D.C.’s Braveheart

Michelle Rhee is via D.C.’s Braveheart, writes June Kronholz in Education Next.

. . . (At a senior staff meeting) Rhee wades in with, “Here’s what I think,” or “What I don’t want,” or “This is crap,” or “I want someone to figure this out,” or “I’m gonna tell you what we’re gonna do; we can talk about how we’re gonna do it.” And that is that. Next order of business, please.

Rhee’s style—as steely as the sound of her peekaboo high heels on a linoleum-tile hallway—has angered much of Washington, D.C., and baffled the rest since she arrived as schools chancellor in June 2007. But it is also helping her gain control of a school system that has defied management for decades: that hasn’t kept records, patched windows, met budgets, delivered books, returned phone calls, followed court orders, checked teachers’ credentials, or, for years on end, opened school on schedule in the fall.

When I asked Rhee to name her most significant achievement in her two years in Washington, her answer suggested that any progress is, so far, only incremental. “We have begun—begun—begun—to establish a culture of accountability,” she said, with a long pause between each “begun.”

There’s some evidence that test scores and graduation rates are rising, writes Kronholz. (NAEP reported higher 2009 math scores for D.C. fourth and eighth graders.) But the system is deeply dysfunctional — and losing more students every year to charter schools.

Rhee has no choice but to play hardball, writes Richard Whitmire in the Washington Post.  She has little time to produce results.

Rhee should be able to work with teachers, writes Robert Pondiscio. If she fails to persuade parents to keep their children in district-run schools, the unionized teachers will be out of work too.

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