In December I looked back at education reform in 2010 and concluded that the many success stories pertaining to market-oriented education reform, and the three movies shedding light on the plight of America’s public school children, changed the debate on education in this country. Policymakers and citizens are becoming increasingly aware of the structural incentive problems affecting America’s public school system.

Michelle Rhee, who last year resigned as D.C. public school chancellor after Mayor Adrian Fenty lost his bid for re-election, has re-appeared stronger than ever on the surface of education reform to tap into the momentum created for education reform in 2010. Rhee is taking advantage of the name she had made for herself as a fierce proponent of education reform who is not afraid to stand up to powerful teacher’s unions. She established Students First, her own organization “to defend and promote the interests of children in public education and to pursue an aggressive reform agenda to make American schools the best in the world.”

Her agenda looks promising. Here is a quick summary from her Op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today, introducing Students First legislative agenda, “A Challenge to States and Districts: Policies that Put Students First“:



Treating teachers like professionals. Compensation, staffing decisions and professional development should be based on teachers’ effectiveness, not on their seniority.


Empowering parents and families with real choices and real information. This includes allowing the best charter schools to grow and serve more students. It also means giving poor families access to publicly funded scholarships to attend private schools. StudentsFirst also urges legislation to equip parents and communities with the tools they need to effectively organize and lead reform efforts when their public-school system fails them. California’s “parent trigger” law, for example, forces the restructuring of a poor performing school when more than 50% of the parents whose children attend it sign a petition.


Ensure accountability for every dollar and every child. For example, states and districts must shift new employees from defined-benefit pension programs to portable, defined-contribution plans where employees can contribute a proportionate amount to their own retirement savings. This will help ensure that states aren’t draining their budgets with pension payouts.[…]knowing exactly who is responsible and accountable for spending and academic achievement has proven to show positive results. Mayoral control is one way to achieve this. We’ve seen success is places like Washington, D.C., and New York City, where funds are directed toward initiatives that improve achievement, and test scores and graduation rates have greatly increased.


The women at the Independent Women’s Forum also believe that America’s schoolchildren, parents, and the citizenry at large would greatly benefit from education reform that includes more choice and accountability and that returns education into the hands of local decision-makers. This requires a fundamental restructuring of how education is delivered in this country.


Michelle Rhee tried to much of that as a public school chancellor in D.C. Given her history and popularity and the current urgency for budget cuts in the states, she may just be the right person to leverage the momentum and necessity for education reform to make an impact on education reform across states.