MAKERS Profile

Michelle Rhee

Education Reformer

In this video

Michelle Rhee on her early teaching days, mission to improve public education, and controversial term as Public Schools Chancellor in DC.
The daughter of South Korean émigrés, and herself educated for a year in her parents’ homeland, Michelle Rhee graduated from Cornell before landing in the principled—and prestigious—Teach For America program. By her late 30s, she had become the point person for one of the boldest and most controversial school reform efforts in American municipal history. As Chancellor of Washington DC’s schools, Rhee instituted merit pay for teachers, fought for art and music classes, and championed charter schools (look for Rhee in the acclaimed documentary Waiting for Superman).  Her push meant locking horns with teachers’ unions and, as Rhee predicted sadly, cost Mayor Adrian Fenty his job. But it did something more: her example helped to drastically reshape the national discussion on teachers and schools. In late 2010, while advising Republican governors in Florida and Nevada, she formed StudentsFirst, a bipartisan grassroots movement committed to enlisting one million members and raising a billion dollars on behalf of American education.

More From Michelle

Sexism in the Press
On the media's double standards when it comes to covering men and women.

Finding Success Through Passion
On following her passion and how her mother came to terms with her career choice.

Encouraging Dissent
Being a good leader means inviting criticism.

Enjoying Traditional Feminine Roles
The traditionally feminine roles that Rhee cherishes that in no way contradict her feminism.  

Seeing Kids Learn
Rhee describes the real secret of truly masterful teachers.

Mayor Fenty's Zero Regrets
Former DC Mayor Adrian Fenty became a true paragon of leadership to Rhee when they spoke after the lost election.

Education v. Poverty
The remarkable power good teachers have to close the achievement gap.

The "Anti-Teacher" Myth
Rhee takes on the myth that she is "anti-teacher" because of her struggle with the teacher's union.

Being Direct
Rhee describes her straightforward, honest communication style which she suspects may have rubbed people the wrong way.

Winning Students Over
Rhee shares her insights on how, as a young teacher, she eventually won over her unruly students.

Discovering Teaching Passion
On how she unexpectedly fell in love with teaching.