Michelle Rhee: Education Reforms Are Common Sense

Lauren Williams's picture
Thursday, February 21, 2013

If Michelle Rhee is the Devil incarnate as her critics insinuate, Satan’s time observing the challenges of public schools was well spent.

Rhee notes characteristics of poor-performing schools: low expectations – particularly of low-income and minority students – uneven teacher quality – marked by the worse teachers in the poorest schools –  and a bloated bureacracy paralyzed by dueling views on education reforms.

Solutions - big and small – are laid out in “Radical: Fighting to Put Students First.” The book is part memoir, chronicleing Rhee’s tumultuous period as superintendent of the Washington, D.C. school system. Rhee was just 39 when she became the surprise choice to run the lowest-performing school district in the country – the gap between the achievement levels of DC’s white and minority public school students was 70 percent at that time. Her boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty told her to move at 100 miles per hour to improve the system. (His advice came at his own political peril. Fenty lost a bid for re-election in 2010 largely because of Rhee’s education reforms.)

Rhee followed Fenty out the door and launched StudentsFirst, an advocacy group envisioned as a counterbalance to the formidable fundraising and political clout of the two national teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. StudentsFirst’s inaugural report ranking states on education reforms gives Washington state a D grade based on this state’s slow crawl to reform.

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