Arne & Michelle, Not So Different?

You frequently hear people remark about how different Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee are.  Perhaps in some ways, but I’m not so sure their circumstances are not more similar than dissimilar and may well ultimately require similar resolve.   Michelle Rhee has pursued an aggressive reform strategy that basically means she has to win on every contested issue or transaction.  It can work, but the risk-reward ratio for that strategy heightens the risk around every clash.   But, as we come into a period of a few months (big calls on Race to the Top, low-performing schools, remaining stimulus funds, FY11 budget request and No Child Left Behind reauthorization groundwork) that will arguably define the Obama first term on education it’s worth asking whether Duncan isn’t now in roughly the same place given his ambitious plans.    There is intense push-back going on around many of his priorities, especially on the Hill where some of the interest groups seem to be preparing to make their stand.  You can sense that at the first sign of weakness the overall politics here, which have been largely favorable for him, could start to change.  In other words, it’s unclear if he can afford to lose a big one either.

2 Replies to “Arne & Michelle, Not So Different?”

  1. Huh? Rereading your post, I still can’t see your point.

    Duncan now is “in roughly the same place” with a lot of featherless bipeds. And anyone wanting to reform education has a ton of challenges.

    But Duncan is like Rhee is what way?

  2. There is one huge and significant difference between Duncan, President Obama and Michelle Rhee. Duncan and the president are smart enough to know that nothing, absolutely nothing will be accomplished without the cooperation of teachers. Whether they are “good” or “bad” is irrelevant; they are the people in the classrooms, closing their doors and making 100% of all decisions regarding their students. Even if Rhee gets rid of 250 teachers, she is still left with hundreds who will be even more determined to do what they feel is best for their students. And, for the most part, they will have the support of the community. Also, who are the highly qualified people who are going to want to work in DC? Once this recession is over, the district will once again be begging people to fill classroom slots. Whose fault will this be?

    Mr. Duncan is inviting teachers to join him in reform and he has steered clear, very clear, of insults. To me, that is a huge and very significant difference. Teachers are the people who have dedicated themselves to being in the classroom with children and so they are the ones who have first-hand knowledge of what is best for American students. To heed our nation’s teachers and to honor them is the first giant step in attracting “the best and the brightest” to the teaching profession.

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