October 12th, 2010

WATCH: The Michelle Rhee Series

The lack of sustained leadership has plagued the Washington, DC public school system for decades. Our nation’s capital, home to fifty thousand students, boasts one of the worst school districts in the country. Two thirds of students are far behind in reading, in math, three quarters.

In June 2007 new mayor Adrian Fenty assumed control of the ailing school system, firing the incumbent superintendent and replacing him with Michelle Rhee. Some questioned her lack of experience managing a public school system. Others felt she was exactly what was needed – a change agent from outside the district. In July the city council unanimously voted her in. Since then she has plotted a deliberate, and frequently controversial, course.

This series follows Michelle Rhee’s attempts to reform one of the most challenged school districts in America. Can Rhee provide a model of reform for the entire country, delivering on her promise of an excellent education for every child?

The entire series can be viewed in the playlist above - or check out the individual episodes here:

Episode 1: Setting Her Sights on Change (October 1, 2007)
Episode 2: Facing Expectations (November 19, 2007)
Episode 3: Facing Resistance (February 7, 2008)
Episode 4: Facing Tough Choices (April 2, 2008)
Episode 5: Teachers Struggle With Reforms (June 18, 2008)
Episode 6: Tough Changes and Controversy (July 23, 2008)
Episode 7: Targeting Teachers, Angering Unions (September 18, 2008)
Episode 8: Finding Good Principals (January 13, 2009)
Episode 9: Well Known Nationally, Struggling at Home (May 4, 2009)
Episode 10: Testing Michelle Rhee (August 18, 2009)
Episode 11: Tensions Rising (November 17, 2009)
Episode 12: Michelle Rhee’s Impact (August 31, 2010)

These videos, as part of the “Leadership: A Challenging Course” series, have won a Cine Golden Eagle and two EWA awards.

This program was made by possible by support from the Annenberg, The Eli and Edythe Broad, Bill & Melinda Gates, William and Flora Hewlett and Wallace Foundations.


Podcast There were 28 podcasts created across the three years of this series. You can find all of them on one link here, and an invaluable guide to the timeline and history of Michelle Rhee and George Parker is here.

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It is so heart warming to finally see somebody like Michelle Rhee with the guts to actually do something about what typifies the unbelievable short-comings of the education system in America. The teachers’ union is unhappy because she will not tolerate the mediocrity that the incompetent teachers have been enjoying as a result of tenure for so long at the cost of a good education for thousands of America’s young people who will suffer for the rest of their lives as a result of the totally inadequate public education they got. And it is obvious that this is a “black on black” crime because the mojority of the students appear to be African Americans and the head of the union is black himself. Anybody with a brain can easily conclude that the level of teaching will sky-rocket if the teachers are given the opportunity to make a six figure income if they give up their tenure. The people who are against it are the people who want to avoid responsibility and hide under the protection of tenure. These people should be held responsible for the kids who fail in life as a result of the poor instruction by the dead-beat teachers.

” Anybody with a brain can easily conclude that the level of teaching will sky-rocket if the teachers are given the opportunity to make a six figure income if they give up their tenure.” Sorry, Francis Tsai, I disagree, as would many teachers and people who know what motivates teachers. It’s not money, or they wouldn’t go into the field in the first place and many would not opt for private schools where the pay is low but parent involvement and student good behavior is high. Most teachers are not corporate climbers out for glory and big bucks, they’re humanitarians who want to have an impact on children. Tenure protects them from willful administrators and pushy parents who have their own interests at heart, not the students. Incompetent teachers can be fired, with due process. If they aren’t, blame the administrators who won’t take the time to do it.

The District of Columbia Public School System is a laboratory. Our children have been used by more than 13 Superintendents(in a thirty year period) to advance their careers. Each has brought in new blueprints to fix what is wrong. When each has left, chaos remains. The “new sheriffs in town” have decidedly different ideas to fix the problems. Trying to hold things together are the teachers. While we make the best of limited supplies, poor physical working environments, little support from administration, and a structured curriculum that allows for limited creativity and diversity of population, we try to do our best. it is very easy for those who have spent less than five years in this environment to criticize those who have been there. In the corporate,military, legal,or medical professions, when have the underlings been made to feel that they are the responsible persons for limited success? It is the one at the top who garners the big salaries and perks who make the decisions but now in DC it is the ones at the bottom who are held responsible if their ideas fail. Is that fair? Allow me to go into my classroom, provide me with the supplies, materials, and support needed, and then hold me accountable. It is unfair to the students to have weekly reports of the poor quality of teachers they have. As a parent would you have failth in the quality of the schhol, or would you be more likely to enroll your student elsewhere. We need to stop playing the blame game and all stakeholders, superintendent, principals, teachers, parents, students, and community come together as a unit,to assure the success of our children. Private interests have no business determining our children’s future.

I am very concerned with the direction our school system is going. I am especially concern with the teachers of DCPS. We are working with fear and stress by constantly being told by our principals that we may lose our jobs if the test scores aren’t up. So all of this causes teachers and administrators to perhaps assist students more than they should with the yearly tests that are administered. Too much stress!

To Francis T, Michelle Rhee, and so many others:
If teacher unions and their contracted benefits such as tenure are the problem everyone seems to think they are, then why is it that students and schools in those parts of the country where there is no collective bargaining (no tenure, no seniority, limited due process)are in general doing WORSE than those that have those things?

Michelle Rhee IS at the top. Teachers are at the bottom. I think what Miss Rhee is trying to do is bring everyone up to where we should be. You don’t have to be in public schools to see what’s happening in them, just watch the news on a daily basis and we all know that something new must be done and it must be done now, today. I know where Miss Rhee is heading and I support her 100%. Emotional Intelligence has been around for 25 years now. It’s time to implement it now.

emotional intelligence? I don’t see what you mean by that. It seems that what Rhee and the like are looking at is test scores and they don’t seem to care about anyone’s emotions or development of emotional intelligence. Maybe I missed something. We need to stop defining success and achievement by test scores. Yes, there is lots of room for improvement and change and it is not by putting pressure on students and teachers to raise test scores. Be innovative. Provide students with facilities and resources that well-funded schools have. Make education meaningful and relevant. I would like to see her be a teacher or principal at one of these schools and see if she can do what she is asking her principals and teachers to do.

I don’t Miss Rhee is just looking to improve test scores because that by itself does not mean much I believe her focus is improving performance at all levels and rewarding performance accordingly. As a teacher I would be very happy with 21% over five years. That does come at a cost especially when it depends on meeting very high expectations.

Michelle Rhee is wrong for judging teachers and administrators that have become a victim of a school system that has still failed to define it’s objectives…Michelle Rhee too quickly blames teachers and administrators but never blames herself. Ms. Rhee proposes higher salaries for teachers who excel but she has not realized how this ignorant action will completely destroy teacher collaboration and create an unfriendly work environment. Yes, I agree that something has to be done but first realize the origin of the problem. The fact that Ms. Rhee doesn’t want to address is that there are still far too many sub-districts in the local, county, state, and federal levels that provide jobs without accountability for thousands of administrative bodies that have no job description or time clock to punch. Why doesn’t Ms. Rhee get tough with the real problem of the 6-figure salaried administrators in the federal and state level? Ms. Rhee is too quick to forget the struggles of a teacher and she forgets why she stopped being a teacher…She stopped being a teacher because she couldn’t handle to day in and day out challenges beyond a few years because teaching burned her out. Now, she’s an administrator unable to realize any solutions to why she left her previous teaching job.
Ms. Rhee doesn’t have what it takes to be a career teacher but she thinks she is better suited to critic teachers. Ms. Rhee has just done exactly like so many others. Ms. Rhee is not unique. She does not offer solutions. Ms. Rhee offers proof of having a vindictive nature that is supported by an incomplete opinion that offers no solutions without creating larger problems and further exposing her inefficient mind that only thinks of herself and other self-serving glory hogs like herself.

FYI, Ms. Rhee, teaching is a team effort where all stakeholders are expected to contribute solutions that will employ a higher level of learning within our students, teachers, and staff…Ask Ms. Rhee what has the DC school system done to assist teachers in the management of their classroom objectives? Has the DC school system upgraded it’s support of teachers since 1950? What type of teacher software has been designed or offered to teachers to assist them? In 2010, Ms. Rhee, do you still expect teachers to make xerox copies with broken copy machines? Are teachers in D.C. provided “Smart Boards” to teach lessons or do you still expect teachers to create miracles on chalkboards? If teachers are expected to behave themselves as professionals wouldn’t it seem necessary to provide teachers with modern tools to allow them an opportunity to address these objectives? Ms. Rhee needs to first upgrade her support of teachers…to match the 21st century before she expects them to provide miracles in the same light that is dedicated to avoiding the thousands of 800 pound administrative gorillas who are eating all the bananas…I am a teacher, not a monkey in a zoo. It’s time to stand up and fight this ape like mentality that only blames teachers without recognition of the entire enormity of the problem. Ms. Rhee is not supporting her teachers but if she were a better leader she would know how to work with her peers to bring about positive change…Ms. Rhee is isolated into her own world that only sees flaws in everything around her because she doesn’t have the creativity to think of the solution. Now, she wants to run the DC schools like a concentration camp that has no capacity to think or plan ahead in order to create success for all teachers and administrators. Instead, she has made thousands of enemies…without perfect results. Teachers are not robots and therefore we need the assistance of modern technology to keep up with all of Ms. Rhee unwritten or never ending requests. Ms. Rhee needs to invest her administrative efforts back into the teachers by designing a digital lesson plan book where each day of the year has the academic state standards input for each subject. Has Ms. Rhee outlined the objectives in a digital format that allows teachers to archive lessons according to each days objectives? Great teachers are often only great because they teach the same grade level for 30 years. What is Ms. Rhee doing to support teachers that are forced to switch grade levels? Ms. Rhee has plenty of expectations of teachers and administrators but what expectations does she hold herself accountable? What will Ms. Rhee do to upgrade teacher support to match 21st century technology?

In my opinion, Ms.Rhee is at the forefront of those who are scapegoating teachers.Teachers are not to blame for students who do not value learning.Parents are responsible! If Ms.Rhee is such an expert, why isn’t she in the classroom? All these experts who care about students but who left the classroom or have never taught a day in a classroom! Hypocrites!

Teachers are underpaid and overworked.Too many demands are placed on teachers.Teachers should be allowed to do what they do best-teach.The armchair education reformers, experts, and consultants need to come into the classroom.I wonder how long they will last. I wonder if they could handle the challenges teachers face daily in the classroom.I doubt it seriously.

Teachers will teach well if they are trained to teach well. The problems with learning in our public classrooms are rooted in problems in our Universty systems where teachers are all too often not adaquately prepared. In many university systems, degrees are at best little more than bought rather than earned.

[...] Washington, DC schools. As some readers may know, we followed Rhee for 3 years  on PBS NewsHour (the 12 resulting episodes are viewable online). Whitmire, a friend and colleague over many years, essentially shadowed Michelle Rhee for months, [...]

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