Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Michelle Rhee on Charlie Rose Transcript

Michelle Rhee -- she is the aforementioned educator, chancellor here in Washington, DC and test scores are up here because of some very innovative ideas that she has put into play. Back in a moment. Stay with us.

We go from politics to education in our continuing series on education in

America. The public school system in Washington, DC is our focus. It is

reportedly one of the worst in the nation, a graduation rate of only 43

percent. And it`s public schools repeatedly fall near the bottom on national

test. Yet, the District spends 50 percent more money per pupil than the

national average. In e, 2007, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty took over the schools.

He then dissolved the board of education.

Joining me now is the woman he turned to for help and change, Michelle Rhee.

During her first year in office, she`s already closed 23 schools and fired

34 principals. She`s negotiating with Teacher Union leaders to raise

teacher`s pay in exchange for the loss of tenure and hirer accountability.

This is a controversial issue. Randi Weingarten has talked about it on this

program. She`s the former head of the union in New York City and now the

newly head of the AFT.

We talked about tenure. We talked about charter school and a lot of other

issues with her. And here is part of that conversation.


RANDI WEINGARTEN, AFT: Where the mayor is really wrong, and virtually every

educator would say that to him, is that standardized tests were never

intended as a measure of good teachers, good teaching or how teachers teach.

And every expert in the country, including the mayor`s own experts, will

tell you this. Why is it in the United States of America that one of the

only industries that have such union density is teachers? The reason that

teachers still have such union density, are so well organized, is because

they are powerless. Everything is thrown at them. And ultimately what they

do is they ask for unionization.

ROSE: Why are they tolerating it.

WEINGARTEN: Because what happens is that we have the fad of the month. We

have the reform of the year. What happens is all they want to do is they

want to teach kids.


ROSE: I am pleased now to talk about education from a different perspective

with Michelle Rhee.

RHEE: Thank you.

ROSE: You`ve got new personality. You`ve closed some schools. You`ve brought

some new people in. What`s happening to raise the scores?

RHEE: I think a lot of things. I think the bottom line is that we have begun

to shift the culture and that people understand that it`s no longer business

as usual and that this is going to be a cultural accountability. One of the

first things and probably the most dramatic things, in a lot of ways, that

we did was we introduced legislation to the City Council that asked for

permission to turn all of the central office school district employees into

at will employees. And after sort of a battle, we did that, and the City

Council approved that legislation. And that was one of the sort of key

parts, I think, to this, you know, sea change that`s begun to occur in the

District around people understanding that they`re going to be accountable

for the work that they`re doing and they`re going to be accountable for

producing results.

ROSE: What happens in the classroom that makes a difference? What is it that

a teacher has to do?

RHEE: A teacher, number one, has to be extraordinarily clear with the

students about what the expectations are. Those expectations need to be very

high, because the kids know when you don`t have high expectations of them.

And they will rise or fall to the level of expectations that the adults have

of them. And then they need to be just absolutely relentless in their

pursuit of those expectations and of those goals. They have to hold the kids

accountable. They have to hold themselves accountable. And they have to make

sure that all these things that could serve as excuses are challenges that

need to be understood and they need to be recognized, but they won`t stand

in the way of, you know, these kids achieving at the highest level.

ROSE: You have aid one time about your own teaching and your own experience

that it wasn`t so much that you were the world`s greatest teacher or even

that you had the world`s most brilliant ideas.

RHEE: That`s right.

ROSE: It`s just sweat and sweat and sweat, in there every day, every moment,

making the kids know this is about you, not your parents, not some

administrator, not some politician, but you.

RHEE: That`s right. One of the things that I did with the kids, I -- one day

I brought in a list that was published in the "Baltimore Sun" of all of the

schools in the District and how they ranked on the test scores. Ours was at

the bottom. I asked the kids, so what do you think people think about us

when they see that, you know, our school`s at the bottom of this list. The

kids said, people think we`re dumb. And I said that`s right. Are we dumb?

And they would say no. I said, that`s right, we got to show people what we

can do and I got them all riled up.

Kids understood that. They wanted to actually know where they stood in

relation to other kids. They wanted to be inspired in that way. They knew

they could do more. And so people thought I was crazy to have those kinds of

conversations with eight year olds. But I thought it was exactly the kind of

inspiration that they needed, because they knew that they could achieve at

much higher levels.

ROSE: Are you saying to me that if, in fact, America goes out and finds the

best teachers, the very best teachers, and put them in the classrooms,

teachers who know how to inspire and encourage, that we could change public

education in America?

RHEE: There`s no doubt in my mind about that.

ROSE: That`s it.

RHEE: There`s no doubt in my mind about that, absolutely.

ROSE: Then why aren`t we doing that?

RHEE: That`s a great question. That`s what I spent the last 15 years of my

life fighting for, because everything, all the research, all of the data,

everything shows that when you have a great teacher, all of those barriers

can be overcome. And they literally are sort of, you know, put on the side

line if you have a wonderful teacher. And it can make up for any achievement

gap. Wonderful things, if you have the right educators. That`s where our

focus has to be 100 percent.

ROSE: Why aren`t we getting it?

RHEE: Look first at how teachers are sort of treated now. When I came into

the school system, you know, I met a lot of educators who I think are

absolutely heroic who are currently teaching in DC public schools. They were

treated incredibly poorly. They couldn`t get their pay checks on time. They

couldn`t get their spouses on the benefit plan, that sort of thing. So they

weren`t given the support that they needed to be successful.

I have -- I have a quick story. I got an e-mail at 1:00 in the morning one

from a student in DC and he sent me this email and said basically, if you

really want to know what`s wrong with our schools, you should come and talk

to the kids, because I`m afraid that by talking to the adults you might not

be getting the real story.

ROSE: How old was this kid?

RHEE: A high school student. So I set this appointment up. I went to go talk

to him and a group of students and I walk in the room. They were all sitting

around the room. They pull out this three page, typed, single spaced agenda

of the things they wanted to go over with me, very prepared. The first thing

on their list was they said, we have on average 15 teachers absent a day

from this school. If the teachers aren`t here to teach, how do you expect us

to learn? I did not have good answer to that question.

They spent an hour just drilling me on all these things in school that were

going wrong. I thought, I`m not going to be able to solve all these problems

in the time frame that these kids have, because most of them were seniors.

Before I left, I said if there was only one thing that you could choose that

you believe would most radically improve what`s going on in this school and

your education, what would that be? And they said, bring us more great

teachers. All the other great stuff on this list doesn`t matter if we have

great teachers.

Then they said, bring us more great teachers like Mr. Wallace. So they start

to tell me about Mr. Wallace. They said, Mr. Wallace is the best. He sets up

camp at the McDonald`s down the street after school. If you`re hungry, he

buys you a hamburger, but he makes you stay. He tutors you in pre-calculus

until you understand all the homework, you can pass the test. We know that

guy cares about us. If you bring us more teachers like Mr. Wallace, we`re

going to be good.

So after I had this conversation with them, I go trekking through the school

and looking for Mr. Wallace. I finally find his room. I walk in and the kid

looks like he`s aged seven years in 18 months. He`s a Teach for America Corp

member. I walk in and he`s a mess. He`s got chalk dust in his hair and pit

stains on his shirt. I say Mr. Wallace, the kids love you. He`s like, I


He`s at the end of his second year commitment. I said are you going to say

next year. He says I don`t know. I said why. I know the guy`s spending half

of his 40,000 dollar salary on hamburgers every night at McDonald`s, but

why? And he says to me -- he`s like, first of all, I spend all my free

periods covering for other teachers who aren`t here. I don`t have any time

to plan. I don`t know anything about teaching Spanish or teaching English,

but I know the kids are going to get more out of it if I`m in front of them

than if we stick the next video in.

And then he says, people here, they don`t like me that much. They`re always

saying to me, Wallace don`t come in so early, don`t stay late.

ROSE: You make us look bad.

RHEE: Yes, you make us look bad. It`s not part of the contract. So I`m

thinking to myself, this is the exact kind of teacher that we both want and

need in this system. And we haven`t created an environment where this guy

feels like he can be successful. That`s the biggest crime I think that we`re

doing by not setting people up for success.

ROSE: Can you fire teachers?

RHEE: Currently, it is --

ROSE: The current contract you`re negotiating --

RHEE: The contract that`s in existence right now.

ROSE: You can`t fire teachers.

RHEE: You can. It`s very difficult.

ROSE: Can you fire them because they`re bad teachers, inadequate teachers,

their kids don`t do well, their kids don`t like them?

RHEE: There`s a process that you can go through where you have to show a

tremendous amount of documentation to show that a teacher is incompetent or


ROSE: Suppose you have a teacher that`s doing a fantastic job like Mr.

Wallace. Can you double his salary?

RHEE: Absolutely not, no way.

ROSE: Your a principal, your superintendent, your chancellor can`t say we

want to pay Mr. Wallace a lot more money.

RHEE: No. I can barely bring in the principals that I need because our

salaries for principals are so much lower than the surrounding jurisdiction.

I`m trying to poach right now. I`m trying to poach the best principals from

all over the region. They`re actually inspired to come. My biggest inhibitor

right now is I can`t pay them anywhere near what they`re making right now in

the counties.

ROSE: Because you don`t have the money or because --

RHEE: No, because there are rules and regulations that govern how much I am

allowed to pay folks.

ROSE: This is part of the union contract?

RHEE: Yes. There are a whole lot of rules. There are municipal rules. There

are contract rules. But I am absolutely prohibited from going above a

certain amount in terms of compensation.

ROSE: Question of the teacher `s union; Randy Weingarten on this program

said many things, and I think she would say a lot of thing you`re in favor,

she`s in favor. Do you think that`s true?

RHEE: I think that she probably says, yes, that she`s in favor of a lot of

the things I`m in favor of.

ROSE: She says we like charter schools. She says we believe in merit pay.

She says --

RHEE: I believe that one of the things that we have to be cognizant of is

believing in charter schools does not mean you start a charter school or two

charter schools. If you truly believe in charter schools, then you believe

in an open market system where charter schools can flourish. If she really

believed in charter schools, is she advocating for a lift of the cap of

charter schools? I don`t think so.

ROSE: Do you believe that teachers` salaries ought to be based in part on

how their kids do on standard tests?

RHEE: Absolutely.

ROSE: You believe that?

RHEE: Absolutely.

ROSE: Does she believe that?

RHEE: I don`t think so.

ROSE: Do you believe teachers unions are part of the problem in American

education today?

RHEE: I believe that the constructs that are in existence, I believe that

the collective bargaining agreements that govern how school districts

operate when it comes to teachers and human capital and school districts

today are a big barrier, definitely.

ROSE: But it`s because of the contracts you negotiated for.

RHEE: That`s correct.

ROSE: And the teacher`s union negotiates on the other side.

RHEE: That`s right. Let me clear. You asked, do I believe the teacher`s

unions are the problem. My thing is people like to demonize the teachers

unions. They like to say, it`s all the teachers unions fault. These

contracts were negotiated by two parties, and superintendents and school

boards across the country have signed off on these contracts just as much as

the teachers union has. So the blame does not fit, in my mind, with one

party or the other.

ROSE: It`s with politicians who make deals, who negotiate deals because they

have political constraints or political imperatives.

RHEE: I certainly think that is part of the issue. And if you look today at

school boards, a lot of school board members are -- you know, were elected

with the union money and that sort of thing. And so are they going to off

and, you know, negotiate really aggressive union contracts? Probably not.

ROSE: So tenure, that`s a big issue.

RHEE: Yes.

ROSE: What are the issues for you beyond tenure that you think ought to be

part of a program for change for American public education K-12?

RHEE: I think that, at the end of the day, it all comes down to

accountability. We have to be able to hold rMD+IN_rMDNM_everyone accountable

for the results they`re producing for kids. That`s the bottom line. If you

operate within that mind set or that construct, then all of your problems

are solved.

Now, if we talk about more of the nuts and bolts, certainly tenure is an

issue, seniority rights that govern the movement of teachers. When we have a

situation where you put the rights and the privileges and priorities of

adults ahead of what`s in the best interest of kids then you know we have

the system that`s not going to produce the kind of results that we need to

see. It`s just is not possible.

ROSE: Do you want to make some -- let`s take your union specifically --

grand bargain with them? If so, what is the grand bargain?

RHEE: We`re actually still in negotiations, so I can`t talk about the

specifics of it. In general terms --

ROSE: You are prepared to say, I`m going to give you this if you give me

this, because I think I need this in order to produce the kinds of schools

that the mayor`s demanding of me.

RHEE: That`s right. What I`ll say in very broad terms is that we are

prepared to ensure that we have the most highly compensated and highly

effective educator force in this country. And we believe that people should

be recognized and rewarded in a very dramatic way for producing significant

gains in student achievement. And what we need to have is a system and a

contract where the best interests of kids trump everything else. Trumps

seniority. All of those thing are secondary to us believing that kids are

actually going to benefit from every single decision they make.

ROSE: Then comes the question how do you determine that.

RHEE: Based it on student achievement.

ROSE: That`s the only thing you can do. In other words -- I don`t know, I`m

asking. The only way you can test a teacher`s effectiveness is how well

those kids are doing on test scores.


ROSE: That seems to be a principle difference between teachers unions and

some administrators.

RHEE: I don`t think test scores are the only way.

ROSE: But by far the best.

RHEE: I think it`s the most consistent. I think it`s the most objective. And

I think that it should have the greatest weight in looking at teacher

effectiveness, absolutely.

ROSE: When they say that`s unfair to teachers to base it on test scores?

RHEE: I would say it`s unfair to children to do anything but, because when

you are basing, you know, the effectiveness of teachers on lots of softer

things, whether the kids feel good, whether the classroom is happy, whether

we`re creative -- don`t get me wrong, those things are important. But if the

kids can`t read and if only nine percent of them are at grade level or

above, that`s not acceptable. You might have a happy classroom. It`s not the

classroom we`re going to have in this district.

ROSE: Give me this other term you have, which is called value added.

RHEE: Yes.

ROSE: What does that mean?

RHEE: That means that you can`t just look at kids and say, if 100 percent of

your kids are not on grade level, then that means you have not done a good

job. Because in our system, we have kids who are coming in, two, three,

four, five grade levels below where they`re supposed to be. So you could

have a teacher who has seen dramatic gains, who is moving their kids two or

three years in the span of one year. You have to basically measure the

growth. And that`s what a value added model does.

ROSE: Are you optimistic.

RHEE: Very optimistic. I`m incredibly optimistic.

ROSE: Because you`ve seen what you can do in the classroom if you have some

of the circumstances that are necessary?

RHEE: That`s right. I believe that in Washington, DC today, we have a once

in a lifetime opportunity. You don`t meet a mayor like Adrian Fenty every

day, maybe, in fact, once in a lifetime. This man is unbelievable. He`s

relentless. He`s focused. He`s disciplined. He will not let anything stand

in the way of progress in the schools. I never met anybody like him in my

entire life. I`m certainly not a politician.

So we`ve got the leadership and we have a great union leader. This man,

George Parker, he wants to do the right thing for kids. He wants to do the

right thing for his teachers, and we believe that this contract that we put

together, it does exactly that.

ROSE: Does he believe that?

RHEE: Absolutely. I believe he does. He`s getting a whole lot of pressure

from people. So he`s beginning to sort of wonder. But I believe in his heart

he absolutely believes that this is the right thing for kids and teachers.

ROSE: When you came into this job, for a long time, they were demonstrating

outside your office.

RHEE: They still do, every Friday, yes.

ROSE: What`s that about?

RHEE: They don`t like me.

ROSE: Who doesn`t like you?

RHEE: There`s certainly a very loud and organized contingent of people in

this city who really really dislike what I`m doing.

ROSE: Even though the test scores are up, even though it`s a different

dynamic in the classroom.

RHEE: It doesn`t matter.

ROSE: What do they say to you?

RHEE: They say that I am cruel, that I am cold, that I am a dictator. They

say that I`m not taking the community sort of voice into account as I`m

making decisions. They say that I`m acting rationally, that I`m unfair,


ROSE: What do you say, not true, not true, not true? Or do you say, it`s

necessary. If you want to make an omelet, you have to break an egg.

RHEE: I say that some people -- and some of those people included -- want me

to do the same things that have been done for years.

ROSE: A lot of people came into your job believing in reform, believing in

change, said I`m going to do this. I`m going to try different ways. I`m

going to change the dynamics.

RHEE: That`s right.

ROSE: And they all failed.

RHEE: Right. Not because --

ROSE: Good people.

RHEE: Good people, smart people, well meaning people, hard working. That`s

why I said I believe we have a once in a lifetime opportunity, because what

those people did not have that I have -- because there`s nothing special

about Michelle Rhee, let me be clear about that. It is because I`m in this

situation with this mayor, who singularly is focused on education, with a

community dynamic where people understand the need for significant change,

with a great union president, with a ton of momentum.

So I happen to be sort of the fortunate person who is sitting in this role

right now. All of my predecessors, just as an example, had to deal with

school boards and the politics of a school board.

ROSE: You don`t have to do that.

RHEE: I never would have taken this job if it was a school board structure.

This is a strong statement. I don`t believe that really significant

education reform is possible with the school board structure. I don`t think

it`s possible.

ROSE: We`re in a political year.

RHEE: Yes.

ROSE: What ought to be the debate? Is this a national issue or not? Is it

really a question of states and local communities.

RHEE: Absolutely not. It is a national issue that is not getting national


ROSE: What`s that? What makes it a national issue? What`s the national play

it ought to have? What`s the question we ought to be arguing?

RHEE: The national issue, the way I frame it is this: public education is

supposed to be the great equalizer in our country. It`s supposed to be the

thing that ensures that it doesn`t matter if you`re black or white, rich or

poor. We have public schools so that every child in this country can have an

equal shot in life. If you work hard, you do the right thing, you can live

the American dream. That is not the reality that we have in most of our

urban school districts today. The reality here in Washington, DC is, if you

live in Georgetown versus if you live in Anacostia, you get two wildly

different educational experiences. That`s the biggest social injustice

imaginable, because it basically says that we`re allowing the color of a

child`s skin, and the zip code that they live in to dictate their

educational attainment levels and their life chances and their life outcome.

That is counter to what this country is supposed to be, the land of equal

opportunity. We`re not making our good our promise to the children of this

nation. That should be the number one priority. In my mind, that should be

the only thing that we`re talking about in these presidential debates. How

are we going to ensure we`re giving every single kid an equal shot in life.

The fact that it`s almost absent from all of these political debates -- and

we get into this jargon about whether NCLB is good or not --

ROSE: No Child Left Behind. You think it is good and you think it still

needs to be changed and made better.

RHEE: Absolutely. It`s an accountability structure.

ROSE: That`s what you liked about it.

RHEE: Absolutely, 100 percent. I`m held accountable. Our principals are held

accountable. Every single school in this country, because you can`t just

have high achievement levels, period. You have to have no achievement gap.

Those things are incredibly important.

ROSE: How would you revise it?

RHEE: There are some tweaks I would make for sure. For example, one piece of

No Child Left Behind calls for highly qualified teachers. But those

qualifications are sort of front end qualifications. Does a person have

this, you know, certificate or this degree. And I believe we have to move

away from the front end inputs, to looking at highly effective teachers. If

you can produce results in the classroom, that makes you effective and you

can stay in the classroom. And it really shouldn`t matter on whether or not

you have your PHD or your Masters.

ROSE: We know what you did between 2007 and 2008, what do you think you can

do between 2008 and 2009?

RHEE: I know we can institute the most radical and reform minded teachers

union contract in this country. We can finally begin to recognize and reward

our most effective teachers, and that we can actually begin to shift the

dynamic in this city, and eventually in the country, of who should go into

teaching. When we`re able to offer people the types of salaries that we`re

talking about offering them, then it`s going to just attract different, you

know -- a different caliber of people in the profession.

ROSE: Wendy Kopp, the people she recruits, some of the people who surround


RHEE: That`s right. The kind of people that Teach for America recruits,


ROSE: You believe you can do it?

RHEE: A hundred percent. I like to say to my staff, you know, if I can`t --

if I can`t make 121 schools better for 50,000 kids, then my game is weak and

I should go home.

ROSE: That`s your own sense of accountability.

RHEE: That`s my own sense of accountability, absolutely. I believe this is

absolutely possible. I have tremendous confidence in that.

ROSE: You same to be saying, I`m not for the abolition of teachers unions.

That`s what you seem to be saying.

RHEE: Absolutely not.

ROSE: You seem to be saying, give me a teachers union like the one I have

here, tough, hard nosed, negotiating for their members.

RHEE: For their members, for sure.

ROSE: But we`ll give each other something that will make our lives better

and our challenge achievable.

RHEE: That`s right. The dynamic that George Park and I have created here in

DC, he fights me tooth and nail. We negotiate and we sweat it out and sort

of go through. And he always has to be looking out for the best interests of

his members, which he does very well, which is why in our system, the system

that we`re sort of putting together right now, people have choice. I happen

to believe that the teachers are going to make the choice, that they have to

give up some of these rights, but that they see the upside benefit. They

know they can get there. They know what the ramifications are on the

positive side for the kids and they`re going to choose to do that.

ROSE: If they do well, they`ll be rewarded.

RHEE: Absolutely, like they`ve never been rewarded before.

ROSE: Thank you for your time.

RHEE: Absolutely, my pleasure.

ROSE: Thank you for joining us, part of our continuing series on education.

See you next time.

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