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Certainly Michelle Rhee knows how to stir up controversy — especially when it comes to her efforts as chancellor of D.C. Public Schools to improve the district’s abysmal quality of teaching and curricula. Her decision to dismiss 241 teachers rated as ineffective by the district’s year-old IMPACT system (which uses student test score data as part of evaluations) is going to be contested by the district’s dysfunctional American Federation of Teachers local and will play its part in the election battle between her patron, Mayor Adrian Fenty and rival (and Rhee foe) Vincent Gray. Rhee’s bedside manner isn’t exactly lovely. But she deserves much praise for her Churchillian commitment to seriously overhauling a school system once called the Superfund Site of American public education and for slowly revamping an obsolete regime of teacher compensation that is terrible for children and high-quality teachers alike.
In this clip from her 2008 testimony before the House Education and Labor Committee, Rhee not only explains why improving teacher quality is important, but why we can no longer count on integration and the noble desire to improve education for all children to address racial-, ethnic- and gender-based achievement gaps. Improving education for all children not only requires dedication to the idea that all children can learn and deserve the best education. It also means restructuring a system that has long damned itself (and kids) to low expectations. Also, watch this Dropout Nation video on how Rhee’s teacher czar, Jason Kamras, is working to improve teacher quality and the challenges he faces in doing so.