Rhee-Style Change

Much has been said and written in recent weeks about the future of District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. With DC Mayor Adrian Fenty failing to win re-election, many have speculated (and with good reason) that Rhee’s tenure in DC will end very soon. Rhee campaigned heavily for Fenty in the DC mayoral election and called the election of his opponent, Mayor-Elect Vincent Gray, a devastating blow for the public school students of the District of Columbia.

After Fenty’s election as Mayor of the District nearly four years ago, he appointed Rhee as the Public Schools Chancellor, with the charge of shaking the “failing school system” up, and Rhee did not disappoint. During her reign, Rhee has grown in infamy by closing schools, firing teachers, and completely overhauling that capital city’s school district with reforms including stricter teacher evaluations, more administrative control over teaching assignments, and tying teacher pay to student achievement . Her actions have made her a sworn enemy of many teacher unionists and villified her for many public education traditionalists.

But after leaving her post in the Distict, Rhee, who is undeniably one of the most controversial figures in public education today (see Paramount Pictures’ “Waiting for Superman”) will seemingly have her pick of top-level administrative posts. She has been talked about for top jobs Iowa, New Jersey, and Chicago just to name a few. So why does this woman who so many public education professionals and advocates have villified seem to be so highly sought after? The answer is simple. Whether you love her or hate her, you must admit that she’s about change; not incremental change, but the “tear the structure down to its foundation and build it again” variety of change. That kind of change is messy, and it usually pisses a lot of people off. But in places where people have grown tired of the status quo and the results it has produced, Michelle Rhee’s brand of change is attractive.

So my purpose here is not to assess Rhee’s progress in DC.We’ll take a more indepth look at what’s going on with the DC schools another day. Today, I simply tip my hat to Michelle Rhee for not being afraid to shake things up. It is clear that when she got to DC the system was broken. Time will tell whether what she’s done will make a difference, but no one can deny the fact that she tried to make things better; and for trying, I commend her.

Oprah Gives Millions to Six Charter Schools and a Boost to Charter Schools Everywhere

Oprah announced a few weeks ago that she will be shutting down her Angel Network charity with a grand finale of giving $6 million dollars in grants to six  “high-performing U.S. charter school programs.” The selected schools were Apire Public Schools (Californina), Denver School of Science & Technology (Colorado), LEARN Charter School Network (Illinois), Mastery Charter Schools (Pennsylvania), Sci Academy/New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy (Louisiana), and YES Prep Public Schools (Texas).

These one million dollar grants will surely be helpful to the deserving recipients as they use the funds to support and enhance their instructional programs. But more than just providing funding to deserving schools, Oprah’s gifts serve to further legitimize the relatively strong and still growing charter school movement in the US. Oprah could have chosen to give those funds to deserving traditional public schools or districts. Instead, she chose to highlight the progress that some charter schools have made across the country.

This was a huge boost for the six recipient charter schools, but it was a boost the US charter school movement as a whole as well.