published Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee touts education reform here

Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools, speaks about her experiences reforming the schools around the capital. Rhee, the first speaker in this year's Hunter Lecture Series, discussed education reform Tuesday night at the Tivoli Theatre.
Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools, speaks about her experiences reforming the schools around the capital. Rhee, the first speaker in this year's Hunter Lecture Series, discussed education reform Tuesday night at the Tivoli Theatre.
Photo by Jake Daniels.
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Michelle Rhee envisions public education as the nation's great equalizer, an institution that bridges gaps created by race, income and geography.

But that's not what she sees in our public schools today.

"That's not the reality we had in Washington, D.C.," said Rhee, former chancellor of District of Columbia Public Schools, "and I guarantee you it's not the reality in Chattanooga."

Rhee, who now runs the reform-minded organization Students First, gained notoriety for her controversial efforts to overhaul Washington's school system.

At the Tivoli Theatre, she spoke to a crowd of several hundred Tuesday evening as the inaugural speaker in this year's George T. Hunter Lecture Series.

Rhee said communities should focus their educational efforts on measures that put students first, instead of those centered on employee or political issues.

The nation's public education system is the greatest social injustice of our time, she said, and fixing it can help improve the country's economic world standing.

"I refuse to buy into the proposal that, because kids are poor, they can not learn," she said.

The nation should also regain its competitive spirit, Rhee said, and stop coddling children.

"Both of my kids play soccer. Both of them suck," Rhee said to booming laughs from the crowd. "But if you go into either of their rooms, you would see trophies and medals."

She pointed to other countries such as South Korea that have a "built-in sense of competition" in public schools. That, she said, translates into the global marketplace.

Rhee also took a shot at teacher union leaders, saying their goals don't always have the best interest of students in mind.

"Their job is to focus on their members," she said, "and they're doing a very good job at that."

Members of the local teachers union, Hamilton County Education Association, handed out pamphlets inside the theater before the event. The brochures highlighted increasing graduation rates and test scores in county schools.

HCEA President Sandy Hughes said Rhee's comments about union leaders were "just not true."

"We care very much about all of our children," said Hughes, who is on a two-year leave from teaching Latin, French and English at Ooltewah High School.

Earlier in the day, Rhee said Tennesseans need to continue their recent reform efforts, which changed teacher tenure, bargaining right and teacher evaluations.

At a Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial board meeting earlier Tuesday, Rhee said leaders must ensure that new policies are actually implemented at the local level.

"While passing laws at the state level is an important first step," she said, "it's only that -- a first step."

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about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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aidehua said...

Hooray for Ms. Rhee who pointed out that unions exist for the purpose of enriching their members - not for advocating on behalf of students. Do you think the UAW cares about the quality of cars they produce - or their wages and benefits? Why don't local leaders speak out in favor of school vouchers? Well, Ms. Rhee fought for vouchers in DC. The unions fought back and she lost her job. Students pay no dues and can not vote. Thus, they are poorly represented in the educational debate. Do schools exist to employ teachers or teach students?

September 21, 2011 at 7:34 a.m.
Gump said...

I thought Rhee lost her job because it turned out Washington schools were doctoring test scores so they could get more funding.

And how do you expect people to do good work without fair pay and benefits? When teachers are forced to give up more and more and live on shoestring budgets, how can they teach effectively? I'm friends with some teachers, and they are hard-working people in a high-stress job who deserve more respect than our "leaders" give them.

September 21, 2011 at 9:14 a.m.
jaredstory said...

The rhetoric coming from Rhee and the corporate education reform movement is disingenuous. Rhee's assertion that public education will be fixed (and, in turn, poverty will be solved) by modeling public education on corporate America is just a flat out lie.

Rhee and Geoffrey Canada both try to silence their critics by claiming that anyone who believes racism and economic injustice and other social issues, in addition to teacher effectiveness, affect student performance also believes that poor and oppressed children cannot learn. That is not only a false claim, but it is a slanderous and irresponsible claim.

The problem is that the corporate education reformers think you can ignore the social issues and focus solely on holding teachers accountable. They have a lot to say about how students have no voice in education, but are students leading or even having their voices heard in the corporate education reform debate? Nope, but Bill Gates and other corporate and foundation leaders are sure having their voices heard. How exactly is pushing a corporate reform agenda with billions of dollars and a primary focus on busting teachers unions getting politics out of education and focusing on what's best for kids?

September 21, 2011 at 10:22 a.m.
ldurham said...

Far be it for the TFP to do any actual journalism; or it would have reported how USA Today's investigation into Rhee's reign of terror in DC yielded proof of cheating and inflated test scores. To no one's surprise, Ms. Rhee would not respond (and still hasn't responded) to USA Today's request for an interview. It seems she will only talk when she is lobbed softballs by the Times editorial page, or handed envelopes of money from the Benwood Foundation.

It's also interesting that she does not have custody of her children. Her ex-husband (Tennessee's Education Commissioner) does. She will talk about her kids, and she has all the answer for educating America's kids; but she doesn't lay claim to her own.

Just a few tidbits you will not read in Chattanooga's "newspaper."

September 21, 2011 at 4:10 p.m.
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