News & Politics

Michelle Rhee Rumored to Be Candidate for Trump’s Education Secretary

Photograph via the Commonwealth Club.

Former DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee is reportedly in the running to take over the Education Department in President-elect Donald Trump‘s administration. Rhee’s name came up Monday night on CNN as a possible nominee for education secretary next year, along with charter-school executive Eva Moskowitz, and retired neurosurgeon—and one-time presidential candidate—Ben Carson.

During her nearly four-year tenure running DC schools, Rhee became a national hero among the education-reform movement for her promotion of public-charter institutions, private-school voucher programs, and brusque negotiations with the Washington Teachers Union, which represents about 5,000 city teachers. Since stepping down in late 2010, she founded the school-reform group StudentsFirst, which has since been folded into another group; advised Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott on education policy; and became the head of St. Hope Public Schools, a charter-school network founded by her husband, Sacramento, California, Mayor Kevin Johnson, and which has been accused of misappropriating federal grant money.

Although it’s been more than five years since Rhee ran the District’s schools, she still casts a looming specter over its teachers. Her successor, Kaya Henderson, largely continued Rhee’s policies, but with a softer hand. (Henderson stepped down in September, fueling speculation that she could’ve been tapped for education secretary had Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won the November 8 election.)

Carson announced today he will not be serving in Trump’s administration, citing his inexperience in government, while the New York Daily News reports that Moskowitz won’t be taking a cabinet job either. Meanwhile, Johnson’s term in Sacramento ends next month, freeing up Rhee to move back east.

Rhee did not respond to an email seeking confirmation if she’s in talks with Trump’s transition operation about becoming education secretary. The education-policy page on Trump’s website is only two paragraphs long and is aimed at restoring control over school policy to state and local governments. Still, there are some passages that might align with Rhee’s philosophy, including “expansion of choice through charters, vouchers, and teacher-driven learning models.” One thing on which Rhee and Trump diverge: Common Core, the state-based systems of grade-school standards that Rhee has defended and Trump called a “total disaster.”

What’s for sure is that if Rhee is nominated, unions will howl in protest.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.