Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Michelle Rhee has answers...

Michelle Rhee sent around this email...
Dear Steve,
We are all impacted by the quality of our nation's schools. Public education has economic, social, and moral implications for our country. That is why this movement is so important, and we are so grateful you're involved. I have been so fortunate to speak with many StudentsFirst members in person. Many of you want to know more about the mission of StudentsFirst, while others have had some really interesting questions about education policy and what reform means for our kids.

Unfortunately, I can't visit every hometown and sit down with each of you, so the StudentsFirst Team came up with a fun idea called "Ask Michelle."Submit your questions online now and I will respond by video.

America is having a national conversation about education reform. Discussion about how to improve our schools is pervasive -- on the evening news, in the teacher's lounge or during a neighborhood gathering. Sometimes these conversations leave people with more questions than answers.

I will respond to your questions openly and honestly with my perspective as an education reformer, a former teacher, and first and foremost a parent. The issues our country faces are complicated, difficult, and deserve serious answers.

I welcome your questions on anything -- from teacher tenure and teacher evaluations, to "last in, last out" (LIFO) policy and StudentsFirst's Save Great Teachers campaign. The sky's the limit.

Send me your questions using our online form now:

I look forward to hearing from you!

-- Michelle

Michelle Rhee
CEO and Founder

Here's the question that I posed:

Dennis Littky said the following in an interview on National Public Radio in April 2005: "The commissioner of education (in Rhode Island) Peter McWalter said to me, "I could have closed this school down the first year, but I had the patience to watch and I've never seen people who had the belief in the maturity of the kid" -- so half of our great work is because the [kids] grew up. In most schools, they don't get to [grow up] -- they get stopped before [they can prove themselves]."

In the Littky success story, part of the credit for success goes to Peter McWalters for giving Littky's staff the time to meet goals and to create a school with different procedures.

You can get the full radio interview at and search "Dennis Littky Small school"
(well, heck, here is a link with transcription. If you want the link, here it is)
Littky's school is a charter and from what I've seen in Florida, charters are generally inspected by the school district. To pass inspection, many charter schools adopt the same curriculum and general rules and penalties for discipline that traditional schools use. (In Broward County, where I work, this means a 30-page code of behavior that the students have to agree to follow - who reads all that?)...

What do you recommend? Should we teachers and parents go to the legislature and get the charter schools permission to try a different curriculum and discipline structure? Under the current scheme, most charters eventually look a lot like the public schools that the kids couldn't perform well in... so why should we be surprised when many kids fail to get engaged in our charter schools?

Bottom line: would removing school district oversight help charter schools find "a different way" to differentiate lessons and personalize the instruction, allowing more project-based learning?

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