Michelle Rhee's mess being cleaned up in D.C. ... Washington D.C. is just beginning to analyze the mess Michelle Rhee left behind, while Chicago's Rahm Emmanuel would make her Chicago's schools 'Chief Executive Officer'

While careful observers of the public education scene in Washington, D.C. are just beginning to analyze the wreckage left behind by Michelle Rhee during her time as D.C. schools "chancellor" (courtesy of the corporate "school reform" crowd), Chicago mayoral wannabe Rahm Emmanuel is already laying out a boilerplate corporate school reform agenda that includes considering Rhee for the full-time job of Chicago schools "Chief Executive Officer."

Leaving aside the fact that if Emmanuel, corporate Chicago's leading candidate, survives a challenge to his residency and would still need to win a popular vote, what exactly did Michelle Rhee do in Washington, D.C. (aside from fire the largest number of African American teachers and other educators in D.C. history behind a smokescreen of school reform rhetoric)?

Answer: In addition to racist purges of black teachers, Michelle Rhee left behind a messy serial privatization agenda that messed up many schools and that now has to be cleaned up by someone else.

According to Washington D.C. observers, Rhee left behind as big a mess as the elephants do in the circus parade. Since people like Rahm Emmanuel always walk at the front of the parade with celebrities like Michelle Rhee, it's important to get the viewpoint from the people with the shovels who have to follow the elephants.

And more and more of that is coming out as Michelle Rhee's brief and stormy term as D.C. schools chief recedes into history (despite the attempts by Newsweek, Oprah, Rahm and others to turn her into an international celebrity).

One take on Rhee's time in D.C. just appeared in The Washington Post, which spent most of the Rhee years touting Rhee. No more:

What Rhee wrought

By Valerie Strauss

Anyone who thinks that Michelle Rhee was a whiz as chancellor of D.C. public schools and should be heading a national "reform" movement ought to read about a high school she attempted to “transform” in the nation’s capital.

Rhee recently announced that she is heading a new organization, created around her celebrity, called Students First, that is aiming to raise $1 billion to effectively lobby against teachers unions and in support of business-driven reforms.

She has become the rock star of the education world, with an accompanying myth that she came into the nation’s capital with a broom -- her imagery, not mine; she clutched one in a 2008 Time magazine cover picture -- and with fierce determination removed bad teachers and closed or fixed awful schools with a mighty sweep.

The truth of her tenure is less compelling. In fact, some parts are disturbing.

The tale that my colleague Bill Turque wrote about Dunbar Senior High School reveals the bad assumptions and decisions Rhee made in trying to transform a long-troubled school, and, further, exposes some of the mindlessness driving modern school reformers today across the country.

Turque wrote about how the private organization that Rhee brought in to run the school has fared. Privatizing public education is the name of the reform game these days, and Rhee is one of the movement’s leaders. They believe that running schools like a business will make them better places of learning. They have nothing on which to base this faith, but they cling to it anyway.

Turque reports that more than two years after Rhee brought in Friends of Bedford, a New York-based contractor, to run the school, the school “remains plagued by a litany of troubles: Nearly half the senior class is not on track to graduate, more than 100 students are taking courses they’ve already passed and the campus is growing increasingly unsafe.”

And this was with an entire year of planning by Friends of Bedford before the organization actually started running the school.

Things are so bad at Dunbar that Rhee’s successor as interim chancellor, her ally Kaya Henderson, who would not want to sully Rhee’s legacy, wrote in a letter to Friends of Bedford that the school environment had "deteriorated significantly." She has now ousted the contractor from Dunbar.

This belies the claims Rhee made in media interviews when she quit her job as chancellor in October, that if the academics had not improved at Dunbar and a few other schools with private management, then at least the atmosphere and culture had.

She was wrong then. And she was wrong in thinking that Friends of Bedford was up to the task of turning around a large, unwieldy, chronically troubled school. She selected the contractor based on its success at Bedford Academy, a highly regarded Brooklyn public school, which is smaller than Dunbar and which screens its students. Dunbar doesn't.

The schools have little in common, but there's this: The head of Friends of Bedford, Chief Executive George Leonard, shares an ignore-the-parents management philosophy employed by Rhee when she ran D.C. schools.

Now that she is trying to raise $1 billion to become a big-time lobbyist, parents, presumably those with checkbooks, are suddenly important to her.

Dunbar is not the only D.C. public school run by an outside contractor that is having problems. Anacostia Senior High School, which was placed under the control of Friendship Public Charter Schools by Rhee at the same time she hired Bedford, has also had leadership changes and discipline issues, Turque has reported.

What this tells us is that fixing failing schools is a very, very difficult task, and that the private contractors today’s reformers embrace are hardly the answer.

Some private managers may do just fine, but, then again, so do some public school superintendents. The notion that the private sector can run public schools better is nonsense.

And the idea that Rhee is somehow ideally suited and experienced to be the voice of school reform doesn't make much more sense.

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