Education Reformer Parts Company with 'Right Wingers'
In a February 11 LATimes interview with education doyenne Michelle Rhee, award-winning newscaster and writer, Patt Morrison asked about vouchers for low income children.
The StudentsFirst CEO talked about her interpretation of vouchers and disparaged what "right wingers" say. During her explanation to Morrison, Rhee offered a curious analogy for why "right wingers" shouldn't let the money follow the child to whichever school the parent chooses. She said, "We don't let any crazy person with a propeller run an airline, right?"
Morrison: Where do you part company from Republicans on education reform?
Rhee: I'll give you one example. I am a proponent of school vouchers for low-income kids who would otherwise be trapped in a failing school. Really right-wing people say, "This is great; she's a Democrat, a person of color, and she's for vouchers." Then they hear why [I'm] for vouchers, and the [requirements], and they're like, "We don't like her anymore."
I believe in vouchers for low-income kids only if we have strict accountability systems [and] kids are [improving] at higher rates. The right-wingers say, "Let the market correct itself; let's give every kid a backpack with the money in it and let them go where they want." I don't agree. It has to be pretty heavily regulated. We don't let any crazy person with a propeller run an airline, right? There is a point at which the government has to ensure some things are taking place, or not taking place.
Morrison also asked if Rhee was a "teacher-basher." She responded:
... let's recognize the most effective teachers, identify those who are not effective and quickly develop them or move them out of the profession.
If you say these sorts of things, you get framed as a teacher-basher. I was a teacher. My sister was a teacher. As a society, we have to respect teachers a whole lot more.
Curiously, in Richard Whitmire's biography The Bee Eater, he identifies Rhee as having only two siblings, Erik and Brian. What's going on with Rhee in this interview? Not only does she make a nonsensical statement about backpacks with money and propellers, she mentions a sister unknown to her biographer.
If this strangeness isn't enough, her explicit attack on "right-wing people" and her demand for government to ensure submission don't make sense when compared with her conservative message at hundreds of forums since she launched StudentsFirst over a year ago.
Specifically with regard to vouchers, we can see the reformer's trajectory. On StudentsFirst website Rhee goes into detail about how school systems should handle vouchers. If a child receives a voucher to attend the school of her parents' choice, there are rules to make sure the child does well in that school. If the district, according to StudentsFirst policy agenda, finds a private school not in compliance with government regulations, the government could literally shut it down.
Here are the relevant excerpts:
P.15-Private schools participating in taxpayer-funded scholarship programs must also prove that they are operating with academic and fiscal accountability. No public dollars should go to private schools that cannot show results over time.
P.17-Provide a clear mechanism to close low-performing schools - regardless of whether those schools are traditional public schools, charter schools, or private schools receiving public scholarship students.
These policies would be regular procedures for charter schools which use taxpayer money to operate, but wouldn't this go against a private school's autonomy from the state?
Another of Rhee's statements from the Times interview suggests she hasn't been on the up and up with all the conservatives who have joined her camp. She mentions "Republican colleagues" and says she differs with them when it comes to charters.
Where I differ with some of my Republican colleagues, I don't think charter schools are the answer. They're a part of [it]...
So after a year of extensive marketing and conservative rhetoric, Rhee's troubling references to promoting a "heavily regulated" voucher system, backtracking on charters and having a sister makes this right winger very worried.
Read more Ann Kane at Potter Williams Report