Michelle Rhee Goes National

She & Adrian Fenty tell the story of their efforts to overhaul DC schools.
It wasn't that our predecessors were incompetent, or that we were the smart ones who had all the answers. Far from it. But the political structure wasn't set up for a mayor and a schools chancellor even to make the kinds of decisions that were necessary. Once that new structure of governance was in place (D.C. instituted mayoral control of the public schools in 2007), we were able to chart a new course: to make all of the politically unpopular choices that had been put off for decades.
Such as:

School districts traditionally lay off teachers using what's called the "last in, first out" principle, with the newer teachers let go first. But this is a classic example of putting the interests of adults above those of children. There were heroic veteran and new teachers alike doing great things for kids every day in their classrooms. In any industry or organization, keeping employees based only on their years of service, regardless of their contribution to success, is simply not good policy. So we decided to allow principals to make the layoffs based on the quality, value and performance of their staffs.
This did not sit well with many in the city, to put it mildly. In particular, it outraged the unions—and not just the teachers union. At a rally in D.C.'s Freedom Plaza—fully outfitted for the occasion with a stage, lighting and port-a-johns—the leaders of the Washington Teachers Union and the American Federation of Teachers were joined by Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO. They denounced us for making children victims and guinea pigs. A few thousand demonstrators showed up, some of them holding signs with statements like "This is not Rheezistan," accusing us of tyranny and union busting. Hundreds of school districts across the country were laying off teachers at the time, but the union establishment protested en masse only in D.C., where for the first time someone dared to question an entrenched practice that had only served the interests of adults.
On re-negotiating union contracts to get rid of tenure and reward success:
That D.C.'s teachers finally endorsed this revolutionary new contract shows that they, too, are ready for change. When we were negotiating with the union, we heard one thing over and over again from the leadership: "Our members are never going to accept this." In truth, when the union finally allowed them to vote, the teachers passed it overwhelmingly, by 80% to 20%. Given the chance to be treated as professionals and to be rewarded for their achievements, they grabbed it.
Note the capitalism in this revolution:
• It rewards great teachers who accept a higher level of accountability with some of the highest teacher pay in the nation—up to twice as much as they were previously making.
• No longer do educators have a job guarantee for life. Ineffective teachers are immediately dismissed from the system. Minimally effective teachers do not receive a pay step increase and have one year to improve their performance. If that doesn't happen, they are subject to termination.
• If layoffs are necessary, the decisions about whom to dismiss are based on quality and performance instead of seniority.
Preliminary results after their 4-year tenure?
Washington went from being the worst performing school district in the country to leading the nation in gains on the national gold-standard test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It was the only jurisdiction in which every student subgroup raised its performance. Graduation rates have increased, and this fall the D.C. public school system saw its first jump in enrollment in 41 years.
The improved achievement of our secondary students was unprecedented in D.C.'s history and unparalleled anywhere in the country, with an uptick of 14 points in reading and 17 points in math in three short years. SAT scores of District students are also rising: up 27 points this year, on average, with a 40-point jump for African-American students and a 54-point jump for male students.
At Sousa Middle School, which was failing when we took office, there is now a dynamic new leader, who is disproving the myth that kids in poor neighborhoods are doomed to fail because of race or poverty. Within months after Dwan Jordon took over, we started to hear from parents that something was different, and in just one year, Sousa gained 17 percentage points in reading proficiency and 25 in math, meeting federal benchmarks for progress for the first time in the school's history. This means that Sousa more than doubled its student proficiency rate in math, and increased its proficiency rate in reading by 70%.
On a recent visit to the school, it was clear why. Before, the students had not been engaged, and walked around with iPods blocking out the dismal environment. A year later, they were in uniforms, and they swarmed excitedly around visitors to talk about the school, their work and their goals. The school had been renovated, and the staff had motivated students to take pride in the new environment, keeping it a clean and positive place for learning. When we told teachers at Sousa that we didn't expect such huge gains every year, they replied that "the horse is out of the barn now." 
Naturally, the people who achieved these things were kicked to the curb in the Democratic primary. Which only goes to show that "home rule" is really union rule. Yet another argument against DC statehood.

The exciting thing is how quickly things can turn around when there is a modicum of liberty and incentive introduced into the system.