Test results coming out of the Washington D.C. public schools, a system that is smaller but demographically similar to Memphis, show significant gains in the first year under new superintendent Michelle Rhee.
The Washington Post reported this week that D.C. schools had an 11 percent gain in math proficiency for elementary students and an 8 percent gain in reading scores. Schools making adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law rose from 31 to 47.
Rhee, who spoke at a panel on education in Memphis earlier this year, took charge of the D.C. schools in June of 2007. She is an alumnus of the Teach For America program, which began placing corps members in Memphis City Schools two years ago.
Rhee takes a no-excuses approach and works closely with Washington D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty. She and Fenty, who also participated in the Memphis panel, said a close relationship between the mayor and superintendent is essential to improving public school performance.
Brad Leon, executive director of Teach For America in Memphis, said similar results could be achieved in Memphis with the right leadership.
"Michelle Rhee walked into a district with a lot of great human capital," Leon said. "We have an incoming corps there of 300 and more than 700 alumni, and more than 10 percent of principals in D.C. are TFA alumni. We're certainly not the only source of great leadership, but she has a lot to work with."
Memphis will have about 100 TFA corps members and 30 alumni this year.
Cash, who came to Memphis from the Miami/Dade County public schools, appears to be establishing a good relationship with Herenton, who is a former superintendent. They held a joint appearance at City Hall this week and staged a friendly free-throw shooting competition at Ridgeway High School on Friday.