Love her or hate her, Rhee commands attention. Not long ago, when people found out that I worked in education, they would ask what I thought about vouchers. Now they ask what I think about Rhee, who stepped down as the Washington, D.C., school chancellor in October 2010 after a tumultuous three-year tenure that contributed to the political problems that cost her boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty, re-election last fall. Rhee raises the tension level in schools by unapologetically asking uncomfortable questions about today's educational arrangements which she argues are designed to protect the jobs of teachers and administrators rather than improve student learning. The media relishes her bombastic style, and her new organization, Students First, will roll out in 2011 promising an even more visible role for her in the national education debate. Rhee's vow: to raise $1 billion to be used to support reformers and political candidates, be they local, state or national, who promise to change the status quo in education. And if she didn't already command enough attention, in February veteran education journalist Richard Whitmire will publish a biography that, while it's no paean to Rhee, vividly shows what she was up against in Washington.
Disclosure: I work in education, so my path crosses with everyone on this list in one way or another. That's how I know these people are likely to have an impact in 2011. In particular, my nonprofit consulting organization, Bellwether Education, provides policy analysis and strategic advice to Stand for Children. And while we don't yet formally work with Rhee's new organization, Bellwether's niche is unique enough that we're likely to in the future. One of my partners, Kim Smith, helped launch Teach for America, and she used to lead the New Schools Venture Fund, which was an early investor in Revolution Foods, a company that another one of my partners, Monisha Lozier, has done executive-search work for. Also, my wife and I contributed money to Bennet's Senate campaign before I began writing this column for TIME.com; since then, I have stopped contributing to political candidates.
Andrew J. Rotherham, who writes the blog Eduwonk, is a co-founder and partner at Bellwether Education, a nonprofit working to improve educational outcomes for low-income students. School of Thought, his education column for TIME.com, appears every Thursday.