From the Fall of Cathie Black to the Mirages of Michelle Rhee: A Bad Month for Corporate Ed Reform

Between Black, Rhee, Sheffield and Goodloe-Johnson, it has not been a good month for the corporate education reform crowd.
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It has not been a good month for corporate education reformers.

Controversial and unpopular NYC Schools Chancellor Cathie Black is stepping down after only three months on the job. Appointed by Mayor Bloomberg -- amid vociferous public protest -- Black seemed an unlikely choice from the start. She has zero background in education and made her name as a publishing executive. It didn't help her win over the hearts and minds of the New York school community when, in one of her first public speaking appearances, she suggested birth control as the cure for the city's serious school overcrowding problem. Her last reported approval rating was a chilly 17 percent. Bloomberg went to court and bent some rules to get his appointee installed. But apparently the people have spoken and Black is on her way out.

She will be replaced by Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, who was once the president of the Board of Education.

This comes on the heels of a fall from grace by another poster woman for education reform, Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the D.C. school district (and member of the Broad Foundation board of directors). Rhee's record of academic success during her controversial and very public tenure at D.C. has come under investigation. USA Today reporters have uncovered a pattern of erasures of student test answers in 103 schools which allegedly resulted in test score inflation. (See: "Michelle Rhee: Education reform huckster -- the myth that schools are best run like businesses is emphatically demolished," Salon, April 6, 2010.)

How this scandal, which cuts to the heart of the credibility of Rhee's national reputation for education reform success, might affect Rhee's newest venture, political lobbying effort StudentsFirst, remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, over in Rockford, Ill., controversial and unpopular Superintendent LaVonne Sheffield (Broad Superintendents Academy Class of 2002) was recently served papers in a defamation lawsuit , and has resigned, reports the Rock River Times.

And in Washington State, last month the Seattle School Board fired its superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson (Broad Academy Class of 2003), and her CFO Don Kennedy as the result of a$1.8 million fraud scandal that happened on their watch. Last year, Goodloe-Johnson earned a "No confidence" vote from the teachers union and a number of schools, and was cited by a state auditor for an ethics violation for failing to disclose that she was on the board of directors of test vendor NWEA at the time the Seattle School District purchased its product, the MAP test, in a no-bid contract.

All four superintendents have ties to the major moneyed education reform players like the Broad Foundation or Mayor Bloomberg. All in all, not a good month for the corporate education reform crowd. But a potentially great few weeks for public school communities and the truth.

(A version of this article originally appeared on Seattle Education 2010)

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