School Reformer: The Tenure of Michelle A. Rhee

March 29, 2011 5 min read
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The District of Columbia’s sometimes-controversial schools chancellor, Michelle A. Rhee, announced on Oct. 13, 2010, that she will resign after three and a half years in the job. She won national praise and was featured in the film “Waiting for ‘Superman’” for making aggressive policy changes, but she also drew opposition from many parents and teachers who recoiled at her hard-nosed approach. The following timeline of articles tracks Rhee’s battles and successes.

(June 19, 2007)

Mayor Takes Control, Picks Novice to Lead Troubled D.C. District

Washington Mayor Adrian M. Fenty assumed power over the troubled District of Columbia schools last week and immediately named as his schools chief an education entrepreneur known for recruiting teachers to work in needy urban schools.
Michelle A. Rhee, the 37-year-old founder of the nonprofit New Teacher Project, was a surprise choice for chancellor, as the new position will be called. Ms. Rhee, who taught for three years in a poor elementary school in Baltimore as part of the Teach For America program, said the job offer came after conversations with Victor Reinoso, Mr. Fenty’s deputy mayor for education, who sought her advice on possible candidates for the position at a conference in New Orleans last month.
Though Ms. Rhee is highly regarded for her work in recruiting and training midcareer professionals to become teachers in high-poverty, low-performing schools, she is untested as a leader within a public school system.

(December 12, 2007)

D.C. Schools Chief Faces Ire on Closings

Michelle A. Rhee, left, the chancellor of the District of Columbia’s public schools, talks to angry parents last week after a meeting to gather community reaction to a plan for closing some schools. Ms. Rhee is facing opposition to parts of her agenda for the district.—Stephanie Kuykendal for Education Week

In a packed auditorium in northeast Washington this week, Michelle A. Rhee, the chancellor of the District of Columbia schools, faced one of her toughest audiences yet in the six months since Mayor Adrian M. Fenty tapped her to fix the broken school system he now controls.
More than 250 angry parents— who had found out just days before that their children’s schools could be shuttered next fall—drowned out the efforts of a Rhee aide to use a PowerPoint presentation to explain why the chancellor and Mr. Fenty say they must close or consolidate two dozen schools across the 50,000-student system.

(January 8, 2008)

D.C. Chancellor Gains Authority to Fire Central-Office Employees

Michelle A. Rhee, the chancellor of the public school system in the nation’s capital, soon will have the authority to fire employees in the central office, a step that the schools chief has said is central to her plans for improving the troubled district.
The District of Columbia Council approved a measure last month to reclassify nearly 500 central-office workers whom Ms. Rhee will be able to fire without cause.

(May 21, 2008)

D.C. Schools Chief Touts Value of Education Entrepreneurs

Almost a year after Michelle A. Rhee was named the chancellor of the District of Columbia school district, she stressed at a May 20 gathering here on educational entrepreneurship that she sees the infusion of entrepreneurial practices and ideas as vital to her work of trying to transform the long-beleaguered urban system.
In one example, Ms. Rhee said she is seeking external organizations to take the reins of low-performing schools identified for “restructuring” under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Includes Photo Gallery | August 25, 2008

D.C.'s Chancellor Makes Her Case

For Ms. Rhee, 38, the chancellor of the public schools in Washington since June 2007, exposing mismanagement, incompetence, and wide disparities in teaching quality has been a deliberate tactic as she builds her case to overhaul one of the nation’s most beleaguered school districts. Purging ineffective teachers, principals, and central-office employees and recruiting talented replacements, she argues, is the only way to turn around a system that’s been failing for decades.

(October 10, 2008)

D.C. Set to Impose Teacher-Firing Initiative

Unable to overcome a stalemate with the teachers’ union over a controversial pay proposal, District of Columbia schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is moving to strengthen principals’ ability to dismiss teachers deemed ineffective.
“We cannot waste any more time in our quest to ensure superior educators in every classroom,” Ms. Rhee said while unveiling her plans.

(September 22, 2009)

D.C. Chancellor Warns of Cuts After Hiring Hundreds of Teachers

District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee says budget cuts will force teacher layoffs and increase class sizes only weeks after classes began.

(April 20, 2010)

Foundations Would Help Fund D.C. Teachers’ Contract

Signaling the endgame in a fractious and nationally watched negotiation, officials of the District of Columbia schools and the local teachers’ union agreed to a tentative contract that includes a voluntary individual performance-pay program to be financed largely by private foundations.
The arrangement is believed to be the first of its kind in the country, with four foundations committing nearly $65 million in total for the performance-based compensation. In all, the contract would cost an additional $140 million.

(June 7, 2010)

D.C. Teachers Ratify Contract With Pay for Performance

District of Columbia teachers voted 1,412 to 425 last week to approve a contract that gives them a double-digit pay increase and provides Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee with the ability to award pay based on performance and more flexibility in laying off teachers.

(August 10, 2010)

New D.C. Evaluation Process Targets Hundreds for Firing

The District of Columbia teachers’ union plans to challenge schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee’s move to fire 302 educators this summer, including 241 teachers, most of whom she says are being dismissed for failing to meet performance standards.

(September 22, 2010)

Rhee Reflects on Her Stormy Tenure in D.C.

In an interview in her Washington office the day after the Democratic primary election that saw the defeat of her boss, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, the chancellor wouldn’t say if she would work for Mr. Fenty’s likely successor, Vincent C. Gray, a man she campaigned against. But, looking back on her tenure so far, she said some of the most significant changes in Washington’s public schools lie in the kinds of measures that don’t make conflict-driven headlines.

(September 22, 2010)

Video: Michelle Rhee on Leadership and D.C.'s Future

One day after her boss Adrian M. Fenty lost the Democratic mayoral primary, District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michele A. Rhee reflects upon the lessons she’s learned and the challenges ahead for the school system.

(October 13, 2010)

Rhee Resigns, Urging D.C.: ‘Keep the Reforms Going’

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, right, announces her resignation on Oct. 13 while accompanied by City Council Chairman and Democratic mayoral candidate Vincent Gray and Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson.—Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has announced that she will resign after more than three years on the job, a time during which she won national praise for making aggressive policy changes but drew opposition from many parents and teachers who recoiled at her hard-nosed approach.

A complete list of archived content from our blogs on the tenure of Michelle A. Rhee as District of Columbia Schools Chancellor is available here.

For further stories on the topic of leadership and management in education, click here.


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