Q-and-A with Michelle Rhee

On May 13 IFE’s INFO Breakfast series was hosted D.C. Public School Chancellor Michelle Rhee for a second time. She returned to give a frank overview about the school system’s progress and problems. She delighted her audience with her openness during the Q-and-A period, including former Mayor Anthony Williams, who introduced her. Chancellor Rhee also made time to answer additional questions from IFE high school journalism interns Christina Valentine, Georgie Milanovic and Jenny Shore. The Q-and-A from the lively INFO Breakfast discussion follows.


Restoring the Social Security student benefit: The best policy idea you haven’t heard of yet

I do believe we are responsible for the widow and the orphan.”

— Richard Gilbert, Tea Party supporter (New York Times, April 16, 2010)

Whether you are a Francis Perkins admirer or Sarah Palin follower, Americans believe Social Security is a promise worth protecting for all generations. Supporting the children of a diseased and disabled parent is a core American value enshrined in the values of the Social Security program, and reinstating the student benefit for post-secondary education should be a top priority of any reforms to strengthen Social Security.


Education is the silver bullet

During the 2010–11 school year, American taxpayers will spend about $543 billion to teach the nearly 50 million students who attend public elementary and secondary schools (kindergarten through 12th grade) across the country. In comparison, taxpayers will pay about $60 billion to house, correct and punish the 2.2 million prisoners who are behind bars every day in American prisons. Americans spend about $26,000 per prisoner but just $11,000 per student (U.S. Department of Education; Washington Post). Just incredible.


Is lack of money the primary cause of our education crisis?

I don’t think money is the primary problem for our education crisis. We’ve been throwing good money after bad at the educational system for years, yet things seem to get worse.

I’m not sure what the solution is, but I think that though there’s a correlation between money and successful students, it’s only a correlation — not a causal factor.

I think better schools get more money because there’s a value on education in that school’s area FIRST. It’s because the local community demands it and is itself made up of education-minded, educated and successful parents who themselves make money and thus pay more in taxes to their communities and, in return, demand more from their schools.


Amy Bishop and Harvard: A lethal mix?

Writing Friday about the University of Alabama-Huntsville biology professor Amy Bishop, who murdered three of her colleagues last week, the AP’s Desiree Hunter notes that Bishop has a Ph.D. from Harvard. Being denied tenure in Alabama, where she has taught since 2003, ate at her self-esteem, writes Hunter. Bishop was “apparently … incensed that a lesser-known school rejected her.”


Fire the teachers union

Heroes can and will emerge from the most unsuspecting places and make crucial decisions that can reverberate around the world. Rhode Island Superintendent Frances Gallo boldly confronted the neglect of Central Falls High School students by pompous teachers and the Central Falls Teachers Union. Her challenge boldly illuminates the burden unions and government jobs have on productivity.

Courageously glaring at the shameless monster of one of the worst school districts in the nation, reporting 50 percent of students failing their classes and less than 50 percent graduating, Gallo was willing to challenge negligent teachers who were obviously apathetic to the success of their students. All they cared about, in the end, was their fat paychecks every two weeks, and had no concern for the dismal results of their students.


America's continued education crisis

The nation’s current 6.2 million high school dropouts menace freedom, liberty and enlightened government.

They are ignorant of their constitutional rights. They are incapable of distinguishing between government abuses and the rule of law. Their ignorance makes them vulnerable to demagogic appeals and inclines them toward bigotries and prejudices.


Education and money doesn't spell results

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation yesterday announced a $335 million investment in teacher effectiveness. The donation is notable not just for its largesse, but for the fact that the funds will be funneled into research on different methods for increasing teacher effectiveness.

The need for this type of research cannot be understated. Presently, America’s public schools are more segregated than during the Jim Crow era. Urban families — mostly of color — are trapped in deteriorating public schools. By contrast, wealthy families of all races have abandoned failing schools by either moving to the suburbs or opting for private education.


Getting kids to college

Have we as a nation collectively gone insane?

I say that because, when it comes to higher education, we seem to have completely lost our way.

Clearly, getting more people to college is the best way to make America more competitive with the rest of the world.

The global economy has been really bad for those who can’t compete, because they don’t have a college education.


What are colleges for, anyhow?

Financial crises have a way of focusing the mind on price and value, especially on those things where the price has risen sharply and curiously without benefit. The health reform debate is partly about finding a way to curb the cost of rapidly increasing healthcare costs. In the Washington Monthly, Kevin Carey looks at the future of universities where, “even as the cost of educating students fell, tuition rose at nearly three times the rate of inflation.”