Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Bee Eater: Love Rhee or Hate Rhee, but Read the Book

If you aren't familiar with Michelle Rhee, then you haven't been paying attention to national education issues over the past four or five years. Rhee rose to national prominence several years ago when she accepted the position of Washington, D.C., Schools Chancellor, and then went to work closing mostly-empty and underperforming schools, firing ineffective teachers and sacking principals in D.C. Often portrayed as a cold-hearted bully, Rhee (pictured here on the cover of Time) did some good but made plenty of enemies along the way. In particular she alienated many D.C. residents as virtually every teachers union in the nation. Some of Rhee's struggles were featured in the documentary Waiting for "Superman," a powerful must-see documentary about the state of public education in America.

Although I am not a fan of teachers unions, I am not going to defend or attack either Rhee or the unions here. Rather, I am going to recommend that educators see Waiting for "Superman" (available now on DVD) and read The Bee Eater, a new book about Rhee and her time in D.C. I'll let you make up your mind about the polarizing message of the documentary as well as about the polarizing personality and methods of Rhee (How polarizing is Rhee? Check out this Washington Post blog.), but I do recommend the book; it's a fascinating, well-done book and a tremendously complex case study in education reform, the politics of education, HR and more. I believe the book will be of particular interest for educators in urban areas, for superintendents and HR personnel, and for those who are familiar with Rhee's work before, during and after D.C. I also recommend seeing the documentary before you read the book so you'll have some context for the story presented in the book.

I will say this: I love this message Rhee has been spreading since she burst onto the scene (and, not coincidentally, a message prevalent in the book) - school quality and student learning comes down to teacher quality and teacher effectiveness. In D.C., Rhee made her share of gutsy decisions and mistakes, all of which are presented in the book. Regardless of your thoughts on unions and educational politics, or your idea of public school reform, Rhee is an intriguing figure who is making waves on the American educational and political landscapes. Love her or hate her, though, you should read The Bee Eater.

1 comment:

Jim Brown said...

I will have to borrow this one from you. I'm about at my quota for buying books this summer.
You have me curious about our faculty reading for next year. I'm looking forward to it.