What I've Learned, by Michelle Rhee, Newsweek, December 6, 2010.Taking off the gloves, by Chester E. Finn, Jr., Flypaper blog, December 7, 2010.Teachers' union target Michelle Rhee to raise $1 billion for education reform, by Amanda Paulson, Christian Science Monitor, December 6, 2010.
After a few weeks of relative seclusion, Michelle Rhee has jumped whole-hog back into the limelight, using an eloquent four-page Newsweek essay both to announce her new student advocacy organization, Students First, and to clear some of the air (and get some things off her chest) about her departure from D.C. Public Schools. As she boldly states in the piece, “I know people say I wasn’t good enough at building consensus, but I don’t think consensus can be the goal.” Instead of chipping away at the status quo through collaboration, Rhee is attacking the inherent “hostility to excellence that pervades our education system” through Students First. This will be a 501(c)4 “civic league” organization (think AARP or NAACP) that will support reform-minded candidates of either party. The goal is to push a critical mass of anti-establishment (she never directly says anti-union) candidates through to their respective political seats. Toward this end, Rhee is aiming for a billion dollars in donations (not a typo!) before the organization’s first anniversary. Groups like Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children have already proven the merit of such initiatives—though at a much smaller scale. The addition of Students First signals a profound shift away from the traditional “research and education” agenda of foundation-supported nonprofit groups working on school reform—with their polite op-eds and their innumerable studies, reports, and conferences—toward political hardball: cash contributions to campaigns, outright advocacy of this candidate and denunciation of the other one, the shrewd use of paid lobbyists, influence-peddlers, campaign consultants, marketing experts, and public relations firms. If there had been a Students First working in D.C. during the 2010 mayoral campaign, the future of the District’s schools might look a lot different.