Michelle Rhee and the Education-Industrial Complex

Michelle Rhee has announced that she is going to Florida to champion school reform and that she’s starting a student advocacy organization (with her as CEO) to advance  same.   Says WaPo (note, owned by for-profit Kaplan education):

Rhee said the new group, StudentsFirst, will pressure elected officials and bankroll candidates at all levels of government who support her approach. The agenda includes recruiting high-quality teachers who are held accountable for student growth, swiftly removing those who do not perform, offering merit pay to reward top educators, expanding school choice and fostering parent and family involvement.

“We’ll support any candidate who’s reform-minded, regardless of political party, so reform won’t be just a few courageous politicians experimenting in isolated locations,” said Rhee, a longtime Democrat, in a first-person essay in Newsweek. “It’ll be a powerful, nationwide movement.”

The announcement marks the widely anticipated next chapter for Rhee, 40, who resigned in October after Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s Democratic primary loss to Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray.

While she made news last week by accepting an unpaid position on the education transition team of Florida Gov.-elect Rick Scott (R), her new venture will be her principal vehicle to promote educational change. StudentsFirst was rolled out in a carefully coordinated media blitz on Monday that included the Politico Playbook, the cover of Newsweek, a segment on Oprah and a new Web site. Rhee will be the group’s chief executive and public face as it tries to raise $1 billion from corporations and individuals.

Which takes me back to Rhee’s announcement for StudentsFirst –  where would this $1,000,000,000 come from?  I see her politically nibbling at the edges by taking money from the “Education-Industrial Complex” and attendant ideological partisans (who benefit by the reduction in the power of teacher unions and a weakening in the Democratic Party).  Keep in mind, if Rhee gets 1% from that $1,000,000,000 collected by StudentsFirst, she earns $10,000,000.  That ladies and gentlemen, is how this game is played.  Actual achievement of ‘reform’ is incidental icing-on-the-cake.  Consider her a smarter Sarah Palin, who will similarly make more money talking about doing something than actually doing it.

While I feel reform is a noble and necessary endeavor (previously here and here),  Rhee is not a fit leader.  Anyone who finds it necessary to demonize a partner and stakeholder (which Rhee’s has done repeatedly with ‘teachers’ unions’) and not as partners (see infographic) lacks the essential leadership skills. She is creating a “Tea Party for Education”.  What is this reform?  What does it look like?  Mind you, I am 100% pro-reform, but I doubt it looks like Rhee’s vision.  I will say this – the same reductionistic education approach that got us into this mess will not get us out.

I’m continually shocked that no one sees the endgame here – the privatization of education (funded by Government dollars).   The private sector – those same CEOs who brought you British Petroleum and Enron – is salivating at the chance for public dollars and “private” education.  Before we discuss privatizing elementary and secondary education, we should look at how for-profit higher education has worked thus far.  I see an explosion of student debt, an even less-prepared workforce, failed schools, higher loan default rates, and lower graduation rates.  How is the push for privatized primary and secondary education be different?  This is also not to say that there are similar problems – especially regarding an “education bubble”  - in established Colleges and Universities (see this infographic).

‘Deregulating’ education will not lower taxes, will not make the system more fair and equitable, will not reduce teacher compensation, and will not result in better outcomes.  You will however now have a choice on how to waste your tax dollars by subsidizing yet another industry while trading away accountability at the voting booth.  Like most things involving deregulation, they will be counting on consumer ignorance, where fools and their money will soon be parted.

There have been no greater cheerleaders for school reform than the nation’s newspapers.  I can’t help but wonder what part the idling presses of the United States will take in the Corporatization of Education?  Will it be supporting of better marketing for schools (as I suspect is the case in New York with Bloomberg’s appointment of a magazine CEO as school head?  Creation and distribution of materials (as corporate welfare for the print industry)?  It’s certainly within the realm of possibility.  They aren’t doing this “for the kids”, they are doing it “for the profits”.

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