Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Posted at 12:36 PM ET, 04/29/2010

The surprising educator on Time’s list of influential people

By Valerie Strauss

Time magazine has released its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, and there are some of the predictable names: President Obama, Bill Clinton, Lady Gaga.

Okay, Lady Gaga might not be predictable to you, but she would be to your daughters.

The more surprising addition to this year’s list is the one educator included -- and no, it is not D.C. Schools Superintendent Michelle Rhee, who has become the darling of school reforms nationwide. Neither is it Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

It is, rather, Deborah Gist, 43, the commissioner of Rhode Island schools, a job she has had since July 2009.

Yes, the commissioner of Rhode Island schools, who previously worked in the District as the first State Superintendent of Education in the District of Columbia, beginning in June 2007.

In the District, Gist was responsible for transitioning all state-level education functions from the city government to the newly formed office of the state superintendent. She also oversaw implementation of No Child Left Behind’s accountability systems.

When she got to Rhode Island, Time reports, she quietly began to institute reforms in line with Duncan’s thinking. She launched a new teacher evaluation system in which teachers get annual reviews, and said classroom staffing decisions would be based on qualifications rather than seniority. She also raised the requirement for entry into the state’s teacher-training programs, raising the necessary test score to the highest in the country.

Where Gist became more nationally known was when she approved the actions of the school superintendent who earlier this year fired all of the educators at Central Falls High School, the only high school in that district.

The firings got national attention, and both Duncan and President Obama expressed public support for the move.

Yesterday, the Central Falls Teachers Union sued Gist and others in the state to try to block the mass firings. It was Gist who ordered the school district to adopt one of four models to fix the troubled school. Gallo selected one option but could not get the teachers to go agree, so she then opted for the "turnaround" model, which allows her to fire everybody and rehire up to 50 percent of them.

The union filed the complaint now because Gallo had just started accepting applications for the jobs.

Anyway, lists such as this one are, of course, a vehicle to attract readers who are obsessed by lists of any kind; saying these are the most influential people in the world is, well, silly.

But it certainly is a good day for Gist.

I’m betting she doesn’t end her career in Rhode Island.


Follow my blog all day, every day by bookmarking And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our new Higher Education page at Bookmark it!

By Valerie Strauss  | April 29, 2010; 12:36 PM ET
Tags:  Time magazine, deborah gist, michelle rhee, most influential list, most influential people, time list of influential people, time mag's list of influential people  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: College choice: Not a one-size-fits-family deal
Next: Obama awards Teacher of the Year


Ok, I can't help it:

Valerie, I think I get the "Gist" of it.

Posted by: celestun100 | April 29, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Wasn't Gist supposedly investigating the erasure scandal on the DC-CAS tests?

What happened?

As for Gist being celebrated, she has been unable to give a timeframe for progress in Central Falls had all the teachers been fired.
That is, how soon would Central Falls top the Rhode Island HS test results list.

Posted by: edlharris | April 29, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I was hoping the surprising person was going to be Diane Ravitch. Too bad.

Posted by: celestun100 | April 29, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

celestun - I was hoping for Ravitch too.

Gist has some good qualities - I always thought she exposed Rhee's cheating scandal here and then cleverly got out of town. I admired her for that.

I don't admire her role in the Central falls firings.

Posted by: efavorite | April 29, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Ok, Gist is the darling of Time Warner, Eli Broad, Gates, and the Waltons now. Just because she orchestrated the mass firings at Central Falls she's forced Michelle into the shadows.

It's just not fair! One school and 93 jobs and the people that held them destroyed. Michelle has 266 notches in her belt and has made significant progress in bringing down a whole major urban public school system.

Sorry Rhee is still my girl. My mind wanders to the lovely picture of Michelle on the cover of Time magazine gently sweeping a classroom with a broom. And isn't that where she shines? Those incomparable people skills! The leadership by example! How many $275,000 a year Chancellors will get in there with the custodians to keep things in order.

Then there are the echoes of the soon-to-be president Barack Obama saying Michelle's name to a national TV audience. Even though he treats her name like it was poison now it was thrilling at the time. Misty watercolor memories of the way we were.

And I remember how loyal she can be when her man gives special tutoring to 16-year-old girls, lots of teenage girls. You know when Michelle falls she falls hard. How many other women in a position of great power would risk it all to cover up child molestation. It's the stuff of romance novels and indictments. Thankfully the DC teacher that had sex with the student wasn't her betrothed and he could be RIFed several months after the incident.

Posted by: natturner | April 29, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse


Thanks for the good laugh!

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | April 29, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Time loves anyone who punishes teachers. I am so glad I stopped my subscription to Time. I hope all teachers do that.

Posted by: aby1 | April 29, 2010 7:03 PM | Report abuse

I wonder how Obama will like it when teachers decide in the next election to fire him.

Posted by: aby1 | April 29, 2010 7:06 PM | Report abuse


I agree with you. I wonder if Obama has figured it out yet that America's teachers are jumping off his ship.I am afraid I am going to be one of them.

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | April 29, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Michelle far as I can tell, she taught for 3 years. Her degrees are in business, so she basically doesn't know what in the hell she is doing and is making it up as she goes along.

Over the years I have attended hundreds of inservice workshops. On numerous occasions we have listened to some young thing that announces, "just cut the worksheets in half." We gently ask them how many years were you in the classroom? Usually it is about 1 1/2 years. We chuckle when we realize that we have shoes older than them.

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | April 29, 2010 8:39 PM | Report abuse

Most influential = Should have been Diane Ravitch, hands down.

The selection of Gist reduces the significance of this "most influential list" for the others named--feel sorry for them.

Let me think, if I were one of those teachers, parents, admin, or students, I must agree Gist was the most influential person in my life in that she negatively impacted entire communities, children's futures, and livelihoods. Although influential here is supposed to be a positive impact--so that won't work!

Gist made the List instead of Charlie Crist!

Posted by: rsolnet | April 30, 2010 12:50 AM | Report abuse

I supported Obama at one time, but now I too am jumping ship.

Posted by: jlp19 | April 30, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't expect Time magazine to do anything that would go against their anti-union beliefs.

Posted by: aby1 | May 1, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company