Michelle Rhee Announced She’s Leaving StudentsFirst…You’ll Never Believe What Happened Next!

OK, sorry, actually you will believe it. And that headline is absolute click bait. But, here are five things to consider about Rhee’s impending departure from StudentsFirst, announced this week:

1) The most interesting implication here isn’t about Rhee’s future, it’s about what this means for her husband, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s, future.  The former NBA All-Star is considered a political star on the rise. Lots of speculation about what office he might pursue next and in the zero sum world of politics this move benefits him – not least because StudentsFirst was giving money to a lot of Republicans and the intramural fight over ed policy among Dems is heating up again.

2) All the blind quote dart throwing at Rhee in the articles about this move didn’t reflect all that well on the sector. Under certain conditions blind quotes are defensible, but just not wanting to offend or protecting funding prospects hardly seems to meet the bar. Especially for critical quotes. Was this Page Six or news? If you want to criticize her (see below, it’s certainly fair game) then put your name on it. It’s also a bummer that a lot of Students First staffers found out for sure that their founder is leaving via news reports courtesy of leakers in and around StudentsFirst. At a human level that sucks.

3) Rhee’s biggest failure at StudentsFirst was to not broaden the organization’s profile beyond her. There is a half-life to the personality-driven organization and StudentsFirst will face a big test now as a result in terms of where it goes from here (interesting question is where some of the talent there, and there is a lot, goes).  Because it was about Rhee every dust-up about her (and her critics cross the line into obsessive-compulsive about her to be sure) became about the organization by default. To some extent that’s unavoidable but some of the errors here were unforced. And I’m not sure I buy the argument that she drew fire away from other groups. Rather, it seemed like everything got lumped together in the public debate.

4) But she did accomplish a lot there, nonetheless. For starters, even if she didn’t draw fire she certainly expanded the field, as they say in sports. All the critics now saying she didn’t accomplish much were not saying that prior to this announcement. Hell, they couldn’t shut up about her. Back then (last week) she was the Princess of Darkness doing all sorts of allegedly terrible things via StudentsFirst. The American Federation of Teachers, a large labor union with a long history was concerned enough to literally go to social media and political war with one person, Rhee – something they don’t do a lot. And some of what Rhee accomplished isn’t visible because of the nature of politics. In some cases even the threat that she might come into a state with StudentsFirst was enough to start or stop some policy action. Not a lot of people or organizations had that kind of leverage. Oh, and by the way, you may have noticed that while hardly high-performing the District of Columbia Public Schools are far from the basket case they were before Rhee arrived on the scene and are making improvements. Not all Rhee, but she had a big hand in it.

5) If after hearing the news that she was joining the board of directors for Miracle-Gro you did one of the following things – researched the company, planned a boycott, told your friends to stop using it etc… – please consider getting a hobby or donating some time to a charity or reading to kids. Seriously.

5 Replies to “Michelle Rhee Announced She’s Leaving StudentsFirst…You’ll Never Believe What Happened Next!”

  1. Actually, the DC public schools are not doing better. The achievement gap has widened since Rhee and her successor, Henderson. After firing scores of teachers, and implementing a very expensive evaluation system, The poor black kid she came to help are just as bad off as before.

  2. Rhee reminded us to honor the people who put students first:

    parents everywhere who take good care of their own children;

    teachers who devote their lives to other people’s children.

    There is no substitute for parents and teachers.

    (I didn’t even think of writing to Miracle-Gro but now I will. Thanks.)

  3. You have that right, favorite.
    Big failure on her part.
    So, what does the education reform movement have to show in terms of providing a “better” public school education?

  4. Are you kidding anon? The ed reform movement has lots to show for efforts, 100s of millions of public and private dollars in the hands of Executive Directors, $1,000/day contractors, lobbyists and of course charter management moguls. Just like they planned!

    They’re on their way to the ultimate goal, destruction of public education and turning teachers in to fast food workers. Only management deserves high pay to attract the best talent, don’t you know? Everyone else are just money-grubbers who don’t care about the children!

  5. You really don’t know what you are talking about. I was an Orleans Parish Teaching Fellow and now teach in Sacramento. The Teaching Fellows was glorified employment agency with dubious success. She lied about her “success” in Baltimore, failed to report massive cheating in D.C. and is now going to be in charge of St. Hope, an under performing and unethical charter system. The public high school I worked at in SCUSD, each year before the standardized test, received low scoring cast offs from St. Hope. About all that can be said about them is that the have a great basketball team. Well, actually, the fire a good many good teachers who won’t go along with the manny unethical things they do. My school benefited from getting some great teachers they let go. You really should look more deeply into things before write such garbage.

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