Michelle Rhee promised to crash through and reform schools in Washington D.C. who were failing disadvantaged kids. She was given unconditional backing by Mayor Adrian Fenty.
Fenty has now lost his bid for re-election, which was widely viewed as a referendum on Rhee.
Diane Ravitch points out (Why Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty Lost) that Fenty was supported by white voters but lost the black vote. The media has blamed teacher unions but as Ravitch insists black voters can think for themselves.
So, the people who Rhee was going to help have turned against her. This to me is a vote against the notion that changing inequality and poverty in society can be fixed exclusively at the school level. Social class cannot be turned around in class, it's a wider social issue. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't try and good teacher do their best. But it does mean we have to face the wider social reality. Kids come to school and do not leave their baggage and damage in a blue bin at the gate. (thanks pat thomson!)
In her article Ravitch links to a Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll which shows that the Obama / Arne Duncan policies on school reform, which include elements of the Rhee approach such as sacking Principals in schools which are judged to be failing, are losing favour.
However, this article also points out (scroll down to the Bright Spots subheading) that the public still supports improving the quality of teaching and some form of merit pay. People want reform and school improvement but not excessive crash through draconian approaches that target teachers as the only problem in school achievement. I notice a quote there from Barnett Berry who has been studying the issue of how to reform disadvanted schools for years:
“There is far more interest in supporting teachers than firing them or paying them on the basis of test scores,” said Barnett Berry, the president and chief executive officer of the Hillsborough, N.C.-based Center for Teaching Quality. “It doesn’t mean the American people don’t want a results-oriented profession. They do. I think they are more tuned in with the needs of the field than some of the policymakers who are making the rules and regulations.”Related: Staffing high needs schools (outlines Barnett Berry's ideas in more detail)
Update: Grading 'Waiting for Superman' The introductory paragraphs are spot on:
Here's what you see in Waiting for Superman, the new documentary that celebrates the charter school movement while blaming teachers unions for much of what ails American education: working- and middle-class parents desperate to get their charming, healthy, well-behaved children into successful public charter schools.
Here's what you don't see: the four out of five charters that are no better, on average, than traditional neighborhood public schools (and are sometimes much worse); charter school teachers, like those at the Green Dot schools in Los Angeles, who are unionized and like it that way; and noncharter neighborhood public schools, like PS 83 in East Harlem and the George Hall Elementary School in Mobile, Alabama, that are nationally recognized for successfully educating poor children.
You don't see teen moms, households without an adult English speaker or headed by a drug addict, or any of the millions of children who never have a chance to enter a charter school lottery (or get help with their homework or a nice breakfast) because adults simply aren't engaged in their education. These children, of course, are often the ones who are most difficult to educate, and the ones neighborhood public schools can't turn away.
You also don't learn that in the Finnish education system, much cited in the film as the best in the world, teachers are—gasp!—unionized and granted tenure, and families benefit from a cradle-to-grave social welfare system that includes universal daycare, preschool and healthcare, all of which are proven to help children achieve better results at school.
In other words, Waiting for Superman is a moving but vastly oversimplified brief on American educational inequality. Nevertheless, it has been greeted by rapturous reviews.