Former District of Columbia schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has announced the launch of a new public education reform coalition called Students First.
The website says that the group represents a movement “to transform public education” (now there’s something we’ve never heard before!) Details on the site, though, show that its goals are largely congruent with Rhee’s initiatives in D.C., including putting an effective teacher in every classroom and making sure that students have access to good public schools regardless of their zip code.
It says that the group will press for “legislators, courts, district administrators, and school boards [to] create and enforce policies that put students first.”
The group’s goals are outlined in greater detail in Newsweek (where Rhee herself has written the cover piece). It’s an interesting read, because Rhee reflects on her D.C. tenure and acknowledges that she could have done a better job communicating with teachers and parents about her goals for reform. On some issues, though, like school closures, she is unapologetic, writing that she doubts that moving forward more slowly would have minimized controversy.
And she has this zinger for the teachers’ unions, all but stating that she doesn’t think they are aligned with students’ interests: “Elected officials, parents, and administrators implore them to ‘embrace change’ and ‘accept reform.’ But I don’t think the unions can or should change. The purpose of the teachers’ union is to protect the privileges, priorities, and pay of their members. And they’re doing a great job of that.”
She goes on to note that during the civil rights movement, advocates “didn’t work everything out by sitting down collaboratively and compromising. Conflict was necessary in order to move the agenda forward.”
The group will seek grassroots support with parents, teachers, students and policymakers, and will attempt to have a million members and to raise $1 billion within a year.
Rhee has been an irresistible draw for the media, and her every movement has been extensively chronicled. This new announcement is no exception: Politico, The Washington Post and Oprah are all over the story already.
The announcement rounds out a busy couple of weeks for Rhee: She is already advising Fla. Gov.-elect Rick Scott’s transition team on education.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.