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Roundup: Rhee Departure Leaves Movement Without Ravitch-Like Figure

The Huffington Post's Joy Resmovits broke the news on Tuesday.  The Sacramento Bee followed up with a focus on Rhee's work on behalf of her husband, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, who may run for higher office in two years.  Beaten badly on the news, Politico published a misleadingly negative account of Rhee's accomplishments, noting her successes only in the bottom half of its story.

However, it's not really news that Rhee and her organization made crazy demands and didn't coordinate well with others or that she didn't reach her $1 billion fundraising goal.  Just recently, she listed a set of states suitable for Vergara-like lawsuits without (I'm told) consulting with Campbell Brown's organization. And no doubt, Rhee et al made a bunch of mistakes. (Focusing on ending seniority in layoffs was the biggest among them, in my opinion.)

But much of the criticism now focused on Rhee is the product of anti-reform advocates gleeful at her departure and thin-skinned reformer who didn't like being elbowed aside while Rhee was on the front pages and generally failed to support or defend her against the relentless critiques of anti-reform advocates who dominate the online discourse and influence many reporters.  (For a recent example of just how dominant reform critics are online, read this US News story: Common Core Opponents Hijack Supporters' Twitter Blitz.) 

The reality is that Rhee's organization raised an enormous amount of money in a relatively short time, pushed hard against the status quo in ways that sometimes work and other times made more moderate compromises possible, taked out positions (on vouchers and the parent trigger) that created room for others, worked across the aisle in ways that are sometimes necessary to be effective, and was among the first reform groups smart enough to bring in operatives with serious political experience. 

Rhee's not the only outfit to go through transitions, either.  Parents Across America has gone through a series of Board upheavals. The Coalition of Essential Schools and the Forum recently merged.  DFER recently announced the replacement of Glorio Romero with Steve Barr as head of its California chapter. I'm sure Stand for Children and 50CAN have come and gone in a few places -- or will soon. 

The biggest disadvantage for reformers of Rhee stepping down as head of StudentsFirst is that the move leaves them without a fearless antagonist to push the envelope and draw fire from critics -- and gives insult-prone critics incentive to do more of the same in 2014 and beyond.  

One possible advantage of the Rhee transition is that it clears some space for StudentsMatter and the NY Vergara plaintiffs to plan and coordinate efforts better, rather than getting bigfooted or fighting behind the scenes with Rhee or her people.  If the gay marriage movement tells us anything, it's that minimizing differences and sticking to a powerful, broad agenda is key to making change.  

Previous posts:  Julie Chen, Miss America, & Michelle RheeBehind Frontline's Rhee DocumentaryRhee Takes On Testing Opt-OutersInsult-Hurling Coming Mostly From Reform CriticsToo Much Focus On Testing, Agrees RheeNew PBS Documentary Humanizes Rhee's TenureRhee Cites DC Precedent On Collaboration;Mismatched Donors, Endorsements, and Contributions?.


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