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Radical: Fighting to Put Students First Hardcover – February 5, 2013

129 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0062203984 ISBN-10: 0062203983 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Progressive reformer or right-wing union buster? Rhee, public-schools chancellor in Washington, D.C., from 2007 to 2010, gives her version of the “conflicts and controversies” surrounding her career. A first-generation Korean American, she traces her “journey” from growing up in the Midwest, to her stint as a Teach for America novice in a Baltimore public school, to her founding of an alternative teacher-preparation program, the New Teacher Project, before emerging as a national figure. Compelled to step down after the mayor who championed her was defeated, Rhee founded StudentsFirst, a political lobbying organization aimed at changing education policy. Rhee calls herself an ardent “pro-teacher” Democrat whose vision for education reform includes high pay for excellent teachers, stringent evaluation based chiefly on student achievement, and elimination of tenure. Those seeking a nuanced analysis of public education’s challenges and power agendas may be disappointed, though Rhee’s readable narrative (replete with periodic petty asides) is a good primer for understanding current public debates and policy changes being enacted in statehouses across the country. --Carolyn Saper


“Michelle Rhee is famous as a hard-charging champion of education reform, but this charming and engrossing memoir is full of surprises as we learn that Rhee is also a strong Democrat and a thoughtful -- even contrite -- activist working every day to help kids learn.” (Jonathan Alter)

“Throughout her career, Michelle Rhee has fought for every student to receive a quality education. In Radical, Rhee describes her experiences in the trenches, her challenges and her successes, but what she has learned through it all is that we must always put our students first.” (Condoleezza Rice)

“Michelle Rhee is a national treasure. . . . As told in this important book, her fight against this country’s calcified education bureaucracy holds lessons for us all.” (Geoffrey Canada)

Radical: Fighting to Put Students First is one of the most important and compelling books I have read. Michelle Rhee’s account of her continuing struggles to achieve her vision for American public education is riveting. This engaging and well-written book is a must-read.” (William Julius Wilson)

Radical is much more than a diagnosis of our failing schools. It is Michelle Rhee’s personal odyssey, powered by her conviction that the survival of the American Dream of tomorrow depends on how we educate our children today. Her determination comes through on every page.” (Arianna Huffington)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (February 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062203983
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062203984
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (129 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #731,800 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Michelle Rhee is the founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, a bipartisan grassroots movement to improve America's schools.

Michelle is from Toledo, Ohio. She graduated from Cornell University in 1992, and went on to join Teach for America. She subsequently spent three years as a teacher at Harlem Park Elementary in Baltimore, MD. Through trial and error in the classroom, she gained a tremendous respect for the hard work that teachers do every day and realized the incredibly powerful and positive role teachers can have in helping kids grow.

Michelle went on to earn her Master's in Public Policy from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, after which she launched The New Teacher Project. The nonprofit seeks to bring great teachers to all classrooms in America. As Chief Executive Officer and President, Michelle partnered with school districts, state education agencies, nonprofits and unions to transform the way schools and other organizations recruit, select and train highly-qualified teachers.

In 2007, Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed Michelle to be the city's schools chancellor. Under her leadership, the district and the teachers' union approved a groundbreaking contract that dramatically reformed how D.C. schools operate. Michelle also streamlined the system's central office, freeing up more resources to go to classrooms. Students in D.C. experienced academic success and growth under Michelle's leadership. Graduation rates rose, as did enrollment - something that had not occurred in 40 years.

In December 2010, Michelle launched StudentsFirst, a bipartisan grassroots movement of more than 2 million members nationwide, working to focus our education system on what's best for students. StudentsFirst is helping to bring change with common sense reforms that help make sure all students have great schools and great teachers. Their goal is to ensure educators are valued for the critical role they play in kids' lives, families have high-quality school choices and a real say in their child's education, and tax dollars are spent wisely on what works for kids. Since its inception, StudentsFirst has successfully helped pass more than 110 student-centered policies in 17 states, and the movement continues to grow.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 51 people found the following review helpful By John Langan on March 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Before I started this book, I noted the sharp divide in opinion between editorial reviews of the book (glowing) and many customer reviews (utterly damning). It was clear Michelle Rhee was touching an educational nerve in our culture. As a former educator who had tenure until I gave it up, and as a strong advocate for unions in general, I proceeded to read Michelle Rhee's story with particular interest. I now have nothing but admiration for this charismatic women who has had the vision and the courage to say (and I am sad to admit this) that teachers unions are all too often driven by self-interest rather than the best interests of students.

As Rhee points out, our public school system isn't working for every child; if it were, it would make a first priority out of having an excellent teacher in every classroom. As a former teacher, I know there are many excellent teachers out there; I also know there are a number of mediocre teachers and that it is wrong to allow them to remain in classrooms for the entirety of their tenure- and union-protected teaching lives, causing harm to countless students--in particular, students in the inner cities. The result in Rhee's words is that "individuals cannot live up to their potential, cycles of poverty repeat, and the nation is falling behind its international competitors."

Rhee backs up her "rage at the broken system" with undeniable facts: for example, that in the last three decades we've almost tripled the amount spent on education and yet the results have remained stagnant. And she reacts to another fact--that knowing the race of a child and the zip code in which he or she lives provides a strong predictor of achievement level--by saying that this fact is un-American in a land of supposed equal opportunity.
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100 of 147 people found the following review helpful By Jack on February 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I'm a parent of school-age kids and I've seen Michelle Rhee on TV. I like what she says about putting kids first, so I read this book, but it was a tough go.

There are a lot of stories where she's the only one who cares about kids. She blasts the other teachers at the school where she taught at when she was in her 20'. The politicians, her central office staff, teachers and principals in DC, a funder who won't give her enough money -- they just don't care. No one cares except Michelle.

Then there's the ego. A mayor begs her to come to DC, but first she says she's not the right person because she's just too darn forthright. A parent begs her to keep teaching her child. No one can do the job except for Michelle.

When she quits DC's schools, it's more of the same. She name-drops all the people who called her and said they wanted to hire her and talk with her--foundations, the Aspen Institute, the Hoover Institution, Meg Whitman, Chris Christie, Rahm Emanuel. But she says no. Instead, she asks the Walmart family to give her $100 million to start her own organization, though it's not clear whether she got the $100 million or what her organization, called StudentsFirst, actually does with its money. Do they put it into schools and classrooms? Is it a lobbying firm? A PAC? A charity like March of Dimes, only for schools?

The other thing is...Michelle Rhee is a strange bird. She seems to take pleasure in firing "a cute girl with swagger" when she was an assistant manager at a sandwich shop. I've fired people. It's not much fun. She bribed kids to give up seats on the cool kids' bus. I did all kinds of things to be accepted when I was young, but I'm not sure I'd retell something like this or brag about it. And the point of the anecdote is....
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45 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Kate Spaulding on March 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Full disclosure: I read this book in order to better understand where the Education Reform movement is coming from, as I currently do not agree with or understand it. Everyone knows we need better education for our children, but I disagree with the Ed Reform movement that teachers are the only way at that. But I put my politics aside to read this book.

This book is not well written. It's Hemingway simplistic, but Hemingway works because his sentences yield some insight. Simple can be beautiful, if it conveys something. It is very clear from this book that Rhee began her teacher career in math, as she's certainly not qualified to teach reading or writing based on her own lack of writing capability.

But her editors should have also been more diligent on the logical arguments put forth, as they have no logic to them. I understand this book is not meant to be an academic analysis, but it's structured as half memoir - half policy recommendations. Therefore, if it choose to go down that road, it needed to stick to it.

Rhee contradicts herself throughout the book. She says that teachers are the most important thing and that they need to be rigorously evaluated and let go if they are not performing, but then she has countless examples of "good teachers" that simply needed more experience, mentoring, and time in the classroom in order to improve. Yet by her own standards, those teachers would have never made it to the next round, including herself. How would she decide?

Her attempts at getting "urban" street cred while a teacher in Baltimore and then in D.C. came up so often that it got somewhat offensive, or at the least, was trying entirely too hard.
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