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Michelle Rhee Goes National With School Reform

December 5, 2010 - 6:00pm

Former Washington, D.C., school chief Michelle Rhee won't be Florida's next education commissioner. Instead, she is embarking on a nationwide crusade to expel bad teachers.

Appearing on the Oprah Winfrey show Monday, Rhee said she has received many job offers, but was turning them all down to "start a revolution on behalf of children."

Though incoming Florida Gov. Rick Scott was among the political leaders expressing interest in hiring the crusading and controversial Rhee, the educator said she has learned that reform efforts "cannot target one city or one state at a time. 'The Blob' can fight that," she said in reference to teacher unions and other retrograde opponents of reform.

Rhee, who has taken the blame for Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty's failure to win re-election this fall, is launching a national organization, Students First, with a goal of attracting 1 million members and raising $1 billion.

As with D.C. -- where she fired hundreds of school staff, closed failing campuses and negotiated performance-based contracts for instructors -- Rhee said the U.S. education system "is broken."

"This is the first generation that is less well-educated than its parents," she told Winfrey. For better or worse, she said teachers are the key.

"If you remove the bottom 6 percent of teachers from the classroom, we can propel our schools to the top," Rhee said, noting that the United States scores behind two dozen other industrialized nations in reading and math.

Through her foundation -- -- Rhee said, "We want communities to come to us with a plan and a commitment to reform."

While funding is important, Rhee and other performance-oriented education reformers say how the money is spent is as important as the dollar amount.

"We want to take money away from the bureaucracy and put it into the classroom. All parents deserve options for their children," said Rhee, who incensed Washington's educrats with her support of charter schools and voucher programs there.

Scott, who also favors school choice and competition, named Rhee to head his education transition committee last month. He said he hopes Rhee will continue to consult with his administration in the months ahead.

Though she did not mention it, one factor that may have influenced Rhee's decision not to come to Florida is her engagement to former NBA star Kevin Johnson, who is mayor of Sacramento, Calif.

Meantime, Winfrey told her cheering audience that she wholeheartedly backed Rhee's campaign.

"I am behind you. This is a seminal moment for us as a country. We can choose to be an educated people, or not," Winfrey said.

The talk show host, whose philanthropic work extends to school-age girls in Africa, went on to decry this country's policies of awarding tenure to K-12 instructors after just two or three years on the job.

"Students' best chance of success comes from having great teachers," said Winfrey. "If you're a bad teacher, I don't want to hear from you."


Contact Kenric Ward at or (772) 801-5341.

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