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.

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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.

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