I am bothered by the language we use to describe achievement in our public schools. We frequently describe student abilities using words like “advanced” and “proficient” — words that mean little to me or most members of the general public.

I think we should aim higher. We should strive to provide an excellent education for every student, and we should push excellence as a standard.

More than any other reason, I like Michelle Rhee because she attempts to redefine the terms of our education policy. Whether or not you agree with her politics, it is undeniable her zeal for reforming public education is real. Starting two decades ago teaching in Baltimore, Rhee’s vision for education reform has swept across the nation, affecting change even in Tennessee.

She has accomplished much by aiming high and refusing to accept or tolerate less. She puts her money where her mouth is, and her philosophy is simple: We have too many students falling between the cracks, and it is morally and economically wrong for the United States to allow this crisis to continue. Her experience as a classroom teacher, founder of The New Teacher Project, and Chancellor of a major school system molded her beliefs on reform.

Make no mistake. I do not agree with all of Rhee’s prescriptions on how we can raise achievement. Yet the discussion and push for reform is a positive. Here, in Tennessee, for example, we have made huge strides passing bi-partisan education reform legislation two years ago and raising our standards, and we are just now seeing academic SCOREs shift up. Upward movement in SCOREs is good, but Tennessee has a long way to go to meet our high standards and achieve our economic development goals.

Next week, Michelle Rhee will speak as part of the Benwood Foundation’s lecture series in Chattanooga. While in Chattanooga, I am sure that she will meet supporters as well as foes. Regardless, her presence will focus the discussion on excellence in our public schools — and that is where it should be.