Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Education Reform 2.0: Will Chris Christie Make The Grade?

For some time now, it has been clear that New Jersey hearts Michelle Rhee. Rumor has it that Clifford Janey was axed to make room for Ms. Rhee to do for Newark schools what she did in D.C., a plan derailed when Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million provided Cory Booker got the credit. Chris Christie then offered Ms. Rhee Bret Schundler's old job as Education Commissioner, but by then Ms. Rhee had soured on the Garden State.

In the interim, D.C rejected Ms. Rhee's divisive approach to reform by deciding not to re-elect Adrian Fenty for mayor. Rhee resigned shortly after her sponsor, Fenty, was defeated, and has announced the formation of a national school advocacy group.

And in short order, D.C. has moved beyond the Rhee era. D.C. teachers elected a new union head who wants to overhaul Ms. Rhee's teacher evaluation system. Interim D.C. Chancellor Kaya Henderson is open to tinkering with the system. Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, sees the leadership changes in D.C. as a chance for a fresh start and a collaborative (as opposed to a combative) approach. It is fair to say that D.C. is now on its second wave of education reform.

There does seem to be a trend away from pugilism in the education debate. Controversial New York City Chancellor Joe Klein has resigned to take a job with News Corp. When Mayor Bloomberg sought to replace Klein with Cathleen Black, a candidate who had no education experience, he was stymied until he agreed to pair Black with an experienced education professional as a deputy. Thus, New York City has also chosen a more collaborative approach to education reform.

With Rhee and Klein out of their chancellor positions, that leaves only Chris Christie as a national figure demonizing teachers unions. Playing the bully has been so successful for Christie that it seems hard to imagine that he will want to join the second wave. And it also seems hard to imagine Barbara Keshisian making peace with the Governor any time soon.

So only time will tell if New Jersey will catch the second wave of education reform and move beyond its Rhee rah-rah-ism, or if New Jersey's education reform efforts will stay stuck in a partisan quagmire.

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