Michelle Rhee Goes National

Back in February in this space, I talked about our new D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, calling her tough and talking about the steep hill she has to climb in her effort to reform the District's public schools under Mayor Adrian Fenty (D).

It’s seven months later, and Michelle Rhee is swinging for the fences, working her heart out to bring new energy into the city's public education system, wrecked by years of indifference and inaction by the Teachers Union. She's turning the system on its heels, and, so far, working to create real change.

I love that she is going to fire teachers who are bad educators. Why is the Teachers Union so scared? What do they think is wrong with accountability? How can they be against teachers being able to earn up to $130,000 a year? As Chancellor Rhee says, "The kids can no longer wait."

Along the way, she's scoring ink in Time magazine, The New York Times and other national publications — all for good reason. Simply put, she's not playing games. The Times said she's "moving at warp speed," and that she's making "dramatic" change. I call this LEADERSHIP.

Just think: A few years ago, our public schools were ridiculed across the United States. Now we have a chancellor making headlines because of the leadership, energy and change she's bringing to the city. This represents hope at its best. Rhee and her team are taking on a behemoth of a system — gigantic in its makeup and one that's been moving at the speed of the Titanic in recent years.

A protégé of the great New York City chancellor, Joel Klein, Rhee has been Mayor Fenty's best pick, best move, best stroke of smarts since taking the mayor's office two years ago.

I've spoken with Mayor Fenty about education many times in the past two years, and he's told me he has a desire to leave a mark on education that's strong and long-lasting. If Mayor Fenty wants to be the education mayor, appointing Michelle Rhee is the first step of many that appears to be paving the way for success.

Rhee told me over the winter that taking the position as schools chancellor was a "once-in-a-lifetime" chance to restore faith in the city's public schools and achieve the reform that many thought impossible.

"Change causes problems," she told me. Right now, she's on her way to fixing them.

It makes me proud to see our capital city take a leadership position in the nation’s broken public school system. Let the Fenty-Rhee team set a new paradigm in education merit and accountability. Let's make the United States proud of their capital city's leadership in education reform!





Kathy Kemper is founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a nonprofit foundation that recognizes and promotes leadership and civility locally, nationally and in the world community.

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