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Michelle Rhee – Student First

Posted by Admin On March - 28 - 2011


For over 18 years, Michelle Rhee has dedicated her time to compiling the skills that students will need when they enter the work force. She actively instituted many of these when she took her personal time as a third grade teacher to visit the homes of her third grade students for additional instruction after school hours. Besides many of the other innovative ideas Rhee brought to the table, she also started the DC Public School System Youth Cabinet, a concept that brings in the ideas of students for reform of the educational system.

Rhee started a grassroots initiative to improve the schools. Some of her key points are improving the quality of teachers, parental involvement in the schools and putting tax dollars where they’re most useful. StudentsFirst’s basis is that no child should suffer from an inadequate school simply because they live in the wrong area.

The basis for the StudentsFirst program is sound. The teachers in the classroom should be well trained and focus their time on the student. Today, many inadequate teachers remain in the classroom simply because of tenure. While tenure is good in some ways, such as preventing school boards from removing the higher paid teachers to save money, it also has its downside.

Too many teachers presently remain in the classrooms that spend their energies counting off the days to retirement. The lack of enthusiasm and caring can greatly affect the outcome of the educational experience for the student. 

However, the improvement of the teaching staff isn’t limited to eliminating teachers that don’t care or are ineffective. Part of the Student First program includes additional training for the novice teacher to help them begin on the right foot.

The initiative has a three-fold program for change. The first is changing the method of evaluating teachers. The initiative wants to eliminate arbitrary judgment and the union process in the evaluation of teachers. They feel basing the evaluation on the students results is far more beneficial. Included in this is the evaluation of the principal to attract and develop teachers.

There’s also a drive in the initiative to pay teachers more for student performance and their effectiveness in teaching. The biggest change is the elimination of tenure. Tenure is a process where it’s difficult to eliminate failing teachers once they’ve accumulated enough years of service.

The plan also wants to empower parents with the creation of high quality public schools throughout the districts. If a school proves ineffective, the parents must sign a consent form for their students to attend that school. The publication and distribution of relevant data on the schools is also in that empowerment plan as is the ability for parents to trigger a change if the school is failing.

Finally, the StudentsFirst program suggests a shift in the pattern of spending. As with the suggested changes mentioned previously, the suggestion to prioritize the pay based on accountability again comes into play.

The initiative also wants spending on more than traditional education. This would allow more money for use on other initiatives that bring the student’s interest to the foreground. The suggestion for better management and development of pension programs is also one of the key suggestions in the StudentsFirst program.


Nobody can deny that our schools are in trouble and it’s time to find what works. Maintaining teachers that slipped through the cracks and found their way to tenure can be a costly error for both students and school budgets. Directing the pay for the teachers producing the best results makes sense and is normally the way pay schedules work in industry.

Giving parents a voice in the way the school runs and the opportunity to see the statistics has proven beneficial in many areas of the United States. When parents get involved, it’s only logical that their belief and interest in the schools transfers to their child, making it more conducive for learning.

Educational funds are often wasted and looking at the use of the funds is important. Too often, some schools receive far more money than they can use and have the best of everything, while others struggle to have enough resources so every child receives a textbook. Pensions often are part of the state’s general budget and have shortfalls funded by present tax dollars. Realigning the pensions to be more compatible with industry’s pensions would benefit both teachers and taxpayers.


It would be difficult to prove that a teacher is effective by simply looking at testing scores. The urge to teach to the test is too great. Teachers put into classrooms where students begin well below the mean could also find themselves with a pink slip if the administration uses the actual scores rather than the growth of the educational level. While it’s true that not all teachers are equally effective, it’s also true that not all classes of students are the same either. Some are far more difficult to teach.

Eliminating tenure could be a double-edged sword. Tenured teachers normally are the higher paid teachers due to years of service and advanced degrees. If a corporation is in trouble and needs to make budget, creating a reason to eliminate the higher paid personnel is often great.

Finally, there is no direction as to the actual programs that work and even though the pledge of StudentsFirst is to direct spending on programs that “advance student achievement” while “dispelling the myths about what works” makes no sense. Either a tactic works or it doesn’t. Who dictates the parameters of “policies that advance student achievement?”  While these are truly noble words, there is nothing concrete.   



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One Response to “Michelle Rhee – Student First”

  1. Hello, Thank you for a great post.

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