Amanda Ripley

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Michelle Rhee is Hardcore

26th Nov 2008 posted in General

For me, doing this TIME story on DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was a revelation. I knew our schools were troubled, but I hadn’t realized the compounded effects of all that mediocrity. I hadn’t known that a child who has three bad teachers for three years in a row really never recovers. I had not realized that the difference in test scores between white and minority kids goes away—totally vanishes—if they both have effective teachers for a few years.

Once I understood that, I started to feel the same urgency Rhee and a lot of teachers and principals feel. I remember walking through an elementary school in DC with her, smiling down at the kids in their crisp school uniforms, and feeling the weight of every minute that ticked by without any learning happening. Until I spent time talking to kids—in their classrooms, in their homes, in front of their schools—I never appreciated just how much of our children’s time we waste. Nobody understands the problems of a school system as well as the students who are in it.

Rhee herself could be a little frightening, depending on her mood. She has a level of confidence—some might say arrogance—that is surprising. Most women—even women in power—want on some level to be liked. Not Rhee. I kind of admire that about her, even as I wonder whether it will ultimately be her undoing. As I told a friend of mine after finishing up a day with Rhee: I wouldn’t want to work for Michelle Rhee. But I’d like her to be my kid’s superintendent.