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In Battle to Revamp D.C. Schools, Education Leader Faces Resistance

John Merrow reports on the controversial practices that D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee is using to shake up the city's school system, including closing 23 schools by 2010 in a bid to tackle a $100 million budget deficit -- a move that has raised a storm of protest.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now another update on the D.C. public school system and the work a new leader is doing to try to fix it. Our special correspondent for education, John Merrow, has been chronicling that effort, and here is his third report.

  • PROTESTOR LEADER:

    What do we want?

  • PROTESTOR:

    Our voices heard!

  • PROTESTOR LEADER:

    When do we want it?

  • PROTESTOR:

    Now!

  • JOHN MERROW, NewsHour Correspondent:

    Unions in Washington, D.C., are upset with Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

  • COMMUNITY ACTIVIST:

    What we have here is a takeover. It is not reform; it is dictatorship.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Parents have their problems with her, too.

  • COMMUNITY ACTIVIST:

    You're telling these people that they've got to take your plan. Let's be realistic about your plan, Ms. Rhee.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Even grandparents are angry.

  • COMMUNITY ACTIVIST:

    I'm telling you that you are not being serious about taking parent and community input into account.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    What goes through your head, when people are yelling at you like that?

  • MICHELLE RHEE, Chancellor, D.C. Public Schools:

    I don't take that personally. Those people feel passionately about their schools and about public education and, frankly, we need more of that.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    She's likely to get more in the months ahead. Michelle Rhee came into office in June promising to make Washington, D.C., a national model of urban school reform.

    Now, seven months into the job, her controversial proposals — close 15 percent of the schools and fire central office employees at will — have stirred up a storm of protest.

    That raises a question: Is Michelle Rhee trying to do too much, too fast?

    ADRIAN FENTY, Mayor, District of Columbia: The time for dramatic change begins today.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    This man doesn't think so. Washington's mayor, Adrian Fenty, hired her.

  • ADRIAN FENTY:

    The person who says that they're going to come in, shake things up, change the system, challenge the status quo, that's exactly what I want. I was willing to stake everything on us shaking things up and trying to make this system as best as it could be for the children of the District of Columbia.

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