Radical: Fighting to Put Students First
By Michelle Rhee
(HarperCollins, 286 pages, $27.99)
It’s been said that personnel systems are the lifeblood of a bureaucracy, a point made clear in “Radical: Fighting to Put Students First” by Michelle Rhee, founder of StudentsFirst, a political advocacy organization for education reform.
Teachers are the lifeblood of Rhee’s reform.
The Better Decision
“In education,” she says, describing the lifeblood of her fight against a status quo that values teacher effectiveness less than seniority, “a disproportionately large percentage of expenditures is in personnel.”
Rhee explains how she decided to improve student outcomes despite required cutback budgeting in her education bureau while Chancellor of DC Public Schools.
I wanted to minimize the impact the cuts had on students. The way to do this was by shedding ineffective teachers.
But the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) decided instead on a plan to shed effective teachers through last in, first out (LIFO), in which teacher seniority trumped all.
Labor Union Pains
It began in 2008, when the AFT gave Barack Obama nearly $2 million to get elected. Then they were free to focus on Rhee.
The Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) required federal action in 27 of DC Public Schools that failed to improve under a minimum standard.
While Rhee focused on the most effective teachers under the NCLB standard she describes as “the essential idea that all kids deserve an equally great education,” the AFT focused on beating Rhee through $1 million in campaign money to Obama union allies through LIFO.
Managing Information Effectively
It’s also been said that one chooses to manage a bureaucracy, like the education bureau, from three kinds of planes.
The personnel plane, in the middle, is influenced by the lower plane of information, weakest of the management planes characterized in ”Radical.”
The first chapter describing details about the movement – an echo of policy information at the StudentsFirst website – is in terms of the movement’s feature, effective personnel, instead of the benefit, improving student outcomes.
Rhee could improve her information management with the type of compelling alignment achieved by the “The 4% Solution” and the 4% Growth Project website from the George W. Bush Institute, where all information emphasizes the potential benefit of 4% annual growth in the economy.
Purpose, Direction, Motivation
Details aside, the purpose of managing the information plane is to influence the personnel plane, which ultimately influences the plane of action, where Rhee seems at her best.
High among Amazon.com best sellers on Reform & Policy, ”Radical” may make its most important contribution to the genre by proving that nobody is more prepared than Rhee to ensure that laws, leaders, and policies are reformed the right way, to guarantee that students are indeed given top priority in American education.
“Radical” also seems like the education reform most likely to effect greater safety and happiness by improving the economy’s ability to grow and create opportunity.
George W. Bush, James K. Glassman and Brendan Miniter, eds., The 4% Solution: Unleashing the Economic Growth America Needs (New York: Crown Business, 2012).
Peter F. Drucker, The Effective Executive (New York: Harper & Row, 1967).
Executive Briefing, “What Managers Really Do,” The Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2009, R2.
Michelle Rhee, Radical: Fighting to Put Students First (New York: Harper, 2013).
Glenda Ritz, “Putting Students First,” Indiana Department of Education, July 14, 2011, updated January 8, 2013, accessed February 27, 2013, http://www.doe.in.gov/idoe/putting-students-first/putting-students-first.
James D. Savage and Herman M Schwartz, “Cutback Budgeting,” in Handbook of Government Budgeting, ed. Roy T. Meyers (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999).
Harold Seidman and Robert Gilmour, Politics, Position, and Power: The Dynamics of Federal Organization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970).
“StudentsFirst Policy Agenda: Summary,” StudentsFirst, accessed February 27, 2013, http://www.studentsfirst.org/policy-agenda/entry/studentsfirst-policy-agenda-executive-summary.