Kaya Henderson Is Winning By Laying Low

Until relatively recently, Washington, DC had a celebrity school chancellor. It was a bit odd. The Washington, DC metropolitan statistical area is a pretty big metro area by American standards. And the overall DC/Baltimore Combined Statistical Area is fourth biggest in the country. But the DC Public School system is only the 71st largest in the country, so it was a bit odd to have Michelle Rhee be this big celebrity even while the dramatically larger Albuquerque school system languished in obscurity. Meanwhile, thanks to her celebrity as a union antagonist, Rhee became a major target for national teacher’s unions even though the contract she put together through the collective bargaining process led to substantial net increases in teacher earnings.

Then to add to the irony, after unions spent a bunch of money helping Vince Gray defeat Adrian Fenty so that he could fire Rhee, Gray turned around and made Rhee’s deputy her successor, keeping basically all the old Fenty/Rhee education policies in place. The result has been a huge win for the city’s taxi driver interest group, but it’s not clear what the unions accomplished for themselves.

Meanwhile, the latest Washington Post poll indicates that Kaya Henderson is successfully pursuing a strategy of laying low:

Compared to Rhee, nobody knows who she is, especially non-parents. But among the relatively small share of the population who does know who she is, she has strongly positive ratings. Meanwhile, her predecessor and former boss’ numbers are now looking up. At any rate, in my opinion it’s a bit too bad that Henderson is not more famous. As an African-American woman and daughter of a career educator, she might be a more credible messenger for the school reform cause than a lot of the better-known people out there.