Reform school: A change agent makes points most can agree on
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Michelle A. Rhee, a controversial figure in American education, came to Pittsburgh Wednesday and, regardless of what one thought of her work as head of the District of Columbia public schools system, she left her audience with much to think about.
The daughter of South Korean immigrants, Ms. Rhee is married and the mother of two school-age children. She is now CEO of a nonprofit, StudentsFirst, and she visited as part of Robert Morris University's Pittsburgh Speakers Series.
Ms. Rhee said her bottom line in making decisions in 2007-10 at the problem-ridden, 44,000-student D.C. system was what was best for the children, not the administrators, teachers or politics. On that basis, she said she closed schools; fired principals, teachers and staff; and sought major reforms.
Her critics call her a union-buster and some say that her sponsor, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, lost his 2010 bid for re-election in part because of her aggressive reform efforts. She said her approach brought improvements in primary- and secondary-level standardized test scores. Others have questioned the validity of those results.
Ms. Rhee made some fundamental points, including teachers must be treated as professionals, not as numbers or political pawns, and the country needs to regain its competitive spirit. Some projections show that young Americans who exit the education system may not be equipped for some of the skilled jobs of tomorrow. Ms. Rhee does not believe this outcome is inevitable.
She also urged presidential candidates to put aside politics in discussing education. She said that in the debates so far, education is not being given sufficient attention, given its importance to the nation. We couldn't agree more.
First Published November 4, 2011 12:00 am