Who is Michelle Rhee and why do we care what she thinks about Minnesota schools?

Watch The Education of Michelle Rhee Preview on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

There are a fair number of “education” groups issuing “report cards” on the state of education, but where do they come from and who’s behind them?

It’s a question that comes up today following the release of a StudentFirst report card showing Minnesota education policies getting a “D.”

On today’s show, former Minnesota senator Kathy Saltzman, the Minnesota director of the group, explained why the state got the mark it got and what the state should do. She said, among many other things, under performing schools should be closed and local districts should get more flexibility.

But these are not impartial grades. They’re a grade of a political philosophy. Just because the state got a “D,” doesn’t mean it deserved a “D.” It also doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve a “D.” It means a group, with a particular point of view on how to educate children, graded a state on how well it adheres to what is, basically, a policy, about which there is apparent disagreement.

StudentFirst is the work of Michelle Rhee, would got credit for turning around a class in Baltimore and a school system in Washington.

Coincidentally — we think — she is the focus of a PBS Frontline documentary tonight.

Watch Michelle Rhee “The Bee Eater” on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

In an article yesterday, Esquire warned of following Rhee’s advice:


The current model for education “reform” in this country — a corporate model with transparency problems and severely decreased political accountability — is broken. Handing over “our” schools to hedge-fund managers, and to the people like Michelle Rhee who volunteer as well-remunerated middle managers, privatizes public education without having the basic cojones to admit that it’s happening. This is not the way it’s supposed to work.

And the Washington Post suggests the grades of states have been cooked by virtue of the fact standardized test scores weren’t included. That penalizes states — guess who? — who do well in the test results.


One of the measures that was not used was standardized test scores — which is ironic given that she is a big supporter of test-driven accountability for students, teachers and principals. This allowed StudentsFirst to give bad grades to states with high standardized test scores, such as Massachusetts. The reason? StudentsFirst says that while the state is consistently ranked first in National Assessment of Educational Progress scores for 4th grade and 8th grade reading and math, there was a large gap in scores in 2011 between white and Hispanic students.

Louisiana consistently ranks at or near the bottom of states for NAEP scores, and the achievement gap in Louisiana is huge: State tests show a 22.1 point gap for black and white students in English Language Arts in spring 2011 and a 26.7 point gap in math. But the state is implementing reforms that Rhee likes.

California got an F, and Richard Zeiger, California’s chief deputy superintendent, called it a “badge of honor,” given (he said to the New York Times) that StudentsFirst “makes its living by asserting that schools are failing.” Rhee actually responded in a statement taking him to task for saying it.

“If you like her style of reform, then you will think that’s a good thing. If you don’t, be very worried,” the Post said.

TPT will broadcast Frontline tonight at 9 p.m. (CT)