Michelle Rhee came to Seattle on the 19th for a conversation led by Blair Taylor, Chief Community Officer for Starbucks. The event was sponsored by the great folks at City Club, the Seattle Public Library Foundation, and Elliot Bay Book Company. Michelle Rhee runs Student First and is very well known from her time as Chancellor of the DC school district and has recently come out with a new book.
At Seattle Works we’re passionate about education- in fact the first round of CommonWealth is focused on education. Rhee is a controversial figure and we enjoy hearing all sides of the conversation- so off to town hall I went. A crowd of protestors was also in attendance and the hall was completely packed.
Rhee started by talking about her background- as a teacher in inner-city Baltimore she said “literally the experience I had there changed my entire career trajectory”. Rhee was a member of Teach For America and then went on to get her Masters in Public Policy from Harvard. But soon the excellent moderator Mr. Taylor asked the question “Some people say Michelle is anti-teacher. How do you respond?” and the conversation really got started.
Rhee pointed to her accomplishments in taking teachers in the DC area from some of the lowest paid in the region to the highest and said “I have an extraordinary amount of faith in the powers teachers have.” She agreed they needed job protection but argued that “bad teachers should not be protected.”
She also argued that our focus on making children feel good instead of making them good is damaging and cited contrasting attitudes at the school she attended in South Korea. Several times she strongly emphasized that regardless of a child’s background they can succeed depending on the teacher and that high expectations needed to be set all around.
Of course at the end of the night both the protestors and Michelle Rhee want a bright educational future for our nation’s children – they just see different ways of getting to that goal. As my companion remarked to me on the walk home, we can’t agree on a metric to see what a high performing teacher is. I immediately thought back to Beth Kanter’s recent event and the importance of data and transparency in order to be effective.
What are ways you think are effective to measure teachers? Where do you think the balance is between protecting the jobs of teachers and only having high performing teachers in schools?