It’s no surprise that Michelle Rhee is stepping down as chancellor of D.C.’s public schools. Advocates of “mayoral control” in education have always argued that the arrangement provides a clear line of accountability, straight through the mayor’s office. Adrian Fenty lost; his schools chief is out. Simple as that.
But that doesn’t make the outcome any less unsettling for D.C., and especially for its most vulnerable children. As the Washington City Paper editorialized before the election, “When it comes to reforming a failed school system, you either go monomaniacal or go home. It’s naïve to think that you can do it while simultaneously making nice with the old guard.”
Vincent Gray, Washington’s next mayor, will test this argument with his promise to push reform but also seek greater buy-in from stakeholders. There’s little reason to be optimistic about this approach — can anyone name a single city where “reform with a smile” has turned around a failing school system? — but here’s hoping for the best. But if you’re really committed to looking for a silver lining, it’s this: Michelle is gone, but D.C.’s charter schools remain, and within a few years they will serve a majority of the city’s children.
— Michael J. Petrilli is executive vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and blogs at Flypaper.