It’s understandable that education reformers will go out of their way to argue that Michelle Rhee’s reforms weren’t determinative in Adrian Fenty’s mayoral re-election bid. Most of us want other mayors (and legislators, and governors, and presidents) to follow the Fenty/Rhee script closely, but they surely won’t if they believe that doing so would mean political suicide.
And let’s be clear: there’s plenty of evidence that Fenty’s loss had more to do with his “leadership style” than his policies. He didn’t reach out enough, allowed himself to be painted as a “part-time” mayor who liked training for triathlons more than doing the work of meeting with constituents. Oh, and he wasn’t “black enough”–and put the interests of affluent white residents above those of poor and working-class blacks (in a majority-black city that is gentrifying rapidly).
But let’s face it: the toughest of tough-minded reforms just aren’t all that popular with the public. While people overwhelmingly support vague notions of “accountability,” they have mixed feelings about accountability in action. Consider the latest Education Next poll. We asked respondents: “If a teacher has been performing poorly for several years, what action should be taken by those in charge?”Among the general public, 48 percent said “Provide the teacher with additional training and counseling,” versus 45 percent who said “Fire the teacher.” (Public school parents gave virtually identical answers.) We also asked respondents the same question about poorly-performing postal workers and police officers, and the results were pretty much the same. (Less than half of those polled wanted the worker fired.)