DC School's Chancellor Michelle Rhee is now seen as the face of urban school reform. She appeared Sunday morning as part of a panel discussing education on Meet the Press.
During the show, Rhee addressed why she fired hundreds of teachers and other controversial decisions, and discussed her relationship with the teachers' union, which has fought her on the subject of teacher firings.
"In terms of the teacher accountability, we've held a very, very high bar," Rhee told moderator David Gregory. "We've said it's no longer going to be acceptable for teachers who are ineffective to stay in the classroom. And, you know, we've gotten a tremendous amount of pushback about that. But if you talk about the mayor's election, a lot of what you heard from citizens was, "Well, they fire teachers." And what you, unfortunately, didn't hear about that was we didn't fire teachers to be mean, because were callous or didn't care. We wanted to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom simply because we think our children deserve better."
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said teachers need more tools and resources to help them improve, and officials need to find better ways to evaluate teachers before they are fired.
"No one wants a bad teacher, David. Not teachers, not parents," Weingarten told Gregory. "When I asked our members this question, overwhelmingly they want us to find the tools and conditions to help teachers do better. And what we've tried to do now, what we've realized, is that the evaluation system is totally and completely broken in the United States. So our union has tried to invest in creating a new evaluation system. There's about 50 or 60 districts that are trying to do that. We've tried to figure out who is good, who is not. If they're not good, we help them. If we can't help them, we have to weed them out of the profession."
Gregory suggested that a lack of national support may keep other mayors and governors from risking the political backlash often seen during education reform efforts. Duncan said there were too many races to participate in all of them, but that Fenty could walk out of office with his head held high for his reform efforts.
"When the story of D.C.'s school reform is written, a huge part is going to be around his courage and his leadership," Duncan said. "There are thousands of local primaries around the country, I can't weigh in on every single one. There are national candidates that I need to support who are going to drive school reform. But Mayor Fenty did, I think, a remarkable job of dramatically improving the quality of education in D.C."
When Gregory asked Rhee if she will stay on as chancellor under a new mayor, she said conversations are continuing with presumptive mayor Vincent Gray.
"I think that's something that we still have to determine," Rhee said. "And I have to talk to Vincent Gray, who is the presumptive mayor. But I think the important thing to realize is that education reform can continue in D.C., regardless of whether I'm there or not. It can continue as long as the leadership is willing to continue to make the incredibly tough decisions that we've made over the last three years."