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Calculating the speed of change in New York's schools

Right now, CNN.com is leading with a story about how Michelle Rhee, the upstart superintendent of the Washington, D.C. schools, enacts reform at “100 mph.” Since taking the reins of the city’s schools just over a year ago, Rhee has closed multiple schools, fired principals, started paying some students for their performance, and launched a campaign to get the district’s teachers to trade tenure for higher pay. Her goal: to put in place an accountability-based education administration under which D.C.’s students will perform far better than they do now, when only 12 percent of 8th graders are reading at grade level.

Rhee’s reforms in large part mirror those enacted here in New York by Joel Klein’s schools administration, but on a condensed schedule. Does that mean Joel Klein is only a 25-mph chancellor?

Anyone traveling at 25 mph runs the risk of being left in the dust — a risk that Klein, who has said he “reject[s] incrementalism,” has repeatedly said he isn’t willing to take. But at the same time, changes that happen too quickly destabilize schools, alienate teachers and parents, and cannot easily be evaluated for success. And certainly, accidents that happen at 25 mph are much less dangerous than those at higher speeds.

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