Should Rhee ignore the new poll?
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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