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Education Leaders Attempt Reform in Washington, D.C., Schools

In the first of two reports on leaders in education who are trying to reform urban schools, NewsHour education correspondent John Merrow investigates improvement efforts in Washington, D.C.

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  • MICHELLE RHEE, Chancellor, Washington, D.C., Public School System:

    I am Michelle Rhee. I'm the new chancellor of the D.C. public schools. And just in case there was any confusion, I am, in fact, Korean. I am 37 years old. And, no, I have never run a school district before.


    Rhee's selection attracted national attention.


    All the eyes of the country are now on D.C. I believe that what we are embarking upon is a fight for the lives of children.


    Just months ago, Michelle Rhee, a former teacher, was living in Denver and running the New Teacher Project, a non-profit organization she started to train and place teachers. Now she's in charge of 55,000 students and nearly $800 million.

    Washington, D.C., spends more per student, about $13,000, than just about every other large public school district. But so far, it isn't helping. Test scores are abysmal: 88 percent of eighth-graders scored below proficient in reading on the most recent national report card. They did worse in math: 93 percent below proficient.

    Last year, Adrian Fenty campaigned on the promise to fix the schools. His first act as mayor was to take total control of the school system.

  • MAYOR ADRIAN FENTY, Washington, D.C.:

    This is the nation's capital of the United States of America. We shouldn't have the worst school system; we should have the best.