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Children often come last in the battle of special interests

Across education circles and news media yesterday all everyone talked about and is still talking about is Michelle Rhee’s new venture.  I have to laud one of my collegues for guessing the former D.C. schools chief would ultimately end up at a national organization. Though, I’d suspected much the same move, as her now oversized persona would be too small to fit comfortably in another school district and heading to Florida  to become state commissioner, as been rumored, would hardly be smart given her engagement to former professional basketball player and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

I’m slightly surprised, however, that she has chosen to wade into the one  area she seemed so dismissive of: politics. Because even though Students First aims to continue education reform by tackling issues like teacher recruitment, merit pay, and school choice, Rhee makes no bones that her new organization will put its clout and money behind candidates vying for large and small offices that support her ideas. Fascinating. So, Rhee now heads a lobbying group. How ironic. And unfortunate.

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Because if there’s one thing I’ve seen in my many years of education reporting, combating big special interest groups with bigger special interest groups takes those involved further away from the issues that matter— children, right?

Want proof? I like to keep tabs on some of the districts I’ve featured in the past, especially the more intriguing ones. I’d initially chosen to profile Capistrano Unified School District in the midst of the recession because it typified the financial struggles of other California districts. I would not discover until later that it’s money woes were nearly overshadowed by the highly politicized nature of the community. The district went through a string of superintendents, several legal challenges aimed at the administration, and more than a handful of costly recall elections.

The November election saw the seven-board member bloc backed by the Committee to Reform CUSD upended and replaced by three members of a political action committee that emerged in opposition to the conservative-minded Committee. The name of this new group in power? Children First.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|December 8th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|Tags: , , , |

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