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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review: Radical: Fighting to Put Students First by Michelle Rhee

Title: Radical: Fighting to Put Students First
Author: Michelle Rhee
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Harper
Publish Date: February 5, 2013
Source: Library

What's the Story?: 

From "For the past eighteen years, Michelle Rhee has dedicated herself to providing children with the skills and knowledge they need to compete in a changing world. As a teacher in inner-city Baltimore, chancellor of the Washington, DC schools, and founder of the advocacy organization StudentsFirst, she has been guided by one principle: to prioritize the interests of children. Through her own failures and successes in the classroom, she gained a tremendous respect for the hard work that teachers do. She also learned the lesson that would drive her: teachers are the most powerful influence on student achievement in our schools. But our educational system is broken. American children are being eclipsed by their peers in other countries like Finland, South Korea, and Singapore, and their rank will continue to plummet unless the problem is addressed immediately.

Part memoir, part manifesto, Radical is this fearless advocate's incisive, intensely personal call-to-arms. Rhee combines the story of her own extraordinary experience with dozens of compelling examples from schools she's worked in and studied-from students from unspeakable home lives who have thrived in the classroom to teachers whose radical methods have produced unprecedented leaps in achievement. Radical chronicles Rhee's awakening to the potential of every child, her rage at the special interests blocking badly-needed change, and her recognition that it will take a grassroots movement to create outstanding public schools. As she outlines concrete steps that will put us on a dramatically different course, she offers inspiration and a sense of possibility for a brighter future for our children."

My Two Cents:

"Radical" is the memoir of Michelle Rhee, the former school chancellor for D.C. Public Schools. Even though Washington, D.C. is the capital city of our country, some of the schools are horrid and there is a lot of disparity in quality of education depending on where you are in the city. Even though I no longer live in the city, I am still keenly interested in what goes on in the schools there. Education has always been something that has interested me and this book definitely fit into that interest.

I'm not sure how widely known Michelle Rhee is outside of the D.C. area. I know that she made some pretty big waves during her tenure and her touch continues to be a controversial subject in this area. The outcome of the last city mayoral election where the incumbant was defeated was seen as a referendum not of the mayor himself but of Rhee. In this book, Rhee talks about the changes that she tried to make in the school and how much push back she got. She was deeply unpopular with teachers unions because she tried to change the tenure system and expectations for teacher effectiveness. One of the things that I appreciated most about this book is Rhee's candor. It's also one of the things that I liked best about her as school chancellor. I appreciated that she was so blunt in this book. Her voice is still very refreshing to me.

In my opinion, a lot of the changes that Rhee tried to make were necessary and I'm saddened to see that some of the changes were frowned upon. Making things better, especially when it comes to things like education is not always easy but Rhee tried to do it anyway. This book probably is going to be a better fit for those who already agree with what Rhee tried to do; it probably isn't going to win her any new fans!



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