Education’s Ground Zero: Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC

Nicholas Kristof:

The most unlikely figure in the struggle to reform America’s education system right now is Michelle Rhee.
She’s a Korean-American chancellor of schools in a city that is mostly African-American. She’s an insurgent from the school-reform movement who spent her career on the outside of the system, her nose pressed against the glass — and now she’s in charge of some of America’s most blighted schools. Less than two years into the job, she has transformed Washington into ground zero of America’s education reform movement.
Ms. Rhee, 39, who became Washington’s sixth school superintendent in 10 years, has ousted one-third of the district’s principals, shaken up the system, created untold enemies, improved test scores, and — more than almost anyone else — dared to talk openly about the need to replace ineffective teachers.
“It’s sort of a taboo topic that nobody wants to talk about,” she acknowledged in an interview in her office, not far from the Capitol. “I used to say ‘fire people.’ And they said you can’t say that. Say, ‘separate them from the district’ or something like that.”

3 thoughts on “Education’s Ground Zero: Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC”

  1. My favorite part of this piece:
    “Her aim is for Washington to become, in just six years, one of the best-performing urban school districts in the country, while drastically reducing the black-white achievement gap. ‘A byproduct of that,’ she added, ‘will be that we will take away from all the other school districts and schools across the country the excuse that because the kids are poor, minority, whatever it might be, that they can’t achieve at the same high levels.’”

  2. you know, some teachers do need to be fired. but, i wouldn’t trust an ambitious academic with only 3 years of teaching to be the one to decide all that. sometimes you just gotta dig deeper among those who are actually in the classroom to help effect those changes. but we don’t do that – instead, we demean them, we insult them, and we threaten them. so much for respecting those who took upon themselves the difficult task of educating, and raising, everyone else’s kids. administrators, critics and other politicians should be ashamed of themselves

  3. Rob:
    Who would you trust? A career K-12 employee, someone in their 40s or 50s, probably started as a teacher, moved up the ladder to become department coordinator, then a principal, and now a superintendent? That describes nearly all superintendents I know, and I don’t see many of them firing too many teachers.
    I think someone like Rhee is arguaby better positioned to look at the needs of children, in part because her perspective is not that of a career educator, but that of a parent. (She has publicly said she would never question the judgement of a parent who would make decisions about how best to educate their child.)
    Rhee is a breath of fresh air in public education — one of the few people I’ve read about who is truly interested in making decisions based solely on the needs of children, as opposed to the other agendas floating around public education these days. I don’t suggest she has all the right answers, or her methods are the ones that ought to be replicated elsewhere. But her laser focus on children and their needs is — despite what you hear nearly everyone in public education say — pretty rare these days.

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