Heavy controversy abounds as Michelle Rhee starts Students First

Michelle Rhee

Michelle Rhee is both loved and hated for her business-based approach to school reform. Image: Flickr / Center for American Progress / CC-BY-ND

An education-reform celebrity, Michelle Rhee has announced the creation of a new advocacy group, Students First. Michelle Rhee plans on using Students First to “start a revolution … start a movement.” Rhee can’t escape deep controversy, however.

Michelle Rhee starts Students First

After three years as the head of Washington, D.C., public schools, Michelle Rhee left the position. After a few months of making the rounds on councils, committees and public discussions, Rhee announced the advocacy group Students First. She stated that she hopes to raise $1 billion from 1 million members of Students First in just the first year. Rhee developed much of her public face through the documentary “Waiting for Superman” that explored possibilities for and effects of educational reform. Students First has four main beliefs stated on their website:

  • Great teachers can make a tremendous difference for students of every background; all children deserve great teachers.
  • Students should not need luck to get a good education; every family should be able to choose an excellent school.
  • Public dollars belong where they can make the biggest difference; we must fight ineffective programs and bureaucracy.
  • Parental involvement is key to increased student outcomes, but the entire community must be engaged in the effort to improve our schools.

Improvements Rhee made to D.C. education

In two and a half years as superintendent of D.C. schools, Michelle Rhee implemented many changes. During her time there, D.C. saw double-digit improvement in math, reading and state standardized test scores. The graduation rate also went up. Rhee focused heavily on the teachers in front of classrooms, as well as No Child Left Behind-style reforms.

Controversy over Michelle Rhee

Though she helped make significant improvements in D.C. education, Michelle Rhee is also the flashpoint for controversy. Some are frustrated that after very few years, Michelle Rhee “abandoned” the school district after making huge changes. Others debate the methods of Rhee’s changes, such as the “Last in First Out” system of replacing senior teachers with new hires that she said will “probably be” better teachers. Rhee also focuses heavily on standardized test scores, which in and of themselves are very controversial.


Students First
Washington Post

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