Thursday, May 29, 2008

Grading Michelle Rhee 

The editors of the Washington Post congratulate the D.C. school chancellor on what she has been able to accomplish so far in the year she has been in office although they say that much more needs to be done.

My assessment is a bit more complicated. I think Miss Rhee got off to a horrible start by giving lots of talks about the bad performance of her central office staff This killed morale on North Capitol street and diverted energy away from her real mission which is to raise student achievement.

Somewhere along the way she figured it out and even became defensive about her staff in front of the D.C. Council when representatives wondered why she wasn't cutting people quickly. Then she increased the amount of time she spent speaking about raising test scores and centered her efforts around this cause.

But the most impressive thing I have seen about her is her determined defense of charter schools and vouchers to provide competition and school choice to parents even as the Council has practically begged her to be critical of these approaches.

In addition, I want to comment on the issue of what I will call democratization of public education. The city has tried to improve schools while taking into account the views of parents, a school board, and other citizens. It has been a complete failure. When the council voted to give the Mayor control over DCPS it did just that. The idea that everything Miss Rhee does can be influenced by these other constituencies is ridiculous. She is in charge and she is accountable for the outcome.

Finally, I think the chancellor should have been slightly bolder when it comes to the 23 schools facing restructuring. They should have been turned into charters.

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