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EDSEC: Rhee Vs. Duncan Vs. TFA

Outoing USA Today editorial page writer Richard Whitmire has an interesting take on the Duncan choice (Duncan Must Deal With Rhee, Union) in US News today, describing Duncan as an adroit "straddler" and making the argument that, as Secretary, Duncan will have to deal with where DC's Michelle Rhee and other TFA types are trying to take school reform in her district and nationally. 

Lucy121508First off, I don't buy that Duncan will have to weigh in decisively on the debate in DC, though he will certainly be asked about it innumerable times by the press and by Congress. He and his boss are just too good at...straddling. 

But my biggest argument with Whitmire's analysis is that he confuses Rhee's hard-charging approach with the rest of TFA and its various spinoffs. 

Sure, Rhee comes from TFA, and yes TFA types did indeed haze Lind Darling Hammond during the EdSec selection process.  Whitmire is good to note this issue, which I have addressed in several recent Huffington Posts. But TFA has clearly not transformed public education during over 15 years at work, and it, its grads and various spinoff organizations are generally quite timid about taking on districts or public officials (like teachers union presidents) directly.

In my mind, the best of both worlds would be reformers who support and confront the school system as needed, neither relentlessly confrontational like Rhee nor consistently indirect, and accommodating like TFA and its brethren. But let's not confuse two very different approaches.

UPDATE:  It was journalists and writers who were really responsible for the hazing of LDH, says the Tuttle SVC blog (Don't Blame Us, It Was TFA!):  "If the 14,400 TFA alums have an outsized influence over national education policy...Mr. Whitmire and his colleagues in the media have played a major role in giving them that influence."


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