As an outspoken advocate of education reform, Michelle Rhee, former Chancellor of Washington, DC public schools, wasted no time outlining her proposed changes to the public education system during her talk to a large crowd at the Tivoli Theatre. Rhee was the inaugural speaker of the George T. Hunter Lecture Series,  co-sponsored by The Benwood Foundation and the University.

Michelle Rhee

“I believe strongly that public education is supposed to be the great equalizer in our country, but it’s not the reality we have in America today. It’s not the reality for the children who are in Washington, D.C., and I guarantee you it’s not the reality for children who are in Chattanooga,” she said.

While in the chancellor’s office in D.C., Rhee became widely known for her bold and aggressive decision making when she closed multiple area schools, fired several principals, and laid off dozens of teachers.

Rhee told the audience that educators and parents have a responsibility to be tougher on children.

“I believe that as a nation, we have gone soft. We are too busy trying to make kids feel good about themselves. At the end of the day, we’re not going to regain our global position in the marketplace until we recapture the competitive spirit in America,” she continued.

In addition to holding students more accountable, Rhee stressed accountability from everyone involved in the education system, from policy makers to administrators to educators.

“If you look at things from the perspective of what’s good and right for children, rather than what is good for the system, then you end up with a very different set of policies,” she said. “Part of what we need to do as decision makers, as elected officials, and as a community is to begin to think about things from the perspective of what we would do for our own children, and make sure that we are not making public policy decisions for other people’s kids that you would not subject your own children to.”

Rhee also emphasized the need for involvement from everyone to fix our public schools.

“We have the opportunity to push education reform forward and make the right education decisions for kids. The governor and the legislature are taking very bold steps forward on this, but at the end of the day, it’s going to have to be the people in this room that make it happen,” she said.

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