's also gotten nationwide attention for it. But while "some of the groundwork Rhee has laid is here to stay," her IMPACT teacher evaluation system "could ... hang in the balance," and "performance pay, which teachers can soon receive based on their IMPACT scores, could also be on the chopping block." Darby admits Rhee may not have had a smooth style of management, but style isn't the most important thing, she argues. Darby thinks "education reform in the nation's capital is about to take a blow, and a blow it can ill-afford to take, by losing its greatest champion."
- Teachers' Unions Flex Their Muscles Rhee's departure "could spark a talent drain," argues Andrew Rotherham at Time, create instability, and eat away at important changes. "Outside of Washington, if you listen closely, you'll hear the whispering of teachers' union leaders to Democratic officeholders, warning them that they could share Fenty's fate if they get too far out of line." Rotherham talks to Justin Cohen, who previously worked for Rhee, and thinks "Fenty's loss will reinforce the idea that dramatic change and political survival are mutually exclusive."
- Rhee Had Some Flaws, Too Natalie Hopkinson points out at The Atlantic that "when the ... public is treated as an obstacle and not a partner to urban reform, it gives the whole effort colonial and paternalistic smell." Also, "all of this 'experimentation' and 'competition' has destabilized the system so badly that the most competent D.C. school administrators rarely know how many kids are enrolled in public or charter schools on a given day."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.