Wednesday, September 16, 2009


SF Education Examiner


Caroline Grannan | SF Education Examiner | Examiner Bio

September 13, 5:59 PM -- Two rock stars of the education-reform world have had a falling out, I’m told by a friend who just attended a Washington, D.C., community meeting run by one of them – Steve Barr, in-your-face founder of the high-profile Green Dot charter school chain.

Michelle Rhee (right), the headline-grabbing D.C. schools chancellor, is giving Barr the cold shoulder even as he makes a bid to take over Eastern High School on Capitol Hill.

A tiny handful of parents from the neighborhood attended the community meeting Barr called to rouse the masses to mutiny against D.C. public schools, my friend reports. “According to Barr, Rhee has cooled to his advances and actually got angry with him on the phone when she learned that he was meeting with community members,” she e-mailed me.

This gets especially interesting because Barr claims that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is pulling for him to take over the school, and it’s big news if Duncan – a big supporter of charters and privatization – is facing off against Rhee – also a big supporter of charters and privatization.

Barr "actually did seem to have a plan for a rigorous and high achieving school that he said would be a neighborhood school and not kick anybody out,” my friend related. “Of course, it sounds great in theory, and then we all know what happens. Barr made a few other interesting comments regarding Duncan's plan to give Green Dot a ton of money to reform urban high schools all over the country.”

Barr also got the cold shoulder from the parents at the meeting when he asked them to lead an uprising against D.C. Public Schools over the school (a beautiful site that is currently closed, with the small number of students housed in bungalows, and in general disarray). My friend is decidedly not a fan of Rhee or of DCPS leadership, but she declared: “I will not help Green Dot create their own personal privatization laboratory for Congress to trot over to see whenever they want.”

Both Barr and Rhee are media darlings, with Rhee making Time Magazine’s cover a few months ago and Barr profiled in the New Yorker recently.

Barr is leading a move in Los Angeles to open up public schools to takeover by whoever wants to grab for them, and is running several LAUSD schools with results that can be called mixed at the absolute best (but that still get tons of favorable media coverage).

We shall see whether the Barr-Rhee falling out is short-lived or a sign of serious trouble in the ed-reform ranks. Soon I’ll post more about a recent statement by education commentator-think-tanker Chester “Checker” Finn, a former insider in the ed-reform world who now says the reforms he formerly touted are not working. His take is that something even more drastic has to happen than privatizing the nation’s school system, since it’s quite clear by now that to the considerable extent that’s been happening, it’s not very successful. Finn himself isn’t sure what that something more drastic should be.

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