Michelle Rhee, who rose to national prominence as the controversial chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, appeared on Tuesday to take herself out of the running to become President-elect Donald Trump’s education secretary.
Rhee’s name had been circulated as a potential candidate for education secretary, speculation that only intensified after she and her husband — former NBA star and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson — met with Trump over the weekend. Trump pronounced them both “greatly talented” and, according to his transition team, they spoke about “the possibility for increasing competition through charter and choice schools.”
Rhee put the education secretary rumors to bed on Tuesday afternoon, tweeting that she was not pursuing the position. But she pushed back against criticism by some in the education reform community that she should not have met with Trump, given his statements about women, immigrants, Muslims and people with disabilities.
“I have appreciated the opportunity to share my thoughts on education with the PEOTUS,” Rhee’s message said, using an acronym for President-elect of the United States. “Interestingly many colleagues warned me against doing so. They are wrong. Mr. Trump won the election. Our job as Americans is to want him to succeed. Wishing for his failure would be wanting the failure of our millions of American children who desperately need a better education.”
“I am hopeful about the opportunity to find common ground on this important issue of education and will do whatever I can to be supportive,” she wrote in a separate tweet.
In light of the speculation about the Secretary of Education role, I wanted to clarify my position and what's best for America's students. pic.twitter.com/DXRZxdAZNX
— Michelle Rhee (@MichelleRhee) November 22, 2016
As an Asian American woman, Rhee would have brought diversity to a prospective Cabinet that is otherwise shaping up to be largely white and male. She also would have brought a diversity of ideas: Rhee is a longtime Democrat who has been a strong supporter of the Common Core State Standards, which Trump and his base abhor. She says that young undocumented people who have grown up in the United States should have a route to citizenship, putting her squarely at odds with the president-elect, who put mass deportation at the center of his campaign.
But Rhee’s blunt pronouncements about broken public schools — and the way she seemed to relish public battles with the teachers union as she instituted sweeping changes in D.C. schools — have made her one of the most widely known figures calling for change in the education system. She has been a foremost voice pushing for the expansion of charter schools and a rare Democrat who embraces vouchers for private schools — on expanding such taxpayer-funded alternatives to traditional public schools, she and Trump see eye to eye.
And not incidentally, Rhee’s brash style is a lot like Trump’s: The two share the distinction of having fired employees on national television, Trump on his show “The Apprentice” and Rhee during a public television documentary.