Can Michelle Rhee Save America’s Kids?

March 27th, 2011, by

I was on a transatlantic flight recently, taking advantage of the downtime to catch up on the movies I’d missed in theaters, when I caught Waiting for Superman, a documentary about American public schools, and without a doubt the most frightening movie I saw last year. It was also the most heartbreaking, and, in the interest of full disclosure, I was in tears by the film’s end, no doubt attracting my share of strange looks from my fellow passengers.

Waiting for Superman, directed by Davis Guggenheim (who also directed An Inconvenient Truth) tells the story of America’s public schools as seen through the experiences of a handful of kids from different backgrounds and economic circumstances. It reveals an education system that is not just broken, but that actively threatens the future of our nation by under-educating many thousands of children every year.

It’s a highly troubling story to say the least, and reveals American public school students to be  some of the worst-educated in the developed world. It’s a systemic problem rooted in dysfunctional policy and corrupt teachers’ unions, and, if the film’s message is to be believed, may soon lead to America’s decline among the world’s great powers.

The film is not without hope, however, revealing people who are actively working to turn the system around. One of them is Geoffrey Canada, the extraordinary leader of The Harlem Children’s Zone (and a past guest on the show). Another is this week’s guest, Michelle Rhee. One of the most striking sections of the film focuses on Rhee’s turbulent battle to reform the DC public school system as its embattled chancellor, a tenure which ended late last year.

Rhee is one of the few rays of hope in an otherwise incredibly bleak picture of what kids in U.S. public schools face every day. Now, she continues her work as the leader of StudentsFirst, a national nonprofit aimed at education reform. If there is a hope for America’s kids (at least those without the option of private education), it’s in people like Rhee and Canada and their undying commitment to fixing our schools.

  • anonymous

    Granted there changes that must take place of DC Public Schools of which is not an example of the majority of public schools in out nation. Just as there are poor quality teachers, there are poor quality chancellors. Ms. Rhee regretfully is an example of an effective chancellor by use slash and burn tactics when it comes to educators. One would have to examine why Ms. Rhee is no longer chancellor over DC Public Schools. Her total disdain for public school teachers continues stand out. To insinuate that those who join the profession of educators, do so with no desire to make a decent living and therefore do not need decent earnings, is an example of why Ms. Rhee is no longer Chancellor. Would any career professional just enter to an occupation for just the money or for that matter just enjoyment with no long-term livihood. Once again, Ms. Rhee is still touting her stereotypical and biased views of what she believes education and educators should be like. She took joy proclaming the hundreds of teachers she has fired. So I wonder if she would take joy in being chancellor for let’s say minimum wage? Afterall one does not enter into the field of education for the money.

Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 10:40 am