Manchester College taps D.C.
school reformer Michelle Rhee as its
2010 Innovator of the Year
Tough-talking Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of District of Columbia Public Schools, is Manchester College’s 2010 Innovator of the Year.
Rhee’s high-powered commitment to change as CEO of the 45,000-student, 4,000-teacher D.C. school system has brought praise and scorn but you can’t deny her effectiveness, says Jim Falkiner, the Mark E. Johnston Professor of Entrepreneurship at the College.
“As chancellor of D.C. Schools, Ms. Rhee broke down barriers to improved student performance while demonstrating that the most intractable problems of inner city public education can be addressed with energy and dispatch,” said Falkiner. “Her first-of-its-kind union contract and merit pay agreement with the district’s teachers raised salaries most dramatically for those teachers who perform at higher levels.”
Under her leadership, D.C. fourth- and eighth-graders improved from posting the nation’s worst inner-city test scores to leading the nation in gains in reading and math. Enrollment decline reversed. Her method fueled a national debate about teacher effectiveness and accountability. Rhee:
- closed two dozen schools with low enrollment
- replaced more than half the district’s 4,200 teachers
- cut a third of central office administration
- linked teacher evaluations to students’ classroom performance and test scores
- negotiated a teacher union contract that eliminated tenure for one year and gave individual teachers $20,000 to $30,000 bonuses for “significant student achievement.”
District educators and the Washington Teachers Union said they had no voice in the swift changes and that Rhee was heavy on punishment and light on support, especially financial support. Her “approval rating” in the district fell amid cries of union-busting and the “dubious” value of standardized test scores.
In an essay for Newsweek, Rhee lamented: “I did a particularly bad job letting the many good teachers know that I considered them to be the most important part of the equation ... as a result, my comments about ineffective teachers were often perceived as an attack on all teachers.”
Rhee resigned after Mayor Adrian Fenty – who hired her to reform D.C. schools – lost his primary bid for re-election. Rhee is former chief executive of the non-profit The New Teacher Project, which has helped recruit and train more than 10,000 teachers, and is CEO and founder of StudentsFirst, a political advocate of education reform.
The College's 2009 Innovator of the Year was Tijuana “prison angel” Mother Antonia. For more about entrepreneurship at Manchester College, visit idea.manchester.edu.