CP: Michelle Rhee on Charters, Vouchers and StudentsFirst as a Political Player



Over at The City Paper, Andrea Zelinski sits down with former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor and StudentsFirst leader Michelle Rhee.

Rhee has been a major player in the national education debate for several years, and more recently she has gotten particularly involved in Tennessee, where she is a part-time resident. (Also, state Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is her ex-husband.)

StudentsFirst, the education lobbying and advocacy organization she started, threw around $200,000 at state and local races this election season, and will undoubtedly be involved in the coming push for a state charter authority this year.

From the interview:

What do you think about the debate of local decision-making versus having some other independent board approving schools? You’ve talked a lot about community involvement as a parent. How do you balance that?
A lot of states and jurisdictions, in order to make sure that that community is being taken into account, require a number of forums to be held, public forums where the public can comment on things, require things like a certain amount of parents saying, “I’m going to sign this petition so I will enroll my child in this school,” something like that to show that there is community support. And that’s important. Those things should be in place as policy measures. ... Allowing the school boards to authorize is like telling the Chrysler dealership that you are the one who gets to determine whether the Toyota dealership can open up down the street or not.

So when you look at it from the vantage point, it really does sort of resonate with people. You want to have a system that makes sense, and you can’t always — with some school boards, sometimes you can achieve that because you have people who really are saying, “OK, we just want what’s best for the community, we want to give parents choices and options.” Other times, even in a situation like in MNPS, where that wasn’t the case and that was unfortunate, but the choices should not be limited simply because of a small group of elected officials. You have to have some reprieve from that.

Later on, in response to a question about where her own kids go to school, Rhee describes herself as "a public-school parent" and declined to further specify. That caught the attention of education historian and policy commentator, Diane Ravitch, who claims Rhee's daughter goes to Harpeth Hall, a private school for girls.

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