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Posted at 10:10 AM ET, 01/28/2010

Rhee: In her own words

By Valerie Strauss

Nobody is immune from saying things they don’t mean, but it is probably a good idea to watch what you say when you work in the public eye.

A reader put together this list of quotes from D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, suggesting a record of inconsistencies that go beyond the most recent controversy surrounding her words.

Rhee got into trouble recently over remarks to a magazine that teachers laid off last October had had sex with children and hit kids. After my colleague Bill Turque wrote about the comments, it came out that one of the 266 teachers had been accused of having sex with a student.

Here is the list of Rhee quotes, with links. What do you think?

On Teacher Responsibility
2/9/09: “I do not blame teachers for the low achievement levels.” (Washington Post Op-ed)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/08/AR2009020801711.html

2/9/09: Those who categorically blame teachers for the failures of our system are simply wrong. (Washington Post Op-ed, cited above)

11/08: “As a teacher in this system, you have to be willing to take personal responsibility for ensuring your children are successful despite obstacles .... You can’t say, ‘My students didn’t get any breakfast today,’ or ‘No one put them to bed last night,’ or ‘Their electricity got cut off in the house, so they couldn’t do their homework.” (The Atlantic magazine)
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200811/michelle-rhee

10/29/08 “Too many of our teachers are not up to the demanding job of educating our youth effectively. We therefore plan to identify and transition out a significant share of the teaching corps in the next two years.” (D.C. Schools Five Year Plan)
DCPS_Five-Year-Plan_Draft_Oct_29_2008.pdf page 26


On Teacher Respect

2/9/09: “Teachers deserve recognition and respect for their efforts.” (Washington Post op-ed cited above)

12/8/08: “The thing that kills me about education is that it’s so touchy-feely” .... People say, ‘Well, you know, test scores don’t take into account creativity and the love of learning,’ ... I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t give a crap. Don’t get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job." Time magazine
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1862444-2,00.html#ixzz0dv23UBsE


On Teacher Quality

12/8/08: "We’re in Washington, D.C., in the nation’s capital, and yet the children of this city receive an education that every single citizen in this country should be embarrassed by."
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1862444,00.html

Two months later, 2/13/09: “I think that the talk about ineffective teachers is overshadowing the fact that we have thousands of teachers everyday who are going into classrooms and doing absolutely heroic things with kids.” TV News 4

One month after that, 3/13/09, in her Letter to DC Teachers: “You are the agents of social justice in our nation’s capital. You’re far more powerful than the Senators and Congressmen who work just blocks away from our schools. By pushing forward in the face of daunting challenges, you are providing the one thing that will give our children the opportunities they all deserve: an excellent education.”
http://www.k12.dc.us/chancellor/documents/Letter-from-Chancellor-Rhee-March-13-2009.pdf

A week later, in the NYT “D.C. is known as the most dysfunctional and worst-performing school district in the country”
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/22/opinion/22kristof.html?_r=1


On Teacher Tenure

11/13/08, “Tenure is the holy grail of teacher unions but has no educational value for kids; it only benefits adults. If we can put veteran teachers who have tenure in a position where they don’t have it, that would help us to radically increase our teacher quality. And maybe other districts would try it, too.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/13/education/13tenure.html?em


5/7/09: "I don’t have any interest in making people give up their tenure.....”
http://www.politicsdaily.com/search/?q=rhee

----

Here are varying 2008-09 accounts of Rhee’s success while teaching in Baltimore in the 1990s. She is first credited with top scores, then “at or above grade level,” then it’s back up to the top.

9/1/08, Newsweek: “Over the next two years, working with another teacher, she took a group of 70 kids who had been scoring ‘at almost rock bottom on standardized tests’ to "absolutely at the top," she says. (Baltimore does not keep records by classroom, so NEWSWEEK was unable to confirm this assertion.)”
http://www.newsweek.com/id/154901

11/26/08, Time Magazine: “The second year, Rhee got better. She and another teacher started out with second-graders who were scoring in the bottom percentile on standardized tests. They held on to those kids for two years, and by the end of third grade, the majority were at or above grade level, she says.
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1862444,00.html

5/7/09, Politics Daily: “In my second and third years of Teach for America-I taught a group of 70 kids there with another teacher-we took a group of kids who were performing at the bottom and took them to the top.”
http://www.politicsdaily.com/search/?q=rhee

There is no documentation for this success, which is also mentioned more precisely on her resume: “Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90% of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher.”
http://www.dcpswatch.com/mayor/070312b.htm

On Herself

9/22/09, Interview with Steve Perlstein, Washington Post video: “I’m not somebody who’s about spin, right? I’m a very blunt person, very frank, very tell-it-like-it-is.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/video/2009/09/22/VI2009092202238.html?hpid=topnews

5/5/09, Politics Daily: “I am very frank, very blunt. It’s important to be honest with people about the situation we’re in.”
http://www.politicsdaily.com/search/?q=rhee

-0-

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 28, 2010; 10:10 AM ET
Categories:  D.C. Schools  | Tags:  d.c. public schools, michelle rhee  
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Comments

I wonder how long this post will stay up

Posted by: mamoore1 | January 28, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

You completely missed all the claims of media coverage of her teaching, in the Wall St. Journal, Harford Courant and Good Morning America. GMA videos may have been erased, but the newspapers have archives going back well before Rhee's teaching days: No mention of her in either paper until she took over TFA. Also, the private company that ran the schools that Rhee taught for submitted at report noting that its best schools had made a 5% improvement in test scores, but Rhee's school was not on the list, meaning its scores were flat or declined. If Rhee had made such remarkable improvement in her class, the rest of the school must have gone down significantly to counter it....Or whe's lying again.

Posted by: mcstowy | January 28, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Countdown to the WTU paid representatives and their spouses dialing in from Prince Georges County where they live to cut and past the official union talking points on this column in:
3
2
1

Posted by: bbcrock | January 28, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

dang it! McStowy beat me to it! The union never sleeps when they have a chance to criticize.

Posted by: bbcrock | January 28, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

A week later, in the NYT “D.C. is known as the most dysfunctional and worst-performing school district in the country”
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/22/opinion/22kristof.html?_r=1

This quote is not specifically about teacher quality Valerie Strauss, you miswrote it in a column about speaking clearly! I'm not sure if that's funny or sad but either way this column should have been edited before posting just like SOMEONE I WON'T MENTION.

Posted by: bbcrock | January 28, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Goodness, is the Post's little princess making a mess of things! It's surprising because there was a picture of her on the cover of Time recently and she looked pretty formidable. She appeared confident and had a broom in her hand like she was going to sweep all the opposition away and have her way with the DCPS.

What a difference an economic crisis makes.

Back in the day when Bill Gates was worth $58 billion he financed Mayor Fenty's drive for mayoral control of the DCPS. And Fenty brought in the true believer, Ms. Rhee, as Chancellor. No experience or qualifications, no problem. (The fairy tale below was constructed in place of merit.) What was important was that Rhee had proven herself to Gates through her cult, the New Teacher Project, and she could be counted on to take a hammer to the DCPS and not stop bashing until it was destroyed.

But an economic earthquake has now cracked the foundation of the model that spits up a Michelle Rhee so she is down to the editorial board of the Washington Post for support.

And like here is "The Fable of Michelle Rhee".

Once upon a time, there was a young Ivy League missionary with a couple years to kill before getting on with her life's work. Rather than backpacking through Europe or climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro after a safari in Africa, our intrepid heroine plunged into the mean streets of Baltimore where children who live in poverty test poorly.

One day the Ivy League princess was struck down like St. Paul on the way to Damascus. Sit the poor children in a circle, the voice told her. And sit them in a circle she did.

They forevermore scored like rich children on tests. Just take my word on that. I swear its true. And they all lived happily ever after.

Posted by: natturner | January 28, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Here's what her resume originally said:

"her outstanding success in the classroom earned her acclaim on Good Morning America and The Home Show, as well as in the Wall Street Journal and the Hartford Courant."

http://web.archive.org/web/20040911232620/http://www.nctq.org/nctq/about/rhee.html

The version at DCPSWatch:
Classroom practices featured on “The Home Show” and in the Wall Street Journal and the Hartford Courant.
http://www.dcpswatch.com/mayor/070312b.htm

Downgraded from acclaim to featured

Posted by: edlharris | January 28, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

So, bbcrock, everyone who is critical of Rhee is an agent for the WTU? Maybe you should talk to a professional because that sounds...you know...crazy.

Posted by: Rahwaj | January 28, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Did Bill Gates have anything to do with Fenty getting elected? And did he have anything to do with Michelle Rhee being selected? Is he the BIG MONEY behind Michelle Rhee?

I know there is big money somewhere behind her. That's why DC has had to put up with her. But who is it?

Posted by: resc | January 28, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Oh no, Rahwaj, bbcrock is EDUCATED (in bold) as opposed to "educated" like everyone else.

Bbcrock seems to make it his mission to root out all unionism. So he's been haunting the Post since Friday.
He also likes to ignore what is written and create diversions. Notice that he did not deny anything Ms. Strauss copied and pasted.

However, bbcrock did come up with a couple of whoppers yesterday that he won't defend.
He accused Bill Turque of "wildly misrepresenting" Michelle Rhee's comments.
Here are the quotes from Rhee and Turque:

Michelle Rhee (thru FastCompany):
"I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school.

Bill Turque (Friday):
Now we have Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's assertion, in the February issue of Fast Company magazine, that some of the 266 educators laid off in the October budget reduction had had sex with students, while others had hit them.


HOW is that "wildly misinterpreting" her quote?
In fact, Bill put a qualifier on her statement.
(bbcrock also typed that DCPS teacehrs are awful)

And to rephrase my rhetorical question, for the EDUCATED man,
If DCPS teachers are so awful,
why did the 2008-2009 parent survey show 85% of the parents are satisfied with the teachers??

Maybe the parents aren't EDUCATED?
Maybe WTU stuffed the ballot box.

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | January 28, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Sorry bb crock, never in a union, live in DC (Ward 4, voted against Fenty twice now, waiting for another chance, would love to kick his lap dog Bowser out too). Rhee was incompetent and unqualified when hired, even if her resume had been true, but of course, we all know now, it's not. Out of curiosity, is all unions you hate, or just teachers? Police unions do a lot more damage. They just got another cop off in Fairfax yesterday after he had killed an unarmed man. One of the reasons I moved from Fairfax to DC; it's safer (and the Fairfax public schools were lousey, always blaming parents when they can't teach).

Posted by: mcstowy | January 28, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

looks like toto pulled back the curtain
( ignore the woman , I am the great oz)

Posted by: mamoore1 | January 28, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

@resc

Bill Gates had everything to do with the drive to give Mayor Fenty control of the DCPS. His money was behind it. Once that was accomplished Gates lobbied for Rhee as Chancellor.

Fenty, who really is not on the inside on this, just an ambitious politician ready to do as he's told for the sake of his own advancement, actually came to Miami with a small delegation of DC leaders to interview Dr. Rudy Crew for the job, someone far and away more qualified than Rhee, but then isn't everyone, more qualified that is? Fenty would have given the job to someone like Crew but Bill and Melinda Gates wanted Rhee who is a darling of the forces who want to smash the public schools and privatize education in the US. She had proven herself to them as the steward of one of the cults they fund, the New Teacher Project. Rhee is a "true believer" so she took the job at a relatively low salary, $275,000, and she gave up the bonus she was eligible for this year. They were talking about $600,000 with Crew.

When Rhee tried to destroy the WTU with her two-tiered salary proposal she claimed to have at her disposal private money from Gates, Eli Broad (multi-billionaire founder of KB Homes), Michael Dell (multi-billionaire owner of Dell computers), and the Walton (Wal-Mart) Family.

If you are looking for the local rich and powerful standing "behind" Rhee, there's George Vradenburg, a former AOL Time Warner executive and chairman of the D.C. Education Compact, venture capitalist Jonathan A. Silver, who sits on the executive committee of the influential Federal City Council, and Brig. Gen. Anthony J. Tata, the former deputy commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan. Right wing whack job Frank Keating, former governor of Oklahoma, should be added to the list now too. He just signed a paid advertisement in the Post calling for Rhee to be named "DC Person of the Year". No, get up off the floor, really he did!

Posted by: natturner | January 28, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

rhee should go back to whatever she can do best...not try to run a school system

Posted by: 98DFpbN4 | January 28, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Maybe you have to put up with Rhee due to the wretched, dysfunctional and wasteful state of DCPS for many years before she arrived on the scene.

Posted by: fredcorgi1 | January 28, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

"

Maybe you have to put up with Rhee due to the wretched, dysfunctional and wasteful state of DCPS for many years before she arrived on the scene.

Posted by: fredcorgi1"

NAEP test scores, cited by Michelle Rhee at the Oct DC Council meeting, have been rising over the last decade.

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | January 28, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

natturner,

Thanks for the info. I knew there was big money behind her. No one else could have gotten away with this much nonsense unless BIG MONEY were behind them.

Posted by: resc | January 28, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Given that Washington, DC, is the capitol of the United States, Americans are able to comment on the events both positive and negative as they take place. That fact cannot be disputed and it is foolish that it had to be posted given that it is a simple fact and therefore unnecessary to state the obvious.

That said, it is a crying shame this issue has so completely bifurcated our nation's capitol on the basis of "what is best for children." No one minds when people are properly removed from positions when procedures are definitive and in place. The problem comes in when illegal and unethical practices are used. What was a budget RIF became labelled as "I got rid of teachers who hit kids, teachers who had had sex with kids ..." and is now exposed for what it is -- politics-oriented rhetoric.

The quotes above are an example of what happens when a person takes on a position and uses it as a personal platform to get national acclaim at any cost. The quotes are the best example of doublespeak to emerge in a very long time.

Posted by: southyrndiva | January 28, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

I've seen a lot of cut-and-paste astro-turfing claims lately.

Could it be run by the gates foundation and the federal city council? They could pay better than any astro-turfers on the web.

Posted by: efavorite | January 28, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Careful Valerie, I see from the Ombudsman, that Turque seems to already have one foot out the door and the other on a banana peel for pointing out Rhee's lack of credibility (never mind integrity). To everyone else, take a look at the Ombudsman's post.

Posted by: mcstowy | January 28, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

natturner,

Governor Keating is best remembered down here for calling teachers "slugs."

Posted by: johnt4853 | January 28, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Valerie,

You are doing a good job! Keep it up.

Posted by: jlp19 | January 28, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

When she did not renew the principal of Oyster's contract, back in the spring of 2007, Rhee told the Washington Post she'd recused herself from the decision. Then when she appeared before the Oyster community, after the fact, of course, she said it was her decision, she took responsibility for her decision. More recently she spoke out of both sides of her mouth when dealing with Hardy Middle School.

Posted by: noodles_20009 | January 28, 2010 9:56 PM | Report abuse

I'm Michelle Rhee
I talk too free
And I act anyway I want to be
But you can't stop me
Because you see
I got BIG MONEY protecting me!

Posted by: jlp19 | January 28, 2010 10:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm Michelle Rhee
And I don't apologize
And I'm not one who shies
away from being glamourized
So if you think you can chastize
me for my guise
Think again, I've got important ties
that can neutralize your lives

Posted by: jlp19 | January 28, 2010 10:53 PM | Report abuse

I'm Michelle Rhee
And I want to be free
To run anyone down
Who stand in front of me

Posted by: jlp19 | January 28, 2010 10:57 PM | Report abuse

I'm Michelle Rhee
Let's talk about me
For I'm a queen
as you should surely see!

Posted by: jlp19 | January 28, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse

Michelle, Michelle
The middle letters of your name spell “Hell”
And well, it sure hasn’t been swell
Since you first rang our school bell

Michelle, Michelle
You make our lives hell
And well, wouldn’t it be swell
If you never again rang our school bell

Posted by: jlp19 | January 28, 2010 11:36 PM | Report abuse

I've seen a lot of cut-and-paste astro-turfing claims lately.
--------

The reason I say this is because a friend of mine works as a receptionist for a union and has posted alerts to her facebook page suggesting people go to newspaper sites to post pro-union talking points. Since I know this goes on for other unions, and since I see the same people post the same links here and all over the smalltime education blogs, then I am confident that I'm not wrong- many people posting here are union members astroturfing against "management" as a whole without any real knowledge of what goes on within DCPS.

Posted by: bbcrock | January 29, 2010 12:25 AM | Report abuse

bbcrock was on at 12:25 and then a few minutes later at Andrew Alexander's blog.
Did the 825 stalker back up his charges from Wednesday?
NO.

So, here it is again:
Bbcrock accused Bill Turque of "wildly misrepresenting" Michelle Rhee's comments.
Here are the quotes from Rhee and Turque:

Michelle Rhee (thru FastCompany):
"I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school.

Bill Turque (Friday):
Now we have Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's assertion, in the February issue of Fast Company magazine, that some of the 266 educators laid off in the October budget reduction had had sex with students, while others had hit them.


HOW is that "wildly misinterpreting" her quote?
In fact, Bill put a qualifier on her statement.


(bbcrock also typed that DCPS teachers are awful)

And to rephrase my rhetorical question, for the EDUCATED man,
If DCPS teachers are so awful,
why did the 2008-2009 parent survey show 85% of the parents are satisfied with the teachers??

Maybe the parents aren't EDUCATED?
Maybe WTU stuffed the ballot box.

His dedication to his keeper is admirable.

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | January 29, 2010 1:44 AM | Report abuse

I really enjoy the comments about the chancellor. She has taken the world of education and molded the 600 billion dollar boondoggle into something that resembles a political runway for take off. Unfortunately all these ideas to increase the GNP of the United States runs into statistical facts that can't be matched by just more education. There are so many bright and well educated folks in China and India that will work for much less than our citizens, that just getting an education, even a very good education, will not solve the problem when our global corporations are mainly interested in greater profits.

Posted by: dmyers412 | January 29, 2010 5:12 AM | Report abuse

just vote fenty out and then you can get rid of this person. let this person go on to someplace else. in fact you'll be doing her a favor.

Posted by: stayone | January 29, 2010 5:15 AM | Report abuse

Don't forget the quote in your own paper's Sunday Magazine where Rhee said she has no problem firing people. That was followed by a letter to teachers saying how unfortunate it was that some of us had to be let go. Talking about crocodile tears.

Posted by: adcteacher1 | January 29, 2010 7:27 AM | Report abuse

natturner...

I was informed that Rudy Crew was offered the job twice...the first time he turned it down...while touring Roosevelt. It was alluded that he had immediate questions and concerns...and the answers all referenced the School Board and the lack-there-of...and the next thing he was on then first thing flying him out of DC. Then the job was offered to Dr. Janey...who was clearly an excellent choice...but when he did not conform to those on the school board...he too was told that you know "you weren't our first choice" and treated him like a well-behaved step-child. So, in the infinite wisdom they went back to Rudy Crew; and demands were significantly and substantially warranted. Moreso, it was as situation that it had to be "hands-off" at all levels. The Power-machine of Fenty could not take that to mean; it included them and when the answer from Rudy was that means you too. Then it was bye Rudy and hello Rhee this time let's start the game of go-fetch-it...and catch-it if you can, with winner take all. The big-money game players pretty much said, this is who we like...and you better chase her down at this "conference." So, what did they do...but take of their Cole Haans...put on their Nike's and ran down Rhee...brought her back to DC...changed their shoes one more time...this time they put on "steel pointed boots" and started kicking everything out...that wasn't worthy in education.

These boots are made for walking...

One might say where are all of the boot-shiners located...and one could imply that they are located in the Wilson Building? Think about it.

Posted by: PowerandPride | January 29, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

PhillipMarlowe, I think it's time you stop referencing me in your posts. You string words together that don't make sense in English. Print out your posts and talk to someone about them, ok? Please stop directing questions to me that aren't full sentences.

Posted by: bbcrock | January 29, 2010 9:14 PM | Report abuse

Can you say "witch hunt"?

Any fair-minded person could easily imagine context and circumstances to reconcile nearly all of these quotations. It's a sad reflection on you that your sole apparent mission is to embarrass Rhee.

Vocabulary item for the day: "Ethos"

Posted by: RealityCheckerInEffect | January 29, 2010 10:56 PM | Report abuse

To realitycheckerinchief:

Could you give some examples of the types of contexts and circumstances that could reconcile these quotations?

Also, I notice you say that "nearly" all of the quotes could be reconciled. Which ones do you think cannot be reconciled?

Posted by: efavorite | January 30, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

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