Yesterday’s defeat of Adrian Fenty in DC and the likely ouster of heroic school reform superintendent, Michelle Rhee, should remind all of us of the very real limits of the heroic reformer theory of school reform. That theory holds that we just need to place the right people in positions of power in the school system and then support their heroic efforts with supplemental funding and political support.
The main problem with maintaining centralized government control over schooling and just changing who controls that centralized system is that the forces of the status quo have enormous incentives and even stronger ability to recapture control even if they temporarily lose it.
Rhee was probably pushing for the many good reforms, but the more she pushed for them the more incentive the edublob had to win the next election, remove her from office, and undo her efforts. And eventually they did.
Happily, DC is also decentralizing control over the school system, especially with its large and growing charter sector. Whoever is in charge of the DC public school district, that person will be in charge of a shrinking organization. The right way to reform DC is to make it easy for everyone who wants to leave a failing school to do so. That can’t be as easily reversed as changing the person who is charge of a centralized system.