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Posted at 3:15 PM ET, 01/26/2010

Rhee still perplexing

By Valerie Strauss

Now that we know why D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee told a magazine that some laid off teachers had had sex with children and hit them too, I’m still perplexed.

I wonder why Rhee didn’t tell District residents about this when the layoffs happened last October.

I wonder why she didn’t try to explain herself immediately when the controversy over her magazine comments first became public several days ago.

I wonder if and why she still thinks -- despite experience -- that her penchant for secrecy, half statements and surprises serves to further her efforts to reform the D.C. public school system rather than hinder them.

The controversy erupted over the weekend when my colleague Bill Turque wrote a story about comments she made to Fast Company magazine.

“I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of schools," she told the magazine.

That made it sound to many people that many of the 266 teachers who had been laid off were guilty of something.

You might have thought that as soon as the article appeared, she would have publicly explained that she didn’t mean to cast such a wide net. But it wasn’t until this morning that we learn, after Rhee talked to an editorial writer at The Post and NBC4's Tom Sherwood, what actually happened:

Of the 266 teachers off last October--which Rhee said then were due to budget cuts--it turns out, she says now, that one was suspected of having sex with a student. That teacher, she said, was put on immediate administrative leave and a report was made to authorities last May. The investigation continues.

Six of those teachers had served suspensions for corporal punishment and two had been absent without leave on multiple occasions, she told The Post.

Good for Rhee for getting rid of bad teachers.

But why didn’t she tell us last October? Some say that she wanted to tell the D.C. Council last fall but was rudely cut off by members doesn’t exactly cut it. Come on now. She didn’t mention sex to the council, and that’s what got everybody’s attention.

And besides, if she wanted the information to be public, she is more than capable to get it out there, the rude council members notwithstanding.

I’ve seen no evidence that the continued controversy that swirls around her -- a good deal of it brought on by herself -- has helped her carry out her school reforms, which some in the city believe are the last real chance for the D.C. public system to improve.

It is past time for Rhee to recognize that leveling with the public will do her 21/2 year old reform efforts far more good than pretending that the public doesn’t matter.


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By Valerie Strauss  | January 26, 2010; 3:15 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Schools  | Tags:  d.c. schools chancellor michelle rhee  
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If Rhee had qualified her statement to Fast Company magazine with the word "some", she might not be in such a crisis of credibility at this moment.

But she used no such word, nor any qualifiers whatsoever. She simply said "Teachers".

And her problem only begins with leveling with "the public". I don't think she's leveled with anyone, ever, since she came here. She's inveterate and irredeemable. She needs to get gone before she does any more damage.

Posted by: laboo | January 26, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Valerie says, “some in the city believe [her reforms] are the last real chance for the D.C. public system to improve”

Well those people are just wrong. DCPS needs reform and I think that Rhee’s confidence and determination gave people real hope at first. That was certainly my response. But I realized I was wrong quite a while ago and I’m sure others will come to terms with it too.

“Reform” will not come from the messianic figure that Rhee sets herself up to be. We need human, not supernatural, solutions. While her fall from the heights is a huge disappointment, real reform is still possible and even more likely, I think, because after this, people will be more committed to working together to make it happen. Teamwork has never been Rhee’s strong suit.

Valerie, did you know that Jeff Chu’s original, favorable article about Rhee said this: “...every free weekend since her appointment, Rhee has gone to church, not because she believes -- when I ask if she'd grown up religious, she shoots back, ‘Oh, God, no!’ -- but because she wants the people to believe in her.”

How incredibly cynical and manipulative.

Posted by: efavorite | January 26, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

When self promotion and grandstanding is your mode of operation, truth doesn't enter the conversation. You are subjected to the picture she wishes to paint. Unfortunately, others get hurt and that make her reckless, dangerous and bad for DC.

Valerie talk to Jay. Rhee's got him spellbound. Bless his heart.

Posted by: candycane1 | January 27, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

"I’ve seen no evidence that the continued controversy that swirls around her -- a good deal of it brought on by herself -- has helped her carry out her school reforms, which some in the city believe are the last real chance for the D.C. public system to improve."

You are addressing a key issue: Rhee thinks she has no obligation to get political support from the community for her initiatives. She acts in a manner which feeds into the conspiracy theories and she does not feel she ever has to apologize to us for giving us the wrong impression -- which of course validates the conspiracy theories. I have no idea what is really going on in her mind but I'm tired of being treated as if any criticism of her leadership style means I'm opposed to reform.

Posted by: oldmh | January 27, 2010 9:31 PM | Report abuse

laboo suggests that Rhee did not qualify her statement to Fast Company. We do not know what her full statement was, we only know the "pull quote" that Fast Company chose to run.

Posted by: bbcrock | January 29, 2010 9:16 PM | Report abuse

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