The buzz is that Michelle Rhee is stepping down from her sullied perch as CEO of StudentsFirst, the radical ed reform group that was supposed to raise a billion dollars to attack teachers' rights, but which failed in that goal by something like 975 million. In a way, this departure is a real surprise. Once individuals like Rhee get a little juice, they are reluctant to give it up.
On the other hand, there are a lot of reasons why it's surprising she lasted this long. Her husband, Kevin Johnson, was TWICE accused of molesting a student, has been called a slumlord, and was accused of misusing funds for the St. Hope Academy. Rhee herself admitted that she taped shut the mouths of some of her students. These are offences for which real teachers would be dismissed, especially if Rhee had her way. Her book, Radical, was a bomb (one of my own books on teaching still consistently outsells Rhee's by a large margin, even though her book came out last year and my book in 2006).
Rhee's harsh look and sharp tone was once perceived as no-nonsense, even though it made nails on a chalkboard sound like symphony by comparison. Now, those same qualities are a detriment to her movement, especially as her policies have produced little or no results.
The UFT was quick to hail Rhee's rumored departure as a blessing on Twitter last night. Yet, there's little doubt that the UFT shifted in a reformy direction during Rhee's tenure (pardon my use of the T word). Perhaps they feel that her leaving will take some of the spotlight off the reform movement.
Nevertheless, Nature and ed reformers abhor a vacuum, so there will be someone along shortly to take place of the preeminent media flack, Michelle Rhee. So, who will it be?
As I mentioned, I believe much of the reason for Rhee's departure is that her public persona has grown tiresome to the public. She's harsh and shrill. She generally off-putting. The reform movement needs a kinder, gentler face. So who will be crowned the new flack of the reformers?
Brown is the new flack. Campbell Brown, that is.
She's perfect for the job (this is not a compliment, as Charles Manson was perfectly suited for his job as a psychotic killer). She's attractive, knows how to deal with the media, and she comes off as charming and warm on television. The fact that she knows next to nothing about education is no barrier to entry in the ed deform field; Rhee's abbreviated stint as a teacher placed no obstacles in her path. Brown displayed her political savvy by demanding that "pervert" teachers be fired--a position that virtually no one disagrees with (provided there is actual proof to the allegations)--to catapult her into the media spotlight as a crusader for children and an education pundit. From there, she has become the face of the anti-tenure movement by jumping on the Vergara case bandwagon.
Still, some of you may wonder whether she's truly qualified for the job. For example, can her husband match the creepy credentials of Rhee's spouse, Kevin Johnson? Pssh...don't make me laugh.
Dan Senor, Campbell's husband, is on the board of Students First NY. While he has not, as far as we know, molested any teens, he eats Johnson's lunch on several other counts. He's a wealthy investment banker who regularly rubs elbows with the most filthy rich, filthy reformy characters in America. He has also been described as "the spinmeister responsible for selling the early years of the occupation of Iraq as a rosy time--even as bombs exploded daily and sectarian violence ripped apart the country". He was also called "the face of the Bush administration's efforts in Iraq." What else could you ask for from the presumptive first gentleman of reform?
When Campbell Brown bats her doe-like eyes and coos "It's for the children!", people will listen. Unfortunately, few people will ask how concerned Campbell was for the children of Iraq as bombs exploded around them and her future husband made everything sound peachy keen.
Sadly, I believe Brown is the new flack. Prepare yourselves.