Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Education Rheeform

Newsweek loves Michelle Rhee, the head of DC public schools. Since Mayor Fenty brought Rhee in last summer to fix up one of the lowest-performing and most costly education systems in the nation, Newsweek has written two full articles (here and here) on her projects and made at least one favorable reference to Rhee in separate commentary. What's all the fuss?

Rhee, of Korean descent, allegedly is using her outsider-status to conduct all-out warfare on ingrained systemic mediocrity. The workaholic already has fired one in four of DC's principles. She wants to abolish the tenure system so that under-performing teachers can be fired. Meanwhile she is allowing the regular public school system to shrink in favor of the growing public charter school system, which hires non-unionized teachers.

Newsweek suggests that the Rhee administration wants to make teaching into a high-paying, high-pressure career with 12-hour days and only a month of summer vacation. Rhee leads the way with 18-hour work days and a $275,000 salary.

You might say that Rhee is thinking like an economist: she focuses on productivity, with little or no regard to short-term costs to the individuals and communities involved. Rhee has been accused of acting with a lack of transparency, making hiring and firing decisions on her own without stating specific reasons for her actions. The teachers union has run radio ads against her. An entire blog is "Dedicated to Providing Important Information About Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of DC Public Schools, Before She Destroys Public Education."

Only time will tell if the rabble she is rousing will lead to worthy results.

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