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Washington, D.C., Schools Chief Faces Tough Choices

In the latest in a series of reports on school reform in Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, John Merrow checks in with D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee, who has had to make difficult -- and controversial -- decisions regarding school closures and staff cuts.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    So now our update on the Washington, D.C., schools. The NewsHour’s special correspondent for education, John Merrow, has been tracking the progress of school leaders in two urban areas, the District of Columbia and New Orleans.

    Tonight, John reports on changes for teachers and administrators in D.C.’s troubled schools.

  • JOHN MERROW, NewsHour Correspondent:

    When the new chancellor of Washington, D.C.’s, public schools first met her teaching staff in August 2007, she gave them a vote of confidence.

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

    I believe that if we see this as a battle for our children’s lives and futures, there is no one that I would rather have on my team leading this as the people in this room.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    But six months later, Michelle Rhee had this to say.

  • MICHELLE RHEE:

    There will be some schools where a significant amount of the teaching force will turn over. I think that we are going to need a different breed of educators.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Rhee means what she says. She just fired 98 employees in her central office, over 10 percent of the staff.

  • MICHELLE RHEE:

    I think that people thought that that was going to be sort of the big shake-up for the year, but there will be rapid-fire succession from here on out for as long as I am the chancellor here.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Michelle Rhee has already announced plans to close 23 schools. Now she has the power to re-staff an additional 27 schools that are considered failures under the federal law known as No Child Left Behind. All in all, that’s about 1,000 teachers who could have a different job or no job at all come September.

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