Our ideas for Michelle Rhee: Empower parents and educators

Michelle Rhee was a keynote speaker this time last year at an education reform conference hosted by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. She began her remarks by stating she was hired to lead the Washington, D.C., school district to stem the flow of D.C. students into charter schools. I was stunned. Why would she want fewer district students going into charter schools? If every publicly-funded D.C. school was a charter, implementing Rhee’s HR agenda would have been far easier. At-will contracts and pay-for-performance are the norm in most charter schools.

This week at MichelleRhee.org, the former D.C. schools chancellor asked for some ideas on improving education. Beyond the obvious (stop discouraging students from attending charter schools, for instance), here are a few thoughts:

• Help more educators and local communities create and manage their own schools. We need more diverse learning options for parents.

• Enable all parents to match their children with the learning options that best meet their needs. Full school choice should not be limited to the wealthy.

• Organize public education funding systems around customization. Education Savings Accounts are one option currently generating lots of buzz.

• Find the proper balance between regulatory and market-based accountability. A paper published last year by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute moved this discussion forward but more work is needed.

• Provide more support for parents as they navigate the global course catalog. Choosing the best school for a child is complex. Parents need access to good information and objective advice.

• Convince teacher unions to abandon 1930s industrial unionism and embrace a new unionism that supports customization and uses collective power to empower individual educators.

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BY Doug Tuthill

A lifelong educator and former teacher union president, Tuthill has been president of Step Up For Students since August 2008.