City Desk

Rhee: McCain Has Best Education Plan

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty might be a Barack Obama supporter, but his hand-picked education czar is opting for a different approach, at least when it comes to improving schools. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, in comments on Thursday night at a gathering of the Korean-American Coalition's D.C. chapter, endorsed the education plan of Arizona Republican John McCain "far and away" over those of either Obama or Hillary Clinton.

Rhee, in a speech at Tony Cheng's Restaurant in Chinatown, referred to herself as a "card-carrying Democrat" (LL forgot to ask to see the card), yet endorsed McCain's approach based on his willingness to reauthorize the controversial "No Child Left Behind" legislation. Both Clinton and Obama have been highly critical of the law and its effects.

"I think they're pandering, quite frankly, to the teachers' unions and other folks," she said.

In comments after the speech, Rhee explained that her support for NCLB arose from her belief in accountability and the need for hard goals for school systems. She called herself as a "huge proponent" of the federal law and said she was "incredibly disappointed" with the lack of Democratic support for the law—though she did say she had a "laundry list" of things she would change with the statute.

Why might an urban school superintendent favor No Child Left Behind? Well, for a cynical view, look at the political cover it provides: Long-failing public schools are required to be "restructured," a process Rhee is going through currently with several DCPS schools. Without such a federal impetus, big changes—which can extend to the brink of privatization—can be difficult to justify to parents. "Blame NCLB" certainly is a handy refrain to bring to parent meetings explaining the need for such drastic measures.

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