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Rhee: Uncompromising

Late last week I had an interesting telephone conversation with D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. She called with a comment on a post in which I suggested she be more careful of her public words--like her statement that some of the teachers she fired hit or had sex with kids--in order to make sure she stays in her job and applies her considerable skills and knowledge to fixing our failing school system.

I suggested she apologize for offending teachers with her words so that we could get past this point and back to helping kids.

She said, in essence, that she is not going to do that. She said she wished that the Fast Company magazine item that sparked the controversy had included her statement that many of the teachers she had to fire for budget reasons were good people. But, she said, she was not going to compromise her methods or her beliefs. Some teachers did hit kids and have sex with kids, she said. She thought that was something people should know. It was important to root out such behaviors.

She had taken the chancellor job, which she did not seek, with the understanding she would do things her way. She had seen many big city superintendents do the more conventional thing, watch their words and try not to offend. She thinks that approach has not been successful.

"I'm going to take a route that has not been tried before," she said. "I'm not going to try to please people so I can stay here a little longer." She is going to do what she thinks has to be done, she said, and accept the consequences.

Yesterday I emailed her to ask if she is also unmoved by her falling public favorability numbers, as reported Monday in the Post. That's right, she said. "Paying attention to polls would mean less attention to kids and schools."

She thinks her approach will work. She thinks she will be able to raise achievement substantially before she goes. "But can I guarantee that?" she said. "Absolutely not. Do I believe we'll do it? Absolutely."

I think she is one of the best big city school chiefs in the country. I have spent three decades studying what methods are most likely to improve inner city schools. She is using nearly all of them---installing strong principals; giving them the power to hire and fire teachers; insisting on effective teaching and high expectations for all kids no matter what their backgrounds; and taking test results seriously.

If student achievement does not improve, the principals or teachers responsible have to go. The only thing on my list Rhee has not done yet is significantly increase the time for instruction, but I suspect she is looking for ways to do that too.

For an education reporter, there is no better story than Michelle Rhee. Can a school superintendent that uncompromising survive and have the effect on teaching and learning she wants?

As she said, we have never before had a person like this run such an important, high-profile school district. The politics of the city are still in her favor, because people are so turned off by how bad the schools have been. Look at the many readers who voiced their support for Rhee in comments to Bill Turque and Jon Cohen's story on her poll results.

Rhee is an original. I am rooting for her. But I am not sure, if I were a betting person, how much I would wager on the success of her unique quest.

Read Jay's blog every day at

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By Jay Mathews  | February 2, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  D.C. resident oppose Rhee, Paying attention to polls would mean less attention to kids and schools.Michelle A. Rhee, Rhee different from all other superintendents, Rhee ignores bad poll results, Rhee won't compromise, tough Rhee  
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Jay, curious to know if you asked a key question that I haven't seen in any of the articles on her comments to Fast Company.

Why did she wait until the budget firings to fire teachers who had hit or had sex with students?

Posted by: researcher2 | February 2, 2010 5:52 AM | Report abuse

Honestly Jay, another love note to Rhee!

Here's a little secret, many of the principals Rhee has appointed are floundering. Your paper reported on yet another one this week.

Rhee has time to jet around the country and give interview after interview with major news outlets. Doesn't that distract from the work of fixing schools? Personally, I think she should take a peek at the polling data and cut her next interview with Time. Or Fast Company. Or Tom Brokaw.

I'm a parent in a DCPS school. Rhee has made things worse for my children. I know that's not a popular statement at the Post, but it's true.

I would love nothing better than to carefully list all the ways Rhee has damaged my child's school, but I cannot. As other commenters have indicated, it would bring down retribution on our school.

So, when does the Post's editorial board publish their love note?

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | February 2, 2010 6:51 AM | Report abuse

"She thought that was something people should know." And used "Fast Company" magazine to get the message out?

That's very odd.

Posted by: trace1 | February 2, 2010 7:34 AM | Report abuse

Jay, really, you are a sycophant. Increase teaching time? Look at our schedule for this year - teaching time has decreased. This particular week will be the last 5 day week of school until April! Then we get ten days of DC-CAS testing! Half our instruction time gone right there. The Professional Development days are a joke - merely indoctrination in how to pass IMPACT.
Putting in effective administrators? What, like Springarn, Shaw, Hart, Oyster, Anacostia - schools that had effective administrators that she replaced and which then saw a drop in scores?
Oh, I see, she uses your ideas and we all know that your ideas are just the best. They are what pave the road to hell.

Posted by: adcteacher1 | February 2, 2010 7:44 AM | Report abuse

Seriously, Jay, is there anything Michelle Rhee could say that would cause you to think twice about her? Clearly calling ex-teachers sex offenders and abusers doesn't do it.

She's going to do what has to be done? Is that for the kids, or for her career? I think the answer too often is the latter -- certainly the incentive to talk to magazines like Fast Company or take that picture with the broom in Time is for herself first, since it's hard to see how either would have an impact in the classroom.

Honestly, Jay, I know I have harped on this a lot, but I can't think of another Washington Post writer who is as much in the tank with a source they are supposed to be covering as you are with Michelle Rhee. Everything you write on the D.C. school system is a little love letter to her. Do you even talk to your own beat writers about what they see, or do you just dismiss the negative stories because they don't fit in with your own narrative about the take-charge chancellor who tries to get it done, regardless of all the little people she has to slander in the process to please her prime constituency, the media?

Posted by: bermanator34 | February 2, 2010 8:16 AM | Report abuse

Jay, Right on!

Rhee may be a little brash but she is what it takes. Many people think that consensus building is what it takes to get this right.. I say no. How can you build consensus with people who aren't on your thinking level, who don't understand the big picture, and who resist change to begin with?

The bottom line is Rhee is moving forward. Get onboard or get off the tracks!

What I find interesting from those comments in yesterday's article is how racially charged and polarized they are.

That's something that needs examining.

Posted by: Jack52 | February 2, 2010 8:42 AM | Report abuse

For an education reporter, there is no story better than Michelle Rhee.

Well, Jay, is this statement the real reason you're so in the tank for Rhee-because she provides you with good material?

Being uncompromising will lead to Rhee's exit, because at some point she will exhaust the energy, patience and willingness of the people who actually do the work in the schools to put up with her take no prisoners style of "leadership".

Posted by: sanderling5 | February 2, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse

I’ll give Jay the benefit of the doubt here for a minute and suggest that he’s really reaching out, consciously or unconsciously, for erudite reader input on the Chancellor’s latest statement.
Consciously, because a private chat with the chancellor about the “sex with children” comment would make a popular blog item and unconsciously because he’s either trying to shore up his wavering support or to justify his painful break from her.

So when he says, “She thought that [the fast Company quote] was something people should know,” he’s just reporting. He’s not saying he agrees or disagrees. He wants input from readers and now he’s getting it.

Jay might have jeopardized the likelihood of further phone chats with the Chancellor if he had asked her obvious follow-up questions, such as: Why wait for the Fast Company interview to disseminate this important information? Why not include it among the reasons for RIFing some teachers that you gave to the ed board and the Council in October when the RIF was happening? How can you expect people to believe that you left off such important information in your council testimony because they cut you off? How is it that you’re bold with a magazine interviewer and cowed by councilmembers? How does this best serve the children?

I suggest that we continue to indulge him. His extant direct line to the Chancellor might benefit us all at some point, and I can’t see how it’s doing any harm. She would press on with or without him.

Posted by: efavorite | February 2, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

Good suggestion on indulgence, efavorite.

I didn't in my first post, so maybe that's why it is awaiting approval.

Posted by: edlharris | February 2, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Can we get beyond the insulting "Helping Children / "Best Interests of the Children" line? Do the people saying this really think someone who disagrees with their point of view is out here to damage children?

I can't see how the best interests of children were served by not instituting imemdiate action against any DCPS staff who abused children or did not work in a professional manner. I don't think one needed to wait for budget cuts to do this.

Posted by: altaego60 | February 2, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Ed- your post is awaiting approval because it was too long or had too many links in it, or it had been less than three minutes since you posted something on another wapo board.

Break your comment into two parts and see what happens. Jay isn't holding it, it's just the system.

Why WaPo doesn't explain this, I don't know.

Posted by: efavorite | February 2, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Jay, I think it might be time to hang up your hat. I am astounded by your inability to objectively consider the facts about Michelle Rhee's impact on the culture and climate of DC's school system.

Her attitude and derisive, bullying tone (a tone which is echoed by many of the commenters who post on your blog) suggest a deep disdain for the professionals who have labored in under-resourced community schools under unimaginable circumstances to provide an educational foundation for the students they serve.

Your sycophantic boot-licking of this egomaniacal tyrant belies your own condescending attitude toward the professionals and families (well, those who happen to be poor people of color) who populate this system.

Your oft-cited thirty years of experience in school improvement reporting seem to ignore what should be common knowledge: People who feel valued and supported in their work, especially when that work is incredibly challenging, are capable of great things. People who feel demoralized, micro-managed, and generally defecated-upon will likely fail.

I am so tired of hearing your adoring support of Rhee's constant belittling of the very workforce that this city needs to educate these students. There are numerous reasons, many of them completely outside of teachers' and administrators' control (socio-economic, familial, mental health, etc.) that impact students' ability to learn and thrive. Yes, there are teachers and administrators in this system who need to go. Yes, the system needs drastic improvement. But the HOW is as important as the WHAT here, and Rhee's HOW is simply toxic.

I've read several commenters asking you what this woman would have to do to risk losing your adulation. What exactly would it take for you to put down your Michelle-Rhee-swoonfest-cocktail and start addressing these concerns in any substantive way?

Posted by: veegraham | February 2, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

The usual way to discredit someone is to say that they are failing and that a measure of their delusion is that they think they are not failing. So there are some bothered people halfway through a reform program. Get used to that. It is to be expected.

Her test will be failure or success of the program.

Mid term approval raitings are just as important as being two touchdowns behind at half time. Not a problem if you win. Big problem if you lose.

We will have to wait and see on Rhee.

Posted by: gary4books | February 2, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse


People of Rhee's personality type do not apologize. Did she inadvertently offend the teachers who were laid off? It doesn't matter to her so why apologize? Did she libel these teachers? Who cares, might be her response.

Although I don't agree with many of your opinions, I still think you are a decent, caring person and that's why YOU would apologize if you were in Rhee' situation. Rhee does not apologize. Does this tell you something?

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | February 2, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Jay, you've done it again. I'm so disappointed in you.

I almost dread reading what you will write about how you and I were "both sort of right" about how Michelle Rhee lied to you. (Background: I asked Jay to ask Rhee why she change the Senior Research Project at School Without Walls from mandatory to optional two years ago. She flat out told him she did no such thing. I found the Washington Times article and another published article from that time reporting about how she did just that and showed them to Jay. )

I'm sure you will have a very "convenient truth" now coming from Rhee. Something like how she explained away her horrible comment to Fast Company as something that people needed to know.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | February 2, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Pardon me, I meant to say the Washington Examiner article that reported on Rhee's order to make the Senior Project optional---going against what the principal had decided. By the way, I believe the Senior Project is back to being mandatory now, in order to follow No Child Left Behind.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | February 2, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Rhee to Jay:
“Paying attention to polls would mean less attention to kids and schools.”

Rhee in today’s Post:
She cited data from the poll showing that residents see some improvement in areas including school safety, teacher quality and the availability of books and other basic supplies.
"The bottom line for me is that more people think the schools are doing better," said Rhee

Posted by: achachi | February 2, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Good column, Jay. Don't let the whining comments get you down!

Posted by: fredcorgi1 | February 2, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

achachi - good catch on the contradictory quotes from Rhee.

Jay might call that a cheap shot.

When you see more like that, please post them here.

From the above quotes, it's hard to know if she's data-driven or not.

Posted by: efavorite | February 2, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

I am a parent of 3 high performing DCPS kids. You are quite mistaken about most DCPS schools having strong principals. Rhee continues to remove strong effective principals and install "yes" -men and -women that she can direct without pushback. Most have very little school administrative experience and insufficient leadership background to tell her what she really needs to hear about that school.

Furthermore, take a close look at what's being taught throughout the year at the majority of ES/MS schools: at least once per advisory, students have nearly a week of DC-BAS test taking; for at least three-quarters of the year they are instructed in reading and math exclusively with no instruction in science, history, geography, etc.; and, to repeat others, there are quite a few half days, staff development days and almost 2 weeks of DC-CAS testing on the calendar.

Jay -- Go talk to some DCPS parents east of 16th street for some feedback on the effectiveness of Rhee's reforms. No one else in either your office or Rhee's seems interested in doing so.

Posted by: bdoc1 | February 2, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Without someone willing to take on and fight the Teacher's Union with the vehemence that the union staff brings to the discussion as seen above, I would not continue to live in DC. I definitely am not going to stay in DC with a different mayor. My friends in MoCo have much much better teachers without all the racist name-calling that I put up with in DCPS and associated with DCPS.

Michelle Rhee cannot and should not negotiate with terrorists. The commentary on these boards as one can see above has long ago crossed the line.

For those of you who are ignorant of how the world works, the Fast Company writers asked her questions. They chose the questions to ask. They also chose what responses to run and how to edit those responses for maximum reader interest. They achieved their goals.

I do not and cannot understand why people think that Rhee "went to" Fast Company when it's clear that they came to her. I do not and cannot understand why people think that Rhee should apologize for the behavior of the magazine writer. If anyone was hurt by the magazine's writer it was Rhee herself.

Jay's column is clumsy, but it does detail the situation- why should Rhee apologize for Fast Company's editorial policy? It would show weakness when DCPS needs strength.

I am no Rhee apologist, I do not support the Duke Ellington plan, but many of you are poisoning the discussion and your surprise at why Jay Mathews doesn't agree with you shows how divorced you are from the facts as they are. Jay is probably the most even-handed DCPS critic in DC. If you don't like it that reflects more on you than him. Otherwise there would be a massive conspiracy out there in all walks of life to make DCPS before Michelle Rhee look like the students were failing and not graduating or succeeding in college. A massive conspiracy to show DC teachers as ineffective. Believe that conspiracy at will.

Posted by: bbcrock | February 2, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse


"For those of you who are ignorant of how the world works, the Fast Company writers asked her questions. They chose the questions to ask. They also chose what responses to run and how to edit those responses for maximum reader interest. They achieved their goals."

And for those of you ignorant of how the relations with the media works, this was not Michelle Rhee's first rodeo. She has ample experience with the media, and she knows what soundbites are likely to find their way into print. For her to dismiss the criticism with the hollow defense that Fast Company did not print her entire message ... I mean, if she's genuinely surprised at the quotes Fast Company chose to run, she is an idiot.

There is a purpose for every Michelle Rhee interview, which first and foremost is to advance the persona of Michelle Rhee. If it helps the schools too, great! But as is evident with the Fast Company interview, such secondary goals are clearly unnecessary.

Posted by: bermanator34 | February 2, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

To "altaego60," who would like commenters to shun the "what's good for the children," argument. She seems to think that is unfair and a throwaway. Pity that is not the case. Just look at the mainly self-serving broadsides by the officers of the Wash. Teachers Union, their mouthpieces on this blog, and the malicious gang of Rhee-bashers.

It would be great of the bad union management and subset of teachers who are ineffective and who believe their jobs are entitlements, would only do much much better for the kids. Let our good teachers and parents who have the spirit of helping the schools improve do the best for the kids. That is never a bad argument.
And, Jay: keep on doing what you are doing. We know you are not a blind supporter of Rhee. Your comments drive the Destructo Corps of the Wash. Teachers Union up the wall.

Posted by: axolotl | February 2, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I hope the previous comments have at least singed your ears and hair. Now we are waiting to see what, if anything, you have learned from this.
What works and doesn't work in a classroom? Ask a teacher! There are thousands of them around this area alone.

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | February 2, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

For what it's worth, the two recently-hired principals in my neighborhood, high school and elementary, were long-time Montgomery County school heads. I wouldn't call that insufficient leadership experience. Most parents are very happy with them; they seem to have brought some stability and high standards to the schools.

Posted by: trace1 | February 2, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

This is a terrific debate. Thank you for it. Also i am pleased that i did not see a single racist comment. For efavorite, edlharris and others who called for indulging me, thank you. That is a lot better than cutting me off from yr thoughts, hostile or otherwise, that would really hurt me as writer. And I think at my age, becoming eligible for Medicare in 2 months, a little indulgence is due me. Maybe. The Walls senior project post will go up tomorrow morning.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 2, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Jay -
For what it's worth, I admire your willingness to throw yourself into the fray. Not many writers have the guts.

Posted by: trace1 | February 2, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

That's outstanding for DCPS. I hope yours is a neighborhood east of 16th street. I know of quite a few schools less fortunate than the two you cited. As I'm sure you noted, while I said "most", I did not say "all" when discussing principals.

Posted by: bdoc1 | February 2, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

bbcrock: “For those of you who are ignorant of how the world works, the Fast Company writers asked her questions. They chose the questions to ask.”

She could have declined to talk to them, and said, “Answering your questions would mean less attention to kids and schools.”

Posted by: achachi | February 2, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

How does a person so clearly struggling with narcissistic personality disorder come off as a selfless crusader in the pages of the Washington Post? Of course, if you ask her, Michelle Rhee is here to save the children. The problem with everyone that has come before Ms. Rhee? They just never cared the way she does. Let it never be put to the test but certainly Ms. Rhee would not hesitate to give her life for these kids in the manner of Dr. Martin Luther King. Yep, her story has Viola Liuzzo written all over it.

But so much for fairy tales, retreating again to the real world, when Michelle Rhee mouths the line she's "doing what's best for the kids", she is simply parroting a new slogan created in ultra-conservative think tanks. She's not alone. Read the public pronouncements of Joel Klein in New York City, the same for Paul Vallas in New Orleans, in fact, every graduate of the Broad Center for Superintendents is singing the same tune. There isn't an ounce of sincerity in one of them, especially Rhee! They are all ideologues and functionaries who collect fat paychecks to do as Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Jeb Bush and other super-rich men instruct them.

And since the DCPS is overwhelmingly populated with African-American children and other children of color, Ms. Rhee's messianic approach carries with it another troubling dimension. To say no one cared for these kids, by implication not their neglectful parents, by implicatin not their indolent teachers, and by implication not the men and women who represent their parents in political office, is to exault herself above all others. Little wonder so many parents, teachers, and public officials feel so insulted by Chancellor Rhee.

Posted by: natturner | February 2, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

To natturner: hyperbole and (humorously bad-tempered) exaggeration will not push your views over the top. Just go through the last 5 or 7 heads of the DCPS; or the officers of the Wash Teachers Union; or the sizeable subset of teachers and principals (former, and some present, too) who were/are not up to the task of strengthening DCPS performance. Tell me they wanted the best for the kids, in their actions, in the personal and career risks they took, in their sense of urgency, in their results, as our costly schools sank into the mire. Also, your patter is a hop and a skip away from some bald racial diatribe, as well. A person of your experience should know better than to proceed in that terrible direction, without any proof, but rather the gross inferences you draw from your own bias. Who can you name who more obviously, by deeds and words and a sense of self-sacrifice and urgency, has tried harder for the educational benefit DCPS kids? Name one, natturner.

Posted by: axolotl | February 2, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Rhee is full of words and a sense of self-sacrifice and urgency for sure, but the academic achievement DCs children has been improving steadily for more than a decade and through six superintendents. Rhee is the first leader to take and receive credit for these gains but it's unclear what or who has caused them and fascinating to me that no one seems curious. Is it the teachers? improved family supports? does changing superintendents have a beneficial effect on student achievement? Doesn't anyone care about the children enough to look into this?

Posted by: efavorite | February 2, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I see it's been all hands on deck at the Post to try to re-hab Rhee's image after she stuck her foot in her mouth.

On the other hand, the Post missed the real education item in the NY Times.
Duncan and the Obama administration are trying to revise NCLB to severely diminish its reliance on student testing and focus more on learning in the classroom. That is the death-knell for scripted, teach-to-the-test "reformers" like Rhee, Klien and the rest of the TFA and NTP cult.

Posted by: mcstowy | February 2, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Thanks to trace1: when i reported in China, i always tried to interview the old people. They were too far gone to be afraid of anything. Same goes now for me.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 2, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

I'm not from DC, I don't have a dog in this fight. But "taking a new path" does not require mistreating people. Refusing to kowtow to pressure does not mean you have to act like a flaming a******.

A real leader speaks truth to power, and treats the powerless with consideration and respect. What I see here is a leader who speaks her "truth" to everyone -- both the politicians and entrenched establishment (who have the power here), and the teachers who were laid off (who do not). Standing up to the administration is an act of courage. Misleading people about the character of the teachers you laid off (mostly good, decent people who now have no job in a horrible economy), to make your own decision look better -- that is an act of cowardice. Her apparent inability to recognize the difference does not bode well for her long-term effectiveness.

The teachers who hit or had sex with kids should have been fired immediately. If they had not been, it was entirely appropriate to include them in the layoffs -- and explain that to the powers-that-be who had to approve the decision. It was completely inappropriate to justify the layoffs up front as budget cuts, then cast aspersions on all of the laid off teachers through the back door of the news media.

Posted by: laura33 | February 2, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

"Thanks to trace1: when i reported in China, i always tried to interview the old people. They were too far gone to be afraid of anything. Same goes now for me. "

All respect, Jay, but saying "The People in Power are doing a great job!!!!!!" is hardly going to win you the mythical Pulitzer Prize for Courage.

Posted by: bermanator34 | February 2, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

OK, efavorite. I respect your views, even though I disagree with many, especially the unwillingness to rank teachers as No. 1 influence on progress. But I ask you, as I did natturner, what other figure has been as instrumental in all the respects cited? Or, if that is too difficult, who would you like to succeed Rhee if you want her gone? Give us your best shot, please. Thanks.

Posted by: axolotl | February 2, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

When the DC schools start getting worse, rather than better, then I will criticize the leadership. Ms Rhee is getting results and I don't care how disliked she is, the DC schools are improving and that's what she was hired for. Same goes for Fenty; DC is looking better even if he's not your cup of tea. People who live in glass houses.... If you think there aren't incidences of misconduct, both sexual and otherwise, going on in the schools, then you are living in a dream world. Back off and let Ms Rhee continue doing her job--unmolested.

Posted by: goodjuli20031 | February 2, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

axolotl, I'm tempted to just drop Dr. King's name and walk away from your challenge with arms raised in triumph. But that's too easy so in a minute I'll give you a list of thousands more.

Before that though, one should never leave the mention of Dr. Martin King's name casually and without the proper awe and reverence for his memory. Imagine, this utterly brilliant and supremely talented man could have easily lived a long life in the lap of luxury. All he had to do was stop pushing against racism, poverty and war (all dismissed by Ms. Rhee as "excuses"). He had all the money in the world at his disposal and he still went to Riverside Church to speak out against the Vietnam War. He had been warned his life was on the line (read his Mountaintop speech the night before he was killed) and he still went to Memphis in support of the sanitation workers union. I don't know how such men are made but God help me live with even a small measure of such strength and courage.

Getting back to your challenge, first contact the WTU and get a list of their members, strike the name George Parker, and you will have a list of several thousand who try "harder for the educational benefit DCPS kids". Then compile a list of the parents, older brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives of every kid in a D.C. public school and you will have tens of thousands more who try "harder for the educational benefit DCPS kids" than does Michelle Rhee.

And axolotl, have you noticed the sorry state of U.S. banks these days. Somewhere I read that they needed hundreds of billions of our tax dollars to avoid collapse. Seems like their "excuses" for poor performance get treated differently than children living in poverty. Seems like the bankers don't bother with "merit pay" either, so tell me why should public school teachers.

Posted by: natturner | February 2, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

South Carolina statesman James Henry Hammond, in his famous 1858 “Mud-Sill” speech, claimed that white racial superiority justified slavery:

In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is, a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill. Its requisites are vigor, docility, fidelity. Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other class which leads progress, civilization, and refinement. It constitutes the very mud-sill [foundation] of society and of political government; and you might as well attempt to build a house in the air, as to build either the one or the other, except on this mud-sill. Fortunately for the South, she found a race adapted to that purpose to her hand. A race inferior to her own, but eminently qualified in temper, in vigor, in docility, in capacity to stand the climate, to answer all her purposes. We use them for our purpose, and call them slaves.

In 1854 proslavery writer George Fitzhugh claimed that slaves were treated better in the South than were white workers in Northern factories: “There is no rivalry, no competition to get employment among slaves, as among free laborers. . . . The slaves are well fed, well clad, have plenty of fuel, and are happy.”

This mindset seems to be afoot in this city yet again, all too subtly we are being pulled in a direction that states that is is "alright" and "acceptable" for there to be "haves" and "have-nots" in all part of society, socially, emotionally, economically and educationally. I will not subscribe to being made a slave of again, no matter how subtle the point.

Posted by: lacairaine | February 2, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse

natturner. why would anyone quarrel with your views on Dr. King? and why not consider your own sound advice on the use of his name?

As for all the other names: that's wayyyyy off target. It's a clear sign of being in denial, big time. Getting out of denial on the quality of DCPS performance and its causes is the first step for you. Try to focus on the outcome you want, not all of the causes of the big problem. The kids have way less denial than you, and some of them and some parents--the ones not in denial--are getting with the program. You want to take everyone off the hook, but one person, Chancellor Rhee. This may satisfy the WTU, but it won't do anything for the kids or their parents or the other residents of the District. Give that some thought, please.

I agree with you on the bankers. The analogous people in the DCPS arena are those teachers and principals (clearly not all of them) who will not be measured, will not take responsibility, will not be held accountable, and who believe their jobs are secure no matter what they [don't] do. They get paid anyway. They get their pensions anyway. We want to keep and attract the teachers and principals who give a darn. We want to enlist the parents who are not sufficiently involved in their kids' educational progress as they might be. Ask yourself what contribution you can make to the effort, and then do it.

Posted by: axolotl | February 2, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

Neither you nor Michelle Rhee have any clue of what schools should be doing for studemts.

Posted by: Nemessis | February 2, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

axolotl, powerful men quarreled so violently with my "views" on Dr. Martin Luther King that he was assassinated. Dr. King confronted the most powerful forces on the planet on behalf of those without power. In that respect Dr. King was the polar opposite of Chancellor Rhee, who confronts the powerless, the children and teachers of the DCPS, on behalf of the powerful.

When Rhee tried to destroy the WTU with her two-tiered salary proposal it was completely beyond the funds available in the DCPS budget. But 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, more money than God) 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.

Posted by: natturner | February 2, 2010 6:59 PM | Report abuse

axoloti - I didn't understand the first part of your question.

In terms of a list of possible Rhee replacements, I don't have one, but Jay offered some names of best Supers a couple of days ago and I'll bet edu-gurus are putting together a list right now of people to step in when Rhee crashes.

Posted by: efavorite | February 2, 2010 8:35 PM | Report abuse

natturner brings up a good point.
What ever happened to Miss Rhee's funding source (of $100million??) for two tiered pay system?

Last year she email me that she was still looking for more donors.

And for the pay4peformance program for students, is that still on?
I know she mentioned it in Aspen a couple of months ago.

Posted by: edlharris | February 2, 2010 8:56 PM | Report abuse

I saw this in the Examiner:
The District's budget deficit for this fiscal year could hit nearly $220 million and double during the next, but D.C. leaders have no cash surplus to play with and cannot borrow more without violating the city's debt cap.

Read more at the Washington Examiner:

Will Miss Rhee do a John Deasy and split before the real crunch hits??

Posted by: edlharris | February 2, 2010 9:01 PM | Report abuse

"Will Miss Rhee do a John Deasy and split before the real crunch hits??"

Only if it's in the best interests of the children.

Posted by: efavorite | February 2, 2010 10:12 PM | Report abuse

It would be disruptive to have a change in leadership just the district is realizing gains in student achievement for the first time in decades. One reason that so many other urban school districts languish, as DC did in the past, is the unacceptably high rate of turnover in superintendents (averaging about 2.5 years). They are mainly driven from office by meddlesome school boards and fractious politics, particularly when they make "unpopular" decisions that threaten stakeholders in the system who depend on the status quo or when they hold adults in the system accountable for school system failures. When a superintendent leaves, generally so does the senior staff, and it takes months to rebuild the central office. Meanwhile, children continue to go through the system, waiting for something to get better. One benefit of the mayoral control is that the chancellor is protected from the day to day interference of board members (and I used to be one elsewhere, so I speak with some first hand experience) who often have multiple agendas or constituences that do not always include or represent students. It would be a shame for DC to go back to that system, or for the chancellor to forced from her position prematurely. Could her bedside manner be improved? Yes. Is the patient getting better though? It looks like it, and I'd take a gruff but competent surgeon over a pleasant but do-nothing doctor any day.

Posted by: emilymb1 | February 2, 2010 10:32 PM | Report abuse

Jay, your comments are always right on. It's good to see that there's an honest WaPo reporter who studies what actually works in public education. I don't think Michelle Rhee cares much about politics. Her focus is on the bottom line: good teachers, great principals, students learning. That is refreshing. She does the right thing no matter what. And our schools and children are better off for it.

Posted by: Smore | February 2, 2010 10:52 PM | Report abuse

Jay, your comments are always right on. It's good to see that there's an honest WaPo reporter who studies what actually works in public education. I don't think Michelle Rhee cares much about politics. Her focus is on the bottom line: good teachers, great principals, students learning. That is refreshing. She does the right thing no matter what. And our schools and children are better off for it.

WHICH Schools are better---schools in which Wards...because schools in Wards 5,6,7, and 8 seem about the same, so exactly what reality are you aspousing?

As or growth just being realized, also not true, test scores have been steadily increasing since 2000 or havent' you been following these reports as parents in this system have been, myself for one. My son went to Eastern SHS and was NOT allowed to transfer out because the lottery was closed to him, so he had to suffer at a school who had 12 Principals in 11 years and the last Principal was a failed former PE Teacher whose school MM Washington couldn't keep student enrollment numbers us and so WE GOT HIM...WE DIDN'T want him but Rhee wouldn't remove him and kids ere just pushed out of school so the graduation numbers would look good. If you weren't there you would not know, but I was there my son graduated in 2009.

Posted by: lacairaine | February 3, 2010 12:31 AM | Report abuse

natturner: congratulations for totally deflecting all responsibility from the kids and their parents and the teachers, all of whom you say are powerless. You seem to look through the wrong end of the telescope. Do you want the teachers--the subset who are ineffective and not energetic-- to get paid for going limp and doing nothing to further the mission of DCPS? Everyone gets paid for not trying? All evaluation of teachers is quashed and disregarded, which the WTU wants? And you have no facts to confirm that big corporate interests are interfering with the schools in any way, or that the limited outsourcing--because the DCSPS can't run some schools well enough--has not been a worthy pilot program. Rhee will try anything to deliver better education for the kids. Regrettably, your approach seems to suggest doing nothing--taking no action. Heroic figures in our history and world history don't behave like that. They do something constructive and believe in empowerment. You seem to want to take it away, beginning with handing out phoney labels. Say what you want about Rhee, she is obviously a champion of empowerment, but the ineffective, entitlement-oriented subset of teachers are backing away from doing much of anything. We can't force the parents to do more, but many are enthused with the direction Rhee is taking and and can see she means business. Ask people in the eastern quadrants. And forget the defective polls. Again, natturner, think empowerment, not counting the kids and the parents and teachers out of education activity.

Posted by: axolotl | February 3, 2010 8:11 AM | Report abuse

Why the dichotomy in terms of style vs substance? It is possible to achieve what Ms. Rhee has achieved while still instilling respect for teachers and talking like a grown up rather than a spolied child. She could even continuously oppose the union (although I wish she could find some common ground) while still dealing with people in a reasonable way. But to continue to justify her own nastiness based upon wanting results is just foolish and speaks to her maturity and her suitability for this position.

Posted by: quest4just | February 3, 2010 9:03 AM | Report abuse

Excellent, excellent comment, Quest4just.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | February 3, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

At the very least, Ms. Rhee's comments were careless and, at worst, purposely inflamatory. Certainly she should have known that saying "teachers" were hitting or having sex with students casts a shadow over ANY of the teachers who were let go. Clearly, the very next questions the her statement raised were, "How many teachers. Which ones?" If Ms. Rhee told FastCompany exactly how many teachers she was talking about, and the magazine didn't report it, shame on them. If Ms. Rhee just left the comment hanging, without being more specific about the numbers, shame on her. In the end, of course, only a handful of teachers were involved. One is too many, but Ms Rhee could have avoided much of this controversy if she had been more careful in her initial interview. It's troubling that she doesn't understand--or won't admit--the damage she has done to teachers' reputations.

Posted by: daveairozo | February 3, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

“Rhee will try anything to deliver better education for the kids.”

Apparently including refusing to apologize for making a comment to a business magazine about DC teachers having sex with children.

Quest4just: “But to continue to justify her own nastiness based upon wanting results is just foolish and speaks to her maturity and her suitability for this position.”

Jay Mathews: “Rhee is an original. I am rooting for her.”

Posted by: efavorite | February 3, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse


YOu're probably a smart enough person, but you're not a teacher and you're biases are hostile to teachers, whether you realize it or not. And when it comes to Michelle Rhee, you're clueless. I believe time will prove that you have been wrong about her from the beginnning. And in the meantime, kids will continue to be pawns in her game. It is so disheartening.

Posted by: sfteacher | February 3, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

sfteacher, I documented teachers who failed the students and it still took Rhee a full school year to fire them. THAT is disheartening. Your confusion with DCPS is thinking that the teachers in DCPS make the same effort they do in surrounding jurisdictions- they absolutely do not. If they did I wouldn't be complaining as much as I do about them.

As it is now my kids teachers are "ok." Not great, but acceptable. However at an east of the park school I tell you, the teachers actively demoralized the children and turned them off learning.

Posted by: bbcrock | February 3, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse


So many of the responders here have given you a sermon you probably won't respond to. Why? Because you are scared: you don't want to fight, you don't want to die...Then what's the depth of your love, then? I was really enjoying your commentary—until now. I agree, this was a love letter that made no sense...I, too, support the Chancellor on many fronts, but if you don't know the differences between right and wrong, then you don't know the difference between your calling and your career...

Posted by: rasheeedj | February 3, 2010 9:52 PM | Report abuse

How do you know her new principals are "strong"? you are blindly taking her word as if it's fact. what makes you think SHE fired the bad teachers? The decision was not hers. Principals and LSRT members had the power to decide who goes, and mostly schools thought about doing without non-essential staff not "bad" teachers who hit or had sex with students. As far as 99.9% principals know, teachers are not having sex or hitting children. You need to get out there and really see for yourself what is going on. I actually work in DCPS and I can just tell you, you don't know what you are talking about.

Posted by: bambidu | February 5, 2010 12:43 AM | Report abuse

Ohhh, people, it's so simple: The truth will out.

Good teachers, trying for years to manage in ridiculous circumstances, RUNNING schools with ineffective leadership, will leave.

New, inexperienced teachers who have NO experience with our kids will come. Then what? CHAOS.

Rhee will be gone soon after that...Then what?

Posted by: ame_hr | February 5, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

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