Today is Michelle Rhee’s last day as D.C. school chancellor. Together with Adrian Fenty, the two education reformers published an essay in the Wall Street Journal, titled An Education Manifesto to tell their story:  what actions they took to reform D.C.’s public schools, why they did it and how, and what the outcomes were so far.


We closed dozens of low-performing schools, streamlined the bloated central office bureaucracy, and replaced two-thirds of our principals.


Our failing schools are not just an injustice; they threaten the nation’s competitiveness, its future and its very integrity.


We bargained with the teachers’ union for 2½ years and won significant concessions. How did we do it? By striking the sort of grand bargain that could serve as a model for other troubled school districts. The formula is really quite simple: more money and resources, in exchange for more accountability from teachers.


Washington went from being the worst performing school district in the country to leading the nation in gains on the national gold-standard test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The improved achievement of our secondary students was unprecedented in D.C.’s history and unparalleled anywhere in the country, with an uptick of 14 points in reading and 17 points in math in three short years. SAT scores of District students are also rising: up 27 points this year, on average, with a 40-point jump for African-American students and a 54-point jump for male students.

What was particularly interesting about their account was that they described a disparity between the interests of the union as opposed to the interests of its members. Rhee and Fenty describe:

When we were negotiating with the union, we heard one thing over and over again from the leadership: “Our members are never going to accept this.” In truth, when the union finally allowed them to vote, the teachers passed it overwhelmingly, by 80% to 20%. Given the chance to be treated as professionals and to be rewarded for their achievements, they grabbed it.

In the IWF policy paper, Empowering Teachers with Choice, Vicky Murray explains that the best way to attract qualified teachers is to offer competitive salaries, flexible schedules, and a professional working environment in which teachers have autonomy to innovate and are rewarded for their successes. Rhee and Fenty took great leaps in that direction by giving teachers who accept a higher level of accountability the opportunity to reap a larger reward based on performance, and by dismissing dysfunctional teachers immediately and freezing minimally effective teacher’s pay if they show no improvements within a one year grace period. Their results, given this short period of time for their reform efforts to affect outcomes, speak for them. They will be dearly missed.