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.”