SACRAMENTO, Calif.— On Jan. 29, a very confident Michelle Rhee said that she’s optimistic about the future of the American public school system. Rhee, former chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public schools, spoke to an audience at the Sacramento Community Center Theater about the condition of the U.S. public school system and offers three solutions to fix it.

1. Begin to honor and respect teachers for their hard work

During her speech, Rhee, who is of Korean descent, noted that teachers in other countries, such as South Korea, are highly respected professionals. Highly effective teachers matter, she said, and this translates to how our children are educated. But teachers must be appreciated and treated fairly for their hard work.

2. Regain competitive American spirit

We live in a culture that over-rewards our children. But this isn’t beneficial to America on the global field. Rhee said the U.S. must regain its competitive edge and stop celebrating mediocrity.

During a Q&A session, Michelle Rhee was asked how she felt about technology in the classroom and online learning. “Embrace the fact that technology is a part of our life,” she said, adding that technology has a beneficial role in education, such as software’s ability to track student development.

Rhee is known to have shaken up the education scene in Washington, D.C. Although she was welcomed by a full house at the Sacramento, Calif., Speaker Series on Jan. 29, several citizens stood in front of the Sacramento Community Center Theater with posters objecting her philosophy.

Photo by Karen Stewartson

3. Put partisan politics aside

The most important element to correcting a broken school system is putting our nation’s students first and discarding politics. But Rhee isn’t full of rhetoric; as chancellor of D.C. schools, she said her decision to support the voucher program was about putting the needs of children first and politics on the back burner.

Rhee was prominently featured in the documentary Waiting for Superman, which highlighted the shortfall of the American public school system. She was appointed in 2007 by then-Mayor Adrian Fenty, whose priority was to fix the district’s broken education system. During her tenure, Rhee closed 23 public schools, causing a commotion on both sides of the political spectrum, but it was a move she said was to reinstate accountability in the school system. In 2010, Rhee resigned as D.C. chancellor to start a nonprofit lobbying organization called StudentFirst, which aims to advocate for children’s educational rights.

Last night, the former educator signed copies of her new book, Radical: Fighting to Put Students First, for attendees of the Sacramento Speaker Series. Rhee is married to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who has been laboring to keep the Sacramento Kings in the city.

Karen Stewartson, Managing Editor Karen Stewartson  |  Managing Editor

Karen Stewartson is the managing editor of Government Technology. She contributes to Public CIO journal and Emergency Management magazine. Karen is a lifelong learner who has a penchant for words, puns, food and babies.