Michelle Rhee: 'Witchfinder general' of America's classrooms flies in to give Gove her gospel

Richard Garner meets the woman who lives to sack teachers

Michael Gove yesterday endorsed the policies of an American education expert who advocates sacking large numbers of incompetent teachers.

Michelle Rhee has earned a reputation as a "witchfinder general of the classroom" in the US, identifying under-performing teachers and forcing them out of the profession.

She also advocates dramatic pay rises for talented teachers who help pupils obtain good grades.

This week she flew into Britain to pass on her experience to ministers and education officials – and the Education Secretary indicated that her hard-nosed policies could well be adopted here.

"Michelle points out in everything she does that what they [children] need is the most effective teacher who demands the highest standards and is relentless about that," Mr Gove said.

"If we are ever going to achieve something like social justice we need to transform those [disadvantaged] schools.

"The way to do so is to be uncompromising in our standards, to make sure the teachers who are not doing a good job move on and that we support the teachers who are doing a good job by paying them more and giving them freedom to genuinely inspire the next generation."

Ms Rhee's main message is simple. "The main aim is to ensure there is a high-quality teacher in front of every classroom every day," she told The Independent.

"The most highly talented teachers will be recognised and rewarded. The ineffective will either quickly accelerate or – if they don't do that – they're removed from the classroom," Ms Rhee said.

"I don't think it's anything but common sense and what we as parents would expect."

She developed her ideas for radical changes to teaching when she became chancellor of the education service in Washington DC. "I noticed that only 8 per cent of eighth graders were at grade level in mathematics," she said. "Yet 98 per cent of teachers were rated as outstanding. You couldn't square the circle."

She quickly introduced a new style of assessment under which teachers were graded either highly effective, effective, minimally effective or ineffective.

"Part of what we outlined was that teachers who were highly effective could get paid twice as much money as they could under the old system," she said. "The ineffective teachers stopped teaching and the minimally effective were given one year to improve – during which there was a freeze on all pay increases."

Teachers were assessed on a combination of their pupils' academic performance, and their own contributions to the school community – such as arranging debating societies and school sports.

"Things above and beyond the call of duty," Ms Rhee explained.

She is full of praise for the thrust of Mr Gove's education reforms. "I can see the country seems on the right tracks in terms of the reviews you have," she said.

She believes, though, that England has similar problems to the ones she inherited in Washington.

"I think there has been little more than a handful of teachers dismissed for performance reasons in the past few years," she said.

"In the United States, it has been very, very similar – in other professions like the law and medicine it has been much easier to dismiss through incompetence."

Her plans for forcing out poor teachers and regular classroom inspections would incur the wrath of British teaching unions. But, having faced down similar opposition in the US, Ms Rhee is bullish.

"People said we were crazy when we set out on our policies in Washington DC," she said. "Now half the states are looking at new measures for assessing their teachers."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living