What's Michelle Rhee's legacy in D.C. schools?
Michelle Rhee visited the Noyes Education Campus in Washington, D.C., in 2009.
January 8th, 2013
04:40 PM ET

What's Michelle Rhee's legacy in D.C. schools?

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - Michelle Rhee hasn't run the Washington, D.C., public schools since 2010, but her time in charge, and her every move in education since, still draw cheers from some and ire from others.

"Rhee is one of worst friends and best enemies of public education," user david esmay commented on an opinion piece by Rhee and former New York schools leader Joel Klein on CNN's Schools of Thought on Monday. Rhee and Klein wrote about a new report from StudentsFirst, the non-profit Rhee heads, which graded states' education policies.

"She's only a standout because she has the political backing to make her so. Her policies in Washington area schools are falling apart now that she and her drive to find funding are gone," William commented.

"I don't see how anyone can take this report or Ms. Rhee seriously," commenter Christine wrote about the StudentsFirst report.

"The Education of Michelle Rhee," a documentary airing Tuesday night on PBS, follows Rhee's time leading Washington, D.C., schools, and examines her legacy there. "Frontline" correspondent John Merrow followed Rhee on her trip to a school warehouses filled with hard-to-get supplies, to the firing of a  school principal and to rallies celebrating higher test scores, some of which are now in question.

Through it all, Rhee still speaks boldly about education and her ideas. Here are five quotes from the film that offer a taste of how Rhee ran the D.C. schools, and what she's done since.

“I am Michelle Rhee. I’m the new chancellor of the D.C. public schools ... and no, I have never run a school district before."

This is how Rhee introduced herself to teachers in Washington, D.C., in 2007. Rhee had spent a few years teaching in a rough Baltimore neighborhood and a decade in education reform, but was a "virtual unknown," when Mayor Adrian Fenty picked her to run the D.C. schools. Her style was direct and her objectives clear - make Washington's school's better, even if it meant changing laws, firing people, closing schools and making adults unhappy.

"We’re not running this school district through the democratic process."

Indeed, after some initial excitement, many adults were unhappy. Scenes show parents angry about school closures, district leaders angry that she defied their instructions, teachers angry about layoffs and firings. Teachers interviewed for the film said Rhee didn't consider that some kids live in extreme poverty or have fallen so far behind that they'd need more than one year to catch up.


Our View: States' education laws aren't making the grade
Students in New York City public charter schools are doing well, Rhee and Klein write -- why don't all states allow the schools?
January 7th, 2013
04:00 AM ET

Our View: States' education laws aren't making the grade

By Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein, Special to CNN

Michelle RheeEditor's note: Michelle Rhee is the founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, a nonprofit organization that identifies as a “grassroots movement” to produce “meaningful results" for education on local and national levels. She previously served as chancellor of schools in Washington D.C.

Joel Klein is CEO of Amplify, the education division of News Corporation, and a StudentsFirst board member. He is the former chancellor of New York City schools.

Joel Klein(CNN) - It’s hard to watch Robert Griffin III play football and not think about education policy.

RG3, as fans call him, is a rookie who has been playing in the National Football League for all of 18 weeks, but led the Washington Redskins to twice as many victories as they had last year, their first winning season since 2007 and their first divisional championship in 13 years. Now imagine if the Redskins had a little less money to pay salaries next year and cut Griffin from the team, keeping instead a handful of bench-warmers. It sounds ridiculous, but that practice is exactly what happens in most school districts where policies require teachers to be laid off based on seniority, not talent.

Here’s another nonsensical example: There’s overwhelming evidence that quality public charter schools provide a viable education option, particularly for students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. In fact, test scores released in July 2012 showed New York City public charter schools outperforming traditional schools throughout the entire state, despite poverty rates 150% of that of the rest of the state and far greater numbers of minorities. Incredibly, eight states still do not allow public charter schools to exist. That means children assigned to low-performing schools in places such as Birmingham, Alabama, Louisville, Kentucky, and Omaha, Nebraska, are trapped without a choice or a way out.

These aren’t teacher problems, or student problems. These are policy problems. In far too many states, the laws and policies in place that govern education put up significant barriers to higher student achievement.

In fact, according to a first-of-its-kind report card that we published this week, nearly 90% of states earned less than a “C” grade on the subject of education policy. Ours is a new type of education report card that doesn’t look at teacher performance or students’ test scores, but instead focuses solely on the laws in place determining how our schools are allowed to operate. StudentsFirst will publish it annually, and this year no state earned higher than a B-minus.

That ought to shock parents, educators, and lawmakers alike. It indicates that no matter how hard our children study, and no matter how much passion teachers pour into their classrooms, the rules and regulations governing education are holding schools back.


Overheard on CNN: Debate between Ravitch, Rhee – Teacher: 'Just let me teach.'
August 16th, 2012
04:00 AM ET

Overheard on CNN: Debate between Ravitch, Rhee – Teacher: 'Just let me teach.'

Editors note: A recent Schools of Thought reader made this comment: "Equal air time for Ravitch – all this can and should be debated fairly – the blog space is welcome but insufficient." Diane Ravitch is scheduled to appear on CNN Newsroom Weekend with Randi Kaye this Saturday, August 18.

By John Martin, CNN

(CNN) – Education historian and professor Diane Ravitch took issue with a recent CNN appearance by former D.C. Schools chancellor Michele Rhee. Rhee and Ravitch both believe that quality teaching can make a difference in the classroom. But the two have fundamental differences in their beliefs about the quality of America's education system and its teachers.

Rhee told CNN, "The problem is that people don't understand where we stand right now in international rankings on academics. We are behind countries like Hungary and Luxembourg."  On Schools of Thought, Ravitch responded, "[Rhee] is obviously unaware that our nation has never had high scores on those tests. When the first international test was given in 1964, our students ranked 11th out of 12 nations. Yet our nation went on to become the most powerful economy in the world."

Rhee's organization, StudentsFirst, says on its website that "an effective teacher produces three times more learning than an ineffective teacher," but Rhee's critics, including Ravitch, say the group ignores the influence of poverty in America. Ravitch says that, "Family poverty is the most reliable predictor of low test scores," and that America has a much higher poverty rate than other countries.

Ravitch's response to Rhee was well-received by teachers, among others.


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August 9th, 2012
06:40 AM ET

My View: Rhee is wrong and misinformed

Courtesy Jack MillerBy Diane Ravitch, Special to CNN

Editor’s note:  Diane Ravitch is research professor of education at New York University. Appointed by President Clinton, she served seven years on the National Assessment Governing Board which supervises the NAEP tests. She is the author of the best-selling book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education,” and  blogs at dianeravitch.net.

(CNN) - A few days ago, CNN interviewed former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee about American education. Rhee, predictably, said that American education is terrible, that test scores are flat, and that we are way behind other nations on international tests.

I disagree with Rhee. She constantly bashes American education, which is one of the pillars of our democratic society. Our public schools educate 90% of the population, and we should give the public schools some of the credit for our nation’s accomplishments as the largest economy and the greatest engine of technological innovation in the world.

It’s time to set the record straight. The only valid measure of academic performance in our schools is the federal test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP has been testing American students since the early 1970s.

The NAEP test scores of American students are at their highest point in history: for black students, white students, Hispanic students, and Asian students. 

They are at their highest point in history in fourth grade and in eighth grade, in reading and math.

As for the international test scores, which Rhee loves to recite to knock our public schools, she is obviously unaware that our nation has never had high scores on those tests. When the first international test was given in 1964, our students ranked 11th out of 12 nations.  Yet our nation went on to become the most powerful economy in the world.

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August 5th, 2012
05:03 PM ET

Rhee on saving America's schools

By the Schools of Thought Editors

(CNN) - CNN's Randi Kaye interviewed former head of D.C. public schools Michelle Rhee to get her solutions for some of the problems in education.

Rhee, founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, an organization focused on changing public education in the U.S., says that a recent Harvard study ranked the U.S. 25th in education internationally.

Their discussion touched on several topics including "flipping" classes (a practice where students watch lectures and presentations at home, online, and then do their "homework" with their teacher's instructional help at school), international and state education rankings and teachers' salaries.

When asked about parents moving their kids to different school districts or states, Rhee acknowledged that parents are willing to go to great lengths to get their kids the best education.

"This is the reality that parents face," she said.  But she encouraged parents to work to change their local schools.  "As a nation, we should get engaged and involved in changing laws that are not serving kids," said Rhee.

What do you think of Michelle Rhee's ideas?  Watch the video and weigh in with your comments below.

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March 23rd, 2012
03:09 PM ET

Rhee: Everyone has a stake in education

StudentsFirst CEO Michelle Rhee on the economic and security risk the U.S. faces as a result of failing schools.

Read: Report calls education a national security issue

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