The Education of Michelle Rhee

Aired Jan. 8, 2013

Michelle Rhee’s journey of education reform began in 2007, when Washington D.C. inaugurated a new mayor, Adrian Fenty. Mayor Fenty promised to reform the district’s problematic school systems.

Most people expected Fenty to choose a seasoned veteran to turn the schools around, but he chose an unknown, Michelle Rhee.

Rhee met one on one with the principals of each school in the district to discuss specific test score improvements for the coming year. Principals were scared that if their school’s test scores did not improve, they would be fired.

The D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System was designed to diagnose students to identify those needing additional help.

Anacostia High School is Rhee’s biggest challenge yet. The school leader had left, leaving Rhee to find a replacement for the time being, Lynne Gober.

To help Gober, Rhee has put a number of extra resources at Anacostia. She deployed one of the regional superintendents as well as extra assistant principals that did not have placement in other schools.

Rhee knew even before school started, that it was notorious for losing supplies. She talked with principals and teachers and many of them said they didn’t have the textbooks they need. As a result, Rhee went to the D.C. public school warehouse center.

When Rhee got to the second story of the warehouse, she found pencils, glue and composition notebooks. These items are not only things the teachers are dying for, but things they spend their own money on when the supplies had been sitting in boxes for years.

Rhee wanted to fire the employees she felt were not performing well. She had no authority to do so until the city council members voted on the motion, giving her permission to release employees.

After her newly found authority, she released 121 employees, 15 percent of her central office staff.

Rhee kept her most controversial proposal to herself. She wanted to close two dozen half empty schools that were draining resources.

Her senior year of college, Rhee saw a documentary on Teach for America. After watching it, a light bulb went off in her head.

Teach for America sent Rhee to Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore. The school was in one of the roughest neighborhoods.

Rhee brought high expectations from her former job to her new one, but instead aimed them at principals rather than students.By the end of the first year, Rhee fired 24 principals, including Lynne Gober of Anacostia High School.

Rhee promised cash rewards to the schools that increased test scores the most.

In year two, Rhee focused on the teaching quality. Rhee put pressure on principals to get rid of teachers that did not measure up.


Rhee imposed a new evaluation system based on student achievement to help with accountability.

In year three, Rhee hired more than 900 teachers during the summer but came into contact with a budget shortfall and then laid of 229 teachers. This mass lay off alienated some of Rhee’s supporters.

By summer of 2010 many people turned away from Rhee and her ideas and the once popular mayor, Adrian Fenty, was fighting for his political life against Vincent Gray.

Vincent Gray won the election and Rhee stepped down from her position as chancellor. Five months after Rhee stepped down, the legitimacy of the test score gains were challenged again.

In all of Rhee’s three years, over half of her schools were flagged high for wrong to right erasures.

Noyes Education Campus gained a new principal, Adele Cothorne. She stayed late one evening to catch up on work just after students had taken the DC CAS test. She heard voices, walked into the room, and saw staff members with test booklets all around them.

As a result, security was tightened on the test booklets and there were more proctors. Scores dropped 30 percent at Noyes Education Campus.

D.C.’s graduation rate is dead last and the schools are still struggling immensely.

In regards to Rhee, she has become a media star, appearing on Oprah and creating a new organization abiding by her rules, “Students First”.


Frontline follows their own guidelines for high quality journalism very well. I did not pick up on any mistakes. The entire video seemed very well executed and I felt very in the know about the situation. I didn’t feel like I was getting wrong information or wrong facts.

I have learned a lot from this video that would help me write a better broadcast script, such as the use of engaging and descriptive words. Deciding who to interview and how is essential for any story, not just a broadcast and watching this documentary has given me a better idea of the types of people to interview for topics involving education. I had no idea how much went into schools and school related issues until I watched this video.

The most important piece of information from the Frontline guidelines webpage that can apply to all assignments is to identify sources in more ways than citations. It is very important to let readers know who said what or where  a certain piece of information came from. If it came from a news release from a company, say that. Let readers know they can trust you by accompanying information with identified sources.





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