The name of her group is the main point of contention. She believes, as do I, that schools have to be organized around what is good for kids rather than adult groups like teachers' unions and politicians.
I've written before about Rhee's attempts to get states to direct public schools to drop their "Last Hired, First Fired" principles when laying off teachers due to cutbacks. I've written about attending a Rhee event in Philadelphia in which a former math teacher in the Philadelphia public schools gave testimony about being laid off instead of a math colleague because the other teacher had signed into school 30 seconds earlier on their first day. There was no attempt by the school to determine who the better teacher was. Instead, it relied on something as bizarre as a 30-second difference in seniority.
Rhee's call to action is summarized when she says, "The question shouldn't be, 'Why is Michelle Rhee radical?' The question needs to be, 'Why aren't we all radicals?' "
Her radical approach is to recognize that teachers are the No. 1 factor in determining the learning of a child. She supports, as I do, merit pay and the firing of incompetent and uncaring teachers. In Washington, she pushed through reforms so that top teachers could earn as much as $140,000 a year.
Are there teachers worth that much in the Philadelphia public schools? I think there are, but I think a significant minority should be fired today.
Rhee also takes a long look at Finland and how that country has been able to build a world-class education system. Finland is often cited as a model for education reform, but Rhee is unique in what she sees in the country's system that connects to its success: Finland exalts teachers.
As she writes, Finland puts teachers on the same level as it does lawyers, doctors and other top professionals in training, expertise, status and job satisfaction. The nation got a fair share of the best and the brightest to enter teaching. I concede that for us to do it here, it will take major changes.
We can start by not continuing to see teachers as widgets and not celebrating mediocrity in the classroom. We need to adopt the NFL-style mentality of looking for the edge, of looking to be the best in every school in America. Yes, schools should embrace competition rather than attack it.
Rhee can't be pigeonholed as someone in the conservative camp exclusively. She is a big fan of President Obama's Race to the Top education competition and chastises some conservatives for pushing the idea that vouchers, private schools and charter schools are the silver-bullet answers to fixing things.
I agree with her that any public funding of vouchers or charter schools demands government oversight. We've seen in Philadelphia a significant number of scandals involving charter schools.
The website of Rhee's group, StudentsFirst.org, has a comprehensive rating system for education policies in all 50 states. Pennsylvania is seen as mediocre at best and is given a promising grade for some of the Gov. Corbett's reforms on teacher evaluation. The big push for Pennsylvania is to change "Last Hired, First Fired" policies. I know there is a fear that ruthless school districts would cut only the higher-salaried teachers. That's why well in advance of any cutbacks, a comprehensive rating system of teachers should be in place.
I hope you'll listen to my interview with Michelle Rhee at 9:35 a.m. If you miss it, it will be on podcast at CBSPhilly.com/Dom. Do hear her speak Wednesday night at the Free Library main branch. You'll realize that progress is being made to reform our schools.
If you hear Rhee attacked while she's here in Philadelphia, realize that's just another sign of the threat she poses to the unions, the politicians and those who want to prop up a broken system.
Rhee ends her book by saying, "America is the greatest nation in the world. We should have the greatest education system in the world to match." Anyone want to challenge that?
Teacher-turned-talk show host Dom Giordano is heard on WPHT (1210-AM) radio. Contact Dom at www.domgiordano.com.