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Ex-D.C. school chief voices some regret ; Rhee's new group targets nation's education woes

Looking back, Michelle Rhee says there are a few things she didn't do successfully during her three years as chancellor of the District of Columbia public schools.

One: She failed to engage and mobilize parents, residents and community leaders who supported her ambitious education reform agenda but were never vocal about it.

"The people who were vocal were the people who were opposing," Rhee said in an interview with the Associated Press three months after announcing her resignation.

The opposition was, in fact, quite loud: Teacher unions and even groups of parents balked at her ideas to close schools, fire teachers and get rid of tenure.

District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty, who had selected Rhee for the position and supported her reforms, lost re-election.

Rhee, who has been featured on the covers of magazines, on Oprah, who famously called her a "warrior woman," and in David Guggenheim's recent documentary, "Waiting for Superman," resigned shortly thereafter.

Now Rhee is continuing her fight to improve the nation's classrooms through a new organization, Students First. This time, she's hoping to better tap into discontent with the state of public schools across the country.

Thus far, she's raised $1.4 million and attracted 140,000 members, she said. The goal: Raise $1 billion in a year and organize 1 million members.

Today, she'll announce the group's agenda, focusing on three areas: the teaching profession, empowering families with information and choices, and developing more accountability.

Many of the ideas are similar to those she pushed as chancellor, though the agenda also adopts practices that have been put in place elsewhere, including parent participation in restructuring schools.

In the area of accountability, Rhee says the organization will push for promoting board and education structures that put students first -- including considering mayoral control, as was done in D.C.

Rhee says Students First, in the long term, could bring resources to districts willing to adopt the organization's agenda. It will also work on informing people on education policy topics that affect many families.

"These policies are a major disruption to the status quo," Rhee says. "But at the same time, we believe it's really hard to argue against the things that we are pushing."

Rhee says her group will only go into communities where they are invited and that they've already gotten a strong amount of interest, though no official collaborations have been announced.

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