A national leader in education reform says now is the time for West Virginia to get on board with large scale changes to improve overall student achievement.

“There is a wave that is happening right now.  West Virginia just is not a part of that yet,” Michelle Rhee, a former Washington, D.C. public schools chancellor, said on Tuesday’s “MetroNews Talkline.”

“That doesn’t mean, though, that the state can’t quickly get there.  If you have a dedicated and committed Legislature, political officials who are willing to take this on, you can see some really quick change.”

Rhee became a nationally known and somewhat controversial figure in education when she first took over the failing school system in Washington, D.C. in 2007.

In her three years in that role, she closed underperforming schools, reduced the number of central office administrators, ended teacher tenure and fired hundreds of teachers and school principals.

She was criticized for largely relying on the results of standardized tests to rate teachers and students.  There were allegations of cheating on those standardized tests under her watch.

Rhee, who founded an advocacy group called StudentsFirst in 2010, writes about her career and ongoing education reform work in her new memoir, Radical: Fighting to Put Students First.

StudentsFirst recently gave West Virginia an ‘F’ grade for its education policy environment.  “West Virginia got an ‘F’ because, quite frankly, because the laws and policies that are in place really work against student achievement,” she said.

Now is the time, Rhee says, for everyone to get involved in education to make sure that high quality teachers are in every classroom, parents and families have good school options and taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.

“There is a tremendous amount that can happen at the state level where people are putting pressure on state legislators to start to put laws and policies in place that are going to finally make sure that the interests of children are the priority,” she said.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin is expected to propose a number of education reforms during his State of the State Address, coming up next Wednesday night, at the State Capitol.

That will be the first day of the 2013 Regular Legislative Session.

Prior to her Tuesday appearance on MetroNews Talkline, Rhee talked about her book on the Monday night edition of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

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  • Tim McClung

    Lately, our nation’s strategy for improving our schools is mostly limited to “getting tough” with teachers. Blaming teachers for poor outcomes, we spend almost all of our energy trying to control teachers’ behavior and school operations. But what if all of this is exactly the opposite of what is needed? What if teachers are the answer and not the problem? What if trusting teachers, and not controlling them, is the key to school success?

    What would teachers do if they had the autonomy not just to make classroom decisions, but to collectively—with their colleagues—make the decisions influencing whole school success? Decisions such as school curriculum, how to allocate the school budget, and whom to hire.

    Teachers with decision-making authority create the schools that many of us profess to want. They individualize learning. Their students are active (not passive) learners who gain academic and life skills.The teachers create school cultures that are the same as those in high-performing organizations. They accept accountability and innovate, and make efficient use of resources. These promising results suggest: it’s time to trust teachers.

    Maybe WV should consider allowing site-governed schools


    • Sherry Smith

      I agree with making changes. Let's use proven models that workWV 511 CONTACT US
      Thank you! Your message was sent successfully!

      • Sherry Smith

        Wow! Not sure how my message was corrupted. Was I hacked?
        What I want to say is let's use models that have proven effective and have been documented as effective. It shouldn't be teachers against government or vice versa. We, the taxpayers & parents, are disgusted & legitimately concerned. I do support public education. I was publicly educated in WV. And the education my extended family has received in Monongalia County has been good. Could it be improved? Of course. However, public education systems & their employees need to have standards by which they are evaluated like all other employees in the public & private sector & should be held accountable.

  • Sherry Smith

    Apparently some of the responders believe ignorance is bliss. WV education is, in some areas, very insular. Sometimes it behooves us to listen to and think about what "outsiders" have to say. Nationally, education is not child based, not just here. However, that doesn't make it right. And teachers, who have one of the most important jobs anywhere, need to be evaluated on their performance just like every other employee outside of education. Let's move into this century & quit being change adverse. In the real world, when something doesn't work we change it. The same should be true in our schools.

  • bandit

    who says this lady is an expert on anything other than being chased out of town? she is a self appointed pundit who preaches to the uninformed crowd( just because you went to school doesnt make you informed on education issues) as the someone named Sarah once said...our response to anything this women says should not be NO...but HELL NO

    • Dave Jackson

      "I'm for kids", "Put the interests of students first", etc. are bandied about only when it suits a local board or administrator's interests. Any other time we'll cut, cut, cut, ignore, ignore, ignore.

      I've often wondered why those who claim to have all the answers leave the classroom. If they were such great educators, then why become administrators, speakers, or education authorities?

      Fluency in eduspeak doesn't guarantee knowledge--it means you're the one teachers turn off due to your distance from reality.
      Thanks Bandit. Anyone can dig up pundit or self-proclaimed authority to reinforce any position. Once again, we look to POLITICIANS to solve EDUCATION issues.

      • Dave Jackson

        Sorry--my post should read "Anyone can dig up (a) pundit".

  • scott strode

    this goes so much deeper than just Westest scores, admin and teacher salary. This is a national problem, a curriculum problem and a higher ed problem. I'll never understand why we mandate every student learn Shakespeare but not learn anything about money.

    • a concerned educator


      I completely agree with you. The politicians and departments of education have taken the basics out of school, while adding irrelevant information that 90% of students will never use. My son's eighth grade science teacher is teaching chemistry on a level that is higher than what is taught in college. I know this for a fact because I have spoken with multiple college chemistry professors. They, themselves, have indicated that they do not know some of this material. They also indicate that they believe that much of it is irrelevant, and often taught incorrectly.
      Students need to know the basics. In reality, few students need foreign language. However, as you stated, ALL of them need to know about money, taxes, and interest rates.
      I spent twelve years in college pursuing multiple undergraduate and graduate degrees. To be perfectly honest, most of the math I had to learn in high school was a waste of my time. I never use it. The same is true with the foreign language.
      If we focused more on the basics, gave students more options in terms of classes to take, and placed more emphasis on vocational education instead of trying to force the majority of students into college, we would have better educated and more satisfied students, in addtion to a better prepared workforce.

      • Sherry Smith

        Your comments disturb me. Are you saying "dumb down" the level of classes? Foreign language & higher math isn't important? I don't know what you do, oh yes you are a teacher, but I used at work & still use in my retirement higher math skills & can even read articles & converse a little bit with those for whom English in not a first language. And even hear of expanding one's mind? I agree that basics are important and the foundation upon which we build. But it is a foundation. Just glad you didn't teach my son or grandchildren.

        • a concerned educator


          I am not a teacher. I do have degrees in education, but I also have them in the medical and mental health fields.
          I was not insinuating "dumbing down" classes. However, I firmly believe that students at the elementary level need to be taught the basics before they can move on to higher level skills. Unfortunately, teachers do not have the time to teach the basics due to unrealistic curricular demands imposed by the WV Department of Education, as well as the federal government.

          I also do not believe that every student needs the same curriculum. However, every student in WV must take the same math class in ninth and tenth grade. If a student is not following a college track, they really don't need these classes. Whatever happened to Consumer and Business Math? Those were relevant classes for all students. In terms of science, I would rather some students have the opportunity to have a Fundamentals of Science" or a "Fundamentals of Chemistry" class than a college-based model. Research indicates that the states that have the highest test scores on the NAEP test also have the fewest graduation requirements. I believe that this data speaks for itself. Students who are able to pursue classes that interest them, after having a base knowledge of all subjects, are more likely to enjoy school, as well as remain in school.
          The number of days students must participate in mandatory testing here in WV is outrageous. Hoppy had a gentleman on his show last year who was involved in the education system. The man indicated that in WV, most students participate in approximately 37 days of mandated testing each year. (This does not include days when teachers are giving tests/quizzes for their classes). When approximately 20% of the school year is taken up with required testing, students and teachers are losing out.

          I have two children in WV schools. They have not received the education they should due to state and federal policies. I believe that I received a much better education when I went through the same school system because teachers had the time to teach us the basics before moving on to more indepth concepts. We also had more options in terms of electives to pursue.

  • David

    StudentsFirst recently gave West Virginia an ‘F’ grade for its education policy environment. “West Virginia got an ‘F’ because, quite frankly, because the laws and policies that are in place really work against student achievement,” she said.

    Exactly! And what did Governor Tomblin recently say? He said there has to be a "compromise" with education so the union will be happy.


  • Roger

    The quality of education in WV and throughout the nation began eroding in the early 70's when the federal government started to encroach, manipulate, and control the schools. Like everything else the feds touch, they create more problems with more policy changes. In other words, they create a problem and then make it worse when they try to fix it.

  • scott strode

    i'll bet every central office in the state can cut one or two administrators and no one would notice. jmo

  • Red Dwarf

    "...interests of students must be the priority..." Boy, that'll fly in the face of the NEA and WVEA and their (political) priorities! They won't like that at all!

    • mntnman

      Far and away the majority of teachers put their students first. Not all, but most. So quit painting with such a broad brush.

      As for Rhee, she is a publicity hound whose efforts in DC were, at best, limited and provided little increase in achievement and outcomes. She is anti-teacher -- exactly who does she think teaches our children -- truck drivers?

      She will enrich herself with her efforts, but will they change education? I guess time will tell. Better the effort that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is involved in -- they are giving money away to prod innovation along, not seeking to enrich themselves. Rhee is not part of the solution.