Neuron Culture

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Michelle Rhee

photo by David Deal, from Atlantic Monthly

To my surprise, one of the most-read posts on this mostly-science blog is “Are Teachers Profesionals of Public-Service Workers?“, which looked at a NY Times Magazine piece on school reforms by Paul Tough. Tough now has Now there is a piece by Clay Risen* in the current Atlantic Monthly about perhaps the country’s most notable school reformer, Washington D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who is aggressively pushing reforms — higher-paid, non-tenured teacher contracts among them — on the D.C. school district.

The nut graf is below. Catch the whole thing at The Lightning Rod:

Since her arrival, in the summer of 2007, Rhee, just 38 years old, has become the most controversial figure in American public education and the standard-bearer for a new type of schools leader nationwide. She and her cohort often seek to bypass the traditional forces of education schools and unions, instead embracing nontraditional reform mechanisms like charter schools, vouchers, and the No Child Left Behind Act. %u201CThey tend to be younger, and many didn%u2019t come through the traditional route,%u201D says Margaret Sullivan, a former education analyst at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. And that often means going head-to-head with the people who did.

Rhee, responsible not to a school board but only to the mayor, went on a spree almost as soon as she arrived. She gained the right to fire central-office employees and then axed 98 of them. She canned 24 principals, 22 assistant principals, and, at the beginning of this summer, 250 teachers and 500 teaching aides. She announced plans to close 23 underused schools and set about restructuring 26 other schools (together, about a third of the system). And she began negotiating a radical performance-based compensation contract with the teachers union that could revolutionize the way teachers get paid.

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*attribution corrected 11/09/08, with apologies to Mr. Risen.