When I heard her speak at a CEAFU conference, Rhee told us that because of the entrenched bureaucracy in DC, she could only do the job she's doing because of the support of Mayor Adrian Fenty--"Nobody tells Michelle Rhee no but me", and he didn't tell her no. Well, in part because of his backing of Rhee, Fenty has lost his reelection bid.
The question now is, how long will Michelle Rhee last?
In an outcome that had come to seem inevitable, though it would have been shocking six months ago, D.C. city-council chairman Vincent Gray beat incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty 56 percent to 42 percent in Tuesday's Democratic primary. Fenty, who swept to a massive citywide victory in 2006, fared well with white voters but cratered in the black community. He lost the city's black Democrats, even though the Washington Post reported in August that 67 percent of registered Dems thought the mayor had "brought needed change" to the city.
The contest assumed national significance because of its educational implications. It was Fenty who fought for mayoral control of the D.C. public schools, appointed Michelle Rhee as chancellor in 2007, and then stood rock-solid behind Rhee's remarkable efforts. Rhee has made it clear that she regarded Fenty as a stalwart champion and was skeptical she could be equally effective without that support. Her stance has been read as a particular dig at Gray, who had persistently equivocated on the contentious particulars of her efforts.
It's not yet 100 percent certain whether (or when) Rhee will leave. But nonetheless, for several reasons, the election results bode poorly for school reform in the nation's capital.
Her concern for, and focus on, the students in DC--students who, incidentally, are overwhelmingly black--cannot be denied. The changes she's made were necessary, and the kids deserve even better than those.
The chances that they'll get better are now close to zero. The new mayor will almost certainly appoint a new chancellor that will "get along" with the unions, the ward bosses, and the city council, and will return the schools to the status quo ante Rhee.
DC's students will be even worse off, through no fault of their own--the fault of their parents, perhaps, who voted for Gray, but no fault of their own.