Michelle Rhee

Rhee Photo ReplacementMichelle Rhee, Founder and CEO
Thursday, March 3, 2010

The Economic Club of Memphis is pleased to welcome Michelle Rhee, founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, a 501(c)(4) political advocacy organization which works on education reform issues and the former controversial Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools system. Michelle will speak to the Club on Thursday, March 3rd, at the Holiday Inn – University of Memphis. The reception will begin at 6 pm and dinner seating will be at 7 pm.

As a Teach for America corps member in a Harlem Park Community School in Baltimore City, Michelle gained a tremendous respect for the hard work that teachers do every day. Over a two-year period she moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90 percent of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher. She also learned the lesson that would drive her mission for years to come: teachers are the most powerful driving force behind student achievement in our schools.

In 1997, Ms. Rhee founded The New Teacher Project, a non-profit organization which works with needy school districts to recruit and train new teachers. In ten years, the New Teacher Project has expanded to forty programs in twenty states and recruited more than 10,000 teachers.

On June 12, 2007, Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed Chancellor Rhee to lead the District of Columbia Public Schools, a school district serving more than 47,000 students in 123 schools. Rhee initially declined the offer, but relented when promised wide latitude and significant authority in decision-making as well as strong mayoral support for her proposed initiatives. Under her leadership, the worst performing school district in the country became the only major city system to see double-digit growth in both their state reading (14%) and state math (17%) scores in secondary grades over three years.

In 2010, Rhee and the teachers’ unions agreed on a new contract that offered 20% pay raises and bonuses of $20,000 to $30,000 for “strong student achievement,” in exchange for weakened teachers’ seniority protections and the end of teacher tenure for one year. Under this new agreement, Rhee fired 241 teachers, the vast majority of whom received poor evaluations, and put 737 additional school employees on notice.

Rhee’s actions have earned her applause from “school reformers” nationwide, as well as the scorn of teacher unions and community activists. Her supporters claim that under Rhee’s Chancellorship, D.C. Public Schools have greatly improved student achievement. The graduation rate rose, by 3% to 72%, and after steep declines enrollment rose for the first time in forty years.

Rhee has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, the cover of Newsweek Magazine, been a guest on Stephen Colbert’s “The Colbert Report,” and has agreed to serve as an unpaid adviser to the Republican governor-elect of Florida, Rick Scott.

Michelle has a bachelor’s degree in government from Cornell University and a master’s in public policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.


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