The Answer Sheet: Could Rhee be headed to Florida?

By Valerie Strauss
Monday, November 15, 2010; 8:23 AM

The talk in education circles in Florida is that the governor elect, Rick Scott, may be looking for a new education commission and the name that seems dominant in the discussion is Michelle Rhee, who recently resigned as Washington schools chancellor.

Sources told the St. Petersburg Times that members of Scott's transition team are "quietly asking around for names" of possible replacements for commissioner and that Rhee's name keeps coming up.

Rhee left the D.C. chancellorship last month after her patron, Mayor Adrian Fenty, was defeated, with some people in the city citing Rhee's and Fenty's arrogance as the reason. The mayor elect, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, was not a fan of Rhee's brusque leadership style and the two had a tense relationship.

Rhee, the darling of today's education reformers, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, has left open where she wants to take her next professional step.

But Florida education activists already are painting a scenario in which she could live in Tallahassee as state commissioner for a few years with the hope that Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and the brother of ex-president George W. Bush, runs for president in 2012 and wins.

Bush has said he doesn't plan to run but he wouldn't be the first politician to say that and change his/her mind.

Bush, though no longer governor, remains politically powerful in Florida and has national impact in education issues through his Foundation for Excellence in Education, he has national impact.

Bush and Rhee's fiancee, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, have worked together on a number of education initiatives. And Bush and Rhee agree on many of the key tenets of today's "reform:" charter schools and standardized tests. The two are scheduled to appear soon together as members of a panel on education reform at the Harvard University's Institute of Politics.

Some Florida legislators are reportedly talking enthusiastically about Rhee, though members of Testing is Not Teaching, a grassroots coalition of parents and teachers in Florida that opposes the current wave of education reform, has already expressed concern about the possibility of Rhee becoming the state education commissioner.

The current commissioner, Eric J. Smith, said in September he'd like to keep his job, but that doesn't mean he will. As the Times notes, the State Board of Education hires and fires the commissioner, but "Scott already has one member on his transition team and two positions [are] coming up for appointment in December."

My colleague Bill Turque wrote on his D.C. School Insider blog recently that Rhee has sent mixed signals about what she will do next. She had long said that the D.C. job would be her first and last shot at running a school system and she recently appeared to say she would not take the job as New Jersey's education commissioner. But she told The Wall Street Journal that she was in fact considering a job in another school district.

The Florida talk about Rhee may be all pie in the sky. But it it may not be, too.

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