Monday, November 24, 2008

Michelle Rhee in the Media

There have been several interesting articles published about Michelle Rhee in the past few days. Last Sunday, the Washington Post published an article by Bill Turque detailing Rhee and Mayor Adrien Fenty’s plan for creating an alternative school system. Rhee and Fenty hope to restore, “the District's power to create nonunionized charter schools.” Rhee has dubbed the creation of this alternative charter system, “Plan B”. The Washington Teacher’s Union strongly opposes this measure. However, Rhee hopes that by using this system she can more easily fire and replace teachers who are not performing to her standards. In answering questions about this Rhee and Fenty deflected all questions to Mafara Hobson. Press access was so limited that the Washington Post was forced to use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a statement drafted by Rhee regarding this plan.

This bizarre relationship between Rhee and The Washington Post is in itself newsworthy and documented by the Washington City Paper in its latest issue, dated November 19, 2008. Mike DeBonis analyzes the ways in which national reporters have been granted exceptional access to Rhee. Yet, local sources, especially the Post’s Bill Turque, have struggled tremendously to gain access to Rhee.

Regardless, Rhee unveiled a very promising, “Action Plan” this past week. Her 79-page plan included a number of promising, progressive ideas. Reading The Washington Post’s article and studying the plan, it is hard not to be inspired by Rhee’s ideas. Her strategies are detailed, yet broad in scope, from reducing school violence to improving community involvement. I was also struck by the ways in which Rhee’s plan seems to conform to Christopher Kruegler and Peter Ackerman’s “12 Principles to a Nonviolent Campaign.” Most aspects of her report seem to represent a plan destined for solid success.

I am astounded by the contradiction reflected in these articles. Rhee’s plans for reform are extremely impressive! She indicates in the City Paper article that she receives a large amount of fan mail from outside Washington. But, amongst local resident and media, she does not enjoy such a polished image. This amazes me. If she has such incredibly good ideas and intentions, why is she not more transparent? In the minds of her critics, Rhee’s secrecy easily transforms her office into a bastion of social engineering. I sincerely hope that she places more faith in the metropolitan community so as to build cohesive support for her powerful ideas, ensuring that they do not die in the hands of petty arguments.

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