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D.C. Schools Chief Michelle Rhee Stepping Down; Move Seen as Blow to Education Reform

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D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has announced she will leave her post at the end of the month, a development seen by supporters as a blow to education reform. The decision comes after weeks of speculation about Rhee's future in the wake of Mayor Adrian Fenty's loss to Vincent Gray in September's Democratic primary election. (In heavily Democratic Washington, the primary is tantamount to a general election.)

Rhee, who was hired by Fenty to reform the city's trouble school system, had taken aggressive measures. Last fall, she fired 266 of the city's teachers; this summer, she fired another 241. She also closed 23 schools, fired 63 principals and assistant principals, and decreased the central office payroll by 122 employees.

This take-no-prisoners approach made Rhee few friends in the powerful teachers union, and she found a vocal sparring partner in Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers. Nonetheless, Rhee was able to sign a contract with the union that gave the chancellor's office sweeping powers to fire the lowest-performing teachers.

Michelle RheeStudent test scores rose and Rhee won praise from education reform advocates, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. In many ways, Rhee embodied the aggressive spirit of reform championed by Duncan and the White House, exemplified by their Race to the Top initiative, which favors evaluating teachers based on classroom performance and rewards turning around under- and low-performing schools.

But some District residents deemed Rhee's measures too hasty and too severe, and criticized her actions as out of sync with community needs. As a result, the Rhee-Fenty axis became a source of controversy in the weeks leading up to the primary, and Fenty's defeat was considered, in part, a reflection of dissatisfaction with Rhee's actions. And for all of the accolades Rhee has earned in certain circles, the White House remained distinctly on the sidelines as Fenty and his education chancellor made their case to D.C. voters.

Asked about Gray's win in the days after the primary, Rhee called the results of the election "devastating for the schoolchildren of Washington," spurring speculation that she would resign should Gray win (as expected) the general election in November. Rhee's decision to announce her resignation now, according to the Washington Post, was an effort to end the distraction created by such speculation. Her replacement -- at least until the new mayor names his own chancellor -- is Rhee's deputy, Kaya Henderson. Like Rhee, she is a veteran of the Teach for America program, as well as the New Teacher Project -- a program founded by Rhee.

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Phyllis

WOW this woman was indeed a warrior and a CHAMPION for public education. Her actions and tactics may have been severe and hasty but we NEED SEVERE AND WE NEED HASTY as our children lose out day by day and year by year. It is indeed that POLITICS rules the day and not the needs of children and public education. SUPERMAN lost this battle!

October 14 2010 at 1:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ToniWebb3

There are literally thousands of people who are able administrators and believe in the same kind of school reform that Rhee advocated. The school districts just need to have the courage to hire them.

October 14 2010 at 12:19 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
ALBERTO GAMEZ MD

By firing teachesrs the Oriental woman is unable to improve the system. If the performance of students is poor is necessarily the teachers fault. Both children and teachers may have to be re-trained, but firing is inhuman. I am sure all those teachers had families to support. I can assure most, if not all , the teachers are perfectly willing to develop learning skill s in their students. Firing teachers is not a solution to the problem of inability to learn. Is good to see this woman Rhee taking her angry frustrations out of the back of teachers, and students. Wirh an intelligent program the performance of teachers and students will go up to higher standards.

October 14 2010 at 12:07 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Max

Watch the movie Waiting for Superman and you'll be even sadder to see that once again the teacher's unions have won by having Rhee quit. Take a look at the 'rubber rooms' where NYC warehouses teachers and pays them full salaries instead of firing them. The teacher's unions are the student's worst friends.

October 14 2010 at 12:04 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
plansmaker

DC schools are in bad shape partly because bad parenting..Rhee is a fixer not a baby sitter of failed parents, teachers and students...She is better off leaving DC schools than stay and not been appreciated for her efforts to better education enviornment in DC...

October 14 2010 at 12:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
TTigerLilyx2

ettu: My experience has been of conservative republicans who took the walmart idea and applied it to education. Shut down as many schools as possible, crammed the kids in and put ugly outbuildings on their playgrounds if they wont all fit in the buildings. I'm soooo angry at the millions of dollars spent on buses, their maintainance not to mention diesel for what looks like 20 acres of buses, and this is just Oklahoma City! All that wasted money and fuel while our State yaps abt getting away from foreign dependence on oil! And then theres the pollution added by all those buses, asthma is a big problem here. We were suckered into,'MAPS' a temporary extra tax 'for the children' yet the same year it expired, we had the worse conditions and lowest rankings ever. Then we passed the Lottery, 'for the children', same results, more loss of teachers and we are ranked 49th in the US. So lets STOP the political name calling, call it what it is, pure GREED! And greed knows no political affiliation.

October 14 2010 at 10:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bocaneuman

Washington DC will ultimately receive the education system it deserves. This basket-case of education required severe measures. Unfortunately it will probably now revert back to where it started.

October 14 2010 at 10:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sbc

Good for DC.. Firing eveyone is not or never has been the answer. she left because instead of being fired she quit. Losers do that. The problem with educators like her is that the problem starts with the parents. When politicians understand that then an d only tjen will education inprove. sbc

October 14 2010 at 9:44 AM Report abuse -9 rate up rate down Reply
Richard Havron

Education may be the key to upward mobility but educational reform will only come to D.C. when parents embrace Chancellors such as Michelle Rhee. Her focus (and results) were on & for the kids. The parents of D.C. have no idea what they just lost. How can parents blithely disregard the futures of their own children?

October 14 2010 at 8:02 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
Jacqueline

Washington, D.C., schools would rather wallow in their mire than change for the better for the sake of its school children. What a sad example for this country. "Too hasty and too severe"? As a parent, if anything can be done to save my kids' future, nothing would be too soon or too strong. I would not want a tepid response intended to save the feelings (and $$$) of teachers.

October 14 2010 at 7:53 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

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