White House Correspondent
D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has announced she will leave her post at the end of the month, a development seen by supporters as a blow to education reform. The decision comes after weeks of speculation about Rhee's future in the wake of Mayor Adrian Fenty's loss to Vincent Gray in September's Democratic primary election. (In heavily Democratic Washington, the primary is tantamount to a general election.)
Rhee, who was hired by Fenty to reform the city's trouble school system, had taken aggressive measures. Last fall, she fired 266
of the city's teachers; this summer, she fired another 241. She also closed 23 schools
, fired 63 principals and assistant principals, and decreased the central office payroll by 122 employees.
This take-no-prisoners approach made Rhee few friends in the powerful teachers union, and she found a vocal sparring partner in Randi Weingarten
, head of the American Federation of Teachers. Nonetheless, Rhee was able to sign a contract with the union that gave the chancellor's office sweeping powers to fire the lowest-performing teachers.
Student test scores rose and Rhee won praise from education reform advocates
, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
. In many ways, Rhee embodied the aggressive spirit of reform championed by Duncan and the White House, exemplified by their Race to the Top
initiative, which favors evaluating teachers based on classroom performance and rewards turning around under- and low-performing schools.
But some District residents deemed Rhee's measures too hasty and too severe, and criticized her actions as out of sync with community needs. As a result, the Rhee-Fenty axis became a source of controversy in the weeks leading up to the primary, and Fenty's defeat was considered, in part, a reflection of dissatisfaction with Rhee's actions. And for all of the accolades Rhee has earned in certain circles, the White House remained distinctly on the sidelines as Fenty and his education chancellor made their case to D.C. voters.
Asked about Gray's win in the days after the primary, Rhee called the results of the election "devastating
for the schoolchildren of Washington," spurring speculation that she would resign should Gray win (as expected) the general election in November. Rhee's decision to announce her resignation now, according to the Washington Post
, was an effort to end the distraction created by such speculation. Her replacement -- at least until the new mayor names his own chancellor -- is Rhee's deputy, Kaya Henderson. Like Rhee, she is a veteran of the Teach for America program, as well as the New Teacher Project -- a program founded by Rhee.