Michelle Rhee Goes National With School Education Platform

The controversial former D.C. schools chief wants to raise $1 billion for her new project by year's end.

By Julianne Hing Jan 11, 2011

Witness Michelle Rhee, unleashed. Rhee’s new organization StudentsFirst launched just a month ago and today she unveiled her policy platform to overhaul failing schools. The former D.C. chancellor of schools is going national with her plan, and is intent on remaking the nation’s education system, with or without a school district to call her professional home.

According to her, she may not need it. The AP reports that she’s raised $1.4 million so far and in the last 48 hours recruited 100,000 new members, including plenty of teachers and parents–though far more parents than teachers. "Several governors, in states such as Florida, New Jersey, New Mexico and Nevada have been interested in how we might join forces," she said in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. "Mayors in big cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Newark want to push the envelope, too." The AP says she wants $1 billion and 1 million members by year’s end.

Here’s the platform, from Rhee’s new website

 * Elevate the teaching profession by valuing teachers’ impact on students; 

 * Empower parents with real choices and real information 

 * Spend taxpayers’ money wisely to get better results for students.

Rhee says she wants half of a teacher’s job performance to be based on student test scores, and supports charter schools. As for how she’ll go about implementing it, she said StudentsFirst would support states and school districts that want to adopt similar policies.

Though not everyone around the country loves Rhee and her ideas. Many teachers in particular cheered after she left her post in the wake of D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty’s ouster last year. Her high-profile mass firings and school closures often were interpreted as an affront to the people who’ve been tasked with implementing decades of various new-fangled reform ideas in the classroom. And even though Rhee’s agenda purports to be about strengthening the teaching profession, many teachers, and the unions that represent them, think Rhee has singled out teachers when there are many other actors in the public education system that deserve similar scrutiny.

She may be trying to start a national movement, but she has plenty of work to do to convince teachers that they can be allies and not just adversaries. Here’s a telling passage from the AP:

Mike Petrilli, executive vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank, notes that with districts under even greater fiscal restraint in the year ahead, they may be reluctant to take on costly reforms. He added that Rhee’s natural strength is making the case for reform with elites, but that she struggled to do the same in Washington’s most disadvantaged communities.

"I would leave the grass-roots organizing to someone else, someone who might have more credibility in the community," Petrilli said.