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Defeat of D.C. mayor could bring schools chancellor to California

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With the defeat of Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty in the Democratic primary this week, his highly controversial schools chancellor Michelle Rhee is likely to be on the job market in a few months when Vincent Gray, Fenty's certain successor, takes office.  

It would make sense for her to find a job in California, because that is where her fiance, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson resides, and one in eight children in the nation go to school. 

There are sure to be no shortage of job offers for the best known school superintendent in America who made it to the cover of Time magazine (one that infuriated many in the district, and beyond). 

But any prospect of Rhee coming to California would likely be deeply unsettling to California teachers, as well as principals. She made her mark early during her tenure by summarily removing principals from their posts. In June, she fired nearly 250 teachers she said were not effective, and put another 737 "minimally effective" ones on notice that they may be next.

While no decisions about her future have been made, by calling the results of the election "devastating" yesterday Rhee seems to be intentionally setting the stage for her inevitable departure from D.C. In many ways, at least some of the reason Fenty lost was because of her deep unpopularity among several key D.C. constituencies. Just how deep? Check out this column yesterday by the Washington Post's Courtland Malloy in which he describes Rhee as being part of "the old antebellum system of control" and has contributed to a climate of "friendly fascism" in the District.  

Were Rhee to find a post in California, she would not be the first former D.C. schools chancellor to come here. Former San Francisco Superintendent Arlene Ackerman (now a superintendent in Philadelphia) came West from DC in 2000. 

One possible landing place would be at a foundation with a reform agenda similar to hers. And there are no shortage of those. The Broad Foundation in Los Angeles has been a leader in promoting charter schools. The Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which would at least get Rhee closer to the West Coast, is at the forefront of the current "teacher effectiveness" movement. 

As for the public schools, now that Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines has announced he'll be retiring this spring, there will be an opening for the top school post there, although John Deasy seems to be the front runner to succeed him. There's always a chance that, come November, a newly elected Gov. Meg Whitman will be looking for a new Secretary of Education, which would conveniently land Rhee a job in Sacramento itself, although the job has a smidgen, if that, of the the authority that she has been accustomed to in D.C.  

Fenty's defeat has one immediate consequence: Rhee and Johnson may have also have more time to clear up the confusion around their planned wedding at St. John's Lutheran Church in downtown Sacramento. It was originally scheduled for September 4. In a major breach of etiquette, the couple cancelled it just 11 days before the event, telling the 200 invited guests they wanted to have a more intimate affair at a later date. 

One immediate outcome is Johnson will spend less time traveling to Washington, D.C., to campaign for Fenty as he has in recent weeks. That wouldn't be a bad thing in a city struggling by the dual impact of a devastating recession and cutbacks in state government which affects Sacramento more than any other California community.

It's no slam dunk that Rhee will even consider moving to California. A few weeks ago, in an interview with the Washington blog DCist, she rejected the suggestion that she would move to Sacramento as "totally sexist." 

Let me tell you this – not a single person in Sacramento has implied that because Kevin and I are getting married that he's going to be moving to D.C. Not a single person. And it (ticks) me off to no end that people assume that I'm going to be the one to move, or that of course I would have to move.

But Rhee obviously knows that as mayor of Sacramento, Johnson couldn't and can't move to Washington. And as D.C. schools chancellor she couldn't move to Sacramento.

But now that her tenure appears to be coming to a close, California surely beckons.

Filed under: K–12, Daily Report


Comments are closed for this story.
ric822's picture
I have known and worked with Michelle for a number of years. Any school district would be luck to get her. That being said, I am not sure she would like working for most school districts in California. California schools are all about socialization while Michelle believes in education.
js2547's picture
Michelle (though I sincerely doubt you will read this), I live in Sacramento and I thought it would make sense for Kevin to move to DC. He seems frustrated as Mayor and it would allow him to take a government job in DC and let you keep your job - though that seems less likely with Fenty's defeat. I think the reason most people suggest you moving to CA though is not sexist is that KJ can only be the mayor of Sacramento by living in Sacramento while there are many education jobs out here and it has seemed for a while that you are on your way out in DC. So, its not sexist for people to suggest that. And please do not lump the city of Sacramento into one entity. Thank you.
honestpolicy's picture
Just the facts: Shaw Middle School's scores did not even stay about the same. They went down -- reading scores declined from 38.52% in ’08 to 29.20% in ’09 and it’s math scores went from 33.33% to 29.02%. This can easily be verified at the official website http://nclb.osse.dc.gov. Did you not check? Did you just take Chancellor Rhee’s or Principal Betts’ word on it? The fact that Shaw’s scores didn’t go up is a major embarrassment for Rhee. She installed a new principal, who hired a new staff, selected for being young and “unjaded” and he paid the kids for good behavior and attendance. It seems imperative that Rhee is asked to re-examine her determination to pursue this method and not gloss over an obvious failure with her ongoing pathological prevarication & misrepresentation of the facts. (as per writer "efavorite") -------------------------------------------- Michelle is full of herself..... and facts show... Her scores went down ! The ironic part is watching Rhee loyalists twisting themselves into pretzels to rationalize a 4% drop in D.C. elementary school test scores. Suddenly, the entire test-and-punish crowd is explaining to us how test scores don't mean anything and how test scores are tied much more to out-of-school conditions. The problem is that she has made rising standardized test scores a central measure for achievement -- hers, students and teachers, writes Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss. So, feel free to judge Rhee on her insistence on placing so much importance on test scores (as have today’s other titans of education reform, such as Joel Klein in New York City). She believes they are so important, in fact, that she recently announced that she wants to expand their use in city schools, so that, in time, every D.C. student from kindergarten through high school is regularly assessed to measure academic progress and teacher effectiveness. But judging her reforms on the actual test scores, well, as my kids say, “Not so much.” -- Posted by Mike Klonsky
bubu's picture
Wow...You must be a teacher or part of the teachers union. I like Ms Rhee for the very fact she took on the Union. The teachers union is unable to police themselves. So, she replaced tenure with performance bonuses. She is a progressive! Hope she comes to California. With 60% of the state budget going toward education she will be a welcomed addition!
honestpolicy's picture
Let's... Get real, everybody! ==$$$== Michelle Rhee is a wholly-owned subsidiary of: Walmart, Eli Broad, Bill Gates, Goldman Sachs et. al., Hedge Fund edu-profiteers (& their mindless 'think' tanks, planted pundits & sycophants); and she's blatantly the frontwoman/spokesmodel for KAPLAN learning services, Inc. (testing, test-prep & online divisions) which is a major business arm (tentacle) of the "Washington Post" company. =============

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