Some fairly odd musings in Philadelphia these days as former District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee is spending quite a bit of time in Ill-town these days. Whispers sound off about Rhee, the controversial and fiery school head who led the D.C. public school system during Mayor Adrian Fenty’s (D-D.C.) tumultuous term, going to Philly and filling in for the recently ousted schools chief Arlene Ackerman.
We’d like to see how that turns out.
Take one outspoken, belligerent and ill-tempered Korean American woman who is considered the spokesperson of the “school reform” movement and put her in the rough-and-tumble working class political meat cleaver that is Philadelphia and see what you get. True: Philly public schools are like prisons (yours truly can personally attest), but not certain if an acerbic and volatile Rhee is the right choice for that. Philly is, on all levels, a hard core union town – the city can’t build anything or renew itself without union approval. And, it’s an old school Democratic machine town, proudly so. And: it’s a city of nearly 1.5 million (and growing again, we hear) with a population nearly 50% African American, with all kinds of ugly racial tensions still bubbling to this day.
Coming in and talking haughty about school reform and vouchers – then being coy when asked if she’d like to take a job as Ill-town’s school superintendent – is setting up a political nuclear war sure to engulf the Tri-State area. It will be messy. Rhee is notoriously anti-union in the eyes of many teachers nationwide. And, in Philly, unions don’t play that. It might have been cute political theatre in Washington, D.C., where folks only went so far out of fear of losing comfortable middle class lifestyles in a relatively affluent area. But, in Philly, most folks who live in the City of Brotherly Love have little to lose. They go all out. Just ask those other NFC East teams occasionally unlucky enough to play a home game against the Eagles.
The big question: is messy necessarily what Philadelphia’s public schools need? Remember: the kids are smarter than you think and they are as politically savvy as the parents or the teachers barely holding on in the classroom. So, will vouchers do the trick? And does Rhee – in addition to those backing her – really want to go there?
Some news out of Philly on a developing front ….
Morgan Zalot in The Philadelphia Daily News (shout out):
“We have an opening in Philadelphia. Are you interested?”
That was one question an audience member submitted for former Washington, D.C., public-schools chancellor Michelle Rhee after her hour-long lecture Monday night to a nearly full auditorium at the Kimmel Center, undoubtedly referring to the Philadelphia School District’s open superindendent position.
Rhee didn’t directly answer, but said that she misses her previous job, in which she implemented controversial reforms.
Before the lecture – part of the Philadelphia Speakers Series – a handful of current and retired teachers picketed outside the Kimmel, handing out flyers with reasons why Rhee is “bad for students and schools,” including that she “puts politics ahead of students” and “doesn’t support teachers.”
“Politics ahead of students?” Really, fam. Could’ve swore we caught you in 2010 openly campaigning and stumping as an official D.C. Government cabinet member for your benefactor Mayor Fenty. Surprisingly, few raised Hatch Act questions about that. Let’s keep it real, too: “school reform” is anything but apolitical. It’s a political mine field, in fact. But, we digress … Zalot has more on Ackerman suddenly being a champion for “school reform,” as well, eager to get in on the action with Rhee:
THE CONTROVERSIAL reforms that Michelle Rhee pushed during her tumultuous tenure as public-schools leader in Washington, D.C., were hardly the last marks she’d make on U.S. public education.
Since resigning last year, Rhee has pushed hard for school vouchers and merit pay for teachers, and has founded StudentsFirst, which pours money into lawmakers’ coffers.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise then, that, after receiving a $905,000 buyout, Philadelphia’s former schools superintendent Arlene Ackerman became a voucher proponent herself.
She inserted herself into the discussion last month, arguing in an Inquirer op/ed that it would take charter schools and vouchers to fix the school district.
“I didn’t even see vouchers as a viable option until recently, because my work and my focus was on changing the system from within for parents,” Ackerman said.
She called on parents to contact legislators to support the voucher bill, which passed in the state Senate last month but faces an uncertain future in the House.