Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools
Gains made by Washington D.C. public schools under former education chancellor Michelle Rhee have come under scrutiny. REUTERS

Former chancellor of D.C. public schools Michelle Rhee, who created a buzz with the launch of her non-profit advocacy group StudentsFirst in December 2010, feels that one of the ways in which America can effectively battle the crisis that plagues its public education system is by ensuring that every classroom in the country recruits the best teachers. Unfortunately, the current culture and environment is not one which facilitates that, feels Rhee.

Speaking on The Dylan Ratigan Show on NBC last week, Rhee pointed out that it was important to make teaching a profession that high performers wanted to get into. That involved making it more selective, as well as introducing a system of differentiated remuneration that rewarded teachers on the basis of their effectiveness.

High performers want to be recognized and rewarded for what they are doing - if they are outperforming their peers, they want to be valued and respected in that way...we treat our teachers like they are interchangeable widgets. We pay everybody the same as long as they have the same years of experience, regardless of how effective or ineffective they are, said Rhee.

She also drew attention to arcane policies such as laying off teachers on the basis of seniority rather than quality or effectiveness when it came to budget crunches.

Michelle Rhee launched StudentsFirst with the vision of creating an advocacy group with the same heft as that of teachers' unions which could put pressure on policy makers and ensure that policies and laws are driven by the interests of children within public education rather than the interests of unions or adult groups. This week, as she prepares to release her legislative agenda for education reform, one could expect recommendations for radical changes in teacher tenure and pay.

However, whether policy makers will actually embrace her platform and education agenda is something which is uncertain at this point. Rhee's unceremonious departure from the D.C. post, after Adrian Fenty lost the Democratic mayoral primary allegedly because of reforms initiated by her, may deter legislators across states from adopting her ideas, say experts.