Friday, August 12, 2011

Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit--Michelle Rhee

Waiting to hear what the leader of education in Washington, DC has to say that will help with leading a team for Operation Christmas Child.

At the age of 37 with no superintendent experience Michelle Rhee was appointed chancellor of education in Washington, DC.

Experts have begun to believe failing neighborhoods might be the result of failing schools. Worst scores for reading--only 12% proficient. Michelle Rhee says "this district did not become this way by accident." She fired more than 30 school principals, closed 23 schools and cut 100 staff.

Michelle Rhee says the children in DC were being such a disservice and people were avoiding making decisions that needed to be made.

She says her father was always socially motivated and taught them their advantaged life was the 'luck' of their birth. In her senior year of college she had no idea what she would do and decided to work for Teach for America where she was assigned to inner-city Baltimore. Found out the hardest job is the world is being a classroom teacher. When they observed her classroom teaching they suggested she might want to make a career change. Two years later 90% of her students were proficient in reading and math!

That success was build on building a strong work ethic in the students and having longer school days and also engaging their parents. Second graders had 2 hours of homework every night. The hard work of the students paid off.

She then graduated from Harvard Business School and was asked to help schools learn to recruit and train new teachers. She founded the New Teacher Project to recruit teachers for rural and inner-city schools and retain them.

The biggest myth is that there weren't enough people willing to teach in inner-city schools but they found that was not true. The problem lay in how the schools operated and all the bureaucracy.

Fast forward to the problems in the DC school district where the school board was replaced and the mayor put in charge. Michelle said 'no' several times to the mayor's desire for her to become chancellor. Ultimately she took the job because the mayor was willing for her to do what needed to be done, no matter how hard, to turn the schools around. The mayor said he was willing to risk his entire political career.

When she started only 8^ of the 8th graders were on grade level for reading. Teachers were not paid on time. Textbooks were sitting in warehouses. They bought 6,000 computers and many of the classrooms did not even have 3 prong outlets to plug them into.

The first core problem she chose to address were organizational ones and then they invested in human capital by making sure each teacher and principal were the best possible. They closed 23 schools (15%) at the same time. Central administration office cut in half. Two-thirds of principals and 1000 educators removed.

She tried to create a different culture where each student was treated like their own. She sent her own children to DC public schools and didn't allow any policies that would be harmful to any child.

The term "snap" means you can see as soon as you go into the classroom if the teacher is being effective. They also wanted value-added teachers, meaning they would evaluate teachers on the basis of how much children were growing and improving. You measure the group at the beginning of the year and again at the end of the year to discern level of growth.

Michelle's mother said when she was young she never cared what people thought of her and now that trait is serving her well. Michelle says, though, that she'd rather deal with anger than apathy.

Asks Michelle to give advice on whether incremental change or revolution is best. Michelle says, "I'm not an incremental girl" and said they needed fast change because of the desperate need.

When the mayor was not re-elected Michelle's job came to an end. She notes that education has been driven by special interest groups and has no organized national interest group on behalf of students. So she started an organization called Students' First--a movement to reform education around the country.

Proverbs 31:8 -- speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Describes herself as an 'aspiring Christian' and says she is held back by watching other people and also because she is rational and linear and has a hard time relinquishing control and surrendering her life.

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