Nov. 10, 2011
BOSTON — Hundreds of Boston-area teachers and their supporters protested on Nov. 9 against former Washington D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee, the featured guest at the 2011 Boston Speakers Series at Symphony Hall, sponsored in part by WGBH.
Teachers accused Rhee of being anti-union and pointed to her as someone allegedly intent on privatizing public schools.
When Rhee ran the D.C. public schools, among her first acts was to fire more than 100 of what she described as incompetent administrators and teachers, and to board up underperforming schools. Rhee also championed the use of vouchers for private and charter schools.
At a packed Symphony Hall Rhee, featured in the popular documentary “Waiting For Superman,” said she was neither against teachers nor tenure. She said what she opposed was incompetence.
In the audience were large numbers of teachers. Many reflected the views of Jessica Tang, a teacher at the Young Achievers Pilot School in Mattapan.
“I think that she sugarcoated a lot of issues that made it sound like she supports teachers and students but the fact of the matter is she represents a lot of policies that are harmful to schools and students,” Tang said. “All schools need to be improved—and that’s where I guess I do agree with her—but I don’t think that the way she’s trying to achieve it, through privatizing schools and supporting measures like vouchers, for example, is the way to do it.”
But Rhee also had many supporters on hand.
Businessman Amit Kanodia said, “Abraham Lincoln, my hero, was controversial; Mahatma Gandhi was controversial; Martin Luther King was controversial; so was Malcolm X. So anybody who brings change is going to be controversial, good, bad and the ugly. Can Michelle Rhee’s philosophy work in every district? I’m not sure. Will her philosophy bring a debate? Absolutely. Can it be implemented? Absolutely. Is she going to bring changes in America? I hope at least she’s starting a dialogue… And everybody—parents, teachers, politicians should get off their protective comfort zone and deal with the hard reality. We are creating an environment where the next generation is not going to produce many Nobel laureates.”
That dialogue, or at least the debate over education reform, is in full swing. And many believe that Michelle Rhee, like her or loathe her, is among the key reasons why.