The most energizing key note speaker for the opening day of the National Charter School conference was Michelle Rhee, the innovative leader of District of Columbia (DC) Public Schools. Rhee shook up the system when she closed schools and fired principals and teachers in order to increase academic achievement for the district’s students. Rhee said that there was a 70% gap in achievement between white students and African-American students in the district when she arrived to serve as superintendent. Further, only 8% were on grade level in Math according to the NAEP.
Repeatedly referencing the need to increase life opportunities for children, Rhee stated charter schools have brought two key tenets to the DC educational system: excellence and scale. She said that high-performing charter schools have eliminated the ability of traditional public school leaders to make excuses for their students not being able to perform at the same level as white students. Rhee said, “It’s not about market share, it’s about serving students well. We need to care about quality; for kids!”