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
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

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific