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Michelle Rhee likely to have pick of top education jobs, but would she want one?

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The Post editorial board's Jo-Ann Armao speaks with Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the D.C. Public School system, about the future of her position, her greatest regret and accomplishment and what she thinks of her portrayal as a "superwoman" in the documentary "Waiting for Superman." (October 4, 2010)

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By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 8, 2010; 9:35 PM

The Republican candidate for governor of Iowa thinks she'd be a great head of the state's department of education. Political chatter in New Jersey has her on Gov. Chris Christie's list of candidates for the top job there. Others see her as secretary of education in a second Obama administration, if there is one.

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Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has a job, for the moment at least. But after having campaigned against presumptive mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray (D) and then called his victory "devastating" for the city's public schoolchildren - an assertion she quickly sought to recast - Rhee is widely expected leave her post sometime in the near future.

Her iffy status, combined with her depiction as a lonely, union-battling champion of D.C. school reform in the new documentary "Waiting for Superman," has made her the name of choice for big education jobs that have come open - and for some that have not.

Even those who aren't necessarily looking for a chancellor or a state commissioner seem to have caught Rhee fever. Rupert Murdoch told an audience at the Media Institute awards banquet this week that she needs to continue working to overhaul the country's education system.

"Occasionally I hear the leaders of the teachers union say they support reform," Murdoch said. "But I'm here of the view of Michelle Rhee, a bona fide reformer."

Rhee declined to discuss contacts with prospective employers. "Not commenting on the record," she said in an e-mail late Wednesday evening.

In her numerous public appearances to promote "Waiting for Superman," Rhee has sounded more like the standard bearer for a national movement than an appointed official focused on a single public school system.

The day after the District's Democratic mayoral primary, she told an audience at the Newseum, "I would say that the biggest tragedy that could come from yesterday's election results is if the lesson people take from this is that we should pull back. That is not the lesson. That is not doing right by what Adrian Fenty has put into this effort for the last three and half years, that is not the right lesson for this reform movement. We cannot retreat now. If anything, what the reform community needs to take out of yesterday's election is now is the time to lean forward and be more aggressive and more adamant."

Some education advocates who share the core of her agenda in the District - which includes tougher teacher evaluations, more control over teacher assignments and linkage of pay to student performance - see her staying in the public sector. Others expect her to return to the nonprofit world, where she worked before Mayor Adrian M. Fenty named her chancellor in June 2007.

They also see the political reaction to her reform efforts in the District, which culminated with significant union support for Gray, as a powerful narrative to share.

"People who know how this stuff works, I mean the really ugly stuff that no one likes to talk about, make for very powerful advocates for reform," said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a group that backs sweeping changes in public education.

Rhee's name surfaced in New Jersey soon after Christie (R) fired Education Commissioner Bret Schundler for problems with the state's unsuccessful application in the federal "Race to the Top" grant competition.


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