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.