Controversial educator visits Fresno

FRESNO, Calif.

It was the third stop in a series of California forums hosted by former Washington DC education Chief Michelle Rhee.

Michelle Rhee was made famous after she was featured in the 2010 documentary, "Waiting for Superman." It painted a grim picture of American schools and showcased innovative charter schools.

Rhee wants mayors to get involved in schools -- so she's touring the state with the California Mayors Education Roundtable -- in an attempt to improve education.

Education activist Michelle Rhee and her husband, Sacramento mayor and former NBA basketball player Kevin Johnson - are touring California - stopping in five major cities - to gather support for education reform.

Rhee said, "What we're trying to do with this listening tour is figure out if it makes sense for us to start working in California."

Thursday night - Rhee - the former chancellor of education in Washington D.C. - brought her controversial cause to a packed town hall forum at Yokomi Elementary School in Fresno.

Last year - Rhee launched Students-First - a national grassroots movement of more than one million members - mobilizing to transform public education.

Rhee said, "A lot of things need to improve, but first and foremost we need a system that promotes good teachers, we need to make sure parents have choices and we need to make sure we're spending our tax dollars most efficiently."

Part of that change - includes weeding out teachers based on performance, rather than tenure, putting laws and leaders in place to make students the focus and using test scores to evaluate teachers and administrators. Not everyone likes the idea.

Sabina Gonzalez-Erana said, "She's a lobbyist, not an education person and she is not the one to fix our schools."

Some accused Rhee of promoting a national agenda - giving teachers less say in what goes in their classrooms.

Sabina Gonzalez-Erana said, "We find Michelle Rhee's track record alarming. We find that pushing for more standardized testing, pushing to undermine teachers in their classrooms, and getting rid of school boards so mayors can control school districts directly is highly problematic."

Rhee's organization Students-First has successfully pushed for legislative changes in seven states including Florida and Indiana.

While the group has backed initiatives to increase access to charter schools and to draw city leaders into school governance -- it hasn't decided yet whether to take action here in California. Rhee is hoping to decide after two more stops in Los Angeles and San Jose.

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