Michelle Rhee is stepping down as the CEO of StudentsFirst to focus on her family and supporting her husband. After being tossed out of the DC school system, Rhee founded StudentsFirst in 2011 as part of her quixotic crusade to blame the problems in America’s education system on teachers and their unions. Despite a limited background in teaching – outside of bug eating in the classroom she briefly taught at – Rhee decided she knew the best way to run education in America though she would later face criticism when it was revealed that during her time as DC school chancellor Rhee had presided over a massive cheating scandal instigated by the policies she was promoting at StudentsFirst.
When Rhee announced the founding of StudentsFirst on Oprah she said she was going to “start a revolution on behalf of the nation’s children” and planned to raise $1 billion to support candidates that agreed with her vision of blaming teachers unions for poor student performance and privatizing public education. She even hired former Democratic National Committee spokesman Hari Sevugan to work with her. But records show StudentsFirst has only given out $5.3 million. Check my math, but I think that’s considerably less than $1 billion.
Though Rhee did not succeed in raising the $1 billion she did do wonders for her own brand. Rhee became a star, an icon of the so-called “ed reform” movement. She traveled the country and was featured in all the major media outlets as a champion for reforming education by attacking teachers and their unions as impediments to progress. Her agenda fit perfectly with Wall Street and corporate America generally which wanted more market opportunities in public education. They quickly embraced Rhee and promoted her group as something Very Serious People supported.
But despite the hoopla the policies Rhee shilled for did not work whenever they were tried. It turned out that the problems of poor performing schools in America were more complicated and could not simply be solved by trying to terrify teachers by telling them they would be fired should students not do well on a standardized test. In fact, when the incentives Rhee proposed were in place, the results she produced in DC were seen again - cheating.
So Michelle Rhee is stepping down, but don’t worry, others looking for fame and fortune have happily stepped up to take her place.