In a major shift, education reformers are now influential at the highest levels of the party once dominated by the teachers unions.
CHARLOTTE -- Michelle Rhee is accustomed to having to insist she's a Democrat. "It's funny," she tells me, "I'm not just a Democrat -- I feel like I'm a pretty lefty Democrat, and it is somewhat disappointing when I hear some people saying, 'She's not a real Democrat.'"
Rhee, the controversial former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor known for her hard-charging style, has worked with Republican governors to push her reform ideas in states across the country. Her ongoing pitched battle with the teachers unions has put her at odds with one of the Democratic Party's most important traditional constituencies.
Yet there are signs that Rhee's persona non grata status in her party is beginning to wane -- starting with the fact that the chairman of the Democratic convention, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, spoke at the movie screening Rhee hosted at the convention earlier this week. Another Democratic star, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, spoke at the cocktails-and-canapes reception afterward. Across the country, Democratic officials from governors like Colorado's John Hickenlooper to former President Clinton -- buoyed by the well-funded encouragement of the hedge-fund bigwigs behind much of the charter-school movement -- are shifting the party's consensus away from the union-dictated terms to which it has long been loyal. Instead, they're moving the party toward a full-fledged embrace of the twin pillars of the reform movement: performance-based incentives for teachers, and increased options, including charter schools, for parents.