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Rhee’s “Radical” Book Sparks Renewed Interest in Her Support of Choice

You can forgive a blogger if once in awhile he decides to rehash a little old news, can’t you? Especially if he’s a cute little kid like yours truly? Anyway, long-time readers may be aware of my longtime edu-crush on former DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. You also may recall how excited I was to report in 2011 her Denver speech when she declared she had changed her mind in favor of private school choice.

Well, I’m all smiles to relive that moment again in this newly-published piece Rhee did for The Daily Beast, titled “My Break with the Democrats,” in which she explains the transformation. She talks about numerous meetings she had with parents who were seeking Opportunity Scholarships to get their kids out of failing DC schools:

After my listening tour of families, and hearing so many parents plead for an immediate solution to their desire for a quality education, I came out in favor of the voucher program. People went nuts. Democrats chastised me for going against the party, but the most vocal detractors were my biggest supporters.

“Michelle, what are you doing?” one education reformer asked. “You are the first opportunity this city has had to fix the system. We believe in you and what you’re trying to do. But you have to give yourself a fighting chance! You need time and money to make your plan work. If during that time children continue fleeing the system on these vouchers, you’ll have less money to implement your reforms. You can’t do this to yourself!”

“Here’s the problem with your thinking,” I’d answer. “My job is not to preserve and defend a system that has been doing wrong by children and families. My job is to make sure that every child in this city attends an excellent school. I don’t care if it’s a charter school, a private school, or a traditional district school. As long as it’s serving kids well, I’m happy. And you should be, too.”

The article is an excerpt from Rhee’s new Radical: Fighting to Put Students First, which just today hits bookshelves far and near. If you’re like me, you’re tempted to be one of the first to run out and grab a copy. You can whet your appetite by checking out this new piece in The Hill, based on an interview about the essential need for better schools.

At the same time, while I remain pleased to know that Rhee has embraced private school choice, Doug Tuthill at redefinED explains why, by only supporting vouchers for students deemed failing on a state report card, she hasn’t yet come far enough:

Rhee’s failing schools model misinterprets the relationship between students and schools. With rare exceptions, schools are not good or bad independent of the students they serve. Some schools are good for some students and bad for others. A state-designated “A” school can be a terrible match for a particular student, which means for that student the school is a failure. Bennett’s approach assumes the relationship between a student and a school is what succeeds or fails, which is why he thinks all parents should be empowered to access the schools that work best for their children.

Some schools work better for some students than for others. And even the most highly-rated schools may not serve every student well. It’s about moving past the “one-size-fits-all” paradigm. It’s about recognizing that while a battery of state tests can be an important tool in gauging performance, it certainly shouldn’t be the only tool at parents’ disposal. It’s about empowering families and making sure that the education system is serving (to coin a phrase) “students first.”

But then again, maybe that makes me seem “Radical.” If I grew up a generation ago, that term also would make a wonky little kid like me pretty cool. So how could I complain?