Michelle Rhee: America’s great hope?

Jason Pier in DC

Will they suffer if Rhee goes away?

At Foreign Policy, David Rothkopf thinks that political pundits were remiss to focus on the Tea Party in their post-primary soundbites, when the real tempest was caused by the American Federation of Teachers, a union so powerful, it got rid of Adrian Fenty, Michelle Rhee, and our ability to do Algebra in the future:

So they poured money into the campaign of Fenty’s opponent, D.C. City Council Chairman Vincent Gray. The spin on the election was that Fenty lost touch with the city’s black voters, but behind the scenes it was another victory for special interests that care more about their job security than they do about America’s economic future. The side that seems dedicated to ensuring that the U.S. continues to fall behind other countries in academic performance — and thus in terms of competitiveness, growth and by extension, national security, scored a big victory … if anything so cynical and counter-productive could actually be called a victory…

But…Fenty…DID lose touch with a lot of voters, and not just Black ones. Sigh.

Certainly, the world is not waiting around for the U.S. to get this right. Students in Asia and Europe work harder, longer and at a higher set of standards. On standardized math tests, students in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Russia, and Britain do much better than American fourth and eighth graders. (Some states do pretty well — like Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Kansas, for example — but others, like D.C., do especially badly; D.C. students perform at the level of students in Ukraine.)

No one’s saying that D.C. schools are fantastic or that they don’t require significant improvements– what people have said is that there’s a way to go about accomplishing reform without inspiring so much resentment and outrage that it obscures the universally beloved goal of helping children. Think about that. How badly packaged and clumsily implemented does “reform” have to be, to inspire such push-back? Oh, wait, it’s easier to blame voters in poorer wards for not being wise enough to know what’s good for them.

The Tea Party is a great story because it is so full of kooky characters and it stirs up emotions…But the story with truly international implications, one that touches everything from economics to national security to the distribution of geopolitical power, is the failure of the United States to recognize how it must change to compete.

I agree with the need for the United States to get its act together, so that my future children have bright, interesting and productive friends and neighbors, and I hope that Vince Gray is given a chance to show what he can do. I’m naive enough to expect that he also likes children, wants what is good for them, and loves his city enough to want to leave it a better place. It’s depressing that people think that only one person is capable of fixing D.C.’s schools, and that when they leave, we should all sell our homes and flee to the ‘burbs, because everything is ruined!