Lesson Plan for Change: Heroes of Education Reform
Meet six inspiring individuals who are working hard to reform schools in America
Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools
Michelle Rhee has, for lack of a more accurate word, cojones. During her first year in one of the biggest jobs in education, she shut down 23 underperforming schools and laid off 270 teachers and 36 principals. "I know the number one thing that determines a child's success is the teacher," Rhee says, which is why she is fighting to reward the best teachers and compensate them deservedly when they produce strong students. That may sound logical to you, but Rhee is changing decades of entrenched thinking and outdated policies regarding teacher protections that are unheard-of in any other professional field. (Unlike at universities, many public school teachers can receive tenure as a matter of course after two or three years on the job, after which it's nearly impossible to fire a bad one.)
These bold actions have not made her popular with teachers. But Rhee doesn't care what adults think of her. "The kids inspire me to be strong," she says, and her strength gets results: Following nearly three years of negotiations, Rhee brokered an unprecedented agreement with the Washington Teachers Union this past summer. According to the new contract, teachers will finally be measured, in part, against their students' achievement.