Rhee in February 2008
|Born||Michelle A. Rhee
December 25, 1969
Ann Arbor, Michigan
|Alma mater||Cornell University (B.A.)
Harvard University (M.P.P.)
|Home town||Toledo, Ohio|
|Title||Former Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools|
|Term||June 2007 – October 2010|
|Predecessor||Superintendent Clifford Janey|
|Successor||Kaya Henderson (acting)|
|Spouse(s)||Kevin Huffman (div. 2007)
Kevin Johnson (2011–present)
Michelle A. Rhee (Korean: 이양희; I Yang-hui; born December 25, 1969) is an American educator and an advocate for educational reform. She was Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools from 2007 to 2010. In late 2010, she founded StudentsFirst, a non-profit organization that works on education reform issues such as ending teacher tenure.
She began her career by teaching for three years in an inner city school, then founded and ran The New Teacher Project, which in ten years recruited and trained more than 23,000 new teachers to work in urban schools.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Teaching
- 3 The New Teacher Project
- 4 Chancellor of D.C. public schools
- 5 School choice and school vouchers
- 6 After D.C. schools
- 7 Book
- 8 Awards and recognition
- 9 Personal life
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
Early life and education
Rhee was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the second of three children of South Korean immigrants Shang Rhee, a physician, and Inza Rhee, a clothing store owner. She was raised in the Toledo, Ohio area and educated in the public schools, through the sixth grade. Her parents then sent her to South Korea to attend school for one year. Upon her return, they enrolled her in a private school because they felt the public school was lacking.
When Rhee was growing up, her father encouraged her to do community service. During her teenage years, she worked with children and spent a summer working on an American Indian reservation.
She graduated from the private Maumee Valley Country Day School in 1988, and went on to Cornell University where she received a B.A. in government in 1992. She later earned a master's degree in public policy from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Inspired by a PBS special that she saw when she was a senior in college, Rhee signed up with Teach For America, went through their five-week summer training program, then worked for three years as a teacher in Baltimore, Maryland. She was assigned to Harlem Park Elementary School, one of the lowest-performing schools. She had difficulty controlling her classroom the first year. She said the stress gave her hives. In a speech at the Columbia Heights Education Campus in Washington, DC., Rhee said that she once put small pieces of masking tape on the children's mouths so they would be quiet on the way to the lunchroom and that, when the tape was removed, skin came off their lips, they were bleeding and she had "thirty-five kids who were crying". Rhee told Washingtonian magazine that she was demoralized by her first year of teaching, but said to herself, "I’m not going to let eight-year-old kids run me out of town." She said she took courses over the summer and received her teacher's certification, then returned to teach at Harlem Park. Rhee's first year test scores showed a precipitous drop in her class: the average math percentile dropped from 64% to 17%, and the average reading percentile dropped from 37% to 21%.
In her second and third years of teaching, Rhee team taught a combined class of the same students with another teacher. She told The New York Times that those students had national standardized test scores that were initially at the 13th percentile but at the end of two years, the class was at grade level, with some students performing at the 90th percentile. Earlier she had said on her resume that 90 percent of her students had attained scores at the 90th percentile. In 2010, a retired math teacher unearthed test score data on Rhee's Baltimore school which indicated that her students' scores went up during the 2nd and 3rd years, but that the percentile gains were less than half what Rhee had stated. In math, her scores went from 22 percentile to 52 percentile, an average increase of 15 percentile annually. In reading, her scores went from 14 percentile to 48 percentile, an average increase of 17 percentile annually. Rhee responded that the discrepancies between the official test scores and the ones listed on her resume could be explained by the fact that her principal at the time informed her of the gains but those results may not have been the official state tests that were preserved.
The New Teacher Project
In 1997, Rhee founded and began serving as the CEO of The New Teacher Project, a non-profit which within ten years of its founding, had trained and supplied urban school districts with 23,000 mid-career professionals wanting to become classroom teachers. The Project has mainly served New York, Chicago, Miami and Philadelphia. Beginning in 2000, the Project began redesigning the D.C. school's recruitment and hiring processes.
Chancellor of D.C. public schools
In 2007 the D.C. Board of Education was stripped of its decision-making powers and turned into an advisory body, and the new office of Chancellor was created—so that changes in the public school system could be made without waiting for the approval of the board. Newly elected D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty quickly offered Rhee the job of Chancellor; she accepted after being promised mayoral backing for whatever changes she wanted to make. Critics noted that Rhee had no experience running a school system, and had not even been a principal. She had been highly recommended to Fenty, however, by Joel Klein, the Chancellor of the New York City public schools.
Rhee inherited a troubled system; there had been six school chiefs in the previous 10 years, students historically had below-average scores on standardized tests, and according to Rhee, only eight percent of eighth graders were performing at grade level in mathematics. The D.C. schools were performing poorly despite having the advantage of the third highest spending per student in the U.S. Fenty and Rhee announced that they planned to make revolutionary changes in D.C. schools, and that part of the planned changes was a hoped-for "grand bargain" with teachers under which "greater accountability, including an end to tenure," would be traded "for a nearly 100-percent increase in salaries."
Upon taking office, Rhee immediately began to make a series of bold changes that relied on top-down accountability and results from standardized tests. She said there was no time to waste because children were being robbed of their futures. In her first year on the job, Rhee closed 23 schools, fired 36 principals and cut approximately 121 office jobs. Stated reasons for the closings were under-enrollment and excess square footage. Following Rhee's announcement of some of the changes, D.C. Council members asked for more information about how the decisions had been made. During her time as Chancellor, she reportedly, "became livid when she was told of a sign at a Washington school that read:'Teachers cannot make up for what parents and students will not do.'"
In February 2008, Rhee also announced a plan to add early-childhood programs, gifted and talented programs, art and music classes, and special education services to District schools.
In 2008, she also tried to renegotiate teacher compensation, offering teachers the choice of salaries of up to $140,000 based on what she termed "student achievement" with no tenure rights or earning much smaller pay raises with tenure rights retained. Teachers and the teachers union rejected the proposal, contesting that some form of tenure was necessary to protect against arbitrary, political, or wrongful termination of employment.
In 2010, Rhee and the unions agreed on a new contract that offered 20 percent pay raises and bonuses of $20,000 to $30,000 for "strong student achievement," in exchange for weakened teachers' seniority protections and the end of teacher tenure for one year. Under this new agreement, Rhee fired 241 teachers, the vast majority of whom received poor evaluations, and put 737 additional school employees on notice. Of the dismissed teachers, 76 were dismissed in accordance with the No Child Left Behind Act because they lacked proper teaching certification. Twenty-six other teachers were dismissed because their students had repeatedly received low scores on the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System. Teachers were observed by administrators and outside professionals for five 30-minute sessions during the year, and the teachers' performance was rated during those sessions. Teachers who received fewer than 175 out of 400 points were deemed ineffective and were dismissed. Teachers who received between 175 and 249 points were deemed minimally effective and given a one-year warning to improve their performance.
Support and criticism
Although D.C. students, for the "first time in nearly 40 years... made more gains in math and reading than the gains of the nation at large" as a result of Rhee's "tough-love reforms," noted the Washington Times, "the backlash from her reforms was immediate and intense." While her unapologetic enthusiasm for quick and radical reform cheered many parents and political leaders her aggressive approach to that reform and her anti-union sentiments antagonized union officials and pro-union politicians. Another common criticism disputes her assertion that she dramatically increased students' average scores from the 13th percentile to the 90th, a statement that could not be verified during her confirmation process for D.C. Schools Chancellor as the relevant Baltimore records could not be located. Rhee's actions have earned her applause from school reformers, as well as the scorn of teacher unions and community activists. Her supporters contend that under Rhee's chancellorship, student achievement in the D.C. Public Schools greatly improved. Since 2007, secondary schools have improved their standardized test pass rates by 14% in reading and 17% in math, while elementary school pass rates have improved 6% in reading and 15% in math. System-wide high school graduation rates also improved by 3%, up to 72% in 2009. By 2010, D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System reading pass rates had increased by 14 percentage points, and math pass rates had increased by 17 percentage points. Enrollment decreased by one percent, a slower decline than prior years. However, significant achievement gaps remained between students in high-performing and low-performing school districts, and between white and black students. Education expert Diane Ravitch questioned the legitimacy of Rhee's results, alleging that "cheating, teaching to bad tests, institutionalized fraud, dumbing down of tests, and a narrowed curriculum" were the true outcomes of Rhee's tenure in D.C. schools.
Some parents and community leaders, however, complained that despite these improvements, the speed with which Rhee enacted her reforms left them without input on the changes. The District Council also criticized Rhee for being unresponsive to Council members' requests for information about school operations. From 2008 to 2010, Rhee's approval ratings decreased from 59% to 43%. In 2008, 28% of African Americans supported Rhee, down from 50% in 2008. Yet even "as residents grow less supportive of Fenty's designated change agent for the schools," noted the Washington Post, "they still approve of some of the changes. The proportion of parents in the city who see violence or crime as a 'big problem' has declined from 78 to 65 percent.... The quality and availability of books and other instructional materials is viewed as less of a major problem by all parents, dropping from 67 percent to 48 percent." Also, the Post indicated that, "Rhee's efforts to raise the quality of teaching through improved training, evaluation and dismissals might be gaining traction as well."
Rhee fired several administrators and school principals, including Marta Guzman, the principal of the high-performing Oyster-Adams Bilingual Elementary School, which Rhee's own children attended. Some parents alleged that the firing process was neither transparent nor fair. According to the Washington Post, "the departure has stunned many Oyster-Adams parents who wondered why, in a city filled with under-performing public schools, Rhee would sack a principal who has presided for the past five years over one of its few success stories. The move also heightened ethnic and class tensions within the school's diverse community. Eduardo Barada, co-chairman of the Oyster-Adams Community Council, the school's PTA, said Guzman was toppled by a cadre of dissatisfied and largely affluent Anglo parents with the ear of a woman who was both a fellow parent and the chancellor". Rhee also fired a principal she had hired seven weeks before in Shepherd Elementary, another high-performing school in the upper Northwest neighborhood.
Detractors have also criticized Rhee's closing of several D.C. schools without holding public hearings, not reporting complete budget figures at recent D.C. council hearings, excluding parents from involvement (GAO report), hiring former supporters to conduct an evaluation of her performance in a show of conflict of interest, opposing student protests of her security policies, managing using authoritarian principles, and spending considerable time before the national media (Time, PBS, lecture circuit) instead of visiting schools.
Referring to the 266 teachers she laid off, Rhee told a national business magazine: "I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school. Why wouldn't we take those things into consideration?" At the time, she did not provide evidence of her accusations nor comment when asked why these accused teachers were allowed to be in the district prior to the dismissals. Union leadership asked Rhee to apologize to the 266 teachers for making remarks that were without basis in facts. Rhee refused to apologize, but clarified that only one teacher was dismissed due to sexual abuse allegations.
2010 election and registration
|Wikinews has related news: District of Columbia Public Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee announces resignation|
The 2010 Mayoral Election in Washington D.C. was interpreted by some political observers as, in part, a referendum on Rhee's tenure as school chancellor. Following the defeat of incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty in the 2010 Democratic primary election, Rhee called the election results "devastating for the schoolchildren of Washington, D.C." Rhee encouraged education reformers to learn from the election and "be more aggressive and more adamant." Fenty announced on October 13, 2010 that Rhee had resigned. Rhee launched a personal website, a Twitter account, and a Facebook page soon thereafter. In an indication of the extent of Rhee’s impact in Washington, columnist Chester Finn wrote in July 2010 that if Fenty should lose the upcoming election, “I’d recommend her to the Pentagon to take charge of the Iraq and Afghanistan situations. She keeps her eye on the ball, doesn’t take no for an answer, recognizes and rewards talent, and purges the ranks of mediocrities.” The Washington City Paper editorialized before the election, “When it comes to reforming a failed school system, you either go monomaniacal or go home. It’s naïve to think that you can do it while simultaneously making nice with the old guard.”
||The neutrality of this section is disputed. (September 2012)|
Investigations have questioned some of Rhee's accomplishments in increasing test scores in D.C. schools. In 2008, in an evaluation done on request of the State Superintendent of Education, McGraw-Hill flagged 96 schools—including 8 of the 10 that had received TEAM awards from Rhee—for wrong-to-right erasures. According to a USA Today report published in 2011, more than 50% of D.C.'s public schools—a total of 103—had surpassed the average rate of erasures at least once since 2008. Such erasures may be indicative of cheating - with wrong answers changed to right - or may have innocent causes, such as student inadvertently skipping a question and erasing all subsequent answers to correct for that or being encouraged to review his or her work.
Principals in area schools indicated that pressures for high test achievements were severe, and those administrators and teachers who managed to improve their scores significantly received performance awards and compensation increases of over $1.5 million from Rhee. Focusing on one school in particular, USA Today noted that Noyes Elementary School, which was marked a national Blue Ribbon School for its improvements, was singled out by Rhee and district officials as a model of educational reform. CTB/McGraw-Hill had detected the abnormally high rate of answer changes from wrong to right at Noyes Elementary for 2007-2008, 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. One 2009 test showed a 12.7 per student wrong-to-right correction ratio, in contrast to the D.C. average for that test of less than 1. Statisticians stated to USA Today that "the odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance." According to an Arizona State University professor who had spent several decades studying testing, this represented an "abnormal pattern"; two other academicians who spoke to USA Today agreed with him that the pattern of such statistically rare erasure rates warranted thorough examination.
Although seven charter schools evaluated their procedures, USA Today indicates that Rhee's office questioned a 2008 recommendation by the State Superintendent of Publication that the erasure rates should be investigated in several D.C. public schools, writing that clear reasons were needed before disrupting the schools in this way. In 2009 a limited investigation was conducted on behalf of OSSE by private test-security company Caveon that examined whether protocols were adhered to at eight public schools, but did not examine whether administrators or teachers may have tampered with the test results. Seven of the public schools were cleared, although at one school process was not followed when a teacher erased stray pencil marks and one teacher was, for unknown reasons, forbidden to administer future tests at a school that cleared. The superintendent's office also implemented tighter security procedures for the 2010 testing period to help prevent cheating.
Rhee later denied having any awareness of cheating allegations at the time. Soon after the article was published, she appeared on the Tavis Smiley Show, calling the USA Today article an attack by "the enemies of school reform" and saying that whereas most districts evaluate such allegations themselves, the D.C. district had called in a third party to do so. Several days later, she told Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews that her previous remarks had been "stupid", that she believed that the vast majority of D.C. schools would not cheat but that there may be exceptions, and that she was glad her successor, Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson, ordered a new investigation.
A D.C. Inspector General investigation in 2011 on one of the suspect schools for part of the problem period found no evidence of test altering, although it did find room for improved testing security. In 2011, a former principal at Noyes Elementary brought suit against the district, alleging that the district had used tampered test results to apply for federal funding, but the U.S. Department of Education—although it did find one instance of cheating in the schools it examined—did not substantiate false claims being submitted for funding.
School choice and school vouchers
Rhee was originally neutral on school vouchers, issuing a 2008 statement to the effect that she had not, "taken a formal position on vouchers" and that she disagreed, "with the notion that vouchers are the remedy for repairing the city’s school system." In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on January 11, 2011, Rhee endorsed vouchers, saying that she supported "giving poor families access to publicly funded scholarships to attend private schools." She added that "All children deserve the chance to get a great education; no family should be forced to send kids to a school they know is failing." In a February 2011 speech before Georgia's legislature, she indicated she had supported the D.C. voucher program as a supplement to the charter school alternative. She said that if a parent did not win the lottery to get a child into a charter school, then "who am I to deny them a $7,500 voucher to send their child to a great Catholic school."
After D.C. schools
On December 6, 2010, Rhee went on The Oprah Winfrey Show to announce that she had declined all job offers resulting from her high profile work as D.C. Chancellor and would be focusing on a new advocacy organization she had formed called StudentsFirst. She told Winfrey's audience she wanted to have one million members and raise one billion dollars in order to catalyze education reform in the United States. According to The New York Times abolishing teacher tenure is a main objective of Rhee and the group. Within weeks of its founding, Rhee and Students First had advised the governors of Florida, Nevada and New Jersey on abolishing teacher tenure and other issues related to public education reform. In 2010-2011, Rhee served on the transition team of Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott.
She has also been a visible figure in the national media, appearing on television shows, radio programs, and the documentary film Waiting for Superman. In May 2011, Rhee spoke in favor of school choice alongside the Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker at an event hosted by the American Federation for Children, a pro-school choice education organization founded and funded by Betsy DeVos.
In August 2014, Rhee replaced Jim Scheible as chair of St. Hope Public Schools, a charter school chain run by her husband, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, and subsequently announced that she would be stepping down as CEO of StudentsFirst.
Rhee's first book, Radical: Fighting to Put Students First, published in 2013 is part autobiography and part a treatise of educational reform. To publicize the book she appeared on The Daily Show, Frontline, and This Week. William Julius Wilson described Radical as "one of the most important and compelling books i have read." Publishers Weekly called it a "valuable guide for gleaning ideas, getting inspired, or perhaps for even instituting reforms in your own local school." The Washington Post identified the book as a "memoir/manifesto" and that Rhee "sounds like a radical humbled by a dose of realism." A review in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer praised Radical as "a great book" and a must read for anyone interested in education reform," and stated that Rhee was "a great visionary and an effective reformer."
Awards and recognition
Rhee has served on the advisory boards for the National Council on Teacher Quality, and the National Center for Alternative Certification. She was a special guest of First Lady Laura Bush at President George W. Bush's 2008 State of the Union address.
While Rhee was teaching, she met Kevin Huffman, who was also a member of Teach for America and later became head of public affairs of the organization. The couple married two years after they met and had two daughters before they divorced in 2007. Their children attended the Oyster-Adams public elementary school, considered one of the best in Washington D.C., while Rhee was chancellor. One of her children once attended a private school, the Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, but as of May 2014, both of her daughters were attending public schools.
In March 2010, Rhee became engaged to Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento, California and former NBA player. The two married in September 2011 in a small ceremony at Blackberry Farm near Knoxville, Tennessee.
- Lobbying in the United States
- No Child Left Behind Act
- Standardized test
- Teaching to the test
- Wendy Kopp
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- Will Haygood (March 10, 2010). "Kevin Johnson's winning streak: NBA, Sacramento City Hall, Michelle Rhee's heart". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 25, 2011.
- Reliable Source blog: Michelle Rhee and Kevin Johnson kept their wedding under the radar, Washington Post (September 7, 2011). Retrieved on November 20, 2011.
- Reliable Source blog: Michelle Rhee and Kevin Johnson downsize their wedding, Washington Post (August 25, 2010). Retrieved on November 20, 2011.
- Richard Whitmire (February 8, 2011). The Bee Eater: Michelle Rhee Takes on the Nation's Worst School District. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. p. 296. ISBN 978-0-470-90529-6.
- Karl Weber (ed.) (September 14, 2010). Waiting for "SUPERMAN": How We Can Save America's Failing Public Schools (Participant Guide Media). PublicAffairs. p. 288. ISBN 978-1-58648-927-4.
- Students First - Official website of Michelle Rhee's nonprofit education reform group
- The New Teacher Project
- Bio on National Council on Teacher Quality
- EAGTV video of speech given by Rhee, (7:53) on May 20, 2011
- "Michelle Rhee: 'You Can Change People's Hope'" National Public Radio, 2007-09-04
- PBS NewsHour Investigative Report, Part 1: D.C. Schools Chief Rhee Faces High Expectations for System Reform
- PBS NewsHour Investigative Report, Part 2: In Battle to Revamp D.C. Schools, Education Leader Faces Resistance
- PBS NewsHour Investigative Report, Part 3: In Washington, D.C., Schools Chief Faces Tough Choices
- C-SPAN Q&A interview with Rhee, September 9, 2007
- "Schoolhouse Rock: D.C. education chief says school choice shouldn't be reserved for the rich". The Wall Street Journal. 2007-12-22. "I believe we should proliferate what's working and close down what's not. Period."
- Interview with Michelle Rhee on PMAKid.com
- Michelle Rhee Documentary produced by Makers: Women Who Make America
|Chancellor of District of Columbia Public Schools
|Non-profit organization positions|
|New title||Chief Executive Officer of The New Teacher Project
|Chief Executive Officer of StudentsFirst
|First Lady of Sacramento