RADICAL by Michelle Rhee


Fighting to Put Students First
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An education-reform manifesto from Rhee, StudentsFirst founder and former chancellor of Washington, D.C., public schools.

The author’s account of her rise as an educational policy advocate is as notable for what it lacks as for what it contains. The moments of inspiration are impressive, and it is easy to be incensed at the corruption and incompetence she describes. Rhee is at her most convincing when she relates problems with the D.C. school bureaucracy, which was so inefficient that its mismanagement kept a warehouse full of books, desks and school supplies from reaching students. At other moments, the sustainability of the reforms she champions seems more doubtful. The author lionizes teachers who spend their own time and money to help students. Though she notes that these are the kinds of teachers we need, she does not explain how that level of personal spending or uncompensated time is sustainable for older teachers with significant family obligations. While serving as chancellor, Rhee's teacher-evaluation system rewarded high performers with increased pay. However, the money that paid for the eye-popping merit amounts she was able to offer certain teachers (one teacher saw an increase of over $20,000) was raised externally. Though this is undeniably compelling, Rhee does not explain how this strategy would scale to school districts across the nation. She responds, briefly, to accusations that the rise in test scores under her tenure as chancellor were fueled by cheating on the part of teachers, who allegedly erased wrong answers and replaced them with correct ones. Her defense is unlikely to be convincing to many in light of the recent revival of the allegations.

Rhetorically soaring but somewhat lacking in substance.

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-220398-4
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2013


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