Video: Rhee: U.S. education is falling behind

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    >>> this morning on " education nation," a woman some consider to be a national face on education form. of washington d.c. public schools , michelle wie received praise from some and criticism from others for laying off d.c. school teachers she said were under-performing. she announced her own resignation. good to see you. so many headlines, why can't we compete? why are americans behind. you were seen as the hope for the education system . why leave now when a big job lies ahead.

    >> this is a sad day for me. i have so enjoyed working with childrens and families in washington d.c. i hoped to do it four more years. envelo unfortunately my boss lost the election and the new mayor and i decided it made sense to be able to continue these reforms by having his own team in place, somebody he felt comfortable with. i think that's the right thing, moving forward.

    >> you've been credit accomplishing a lot, test scores on the rise, got rid of under-performing schools and under-performing teachers, gave principals power to hire who they want. you were also criticized for your style, kind of a bull in a china shop. let me read you an interview in "time" magazine, the team that kills me about education , so touchy-feely. test scores don't take into account creativity and love of learning. i don't give a crap. don't get me wrong, creativity is good, if the children don't know how to read, i don't care how creative you are, you're not doing your job.

    >> anything you wish you had done different style-wise?

    >> not really. one of the problems in public education today is people really shy away from talking about the real issues. the fact of the matter, this nation is falling further and further behind internationally and we're not able to compete with other countries globally because we're not preparing our children in the same way. that means we have to take a really hard look at our education system and know what is going wrong so we can improve those things.

    >> i sat down with the president recently as part of our " education nation" series and i said, you have done a lot in d.c. for public schools , there is still a lot to do. let me show you a clip and i'll get your reaction on the other side.

    >> good morning. thank you for taking my question, president obama . as the father of two very delightful and seemingly very bright daughter, i wanted to know whether or not you think that malia and sasha would get the same high quality rigorous education in a d.c. public school compared to their very elite private academy they're attending now.

    >> thanks for the question, kelly. i'll be blunt with you. the answer is no right now. the d.c. public school systems are struggling.

    >> how did it feel to hear that? he basically said, my daughters can't get a great education in d.c. schools. that agency your school district ?

    >> actually, i found it refreshing because the president was telling the truth, he was speaking from the heart. he's absolutely right, because even though we have some schools in the city that are serving children extremely well, we actually can't say that about all of the schools. certainly, the school that the white house is zoned into is a school that still has a really long way to go. i think he was being very honest about his assess many he and the first lady made about what's best for their children.

    >> in the 45 seconds i have left, do we need longer school days in this country zplchlkt.

    >> absolutely. we won't catch our kids up without it.

    >> do we need longer school years?

    >> without a doubt.

    >> what's next to you? some talk you'd come to newark or what will you do? real quickly if you don't mind?

    >> i will trying to figure out how i can have the great est impact nationally on education moving forward.

    >> good luck to you.

    >>> coming up, the best of

By
updated 10/13/2010 7:55:11 PM ET 2010-10-13T23:55:11

Michelle Rhee became a public face of education reform during her tenure as head of the District of Columbia's schools, but she found out that reform isn't always popular, especially when it involves school closings and teacher layoffs.

Rhee stepped down Wednesday, several weeks after the man who appointed her, Mayor Adrian Fenty, was defeated in a Democratic primary where Rhee's celebrated yet stormy tenure was a factor.

"We have agreed that the best way to keep the reforms going is for this reformer to step aside," she said during Wednesday's announcement, adding that the decision was one both she and Fenty's presumed successor, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, agreed on.

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Education observers suggested that the fast pace of change and Rhee's abrupt personality might have contributed to her downfall, though not everyone agreed. Others stressed the importance of getting stakeholders to back sweeping change.

"Michelle Rhee did mostly what she was hired to do: shake up the system, be a bull in a china shop," said Mike Petrilli, vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit education think tank.

If there is any lesson in Rhee's departure for other school reformers, Petrilli said, it is that they need to pay attention to politics. Petrilli blamed Fenty for failing to sell education reform and said he and Rhee were wrong to think that just showing gains in student achievement would bring residents around.

"At the end of the day, school reform is not terribly popular," Petrilli said. "People will say they support accountability, but if they're gong to shut down your local school or fire your friend who is a teacher, suddenly reform doesn't sound so good."

Larry Cuban, a former D.C. public schools teacher who wrote a book about education reform in Texas, says Rhee took the "sledgehammer" approach of many new schools heads: trying to force reform through quickly. In her first year, she closed more than 20 schools and replaced nearly three dozen principals. Cuban said that approach doesn't work.

"It fails because it often alienates the very groups you have to cooperate and build partnerships with, and those are teachers and parents," Cuban said.

Fenty on Wednesday rejected suggestions that the pace of reform should have been slower, and the idea that if it had been, both he and Rhee would have been able to continue their work in a second term.

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"We were elected to fix the schools as fast as humanly possible," Fenty said Wednesday after Rhee's announcement.

Rhee, who founded a nonprofit that focuses on teacher recruiting, became a national figure during her three years as D.C. public schools chancellor. She appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, graced the cover of Time magazine and drew praise from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Many of Rhee's reforms were ones the U.S. Department of Education has promoted, such as evaluating teachers in part based on student performance and replacing principals at failing schools. She was also criticized for laying off hundreds of school employees.

George Parker, president of the Washington Teachers Union, said he wasn't bothered by the pace of change under Rhee but rather by her approach.

"There was a certain degree of impatience that caused her to overlook the human element of this," Parker said. Had she "exhibited a little more sensitivity," he added, she would have fared better.

Frederick M. Hess, director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank, disagreed.

"I think the wrong lesson to take is, 'Michelle should have been nicer,'" Hess said. "It's the wrong lesson to imagine the right personality would have smoothed over the conflict."

In the end, Rhee, a former Teach For America teacher, didn't last much longer than many urban school heads. According to a 2008 report from the Council of Great City Schools, the average tenure of a school superintendent is about three and a half years — about what Rhee's was. And though Rhee is departing, her senior management is staying in place. On Wednesday, it was announced that Kaya Henderson, the deputy chancellor who worked with Rhee at the New Teacher Project, has been named acting chancellor.

What exactly is next for Rhee is unclear.

"My goal is to continue to be able to serve the children of this nation," she said Wednesday, adding that many communities want to push forward with reforms similar to those in Washington.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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