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News Section: Schools and Education

Rick Scott to Keep Education Reformer Michelle Rhee on as Advisor

Published Saturday, January 8, 2011 3:00 am
BRADENTON With all of the buzz over Governor Scott's appointment of land use lawyer and St. Joe vet Billy Buzzett to the Secretary of the Department of Community Affairs, little was made of his other announcement yesterday, that Michelle Rhee, another member of his transition team, would stay on as an advisor in education reform.

Rhee gained national attention when she shook things up in the D.C. School District as chancellor closing schools, drastically reducing administrative payroll and implementing significantly higher performance-based pay for teachers who opted out of the tenure system.

D.C. saw the strongest performance increases in the nation under her direction, though parents in the district never warmed to her unorthodox approach. Rhee unapologetically moved quickly in implementing change, saying that closing a school or getting rid of under-performing teachers was not going to be any more popular, only less effective, if done slowly. She has since acknowledged that she needed to do more to help parents "connect the dots" as to why improvements were happening.

The end result was student success and political failure. Once incredibly popular D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty was upset in his September primary largely as a response to educational policies, which Rhee acknowledged in a recent Newsweek article that gives plenty of insight to her educational philosophies. Rhee says she learned that you cannot escape the political nature of education delivery any more than you can other areas government business, where competing interests battle to influence policy.

For his part, Governor Scott has made some very bold statements in terms of education, including his willingness to expand the voucher program to virtually every student. Rhee, who is a credible and successful educational reformer is at least a departure from the rest of Scott's industry driven team. One  might have expected a CEO from a chain of private schools or a textbook publishing house, rather than a reform activist, though it is important to remember that Rhee is an advisor and not Chair of the Board of Education. Her influence will be as much or as little as Scott decides and she will no doubt have to compete to influence policy with a host of special interests, as she noted is inherent to the process.

Whether Floridians agree with the controversial positions of Rhee, they should at least take some measure of relief in the fact that Scott is aligning himself with an intelligent advisor that genuinely cares about revamping a system that is inarguably in need of overhaul, in order to be successful and competitive not an industry shill who favors the privatization or deregulation of any state entity for the purpose of financially enriching the corporations they serve, like many others in his inner circle seem to be.

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