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Rick Scott names former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee to transition team

Florida Governor-elect Rick Scott named controversial former Washington, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee to his education transition team Thursday. The press release from the Scott transition says the education transition team will “help him find innovative ways to create a new education system for a new economy.” The release adds, “The transition team will assist Scott in identifying innovative ideas from the private sector, success stories from other states, cost-saving opportunities and legislative priorities that will help reduce the size of government, improve the education system in Florida and meet the workforce needs necessary to create 700,000 jobs over the next seven years.”

Rhee resigned from her post in October after Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty lost the Democratic primary (the de facto general election for heavily Democratic D.C.) to City Council Chairman Vincent Gray in a race that was largely a referendum on her tenure. Rhee — never having been a superintendent of a school administration, but a Teach For America teacher and founder of The New Teacher Project – became chancellor in 2007 and had carte blanche to institute school reform. She closed schools because of declining enrollment, fired longtime teachers deemed ineffective because of low test scores, instituted merit pay for teachers and secured $75 million in Race To The Top funding from the Obama administration.

While she had glowing profiles in Time and Newsweek, she alienated much of D.C.’s largely African-American middle class who send their children to public schools and overwhelmingly voted against the incumbent mayor. Many considered her to be brash, impolitic and patronizing. “Collaboration and consensus building are quite frankly overrated in my mind,” she told the Wall Street Journal in 2009.

However, Rhee seems to be a good match for Scott since she, too, approaches policy questions from a business perspective. Here is one exchange from a forum at the Aspen Ideas Festival with David Gergen:

Later, she explained how she planned to spend that money by applying business principles to the classroom, citing a study by an economist named Eric Hanushek. She said if the U.S. fired 6-10 percent of the worst teachers in the country and replaced them “not even with the best, but with average teachers,” U.S. schools would move from 21, 25 and 26th in math to the top 5.

“Now let me just say, to all of you business people…” Rhee continued.

“Wait wait wait,” the moderator, Harvard University’s David Gergen, interrupted. “…Do you believe this?”

Rhee replied: “Yes, I actually do. If someone told you as a business, that if you removed the bottom 6 percent of your performers, that you would move from 25th in the market to top-5, you would do it in a heartbeat. You would not even think twice about it. But we have an incredibly hard time in this in this country. We like teachers. It is an incredibly noble position in this country. But we have to look at the reality…

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