Michelle Rhee's reforms deserve a fair critique

Monday, January 31, 2011; 7:15 PM

Is there really anyone (parents, teachers, unions, D.C. residents) opposed to school reform? Critics of former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee are not opposed to reform, and their concerns go far beyond methods or style.

Richard Whitmire ["Rhee's necessary toughness," op-ed, Jan. 22] fundamentally misread both facts and context in suggesting that people think Ms. Rhee "had the right idea but the wrong approach." This mistaken premise led him to characterize her critics as wanting "Michelle Lite," the same stuff in a different bottle (gentler politics, more communication, better marketing).

Wrong. Her problem was neither doing the right thing in the wrong way nor enacting unpopular things "with necessary toughness." Of course reform is the "right idea," but it cannot be separated from strategy and educational philosophy, with results rigorously and objectively assessed.

Talk of "data-driven" reform is meaningless if data analysis is driven by public relations, or if grass-roots creativity and freedom are suppressed by autocratic leadership.

Ms. Rhee's "reform" deserves a full and fair critique to separate reality from rhetoric, to identify what positive results were achieved, and to acknowledge and correct systemic flaws and failures in her approach. Nothing less will do if we are committed to providing children in the District of Columbia with the education they need and deserve.

Lynn Bergfalk, Washington

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