Michelle Rhee is Out. Are Her Reforms Sustainable?

Michelle Rhee will announce today that she is stepping down from her post as D.C. schools chancellor at the end of the month. Over at The Daily Beast, I consider what this means for the millions of dollars in reform money that are scheduled to flow into the District. 

Rhee's departure raises questions about the sustainability of her reforms, many of which have yet to be implemented. Last June, after acrimonious negotiations between the Washington Teachers Union and Rhee’s administration, 80 percent of D.C. teachers voted in favor of a new contract that gave the chancellor’s office unprecedented power in evaluating and firing teachers and instituted a pilot teacher merit pay program financed by private philanthropies. Some of those donors conditioned their support on Rhee remaining in place as chancellor; the status of the funding absent her leadership remains unclear.

Also under Rhee’s watch, D.C. was awarded $75 million in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top education reform grant competition, largely to support Rhee’s experimentation in teacher training, evaluation, and pay. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said he will withhold Race to the Top money from any state that does not faithfully enact the plans contained in its grant application. …

With election season underway, many new governors and mayors—like Gray—will be responsible for implementing education reform plans they may not fully support. Gray has been vague about his intentions on teaching reforms. His campaign benefited from about $1 million in American Federation of Teachers advertising and get-out-the-vote. The national union and its local affialite oppose Rhee’s signature teacher evaluation system, IMPACT, and sued over her July dismissal of 241 teachers, some of whom earned poor performance evaluations. …

Rhee’s supporters say Gray should be held accountable for implementing D.C.’s Race to the Top plan, which also promised to meet specific benchmarks in raising high school graduation rates and closing racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.

The question is “whether the Obama administration has the resolve” to withhold funding from uncooperative politicians, says Charles Barone, director of federal policy at Democrats for Education reform. “The onus is really going to be on Duncan, and this is where I think the jury’s out. It’s a different skill set for the administration…which takes a whole different level of political courage.”

Read the whole thing.

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