Rhee departs DC

˙ PREAL Blog

Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the Washington D.C. public schools, resigned earlier this week after Washington’s mayor (her boss and biggest supporter) was defeated in a Democratic primary election. Given Rhee’s reputation as one of the country’s most successful and controversial education reformers, interpreting what her resignation means for education reform has become a major topic of discussion.

Some argue that Rhee’s confrontational manner and impatience with politics got her into trouble. Others suggest that the public was not ready to accept the difficult decisions that are necessary to improve Washington’s failing school system.  Still others argue that improving public schools will inevitably bring conflict, and that Rhee’s fearlessness and unwillingness to compromise are precisely the kind of leadership needed.

Rhee has argued clearly that the interests of children should have top priority, that teachers pay should be based on merit, and that bad teachers should be removed from the classroom. She negotiated a teachers’ contract that includes a sophisticated system to evaluate teacher performance, merit pay, and enabling principals to fire bad teachers. Just as notably, she has acted on the contract, rewarding good teachers with significant bonuses and dismissing several hundred teachers who failed to meet minimum standards.

We attach a number of articles (below) that reflect upon Rhee’s reforms and her resignation. Particularly interesting is the observation of the Fordham Foundation’s Mike Petrilli: “the American public expresses support for the idea of education reform, but when it comes down to the tough decisions, like firing teachers or closing schools, they become more skittish.” While there is still a debate about Rhee’s leadership style, what seems clear is that she changed fundamentally the terms of the debate on education reform in the United States, and that several of the policies she has championed may well spread.




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