President-elect Donald Trump will meet Saturday with Michelle Rhee, a Democrat and former District of Columbia public schools leader who is considered in the running for secretary of education.
We all knew that Rhee's name was swimming around as a potential pick. Learning that she has met with Trump was no big surprise to me and it definitely means she's one of the names being floated around. And the platitudes that her PR team have amassed go wherever her name goes:
Rhee was hired to lead D.C. schools under Democratic Mayor Adrian Fenty, who gave her essentially unprecedented autonomy to change the costly and under-performing city’s school system.
Known as a visionary education reformer, Rhee shot to national prominence after her picture appeared on the Dec. 2008 cover of Time magazine next to the headline “How to Fix America’s Schools.”
But the picture of Rhee holding a broom enraged teachers, union leaders and others who said the image made clear Rhee’s intentions to improve the school system by trying to sweep out the most experience teachers -- in her effort to pay them based on performance, not tenure.
The Trump squad also met with Betsy DeVos yesterday - another "school choice" advocate.
What's important is that is that this meeting comes just two weeks after the election, before a Secretary of State and Defense, Treasury have been announced. In other words, before the basic presidential cabinet positions have been settled, the president elect has his mind on education policy. This fact is more important because it means that the $20 billion threat is going to be a priority for the new administration:
Trump’s School Choice Policy released in September calls for his incoming administration to “immediately” redirect $20 billion in federal funds to school choice -- in the form of block grants for an estimate 11 million school-age children living in poverty.“We want every disadvantaged child to be able to choose the local public, private, charter or magnet school that is best for them and their family,” the Trump campaign said in announcing the plan. “Each state will develop its own formula, but the dollars should follow the student.”
|That's Kevin Johnson, Rhee's Democrat Husband|
School choice is governmental poison pill. Those who advocate it claim that it empowers people of poverty. What it really does is undermine the one institution that has not yet declared war on poor people: Public Schools. After decades of reducing funding for basic safety net provisions through a process called "starving the beast", one of the last institutions left standing is the (partially federally funded) local public school. The strategy there is also to starve the beast. bBy expanding charters and offering vouchers for private schools, public schools would be forced to make cuts that would force them to define themselves in a new role. There is a word for a crisis like that: Existential.
And that's the real threat. There is a new Ed war coming and it may be more painful than the last. And I almost hope Rhee gets picked to lead it. Her appointment would bring a much needed lightening rod to public education advocates all across the country. With Rhee in office, the voices of dissent would be as big (or bigger?) than they were in 2009-2010. The amount of voices lending their support to public schools would triple in size and $20 billion strategy would wind up being seen as a massive overreach of federal authority to influence local institutions -indeed Corporate Edreformers jumping the shark. What concerns me is a name no one knows, like DeVos, or Evers or Messer; names that most folks don't know coming out of the box. A name like that could get away with a lot before activists decide to pull it together and oppose the policy reforms.
Because if there is one thing I know about the left, it takes them forever to pull it together. The populists (of which I count myself) get too angry, often withholding their presence in a dissenting moment until their sure the terms are met. The elitists get too vindictive, always -always- allowing the entire house to burn down until their old scores have been settled before they throw their hats into the process of opposition. (If you think the Republican troubles were a mess, then you have a lot to learn about learn about the left!). A Rhee appointment would settle all of that quick. DeVos? That would be pretty bad.