Controversial US educationalist Michelle Rhee in talks with Trump

22nd November 2016 at 15:09
michelle rhee
Ms Rhee is a possible contender for the education secretary post, as president-elect Donald Trump picks his cabinet

Michelle Rhee, one of the most controversial figures in American education, is among the favourites to become US education secretary, following talks with incoming president Donald Trump.

Ms Rhee met with Mr Trump over the weekend and “enjoyed an in-depth discussion about the future of public education in our country. This included the possibility for increasing competition through charter and choice schools”, according to a statement from Mr Trump’s transition team.

The statement added that increasing the scope of merit-based pay for teachers had also been discussed.

Ms Rhee fired 241 teachers when she was in charge of the public schools in Washington DC, and forced through performance-related pay reforms.

Mr Trump has also met education activist Betsy DeVos, chair of the American Federation for Children  which promotes charter schools and private-school vouchers – about the education secretary role.

The conversation with Ms DeVos had been “focused on the Common Core mission, and setting higher national standards and promoting the growth of schools choice across the nation”, said Mr Trump’s team.

'More choice and competition in schools'

Education did not play a major role in Mr Trump’s presidential campaign, but he did promise a $20 billion (£16 billion) fund to introduce more choice and competition in public schools. He is in favour of the charter school movement and private school vouchers.

He also declared his intention to cut the US Department of Education “way, way, way back” and criticised the recent introduction of the Common Core  – a set of standards and assessments based on what students are expected to know at the end of each year – as “a disaster”.

Ms Rhee, a Democrat, would prove a controversial choice for education secretary. As District of Columbia public schools chancellor, she pushed through reforms that tied teacher pay to test scores, and fired large numbers of teachers who received poor evaluations.

After three years in post, she left the chancellor role in 2010 to set up Students First, a non-profit education reform organisation. She stood down from that role in 2014 and has remained largely out of the public spotlight since.

Ms DeVos is a Republican and former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party.

It is notable that both of the main frontrunners for the education job are women. Mr Trump is facing criticism for choosing an overwhelmingly male cabinet so far. Kelly Dittmar, assistant research professor at the Centre for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, New Jersey, told the BBC on Monday that there was little evidence "that women were at the top of the list or really even on the list”.

Eva Moskowitz, a former New York City Council member and founder and chief executive of Success Academy Charter Schools, met with Mr Trump last week, but said afterwards that she was committed to running her schools.

Other names that had been mentioned in relation to the education secretary role included Ben Carson, who also ran for the Republican presidential nomination.

His appointment would have proved highly contentious, given that he denies the theory of evolution, but he now seems unlikely to take up a cabinet role and will probably instead act as an informal adviser to the new president.

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