Whatever you think of the cheating scandal in Atlanta Public Schools, the system will probably need a new superintendent when Beverly Hall’s contract expires next summer. All indications are that Hall will leave then on her own, if she isn’t pushed out before.
For once, there’s a good solution waiting in Washington.
Her name is Michelle Rhee, and she’s been chancellor of the District of Columbia’s public schools for three years. Now, her tenure may be coming to an abrupt end after her sponsor, Mayor Adrian Fenty, lost his re-election bid earlier this month.
Let APS board members waste no time before trying to recruit her here.
Rhee is just 40 years old, but already she has built an impressive record of tackling the stasis that cripples too many public schools.
Most famously, last spring she fired 241 ineffective teachers, or about 5 percent of the district’s total, and put hundreds more on notice. She evaluated these teachers not just on whether students passed standardized tests but whether they made satisfactory progress.
That’s a fair way to refine the use of tests to judge teachers’ effectiveness, while still making clear that students’ results are ultimately what counts.
“This idea of no excuses, we’re going to raise expectations and standards and change the culture, I think that’s happening in D.C. and I think she deserves credit for that,” says Kevin Chavous, chairman of the reform-minded Black Alliance for Educational Options.
Some of those same notions of raising expectations and standards are already at work in APS, although the cheating scandal threatens to derail them. Right or wrong, Hall will always bear the stain of that scandal, but she has a worthy broader vision for improving urban education. That vision seems to fit well with Rhee’s.
So, Rhee wouldn’t be starting from scratch here. And because she had only three years in D.C. to pursue her reforms, the work-in-progress APS offers her a unique opportunity to continue proving that they work.
Dovetailing the good things that Hall did with the promise of Rhee’s ideas also offers an elegant way to bring together the two main factions regarding APS.
The camp that believed Hall’s work was too valuable to throw out because of the cheating scandal could be satisfied that a like-minded reformer would follow her.
The camp that thinks Hall must go because of the cheating scandal would be assured that the succession was under way.
Some of you may have read that Rhee’s leadership and inflexibility toward the teachers union in D.C. contributed to the mayor’s election loss. If so, why bring her to Atlanta?
Chavous, who lives in Washington, acknowledges Rhee let her office “become overly politicized during this campaign.”
But he also says, “I absolutely don’t think the election was as much about her as it was about the mayor. The mayor had lost touch with the voters.”
In Atlanta, Rhee would be accountable to the school board and surely could apply the lessons she learned in D.C.
Should Rhee leave Washington, Chavous predicts she will “have her pick of the litter, so to speak. I’m sure there are 10 to 15 school districts in America that would welcome her with open arms. It really comes down to where she wants to make her mark.” (Sure enough, Oprah Winfrey on Friday touted Rhee for the top job in the Newark, N.J., school system.)
Race to the Top? Let’s race to the Rhee.