Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Michelle Rhee is an educator who wants to start a revolution in America's public schools. Let the cannons roar!
The 40-year old former chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools left that post after only three years, just ahead of getting a pink slip from a newly elected status quo Democrat mayor who disagreed with her reform efforts to close failing schools, open more charter schools, and worse, rid the nation's worst public school system of failed teachers.
Rhee has just launched a new student advocacy group - Students First. Her launching pad was the Oprah Winfrey Show. Rhee could not have chosen a better place to unveil her effort on behalf of students victimized in Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and other large urban areas by teacher's unions bent on maintaining the status quo, despite valiant efforts by many of their members who toil in classrooms across the nation, trying to put students ahead of their union, government bureaucracy, disinterested and negligent parents, fear of lawsuits and a myriad of other problems that impact classroom education.
Rhee hopes to raise one-billion dollars to plow into school systems ready to try innovation over status quo. Her efforts to involve the business community in the Washington schools was continuously and roundly criticized by the ever-sanctimonious Washington Post. And the launch of Rhee's new student advocacy effort was scorned by several Post bloggers.
How sad that our newspapers are so mired in mediocrity and failed leadership themselves.
Rhee's plan is to shift the balance of power in public education away from teacher's unions and other powerful groups which protect lousy teachers. That will be a Mount Everest in a howling winter storm type challenge.
Many have tried. Most have failed. But our children and their future are worth supporting those like Rhee who are willing to keep trying.
Rhee's efforts at redirecting America's failing schools toward success could be supported by decertifying teacher's unions, in much the same way Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels decertified state worker's unions.
An educational consultant with whom I had a chance meeting agreed with Rhee: teacher's unions are a major hurtle to enact real reform. There is much more that needs to change he said, beginning with eliminating the bloated and ill-conceived Federal Department of Education.
I agree.
The sixty-billion needed to support that education bureaucracy would be far better spent by leaving those tax dollars at home for state legislators and educators to spend in a more direct and efficient manner for local school systems.
Rhee's support of charter schools for the best and brightest children from our poorest neighborhoods would end the need for maintaining failing public schools and allow consolidation of students not assigned to charter schools to be transferred to a more successful school.
The education consultant also suggested lengthening the school day; eliminate homework; and institute year-round school wherever feasible and acceptable to parents. It is a calendar option that is proving student-friendly, he asserted, and allows students to retain more of what they learn because of shorter breaks.
Pay teachers salaries commensurate with the professional job we should require of them. Classroom teachers are the key to success. They should be paid not in the twenty thousand range to start, but hired at salaries closer to the fifty thousand range.
Eliminate tenure. It was instituted decades ago to protect teachers from being fired by political school boards and is the primary reason it is now so difficult to fire poorly performing teachers.
The education consultant maintains teacher evaluations should not be the purview of principals only. Classroom performance should also be judged by professional evaluators hired by school systems committed to the best education for students.
He added, quit teaching to the test. Let local school boards and educators, working with parents, set educational standards for their students. Eliminate federal mandates.
Provide separate classroom instruction for students who disrupt the learning process for better behaved students. Allow teachers to teach instead of constantly having to discipline.
Teachers and principals should be vested with the authority to enforce strong, clear, common sense student behavior rules approved by school boards in each local district and be assured they have the support of the school board. If a teacher or administrator over reaches, then they should obviously be disciplined or fired.
Enact legislation to throttle lawsuits that intimidate school systems and teachers. We immunize the President and the Governor from such suits. Why not educators? Instead of courts being the first stop for problems, set up local arbitration boards to hear each side. Allow parents and educators to appeal a local decision to a state arbitration panel. If that fails, then perhaps the courts should act as the great levelers they are supposed to be. This could save local schools systems millions of dollars that again, are better spent in the classroom than hiring legal counsel. Even Shakespeare recognized a lessor need for lawyers.
Require all students wear uniforms approved by local districts. It puts economically deprived children on an equal footing with their more affluent classmates. Uniforms also replace gang mandated dress with more civil attire. Most private schools and charter schools require uniforms or enforce strict dress codes. It works there. Why not in public schools? Uniforms save parents a bundle on school clothes and leave only the ACLU and GAP to pine for the days of low hanging jeans and designer boxer shorts.
It is my own belief that parents and local educators should be in charge of educating our children. The tax dollars we pay make each of us stakeholders in the process. We have a right to expect better results from those dollars spent.
And most of all our children have the right to expect a chance at success in return for the years they spend in classrooms.
Michelle Rhee and other innovative educators deserve our support. She is right on when she advocates for students first. She also recognizes the challenges in initiating strong public education reforms "are not for the faint of heart."

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