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Thursday, December 16, 2010

What is Michelle Rhee up to in Florida?

By Valerie Strauss

Michelle Rhee is the most nationally prominent figure to join Florida Gov.-elect Rick Scott’s education transition team, but she and the other 17 have something in common: They could all be on Jeb Bush’s Christmas card list.

Bush has ties to virtually all members of the team, which is no surprise, since he has dominated Florida's politics for more than a decade, even after two terms as governor, which ended in 2007.

Rhee, the former D.C. schools chancellor who became the national symbol for business-driven school reform, has now provided some details about her tenure on the transition team.

She isn’t moving to Florida, for one thing, which is not a complete surprise, as her children are in school in the District. Rhee will serve as an unpaid adviser to Scott, who was elected in November to succeed Gov. Charlie Crist (I).

Scott is clearly intending to carry on with the reform model championed during the Bush years, and by Rhee in Washington, which center around high-stakes standardized tests and school choice.

Rumors have been circulating in Florida for weeks that Scott wants to name Rhee -- who left her D.C. post after her patron, Mayor Adrian Fenty, lost in a Democratic primary to a man who did not like Rhee’s “I know everything” style of management -- as the state’s next education commissioner. Her appointment to the transition team only fueled that line of thinking.

According to the Miami Herald, Scott spokesman Brian Burgess said Scott “definitely wants her to stick around.”

The Florida governor does not directly appoint the education commissioner; the seven members of the state’s Board of Education do. But the new governor will appoint three new members early next year, and at least one of the sitting members is believed to support Scott, the Herald reported.

Rhee has not publicly signaled what her next job will be; her two children are still in a public school in the District, and she is engaged to the mayor of Sacramento, Kevin Johnson. She has been inundated with job offers. Rhee watchers wouldn't be entirely surprised if she headed to Tallahassee, or if her appointment to the transition team was just one of many consulting jobs she intends to take.

Rhee became the country’s star superintendent advancing this reform movement, and though results from her three-year tenure in the city were mixed, her profile remains so high that she was a guest on Steven Colbert’s Comedy Central show “The Colbert Report” on Wednesday night.

During the conversation, she proclaimed her support for the No Child Left Behind law, which has been the target of bipartisan criticism. And she declared, without explaining what she was talking about, that “if you look at the top 5 percent of American students, that they are actually 25th out of 30 developed nations.” Huh?

Scott’s education transition team is loaded with Bush supporters -- people who worked for Bush or supported him or who served on boards with him or were appointed by him -- and Bush remains powerful in Florida politics.

Bush and Rhee share the same education reform vision, and recently appeared together as members of a panel on education reform at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. Some in Florida have painted a scenario in which Bush runs and wins the presidency in 2012 and appoints Rhee as secretary of education. The flaw in that prediction is that Bush has said he is not running in 2012, though Bush watchers in Florida say they don’t think that decision is final.

Bush has made education reform his central mission since he left the governor's office, and his influence is national. He just hosted a two-day education reform summit in Washington, sponsored by big foundations and businesses, that included some of the big names in education today. Bush shared the stage with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and at one point seemed to me to be lecturing him about education priorities. There are those who think Bush would just as soon be education secretary himself in a Republican administration.

For the moment, what we can expect is for Rhee, albeit in an unpaid, advisory role for the moment, to have some not-insignificant impact on Florida education.

Taken from the Washington Post:

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