Michelle Rhee speaks at the Meyerhoff
When she was hired in June 2007 to fix the Washington, D.C. schools, Michelle Rhee said she was "a 37-year-old Korean girl from Toledo, Ohio," the antithesis of the person everyone imagined would be picked. Rhee, who spoke at the Meyerhoff on Tuesday night to a nearly full house, went on to become a controversial leader who polarized some groups in the city and eventually lost her position when a new mayor was elected. But she did shake up the city schools and her voice of reform has struck a chord in cities like Baltimore. (She started her teaching career as a Teach for America teacher in Harlem Park.)
She was entertaining and mostly predictable for those who have followed her career and her philosophy on education. She put in place a new teacher evaluation system and tried to fire many school system employees.
I left pondering one idea that I do not hear often today. Rhee said she believes students are being coddled and made to feel they are good at something when in fact they really aren't. She pointed to her two daughters, dreadful soccer players with a room full of ribbons and trophies to show for their effort. When she tells them what she believes it would take for them to be acceptable players- 90 minutes of hard work a day - she is met with blank stares.
I am not sure that I believe her assessment. It seems to me that there are often two extremes in schools today. High achieving students are in an environment that is more competitive than ever and that makes high school a race to be the best and leaves little room for fun. I remember interviewing a roomful of students at Pikesville High School for whom a 2300 on the SATs seemed sort of average. On the other end, students in some low achieving schools have ended up thinking very little of themselves because the expectations for them have been so low they have had to accomplish little to get a high school diploma, a fact they are well aware of, and doesn’t give them an inflated sense of themselves.