Time puts Michelle Rhee on a list, ignores her critics and scandals

The former D.C. schools head and current adviser to GOP governors is guilty only of loving the children too much

By Alex Pareene

Published April 21, 2011 8:50PM (EDT)

Michelle Rhee
Michelle Rhee

The ongoing uncritical liberal establishment's deification of former Washington DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee has finally, belatedly met some pushback -- notably from Diane Ravitch -- but there is no hint of that in the piece commemorating her entry into the 2011 Time 100, one of their many, endless lists of "the most influential people in the world."

Rhee is indeed influential -- she's the mascot for an American political movement with more money and center-left elite support behind it than almost any other cause I can think of beyond maybe fighting various forms of cancer -- but in the year since "Waiting For 'Superman'" made her into a national hero, we have learned that her miraculous achievements as a young teacher in Baltimore were severely exaggerated and the standardized test score gains she supposedly engineered in Washington were no better than the gains under her predecessor in that job, who didn't become a celebrity by loudly villainizing (and firing) those awful, awful teachers. Finally, last month, a USA Today investigation strongly made the case that impressive test score gains at one school, which were held up as a shining example of Rhee's rightness, were actually the result of widespread cheating.

None of that is even hinted at in the brief Time write-up by -- oh, look, it was written by David Guggenheim, who directed "Waiting for 'Superman,'" the pro-reform propaganda film that convinced a bunch of supposed liberals that lazy teachers are the only reason why underprivileged children in impoverished, segregated school districts don't perform very well on bubble tests.

Anyone who works in the political world quickly learns that personalities and competing agendas have a way of devouring people's best intentions. Not Rhee's. She set a goal to improve the lot of the nation's students, and she has stuck to that. And she paid dearly for it, stepping down from her D.C. post in 2010 after Mayor Adrian Fenty lost his bid for re-election, a public rejection that some saw as a repudiation of the tough steps Rhee took to raise the standards of the city's public schools. Subsequently, she shunned any high-salary job offers that resulted from her high-profile tenure and instead founded her organization. "Putting kids first" could be a pithy slogan. (For many it is.) For Rhee, it's a lifetime commitment.

Michelle Rhee has paid dearly for having terribly fashionable ideas about education, as I'm sure she explained the last time she was on Oprah.

Oh, and in addition to starting that organization, she has also spent a great deal of time advising Republican governors -- Chris Christie, Rick Scott, and now John Kasich -- on how best to crush public employees unions. She is doing it for the children.

Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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