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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 02/ 1/2010

Should Rhee ignore the new poll?

By Valerie Strauss

If I were D.C. Schools Superintendent Michelle Rhee, I wouldn’t care much about a new Washington Post poll that shows declining support in the city.

The Post has details of a new poll that is largely about Mayor Adrian Fenty but that also includes questions about Rhee, and it shows the popularity of both officials down from two years ago.

Rhee’s approval rating has fallen from January 2008, when 59 percent of residents viewed her favorably and 29 percent disapproved, to today, when 43 percent approve of her performance and 44 percent are dissatisfied. And those with children in D.C. public schools have nearly reversed their opinion of Rhee; two years ago, 54 percent of those parents approved of her; now, 54 percent disapprove.

But, to confuse matters, the poll also shows a rise in the percentage of parents in the District (regardless of whether their children go to D.C. public schools) believe some things are getting better in the district.


These results are not surprising.

School superintendents who stay on the job for more than a minute usually see their numbers fall (if they started with any measure of popularity). New school chiefs are given the benefit of the doubt--but reform is hard and can take time, and people become impatient. The Post poll shows that plenty of D.C. residents have stopped giving Rhee the benefit of the doubt.

The poll was taken from Jan. 24-28, meaning the surveying started one day after my colleague Bill Turque reported in the newspaper that Rhee had made some controversial comments to a business magazine. That started several days of negative publicity for Rhee, and certainly could have affected the results.

Besides, the poll does not uncover why those people who used to support Rhee don’t anymore. That will be done in a future Post poll, but this one didn't get that information.

If it turns out that people are tiring of Rhee's penchant for secrecy, half-statements and surprises, then she has something to worry about. If people are forgetting how hard change can be, that's another story. But without really knowing the reasons for her drop in support, what we have, essentially, are popularity numbers. Knowing "why" is essential.

I disagree with Rhee on a lot of issues, including her love for standardized testing, and I've written a number of times about my concerns about the way she is trying to reform the system.

But how much stock do I put in these poll numbers? Right now, not much.

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By Valerie Strauss  | February 1, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  D.C. Schools  | Tags:  michelle rhee  
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Comments

Compare the Post's polling of parents with the results from the 2008-2009 DCPS stakeholders survey.
In that report 85% of parents were satisfied or very satisfied with the teachers.
Also, 83% of the parents believed the schools were on the right path.
(Press release here:
http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/About DCPS/Press Releases and Announcements/Press Releases/DCPS Releases Results of the 2008-2009 Stakeholder Surveys

Results here:
http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/About DCPS/Satisfaction Stakeholder Surveys/2008-09 Survey Results%3A Staff%2C Parents%2C Students)

Posted by: edlharris | February 1, 2010 8:48 AM | Report abuse

Too bad pollsters didn’t ask survey participants how many of them regularly read the editorial page of the Washington post, and of those, how many believed what they read about the Chancellor.

While perhaps out of place in that survey, such a question would have provided more insight on some of the responses, given that the editorials about Chancellor Rhee are positive (if not glowing), in contrast to articles in the news section and citizens’ direct experience with her.

Posted by: efavorite | February 1, 2010 9:01 AM | Report abuse

Poll numbers don't necessarily say much, and the no school system is run by plebiscite. Still, Rhee should be trying to figure out why these changes have occurred. And she needs to go about this with the idea that she might actually have something to learn. Maybe she really isn't warm and fuzzy as she thinks. Maybe she has made some really stupid public pronouncements. Maybe there are legitimate reasons why people don't approve of her. If she isn't willing to do some serious soul searching (with some assistance from advisors, focus groups, and so forth), she might as well resign.

Posted by: jlhare1 | February 1, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Rhee's job is to make desperately needed changes, not to be popular. She's doing her job. No, she shouldn't pay any attention to the polls. As a teacher, I admire her determination to get rid of ineffective teachers, because they give us all a bad name. My only concern is that she's getting rid of support for teachers to become nationally board certified. She wants to use the money to provide training for all teachers, which is good, but she will be very challenged to find training that improves teaching even one-tenth as much as the National Board process.

Posted by: pattipeg1 | February 1, 2010 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Hey, Valerie - I just recalled that the FCC "Rhee - Best person of the year" ad that you wrote about appeared in the Post on January the 25th, right during the polling period of Jan 24-28th, and right after the infamous "sex with children" remark.

Coincidence? Any chance the Federal City Council would know that the Post was doing a poll right about then?

Edlharris - this might explain how the ad appeared so propitiously

Posted by: efavorite | February 1, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

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