Michelle Rhee Unplugged: School Voucher Opponent-Turned-Advocate

Posted: May 26, 2011 9:00 AM

Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of D.C. Public Schools and self-described “card-carrying, life-long Democrat,” said she was instinctively opposed to school vouchers because she was “on the side of the workers.”

In her former line of thinking, teachers’ unions oppose vouchers and teachers’ unions support Democrats, so Democrats should oppose vouchers.

Then she realized what vouchers were doing for the lives of those the teachers’ unions purport to care about.

She said she talked to parents who had researched their neighborhood school, figured out that it was a “failing school,” tried to move their child to a better school but were unable to due to enrollment caps.  Parents, unwilling to send their kids to a failing school, would ask Rhee what to do.

Using her own children as a guide, Rhee determined if she would not send her kids to a particular school, she should not expect other parents to, either.

“I was not willing to say to these parents and say to these mothers, ‘You know what? Just give me five years, right? Just take one for the team.  Your kid may not learn how to read and write and do math for those five years, but this is what is good for the system,’” she said in a speech covered by EAGtv.

“I would never accept that for my child so I was never going to put any other mother in that situation,” she said.

She said she came under criticism from friends, saying she was “going against the party.”

She called the whole experience “an epiphany.”

The fight for educational choice is well-defined: There are those who advocate for the education of children and those that advocate for an educational system.  She is agnostic about what works best.  But with that agnosticism comes the drive to step on the toes of those that seek to protect a system.

Rhee could have sided with those who protect the system out of ideology, but instead, she realized if there is a solution that works, it should be supported, regardless of the political consequences.