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Rhee vs. teacher-student sex

You have to read right away my colleague Bill Turque's latest post on his hot new blog, D.C. Schools Insider. He reports that D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is quoted in Fast Company magazine saying people who accuse her of firing teachers unfairly don't mention that some of the people let go hit children, had sex with children and missed many days of school.

I have been in the news business for 44 years, so I am not so dumb as to reach any conclusions from such a quote until I know more. What does Rhee say about this? What was the context of her quote? Turque has already sent to Rhee the good questions, such as: how many teachers did these things and did she seek criminal prosection?

I thought from the beginning that the appointment of Rhee as chancellor was the most amazing decision by a big city mayor I had ever seen, both because she knew so much about how urban schools raised student achievement and because she had zero experience dealing with the press in such a high-profile job. She has stumbled a few times since in her relations with the Post, but has found a way to regain her feet each time. I will get back to this issue when I know more, but for the moment I hope she answers Turque's questions quickly and completely, as she has been doing with all the questions I have been asking her over the last two years.

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By Jay Mathews  | January 22, 2010; 2:31 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Bill Turque, Fast Company magazine, Michelle Rhee, hitting students, sex with students, teachers missing school  
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Uh-oh Jay, looks like Ms. Rhee has crossed over to the other side. A mind is a terrible thing to lose. She's been irrelevant for some time now but her powerful sponsors have been keeping Michelle around to save themselves the embarrassment of admitting failure and to give Adrian Fenty the best possible shot at re-election. But the cost of that is obviously going to be a sad kind of freak show starring an unhinged Chancellor Rhee.

On a more serious note in this season for remembering an American hero and in light of today's report that unemployment in the District has hit historic levels. In the last months of his life, Dr. Martin Luther King began telling listeners that the ghetto was a "system of internal colonialism." "The purpose of the slum," King said in a speech at the Chicago Freedom Festival, "is to confine those who have no power and perpetuate their powerlessness. ... The slum is little more than a domestic colony which leaves its inhabitants dominated politically, exploited economically, segregated and humiliated at every turn." Fenty and Rhee are in place to do the work of the colonial masters and so the humiliation of teachers should come as no surprise.

But as Dr. King said, there's a Rhee-free "Promised Land" waiting out there for us when we finally decide to fight. The change that's coming to DCPS and to the District and the nation is a lot bigger than midgets Rhee and Fenty.

Posted by: natturner | January 22, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

"She has stumbled a few times since in her relations with the Post, but has found a way to regain her feet each time."

i.e., the unwavering support of the Post editorial board. But they didn't mention child molestation when defending the RIF. Instead, the editorial commented on "teachers who habitually can't control their classes, fail to plan lessons, are late for school, waste instructional time and, most troubling of all, have no expectations for their students." * Later Rhee came out to say that some competent teachers had been RIFd.

I'm with you though, Jay. Let's wait to see how she answers Turqe's questions and then let's check the accuracy of the answers and really get to the bottom of this.

I hear that the story's been picked up by the 90.9 FM - DC's classical music
station, so word is traveling fast.


Posted by: efavorite | January 22, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Am I to assume, since Rhee's statement about teachers screwing children, that it is ok for a grown man or woman to have sex with a child in their charge? There's a word for this, but it escapes me.
It doesn't matter, parents can't sue the public schools over such a thing; its against the law.

Posted by: PaulLeddy | January 22, 2010 8:35 PM | Report abuse

So, according to Mrs. Rhee in FastCompany, she knew there were teachers who engaged in sex with students but she did not call the police.
Maybe things are different in DC, but that's wrong in Maryland or within the Washington Archdiocesan schools.

Oh, and it was nearly 10 years ago that a MCPS middle school teacher was falsely accused of abuse of 6th grade girls:

(Sorry about the long link)

Posted by: edlharris | January 23, 2010 4:00 AM | Report abuse

"she knew so much about how urban schools raised student achievement."

Really? Based on her three years of teaching? Or leading a teacher staffing company? She was never a principal. She never led a school district until DC.

As a parent, I've yet to see what it is that Rhee brings to DCPS other than a great deal of turmoil, which evidenced by her most recent gaffe.

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | January 23, 2010 7:22 AM | Report abuse

"she knew so much about how urban schools raised student achievement."

Steve Spurrier, Marty Shottenheimer, Norv Turner,and Jim Zorn know a lot about football, yet they failed as head coach of the Redskins.

Posted by: edlharris | January 23, 2010 7:34 AM | Report abuse

"she knew so much about how urban schools raised student achievement."

Jay, could you explain the rationale for this extroadinary statement?

Posted by: Nemessis | January 23, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

The MCPS 6th grade teacher committed suicide shortly after it was found that those girls lied - such was his despair at having his career ruined. Rhee has given Turque a "no comment", she might as well have invoked the 5th amendment. It amazes me, Jay, how casually you just lie back when 266 plus teachers have all been besmirched by this irresponsible statement. You should be asking questions too, not waiting to "see what happens". Be a reporter for God's sake!

Posted by: adcteacher1 | January 23, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

For Nemessis---She founded the New Teacher Project, one of the most active organizations in the country in research and practice on what makes schools and school districts effective in attracting and training good teachers. She has been in close contact for more than a decade with the most effective school leaders in the country, including the founders of our best charter organizations and some of our best urban superintendents. She has been sifting the data on this, along with an expert staff whose work I have reviewed, for a long time. I know of few superintendents as well informed on these issues as she is.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | January 23, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

"I have been in the news business for 44 years, so I am not so dumb as to reach any conclusions from such a quote until I know more. What does Rhee say about this? What was the context of her quote?"

Good questions for a newsman, Jay, but if she was misquoted or quoted out of context, a smart leader would have realized that such remarks would be not just inflammatory, but could potentially land her in legal problems, and she would have taken immediate steps to correct the misperception. She would not wait for questions from reporters. It's poor leadership no matter how you cut it. Why do you continue to cut her such slack? Because of the gracious way she riffed those 266 teachers?

Posted by: dz159 | January 23, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

You and Fenty will probably be the last to defend her. Pitiful!

Posted by: candycane1 | January 23, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse


The New Teacher Project is a teacher recruitment firm that recruited many of the teachers that now work for DCPS.

Chancellor Rhee apparently knows very little about how to recruit, train, and retain excellent educators.

What research are you referring to? And which top urban school leaders? Joel Klein? I'm not impressed.

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

Jay, it sounds like you're writing Rhee's obituary.

Posted by: efavorite | January 23, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

She won't answer the questions, claiming "privacy" concerns. However, she is obliged to report all of these types of allegations to the police. If there were "sex predators" RIFfed because they hadn't been reported by DCPS, then the people that failed to report them need to ALL be fired.

I know a teacher who was falsely accused of inappropriate behavior (but not intercourse) by an 18 year old student. He was removed from the classroom that day and was not allowed back for 5 months when the girl recanted her claims in the face of inconsistency.

I'm sure there are some bad teachers and hopefully some of the RIFfed included them, but we know from her own testimony that the RIFfed teachers were chosen for budgetary reasons (read older, expensive ones for the most part)

Posted by: Wyrm1 | January 23, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

"... both because she knew so much about how urban schools raised student achievement...."

How do you know that? From her extensive teaching of four years and her on-line teaching business?

Posted by: ericpollock | January 23, 2010 9:15 PM | Report abuse

"I know of few superintendents as well informed on these issues as she is."

In comparison with other superintendents, maybe, but that's setting the bar fairly low. In any event, her apparent depths of knowledge about what it takes to attract and retain excellent teachers is all wrong. Anybody with 2 brain cells to rub together knows that the most important thing in attracting and retaining top talent is offering a meaningful voice, autonomy, and respect. Rhee rules like Kim Jong Il and takes every opportunity she can to diss teachers -- even while crowing about test scores that mysteriously keep rising despite all the bad teaching.

Posted by: dz159 | January 23, 2010 10:30 PM | Report abuse

This town sure knows how to run every superintendent out, which is why DC has not made any solid longitudinal achievement. Nobody is perfect, so let the woman do her job and let's try, for once, to sustain a superintendent in DC. She's human, she makes mistakes, too, for Christ sakes! Rhee has made some systemic improvements to DCPS, but let's face it, other local superintendents make teacher cuts, too, and nobody crucifies them. Why? Good question, right? And the media...shame on you. It's one thing to report the news; it's another to have a “hidden agenda.” How is any of this drama good for impacted children?

Posted by: rasheeedj | January 23, 2010 11:30 PM | Report abuse

rasheeedj, what is this "hidden agenda" of the media?
You seem ignorant of the fact that Mrs. Rhee has bent the truth and flat out lied on many occasions, yet this is not pointed out by the "media."
She lied on her resume, but it wasn't until April 2009 that the the Post reported it.
She has lied about the test scores of Shaw Middle School and about the math results of NAEP.

How is this setting a good example for the children?
You can lie if you have friends in high places?
Lil' Kim lied and she went to prison for a year.

Anyway, onto what Mrs. Rhee will say Monday.
What will she say?:
1. I lied and I am sorry.
2. I resign because I allowed sexual molesters teach in DCPS
3. some c0ck and bull that will allow the Post to say she's misunderstood.

Posted by: edlharris | January 23, 2010 11:50 PM | Report abuse

Not ignorant to the facts at all...Let me say this again: other superintendents make drastic cuts, spend stupidly, lie, cheat, steal, etc., and you never hear about them. The “media” has chosen Rhee as a Science project...There's a lot of GOOD things happening in schools (yes, in DC schools, too), but the media won't report those small, daily triumphs. Instead, they'd rather gain and build influence off of drama/controversy, in this case, Michelle Rhee's fame. And by the way, some of your facts are inaccurate—even more reason why research is important. I won't go as far as saying, “you are ignorant to the facts,” but I will certainly say, “Get your facts straight.”

Posted by: rasheeedj | January 24, 2010 6:54 AM | Report abuse


I was going to ask you why you have to keep coming back to Rhee to ask those questions. But then, efavorite beat me to it asking, "I'm with you though, Jay. Let's wait to see how she answers Turqe's questions and then let's check the accuracy of the answers and really get to the bottom of this," (no offense but I read this column as much for his comments and edharriss' as yours)

As nemessis wrote, however, the TNTP does not do "research." There is a definition for that word and just "sifting through data" and talking to adults does not constitute research. Please, go back to The Widget Effect with fresh eyes and perhaps check footnotes (they only have one footnote on growth models' validity and it contradicts their own statements) and find something that rises to the level of research.

Posted by: johnt4853 | January 24, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Rhee just opened a state-of-the-art diagnostic center at the Walker Jones campus, free to all District residents, and aimed towards detecting learning problems early. These are the kind of facilities that have long existed in excellent school systems and are long overdue here. If children can be diagnosed and treated earlier, it is better for them and their futures. It also greatly benefits the kids in DC without learning disabilities, whose educations have suffered due to a lack of funding-- because that funding is siphoned off by an incredibly bloated and dysfunctional special ed system (most of the money goes to transport special ed kids out of the city -- not even towards the education itself.)

I know that Rhee opened her mouth and inserted her foot with regard to the layoffs. But why not more coverage of the real, substantive progress being made in DCPS?

Bill Turque gave it only a passing mention compared to his more inflammatory stuff:

Posted by: trace1 | January 24, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

john4853 - Thanks and Ditto

Specific thanks for saving me the trouble of reacting to the "sifting the data" comment.

Trace1 - I think Jay's just the person to provide further coverage on the new diagnostic facility. Turque's a little busy right now with his specialty, investigative reporting.

I agree the diagnostic facility is a good idea and also think that a responsible leader would have focused on that sort of thing at the beginning of her tenure, instead of putting her energies into blasting bad teachers and trying to bust the union.

Posted by: efavorite | January 24, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

"And by the way, some of your facts are inaccurate—even more reason why research is important."
rasheeedj | January 24, 2010 6:54 AM

It's been 6 hours.
Are you going to point out the facts that are inaccurate???

As for media, go look at what slavishly favourable coverage she's gotten from Newsweek, Charlie Rose, Anderson Cooper, Wall Street Journal (nowadays, not 15 years ago), and the Post editorial board.

Posted by: edlharris | January 24, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

"I have been in the news business for 44 years, so I am not so dumb as to reach any conclusions from such a quote until I know more. What does Rhee say about this? What was the context of her quote?"

So, Jay, are you calling everyone else idiots for reaching conclusions about her sweeping statement? You always jump to the conclusion to defend Rhee, yet now you have nothing to say!

Posted by: southyrndiva | January 24, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

southyndiva - perhaps what Jay is saying is, "If all this is true, Rhee is cooked" and he's not ready to say it until he's got all the facts.

Raheeedj – you use a lot of edu-speak; maybe even 825-speak. It makes me I wonder if you’re a Rhee staffer. You also sound intelligent and a little brain washed and very defensive and frustrated. I’d be frustrated too, if I worked for Rhee right now.

Posted by: efavorite | January 24, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Here is Rhee's quote in context in the Fast Company magazine: {After the October layoffs of 266 teachers and staff, the union claimed Rhee used a budget crunch as a pretext for dismissing veteran teachers, since seniority rules don't cover cuts for fiscal reasons. "I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school," Rhee says. "Why wouldn't we take those things into consideration?"}

Why on earth do we need any more questions answered by Rhee about these statements? They absolutely speak for themselves. She is blatantly accusing teachers who were RIFed of physical and sexual abuse of children and dereliction of duty. Couldn't be ANY CLEARER.

Jay, you have lost so much credibility by continuing to defend Chancellor Rhee in the face of her gross missteps, mistakes and lies (Ellingington school, Fast Company quotes, lies about test scores, lies about her background, etc etc.)

You said in your column that she always answers your questions. I asked you a long time ago to ask her why she ended the practice of a Senior Paper at School Without Walls. You promised me a couple of times that you would ask and report her answer. I must have missed it, or maybe she never did answer that one.

Wake up, Jay. Rhee is not the savior people might have thought she'd be. Look at her honestly instead of digging in your heels.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | January 24, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Please provided your information regarding "other superintendents" making drastic cuts that aren't reported in the media? Have other superintendents suddenly fired more than 250 teachers two months into the school year? Did these other superintendents claim it was for budget reasons, and then make allegations about sexual contact with their students?

All education staff, including Rhee, if they are informed of such abuse are required by law to report it right away. Did she?

Posted by: researcher2 | January 24, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Jay, here’s some scholarly research on bullying in the workplace that I just heard about and wanted you to be aware of. It’s done by psychologists Nathanial Fast and Serena Chen at UC Berkley and USC:

My favorite part is in the Conclusion section:
“Power holders who do not feel personally competent are more likely than those who feel competent to lash out against other people. Additionally, the finding that self-worth boosts assuage the aggressive tendencies of such power holders implies the effectiveness of a strategy commonly employed by underlings: excessive flattery. It is both interesting and ironic to note that such flattery, although perhaps affirming to the ego, may contribute to the incompetent power holder’s ultimate demise—by causing the power holder to lose touch with reality”

Michelle Rhee has certainly been receiving her share of “excessive flattery” – not just from the expected cast of underlings, but from the national press.

Posted by: efavorite | January 24, 2010 9:25 PM | Report abuse

This crack Rhee made to Fast Company about the 266 RIF'd teachers is only the latest and worst in a long string of statements from her designed to portray herself as a hero in trying to fix a school system staffed by mostly lazy, incompetent teachers.

If the superintendant of PG County, Montgomery Co, or any VA school district made such comments, repeatedly, in the highest profile national press outlets, about the teacher work force, they'd have been called on the carpet long ago.

The problem with Rhee: There's no one in authority to tell her to STFU and do her job.

She should have been told a long time ago that denigrating DCPS in the national press is neither a part of her job description nor beneficial to DCPS students.

But there is no Board of Education or other authority to whom she reports. Just Mayor Fenty, whose re-election depends on her maintaining an image of success against all odds in improving DC schools. What would motivate him to call her on the carpet?

This is the moment when a politician with courage and vision could step forward and call her out for her counterproductive loud mouth behavior...instead, DC's elected leaders sit on their hands and seem to feel it's not their job to rein in the Rhee-diculous.

Posted by: Trulee | January 24, 2010 11:44 PM | Report abuse

Sorry to be late. I try to stay off the Web on weekends. Rhee and her former organization have worked in cities around the country, trying to recruit and train teachers, and having some successes, according to the experts I talk to. Very few other organizations have done such work at such a large scale. I don't know of any data that measures so far how The New Teacher Project has done. But I have read their reports. The Widget Effect, and the report written by Jessica Levin and others two years before that, were among the best things I had ever seen on the structural barriers to getting good teachers into school systems and letting them do good work. I was particularly impressed with Levin's success in analyzing, through interviews with teachers and principals, the urban rules that require principals to wait until all of the best candidates for jobs in their schools have been snapped up by the suburbs before they can even offer them jobs.
As for the educators whose view of Rhee have had the most impact on me, that would start with Dave Levin (Jessica's brother) and Mike Feinberg, the co-founders of the KIPP schools. They know what works, and I have seen Rhee following the same path---trying to install the best available principals in her schools and giving them the power to create their teacher teams so that as cooperative, creative groups, help kids.
I don't think there is much more to say until she responds to Bill Turque's good questions about her Fast Company statements. I am not sure if this will end her tenure or not. But I promise to express my opinion on that once I see what she says.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | January 25, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

So the KIPP people like Michelle Rhee and they know what works. That's why you keep defending Rhee? Not very compelling.

Posted by: Nemessis | January 26, 2010 5:32 AM | Report abuse

It is important to find out if DCPS informed the police about the teachers Michelle Rhee identified to Tom Sherwood and the Post editorial staff.
Note that she did not mention this to Bill Turque.
If she sticks around, you'll have to run interference for him.

And you expalin her statement to Tom Sherwood:
“It was never OUR intention, nor did I ever say, it was ALL of the teachers who fell into these catagories...OUR intention was not to paint ALL teachers with a broad brush stroke.”

Who is OUR?

Posted by: edlharris | January 26, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Jay, your response to nemisis missed the boat...twice. The Levins, Feinberg, Rhee, Joel Klein, etc. are all invested (both politically and financially) in the TFA "miracle cure" for education scenario, in the face of all contradictory evidence. TFA is an employment agency, not an educational research agency. "The Widget Effect" does not qualify educational research. It is not peer-reviewed and its conslusions are not supported by its own, questionable, "data." Real educationa research regarding the failure of inner-city schools (including the relative successes and failures of TFA and KIPP) has been going on for at least 50 years. Among the more noteworthy real researchers are Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, Dr. Diane Ravitch and Dr. Russ Whitehurst. I suggest you read some of their work for balance, and to observe the difference between their methodology and TFA's.

Posted by: mcstowy | January 27, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

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