Michelle Rhee Touts the DREAM Act

By Sean Cavanagh — July 05, 2011 2 min read
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Supporters of the DREAM Act have won the backing of a heavy hitter in the education community: Michelle Rhee.

In an online essay posted on the website of her advocacy organization, StudentsFirst, the former District of Columbia schools chief argues in favor of the proposed federal legislation, calling it “good for kids and good for our country.”

The DREAM Act, which has stalled in Congress in the face of Republican opposition, would provide a route to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have grown up in the United States, if they obtain a college degree or serve in the military.

The famously blunt Rhee lays out some of the economic and educational arguments in favor of the legislation, but she also casts the issue in personal tones.

“As the former chancellor of Washington, D.C. schools, and as a mom to daughters who attended a public bilingual school, chances are I have come to know some wonderful children who have succeeded in school but who still may not get a shot at the American dream,” she wrote in the July 3 piece.

“Immigration is not my area of expertise, but I know that the current policy has implications for our education system and isn’t working for kids....No child should be forced to live in the shadows and hide their identity, nor should any teacher or mentor have to cover up the truth.”

Mafara Hobson, a spokeswoman for StudentsFirst, said the essay was the first time Rhee had publicly stated her position on the DREAM Act.

Over the weekend, Rhee, the daughter of South Korean immigrants, also appeared in a special edition of ABC’s “This Week,” which focused on immigration. One of the participants was the journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who recently wrote about his experiences hiding his status as undocumented immigrant.

Rhee is a polarizing figure in the education world. She has won widespread praise for pushing policymakers to take difficult steps to improve schools and the quality of instruction. But many teachers have bristled at her steady and sharp critiques of the unions that represent them, and what she sees as ineffective teaching.

Her organization recently hired a former top Democratic party official to help with communications. The hiring prompted speculation that the move was meant to molify members of Rhee’s political party—she is a Democrat—who have been put off by her hard-edged style and her working relationships with a number of Republican governors who have pushed controversial changes in schools.

In speaking out in favor of the DREAM Act, Rhee is backing an issue that has been squarely embraced by Democrats, but which has drawn deep opposition from GOP lawmakers in Congress.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.