Michelle Rhee’s Legacy: Changing the Court of Public Opinion

As the media frenzy heats up around Michelle Rhee’s resignation from the D.C. public schools and speculation begins about where she will land, we should all take a moment and thank her for making it safe for the rest of us to engage in a more robust discussion about public education in America.

While Michelle Rhee was certainly overhyped, it is because of the media fascination with her personal story that the general public now has a much better idea of what is at stake and what is wrong with the way schools run in America.

Michelle Rhee’s number one accomplishment is making the sacred issues surrounding teachers–from firing teachers to tenure to teacher performance matter in the court of public opinion. Examining teacher performance is no longer a third rail for American politics. Her biggest legacy will be making it safe for other education leaders and superintendents to start questioning the status quo about how we hire, fire, and retain teachers in the United States. This genie is not going back in the bottle and although we have a long way to go, the teaching profession is changing and the teachers unions are no longer free from public scrutiny.

The bottom line is that almost every school district in America could benefit from imitating Rhee’s actions in terms of firing the lowest-performing teachers, closing failing schools, and changing teacher contracts.

This is a good time to go read Reason’s Katherine Mangu-Ward’s excellent feature on Chancellor Rhee and her contributions to education reform: Last Chance for School Reform.

Lisa Snell is the director of education and child welfare at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.

Snell has frequently testified before the California State Legislature and numerous other state legislatures and government agencies. She has authored policy studies on school finance and weighted student funding, universal preschool, school violence, charter schools, and child advocacy centers.

Snell is a frequent contributor to Reason magazine, School Reform News and Privatization Watch. Her writing has also appeared in Education Week, Edutopia, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications.

Ms. Snell is also an advisory board member to the National Quality Improvement Center for the Children's Bureau; is on the charter school accreditation team for the American Academy for Liberal Education; and serves as a board member for the California Virtual Academy.

Before joining Reason Foundation, Snell taught public speaking and argumentation courses at California State University, Fullerton. She earned a Master of Arts in communication from California State University, Fullerton.