Education Reformer Michelle Rhee Says GOP Shouldn't 'Kowtow' to Tea Party

Weighing in on education reform at the Democratic National Convention last week, Michelle Rhee, former DC Schools Chancellor, and CEO of the lobbying organization StudentsFirst said the Republican Party shouldn't "kowtow to the special interests within their own party."

After almost two years of vetting Rhee as a liberal Democrat who won the hearts and minds of conservative Republicans, we are seeing our apprehension of her motives vindicated.

We've been covering both Democrats' and Republicans' reactions to Rhee since our first article about her in AT in January 2011. Teachers' unions have been rabidly opposed to her reforms while those on the right have embraced her ideas as well as implemented her suggested policy changes in their school systems.

Since forming StudentsFirst in early 2011 she has co-opted the right's traditional message on education--school choice, vouchers, accountability by teachers and administrators, and charter schools. But a recent National Journal article with the title "GOP Distances Itself from Tea Party" suggests a split in education philosophy within Republican ranks. Have Rhee's activities created this rupture?

Tea Partyers would likely be in favor of dismantling the Department of Education. But in various interviews at both conventions, Rhee came out with her true views and they don't include removing the DoED.

On the contrary, she disparaged the Tea Party and compared it to the Democrats' teachers unions whose power she managed to usurp with Republican governors' backing.

Rhee at the Republican convention from National Journal:

"I think that what both parties have to do between now and November is not kowtow to the special interests within their own party-Democrats with the teachers unions on their side and Republicans with the tea party on their side," she said.

Rhee at the Democratic convention from The Atlantic:

"Both parties have to be cognizant of ensuring they don't fall prey to the special interests within their party," she says. [snip]

"One of the things Romney says in his white paper, he criticizes the Obama administration, he says we need to start to tie federal dollars to reforms. Well, that is exactly what Race to the Top did -- not only that, but that never happened in the Bush administration. The first time federal dollars have been tied to reform happened under the Obama administration."

Did all those Republican governors know that Rhee was for centralization of power at the national level? Do they want schools to remain in the local school board's hands? Tea Parties across the country have hosted Rhee; did they know she was an advocate for strong central control?

Rhee had pro-union Democrats (even in her own backyard of Sacramento) convinced she was a "right-wing folk hero" while she insisted she was a "very lefty liberal Democrat."

Even so, she aligned with Tea Party activists and the GOP to do away with unions. The Harvard educated activist appeared to be all things to all people.

There were almost no calls from the right, apart from ours, to question Rhee's motives. Only now with her appearance at the two conventions has she begun to reveal herself. She has even come out in praise of Obama and in support of federal intervention into state schools.

In the end, it looks like the reformer has become the terminator of union dominance in traditional public schools. Just what the right had wanted.

But she's all for a central office tying funding to reform through a massive bureaucracy. Is this what the GOP or the Tea Party wants now?

Read more Ann Kane and M. Catharine Evans at Potter Williams Report

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