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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 06/14/2010

Rhee and her advice to NY: Hubris, or what?

By Valerie Strauss

In what some might call an astonishing act of hubris, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has offered some apparently unsolicited advice to New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, the man who recommended her to D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to run the city schools.

In an article in the New York Daily News Sunday, she wrote, “I don’t like to get in the way of someone else’s negotiation,” and then she proceeds to get in the way of someone else’s negotiation.

My colleague Bill Turque details Rhee’s piece on his D.C. Schools Insiders blog, writing that Rhee imparts advice to Klein about how he can be like her and successfully negotiate a new contract with his city's unionized teachers.

The members of the Washington Teachers' Union approved the new contract with an 80 percent majority last week after more than two years of tough negotiations. The contract has features that include paying teachers for performance (even though no one has figured out fair measures on which to base the evaluation) and ending seniority.

In her article Rhee tells her former mentor Klein that she knows what he "must” do:

“The [D.C.] contract is groundbreaking in many ways, and can serve as a roadmap for other districts - including, I hope, the largest and most important public school district in the country, New York City, where teachers have been working without a contract since October. Despite some real improvements achieved over the past few years, New York continues to operate under a contract that is much more focused on arcane rules, seniority and job protections than about how to promote better learning outcomes for kids. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein must change this.”

She proceeds to give Klein a road map to success, pointing out everything he must do to reach an agreement that, not surprisingly, will look like the one in Washington, D.C.

“Allow quality to drive tough decisions,” she wrote. She also suggested Klein to “compensate based on performance" and to "ensure an effective teacher in every classroom” among other advice.

Toward the end, just in case everybody missed the point that the D.C. contract she negotiated was “groundbreaking,” she refers to it as “revolutionary.” She also said that the contract is actually a “foundation that we’ve laid” on which other districts can build.

And if anybody missed the point that the contract was “groundbreaking” and “revolutionary” and “a foundation” for the rest of the planet, she also pointed out that “the precedent has been set” by her for New York to duplicate.

One could almost feel sorry for Klein, being lectured this way by Rhee, but, actually, he deserves it.

Klein told Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute last week that the D.C. contract is marvelous and in fact ground-breaking. "This deal slayed the three dragons. Seniority. Lockstep pay. Tenure. It got them all."

It’s still hard to see how these actions are going to help more kids learn how to read and understand solubility, but hey, we’ve got three dead dragons.

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By Valerie Strauss  | June 14, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  D.C. Schools  | Tags:  michelle rhee and d.c. contract, michelle rhee and new york daily news, new d.c. teachers contract, rhee and advice and klein, rhee gives advice to klein, rhee's advice to klein  
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Hubris, or chutzpah is her middle name.
"Baltimore Miracle"

As for ground breaking, is she referring to this:

Posted by: edlharris | June 14, 2010 7:01 AM | Report abuse

Her comments could be construed as hubris OR as the groundbreaker in future NYC negotiations.

Bottom line: the three-headed monster, composed of seniority, lockstep pay, and tenure has been a target of contemporary reformers for the past decade. Someone, in this case Rhee, has apparently slain the monster, or apparently sent him to his knees. Good for her.

Oh, and by the way, there is NO GUARANTEE linking student test scores to teacher performance will work. There is more than minor tweaking to be worked out before any celebrations can occur. However, anything, I repeat ANYTHING, is better than the drive-by subjective administrative evaluations schools have employed for too long to determine a teacher's worth. To be kind, these were disingenuous at best and more candidly, an embarrassment to the teaching profession.

Posted by: phoss1 | June 14, 2010 7:27 AM | Report abuse

I have to agree with the writer. How is this contract going to improve kid's reading and other subjects. Sorry, Rhee, teachers are not the problem. Go find another silver bullet. And go back to NY while you're at it.

Posted by: zebra22 | June 14, 2010 7:29 AM | Report abuse

"It’s still hard to see how these actions are going to help more kids learn how to read and understand solubility, but hey, we’ve got three dead dragons."

I wish I said that.

Posted by: johnt4853 | June 14, 2010 7:41 AM | Report abuse

I look forward to Rhee's triumphant next visit to NYC as she eschews the Lincoln Tunnel and George Washington Bridge, instead striding straight across the Hudson River to Manhattan.

Her use of the term "groundbreaking" is particularly risible, since it's so typical of her imperious style, and yet at the same time it's so easy to see that she's digging her own grave.

Posted by: laboo | June 14, 2010 8:12 AM | Report abuse

Without seniority, the more experienced teachers will be replaced by less experienced teachers who are cheaper, just like in business.

Without tenure there is no reason to go into teaching. Teaching is so hard that you have to have protection against unfair dismissal. Actually, all professions deserve protection against unfair dismissals.

If dishonest people like Klein and Rhee and the newsreporters (Time and Newsweek)who support them have their way - teachers will be destroyed the same way business managers have destroyed the lives of their employers.

And then after these people have destroyed the teachers and the teaching profession, instead of taking responsbility for what they have done - they will blame it all on unions.

As for lockstep pay - basing pay on standardized tests - which are known to be both unreliable and invalid is unfair . Teachers will start competing for the highest performing students so they can make the most money. Plus teachers will no longer want to teach in the poorer economic neighborhood because there are more children with emotional problems there. And thus they are difficult to teach.

Posted by: jlp19 | June 14, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse

I think it's time we start telling young people not to go into teaching. They are just putting themselves at the mercy of dishonest reporters and phony reformers if they do.

Posted by: jlp19 | June 14, 2010 8:24 AM | Report abuse

Do we know for a fact that Klein didn't know about Rhee's NY daily News column in advance? Either way, I can't wait to get his reaction.

Posted by: efavorite | June 14, 2010 8:40 AM | Report abuse


If you could talk to the Bering Sea Straight School district in Alaska you would be really impressed. There is true reform going on there, not the phony reform of Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Time and Newsweek, and Arne Duncan.

Posted by: jlp19 | June 14, 2010 8:42 AM | Report abuse

Sorry I forgot to give you the link:

They don't teach to the test there although they do follow the state guidelines. Children there are not given grades. Instead their progress is monitored through hands on assessments. And kids do not go to class based on grade level, but on knowledge level.

Posted by: jlp19 | June 14, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse

At the very least this contract should help Rhee get rid of the very worst educators: the dishonest ones. Does she know of someone who lied on their resume, manipulated test scores, slandered colleagues, and enriched herself through conflicts of interest? Well, perhaps she can help that person to leave, maybe by November.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | June 14, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

The NY Times recently did a good job in discussing the school reform issue in depth (unlike this article). The Times article can be found at:

One could interpret Rhee's comments as hubris or just an accurate description of what the new DC contract truly does represent: a groundbreaking change. Funny how when someone is on the other side of an issue one's opponents always come off as arrogant. I tend to feel the same way about the WTU.

As the Times article hashes in depth, the reform movement still has much to prove. The fact remains, however, that cities like DC which have been under the heel of teachers unions for decades have an embarrassing track record to say the least. The teachers unions had their shot and they blew it largely out of self-serving behavior.

The reformers have the momentum. Let's hope they can deliver where the teachers unions could not.

Posted by: nomayo | June 14, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

nomayo says, " The teachers unions had their shot and they blew it largely out of self-serving behavior."

How is it then, nomayo, that school systems with strong unions, like nearby Fairfax and Montgomery counties, have some of the best student achievement in the country?

Could it be that something besides the union is affecting achievement?

Posted by: efavorite | June 14, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

How is it then, nomayo, that school systems with strong unions, like nearby Fairfax and Montgomery counties, have some of the best student achievement in the country?

Just FYI efavorite, Virginia is a Right to Work state, although the Fairfax (and other Virginia schools) teachers unions exist - they exist for the protection of teachers from lawsuits, and to serve as a voice for teachers. There is no negotiation table as there is with other states...

Posted by: annwhite1 | June 14, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

There is basically no chance that Rhee would have submitted this piece without both notifying Klein, as well as soliciting his feedback. Rhee and Klein are close colleagues (the latter is supposed to have recommended the former for her job), and she would never write it without verifying that it would not harm the district's bargaining position.

Posted by: logosmd | June 14, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

There is basically no chance that Rhee would have submitted this piece without both notifying Klein as well as soliciting his feedback on a draft.

Posted by: logosmd | June 14, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Valerie - You state that Rhee's advice to Klein was "apparently unsolicited."

You're a reporter - call Klein and find out for sure.

Posted by: efavorite | June 14, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Rhee's HUBRIS - no kidding! What's next, world domination?

This article prompted me to look up what Wikipedia had to say about Klein, and this link, an article (worth reading the whole thing) about the influence Big Business now has in education, includes this on Klein:

"On occasion, according to The Nation magazine, Klein has referred to children as cars in a shop, a collection of malfunctions to be adjusted. Teachers, he said, needed "to look under the hood" to figure out the origins of the pings.

His key ideas - accountability; a focus on outcomes, measured by standardised tests; increased autonomy for principals (also called school devolution) - are not new to schools, nor limited to US schools.

In 1989, the powerful Business Roundtable began a major 10-year campaign "to reform the entire system of public education" in the US. The business leaders wanted standards "that spell out what students should learn in school and how well they should learn it"; tests ensuring teachers and schools stick to the material spelt out in the standards and consequences for those that don't; and increasing budgetary and management autonomy at the school level."

Klein is fundamentally a lawyer and politian, and at least according to the bio, has no training in education nor experience in teaching, yet he has become chancellor for the nation's largest school system in New York.

I dearly hope that teachers take back their profession before it's too late.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | June 14, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Rhee's ideas would be great if they worked. If you give principals more power to hire and fire that is good if your principals are good.

If they are corrupt, then they will keep favorites around even if they are bad teachers. They will give low scoring kids to new teachers or teachers who disagree with them and then fire them when the scores don't go up. The favorites will get the high scoring kids and continue the charade that they have great classroom management and high expectations.

If Rhee or any of these other people are serious about reform then they have to hire administrators who have a clue as to what goes on in the classroom. She is right in that you have to get good teachers. The way to do that is to have high salaries and real support for new people.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 14, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

The problem with giving principals more power to fire is that some of them are unfair and will lie about teachers. Not only that, but some principals will want money or other favors from teachers, and if the teachers don't give it, they will be fired.

I just think it is wrong to give principals more power to fire. People in all professions need the power to protect themselves from poor managers - but only a few professions get this protection. We shouldn't take it away from the few people who have it. We need to protect the workers from management.

Posted by: jlp19 | June 14, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

The last paragraph of this article does not relate to the rest of the story in any way. I think there is a really interesting and huge story in examining whether these reformist efforts will, in fact, affect student achievement. However, Michelle Rhee's personality and her comments about a New York City teacher's contract have nothing to do with that story. It is indicative of the quality of reporting done on this blog that the major story is ignored; i.e., will our children be positively affected by the new contract? While, instead, Ms. Strauss has chosen to attempt to be provocative instead of providing real reporting.

Posted by: vito1 | June 14, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse


I think the story here was about Ms. Rhee's personality and not the reforms themselves.

That is because everyone who reads these pages has seen the back and forth of the contract agreement drama unfold over the past year. It has been quite a drama. For Rhee to suggest to someone else that they do it like she did is actually kind of funny.

I actually think Rhee was just saying that she thought that Weingarten was a good person to negotiate with and that she is reform minded. But Rhee tends to brag about herself (or gets quoted out of context) and some people find that bizarre.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 14, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

I think that NY should see this as a great strategy for getting rid of Bloomberg and Klein. Bloomberg narrowly defeated his opponent using his own money. Take Rhee's offer and be like her. After all it has been Bloomberg schooling Fenty on how to be a mayor using an outdated textbook. Bloomberg's teachings and Kleins recommendations of hiring Rhee have not resulted in favorably for Fenty.

Posted by: candycane1 | June 14, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Ok everyone - not once, not once have I read the one word that would set our education right back on the superior track we used to be. Guess? PARENTS. Yep, sorry we are all parents and need to take responsibility for our students actions and re-actions to academics. If school is important at home, there will be very few problems.
PARENTS. that very simple words.

Posted by: tgkerwin | June 14, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Valerie, Michelle Rhee is in closer contact on a weekly basis with Joel Klein than she is with Kevin Johnson. This was planned and probably written in NY, just as most of her ideas come from NY.

She is not involved enough in DCPS to be great...she is simply a change agent with a short life span.

Posted by: topryder1 | June 14, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

Everybody involved with delivering education to DCPS students for last 50 years, the politicians, the union, the regional leaders including the Post failed, failed utterly, failed without excuse. Don't even think about second guessing Rhee or writing snarky columns about her. She has every right to offer advice to other education leaders. Indeed, she is one of the few who has a right and a duty to tell the truth about big city public education.

Posted by: jy151310 | June 14, 2010 9:14 PM | Report abuse

When can we stop the lie that Rhee, Klein, TFA and their ilk are education "reformers?" They are simply trying to imjpose the failed and corrupt corporate model on education. This is "education reform" in the same way that slavery was "labor reform" and the "Trail of Tears" was "land reform." Do we really want the follow the Wal-mart model for success, not through innovation or efficience, but by creating a cheap, untrained labor force and further limiting wages throught the constant threat of dismissal?

But then again, Rhee herself is proof that even a total idiot can come out ahaed if you just do the bidding of corporate America at the expense of its citizens ... expecially its poor children. The scripted, teach-to-the-test format in DC will rob children of their only opportunity for education. IMPACT does not evaluate teacher effectiveness, but rather their belief in TFA/Rhee supersticion. Pay-for-performance in public schools is neither new nor groundbreaking. Everywhere it has been tried, it has failed to improve student performance and has been abandoned, most recently in Arne Duncan's Chicago. Inexplicably, it's still pushed as an "innovative reform." I guess by that standard, "drill baby drill" should be the post-BP energy reform.

Posted by: mcstowy | June 15, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Say it again, mcstowy!!!

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | June 15, 2010 9:51 PM | Report abuse

I saw that letter as proof positive that Rhee never came to DC to serve the reform needs of DCPS but to use the District of Columbia, just as Congress so often does, as a proving ground for some theory or other. We have been invaded and now we know what the end game was--Rhee would be first, using the spotlight of the nation's capital, to pull off a performance based, no seniority contract so the precendent would be set for others to follow. But funny thing, she has been upstaged by states rushing to negotiate the same or similar contracts under the Race to the Top while her application in that ridiculous excuse for education policy was soundly criticised in the DOE's evaluation. Then, before it's approved by the Council, not even giving our elected leaders the recognition that they have a duty by our laws in this which they will take up on Monday, the 21st, she rushes to New York City with contract in hand to say "SEE!, SEE! what I did! I did it! I busted the WTU and you must bust the AFT too! I dare you not to!"
Where, one must ask, is her letter to the people of the District of Columbia reporting to US what she has been doing with our trust and her $275,000 a year in our tax money? If I've missed THAT letter, please let me know.

Posted by: 1citizen | June 16, 2010 7:47 PM | Report abuse

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