College Guide


April 20, 2012 4:46 PM Michelle Rhee and For-Profit Colleges

By Daniel Luzer


On January 23 the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the government relations umbrella group for for-profit colleges in the United States, announced that former president George W. Bush would be the keynote speaker at the organization’s annual conference in June at Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

While this generated some minor controversy, it wasn’t really all that surprising. Bush was very supportive of for-profit colleges during his time in office. During his first term, for instance, Bush appointed former University of Phoenix lobbyist Sally Stroup to be assistant secretary for postsecondary education in his Department of Education.

But another speaker at this event is drawing a lot more attention. David Halperin at Republic Report writes that:

APSCU has announced the conference’s “additional speaker,” and it’s former District of Columbia Public Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee [above], now the CEO of education advocacy group Students First. If you’ve been on the fence about Rhee, not sure if she’s a sincere reformer with real results or a union-busting elitist aimed at replacing public education with charters, private schools, and online learning companies, you may find cause to jump off the fence now. By speaking at the annual meeting of the most cynical group of “educators” ever assembled — Wall-Street owned businesses that enrich their CEOs and ruin students’ lives at taxpayer expense and then hire armies of lobbyists to protect their privileges — Rhee has made her preferences very clear.

That’s right, Michelle Rhee, education reformer, Teach for America alumnus, someone who works to “defend the interests of children in public education and pursue transformative reform so that America has the best education system in the world.”

Rhee was chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools from 2007 to 2010. During her time in office the controversial superintendent closed 23 schools, fired 36 principals, and eliminated more than 120 administrative positions.

It’s unclear what she will say at the conference or why she decided that particular type of college is one worth highlighting. It perhaps has something to do with APSCU paying her about $50,000.

For-profit colleges, which make up to 90 percent their revenue through federal student aid, have been attacked by opponents for their low graduation rates, high debt levels, and the murky career prospects of their graduates.

“She staked her career on the concept of shutting down underperforming, bad schools,” Halperin writes. “And now she will address a room full of them.”

For-profit colleges don’t appear to have any prior relationship with Rhee and it’s unclear what she plans to discuss at the conference. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Steve P on April 23, 2012 8:41 AM:

    Career move.
    Her career now seems to be a $50k speaker. At least she's not directly screwing up schools now, but talking to the dolts who are.
    See also "consultant": If you're not part of the solution, you can still make a lot of money off the problem.
    (In most districts, $50k is what a mid- or late-career teacher makes a year. Where did they go wrong?)

  • Anonymous on April 24, 2012 12:54 PM:

    funny. on the upper right of the page is an ad for argosy university. a google-placed ad i'm guessing but funny nonetheless.

  • Donald Ball on April 25, 2012 12:25 PM:

    Isn't she credibly accused of engaging in fraud with regards to her schools' test scores?

  • toowearyforoutrage on April 25, 2012 1:10 PM:

    if she’s a sincere reformer with real results or a union-busting elitist aimed at replacing public education with charters, private schools, and online learning companies,

    False choice.
    If unions vanished tomorrow, would the schools no longer be public?
    I'd like to think we aren't so steeped in our blue alliances that we could say "Yes."

    I happen to think conservatives aren't utterly delusional when they say unions interfere with optimal education of our children. I question their motives, their logic, their extreme extrapolations, but to say unions are all good, no bad is unproductive. I've SEEN the recklessness of some of their actions placing their membership's priorities over educational benefits.

    That's fine if we can separate the two goals. Teachers unions advocate teachers, NOT students. The problem is when parents assume the two are always aligned. They are most certainly NOT lockstep despite their considerable overlap.

    School reform would best require some union reform as well. I hold out scant hope though.

  • Matthew G. Saroff on April 27, 2012 3:35 PM:

    To quote The Republic Report, Rhee's not, "a sincere reformer with real results, she is a, "union-busting elitist aimed at replacing public education with charters, private schools, and online learning companies."

    She lied about her results while working at Teach for America, she encouraged academic fraud at the DC School District, she ignored early childhood education as chancellor, etc.

    She's a pump and dump artist.

    * Goose test scores by teaching to the test.
    * Target black teachers and administrators to get non black students into the system.
    * Pick fights with the teachers union, because it is seen as "reform".
    * Increase expulsions of low performing students to juice the test scores.
    * Get out before the Ponzi scheme comes crashing down on the students' heads.

    Oh, yes, and marry a guy who was screwing teens on his youth program before he married her.

    She is a fraud.

  • Buck Turgidson on April 29, 2012 1:20 AM:

    I'm puzzled at Dan Luzer's puzzlement. Rhee is the foremost education reform fraudster since Rod Paige and Lisa Keegan. All her self-proclaimed reform credentials have been put in doubt--going all the way back to her Teach For America stint. Of course, when you've been caught cheating, fabricating data to support an apparent reform success, there is a political party that will welcome you with open arms. If you also disclose your disdain for teacher unions, your career is made. Rhee made her bed and she's a Republican now. There is really no turning back. For-profit colleges fit the current Republican ideal nicely, right next to el-hi vouchers, for-profit charter schools, anti-multiculturalism, value-added-based teacher competition for retention (with losers being fired), "competition" between schools that results in complete destruction of schools that serve populations that no one else is interested in. This list just goes on, and Rhee is joining in on all the fights. What's one more?