How Politically Astute is Michelle Rhee?

Ben Smith and Byron Tau have written the definitive piece on this new phase of Michelle Rhee's career. She is attempting to build a national advocacy organization to directly confront the teachers' unions, and–though she continues to identify as a Democrat–she is now working most closely with GOP governors whose foremost priority is to drastically roll back public spending.

Smith and Tau very fairly present the evidence of Rhee's history of political tone-deafness and, to be frank, I don't think she has become all that much more sophisticated over the last three months since Adrian Fenty's defeat. There's only so much common ground a Democratic education reformer can find with politicians who resent the very existence of a social safety net. This hard reality calls into question Rhee's entire strategy of what Smith and Tau call "apocalyptic" confrontation with unions, as opposed to reasoned negotiation that recognizes the unions' expertise on matters ranging from school funding to curriculum and instruction. (And, by the way, I agree with Rhee that the seniority-based teacher layoff system needs to be reformed.)

The often wise Rick Hess explains clearly why Rhee is on such unstable ground: "One of the things that’s going to come down the pike — maybe in 2012, maybe in 2016 — there’s going to likely be a parting of the ways between these progressive education reformers and the folks who have deeper and more profound concerns about public section unions. … It’s a temporary alliance.”

3 thoughts on “How Politically Astute is Michelle Rhee?

  1. hukdunshur

    Oh great, she has Bloomberg’s campaign manager? What’s their strategy, spend $102 million of her own money?

  2. adriana

    I pretty much agree w/ you Dana…but I think that in some ways Michelle Rhee is going to continually isolate her from the troops who are needed in the ed reform movement (meaning, if you use the military analogy, you don’t fire all the troops). You might be interested in this piece written for my own website from the perspective of a NYC teacher:

    link to


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