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Rhee's bad polls: should she go?

Public officials who try to make big changes to solve crises often risk their popularity. That is why favorability ratings for Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama dropped when they tried to revive devastated economies in the first years of their presidencies. That also explains why D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, pushing hard to raise student achievement in her low-performing district, has lost so much public confidence in a new Washington Post survey.

The ratings for both Rhee and her patron, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, have plummeted. This suggests he might lose the next election, and she might be forced to leave sooner to free him of the taint of her reputation for offending parents and teachers.

Last week I suggested that she apologize at greater length for what I felt were ill-considered remarks about the nearly 300 educators she fired in October for budgetary reasons. She said they included some teachers who had skipped work, hit kids and slept with students, but it turned out she had information on only nine teachers who had done such things. I thought people were right to be upset. I said an expression of regret could calm those waters and allow her to continue pursuing necessary changes in D.C. schools.

I don't think she is going to take my advice. That means the next few months are going to be even more stressful for those of us who worry about the schools' future.

What is most striking about the Post's poll is the fact that although public feeling for Rhee is growing more negative, feeling about the D.C. schools in improving. The changes made by Rhee and her predecessor are making a difference. It could be that her personal numbers are bad because the Post conducted its survey at the same time that it was headlining the dispute over Rhee's remarks about miscreant teachers. Whatever the reason, the question is: should we urge to go or stay?

I vote for stay. I have been in several D.C. schools before and during the Rhee administration and studied the data on many more. Some are doing better than others, but the trend lines are mostly up. Do we want to change chancellors again, when the revolving door in that office has been one of the reasons why we have made so little progress?

Many smart and thoughtful people email me, or comment on this blog, that Rhee's methods are bad for teachers and bad for kids, and that she should go. But it is interesting to me that they do not complain about some changes that are clearly for the better. Few denounce Rhee's hiring of a new group of energetic principals, whose teachers praise their commitment to teamwork and sharing information on students. Few reject the policy of hiring teachers who have the highest expectations for D.C. kids. Nobody had complained to me about the new resources going to D.C. schools, and the more efficient placement of textbooks and restoration of buildings. There is a dispute as to who is responsible for a rise in test scores, but that too is a good sign.

Look at the new Washington Post Challenge Index ratings of local high schools. The D.C. public high schools have an average rating for participation in college-level tests that is significantly above that of its demographically similar neighbor, Prince George's County, and better than several suburban districts that have a smaller proportion of low income students. Rhee is the rare regular school system chief who has supported charter schools, and D.C. charters are also doing well on the Post's list.

D.C. residents have every right to resent Rhee. But before they call for her to leave, they might examine the contradiction between their bad feelings about her and their improving feelings about the schools she is running. While they are doing that, the chancellor might think about ways to explain to D.C. residents better what she is doing, and why her policies have given the many educators whose views influence me new confidence in D.C. schools' future.

By Jay Mathews  | February 1, 2010; 7:27 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  D.C. schools, Michelle A. Rhee, Rhee drops in polls, Washington Post survey, anger toward Rhee, blaming leaders for any change, support for improving schools  
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Next: Rhee: Uncompromising


I think that the curriculum and standards and programs begun by Dr. Janey are largely responsible for some of the improvements in DCPS. I think that the economy is also a big factor---students from families who might otherwise have chosen private schools have decided to stay in public schools, and a rising tide lifts all boats. The improvements in facilities help contribute to more families choosing public schools as well. None of these factors have much to do with Rhee.

No one argues against good, energetic principals or good teachers, for heavens sakes. That doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out.

I would rather have a Chancellor or Superintendent who can work WITH the teacher's union to strengthen the system and to strengthen evaluation systems. I don't think the new evaluation system is good for teachers and teaching---it is (to me) a very "widget" approach to assessing the teachers' effectiveness.

I don't think that simply hiring teachers with high expectations on kids is the answer to the challenges in DCPS. Sure, it's a start to have high expectations, but throwing out valuable, experienced teachers in favor of the TFA wonderkids is NOT a good idea. Many students in DCPS face economic and environmental challenges that ivory tower folks can't even begin to fathom. I'd like a Chancellor/Superintendent with a better handle on those issues and one who will work with other agencies across the city to address them.

DCPS needs a Chancellor/Superintendent who engages parents and teachers and the Council alike in an atmosphere of mutual respect, trust and support. Rhee has clearly failed miserably in this aspect. She seems to be so busy getting a national reputation as someone who will throw out all those awful teachers and principals that the focus is all on her and her supposed talents in that area.

I think Rhee should go. Her ego is in the way. Hire a Chancellor/Superintendent who has a better background and more experience in running a school system.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | February 1, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Good Morning, Jay. You say, “Few denounce Rhee's hiring of a new group of energetic principals, whose teachers praise their commitment to teamwork and sharing information on students. Few reject the policy of hiring teachers who have the highest expectations for D.C. kids.”

Of course not – who would reject such ideas? But please provide us data on the energetic principals you mention, and the teachers who praise them and I’m not talking about a few random quotes of praise, I mean data, like the chancellor insists upon when assessing the schools.

And I hope your not suggesting that past DC superintendents did not want teachers who had high expectations for their students. If so – let’s see the data that proves that Rhee hires have higher expectations than teachers hired under previous regimes.

Request: I know you read your comments, so could you ask the powers that be at the Post to post a link to the raw data of this poll the way they did with the Fenty poll? Thanks.

Posted by: efavorite | February 1, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

History is replete with examples of dictators who brought immediate relief to their constituents, but whose bad character had dire consequences in the long term. People should NEVER tolerate a leader who is dishonest, manipulative and disrespectful of the people. Rhee should go.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | February 1, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Jay, could it be that the reason why people's feelings about the schools are improving is because they are being *told* that they are improving? Do not underestimate the power of narrative. The current narrative is that Rhee is making a difference. Therefore, people believe it, even though I feel pretty sure that nothing much changed in the day-to-day lives of each individual family. Now Rhee has said something profoundly stupid. So people feel negative about her personally and the poll numbers instantly reflect it, but they're still under the sway of the overall narrative and haven't adjusted to that yet.

I'd like to hear from individual parents in the DC school system about what specifically in their kids' day-to-day lives has changed (has a bad teacher their kid suffered under been fired?) or whether they have the perception that other kids' bad teachers have been fired, and so they feel better about things.

Posted by: kpennymaker | February 1, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

This looks like the complete poll results, incl. fenty and rhee, compliments of the Washington City Paper

Posted by: efavorite | February 1, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Jay, it's pretty clear that you think Michelle Rhee should be allowed to do or say whatever she wants as long as the scores go up. Your posts in the past week begging her to apologize, and then shrugging it off when she did not, make that clear.

But don't you think that you are feeding into her Messiah complex? There is a notion -- which she accentuates with her use of the media -- that she is the only person who can fix the schools so you either accept her or you doom the children of the District to a miserable education. I think that is a terribly defeatist notion, and that D.C. could find someone who could -- and I know this is shocking, so you might want to sit down -- actually work with teachers in making the schools better rather than treating relations with those actually in charge of educating the students as a combat sport.

There is no trust between her and the teachers, and although you seem to fault the teachers for that I think that is a blind spot on your part. I doubt anyone here would trust a boss who slammed them in public and who (again in public) indicated that she would replace them if she could. That is terrible, terrible management.

Posted by: bermanator34 | February 1, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Be nice if there were a couple of examples of brilliant district superintendents, especially in large, urban districts who are the standard by which other superintendents are measured.

So Jay, any hot-shot superintendents spring to mind?

Posted by: allenm1 | February 1, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, Jay. When I read those poll results, in particular...

Rhee Job Approval
DCPS Parents (1/2010) 38% approve -- 54% disapprove first thought was exactly what you wrote in your lede paragraph:
"...Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama..."


I knew Reagan and Obama. Rhee is no Reagan and no Obama.

How about looking at the same poll results from the opposite point of view you've taken in this piece?

You say, "... although public feeling for Rhee is growing more negative, feeling about the D.C. schools in improving... they might examine the contradiction between their bad feelings about her and their improving feelings about the schools she is running."

I say, parents are seeing results in their neighborhood schools as a result of their hard work, their kids' efforts, and the efforts of their kids' principals and teachers. They might resent having a Chancellor who continues to denigrate their neighborhood schools, and their kids' teachers and principals, and by extension, their own efforts as DCPS parents, despite their own best efforts to improve things day by day.

Are these DCPS parents stupid for seeing progress where Rhee sees only problems? Or are they the best-informed adults in the city, aware of progress in the schools they know best, but increasingly sensing that progress is something that comes despite Rhee, not because of Rhee.

Rhee might do well to examine the contradictions between the hopefulness of committed parents and teachers and her unfailingly negative statements about the school system she runs.

This is not a PR problem. To be sure, this is a rejection of her tone, her tin-eared pronouncements and her secretive methods, but mostly it's a pragmatic assessment of the facts DCPS parents see with their own two eyes. She instills fear rather than hope in schools. She picks and chooses, plays favorites, and a majority of DCPS parents and students feel shut out by the Rhee administration, who they feel doesn't listen to them or understand them.

Rhee should go.

Posted by: Trulee | February 1, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

What interesting Posts, and much less hostile than I expected.
For allenm1, high on my list of urban supers with proven track records for raising achievement would be Eric J. Smith, now the state super in Fla but previously head at Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Newport-News (i might be slightly off there--some urban district in Tidewater) and Anne Arundel County. Also Terry Grier in Guilford County and now Houston, Jerry Weast in Guilford and Montgomery County (which have large pockets of poverty), Rudy Crew, who did New York and Miami, Tom Payzant in San Diego and Boston, Paul Vallas in Chicago, Philly and New Orleans and Joel Klein in NYC. Now of the perfect, but the have shown what you have to do to make progress. I also liked John Deasy in Prince George's, but he left too soon to really see what he could have done there.

for efavorite--good idea. I will send yr message to my boss.

for kpennymaker--good point, but couldn't it also be true that people don't like Rhee because they are being told she is a problem, particularly in my paper the week we were polling?

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 1, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

I like the Jerry Weast example. It is interesting that he manages to do a very good job without getting his name in the papers and while working with, rather than against, his teacher's union.

Posted by: bermanator34 | February 1, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Jay

If you want to see some negative comments about the Rhee poll, check out the comments on Turque's article:

The really nasty ones are from people who assume only stupid black people who hate Asians are against Rhee.

Also, regarding the possible negative effects of Rhee's sex comment, don't forget the fortuitous (?) placement of the FCC "Rhee - Best person of the Year" ad in the Post on January the 25th, which came after the sex remark and also coincided with the polling period (24th-28th) of this survey.

Posted by: efavorite | February 1, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

thanks for the tip efavorite. I hadnt gotten there yet. And for bermanator34, when you get to know Jerry better, you will understand what a deeply held respect he has for media coverage. It is the sign, in my view, of a good superintendent, although I might recommend that Chancellor
Rhee dial hers back a bit until she gets the hang of it.
For Trulee--good schools start with good principals, such as Maria Tukeva at Columbia Heights. She is not a Rhee hire, but many of the best people now running schools in the system are. If you don't give her credit for that, then you are not being fair, or not paying attention.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 1, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

From the Post survey:
d. The quality of the teachers
------Problem------ Not a No
NET Big Small problem opinion
1/28/10 70 43 26 22 9

In the 2008-2009 DCPS stakeholders survey, 85% of parents are satisfied with the quality of teachers.

Posted by: edlharris | February 1, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

reading the poll story comments was interesting. There were some racist ones, but many others that seem to be addressing good points. I even made one myself, mildly correcting one reader who wanted to give Rhee perhaps a bit too much credit for the success of Columbia Heights Educational Center. Accuracy and balance will eventually triumph, even on the Web.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 1, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I think we are saying about the same thing: Good schools start with good principals (and, I'd add, good parents, good PTAs, good LSRTs, good teachers, good kids).

In other words, the Chancellor is not Superman.

Rhee's comments since 2007 have denigrated *all* those groups, and progress since 2007 has often come despite problems created by Rhee.

And believe me, I am paying attention. My kids have been in DCPS for the past 20 years, my youngest now a junior at Walls. I stay involved at the elementary and middle schools my kids attended, and I can say I have seen continuous improvement over 20 years, much of it attributable to an energetic principal who came in about 8-9 years ago.

That principal is now under a cloud, in Rhee's estimation, for no reason I can imagine. Scores go up. The list of out-of-boundary kids trying to get in grows and grows. The strong PTA at the school is reaching out to PTA's at weaker surrounding schools and helping to make them better. But Rhee doesn't like this principal's style, and finds the parents too noisy for her taste.

I don't dare mention the school or the principal's name, because that leads to retribution from Rhee. If you don't credit her for creating a culture of fear and vindictiveness, then you are not being fair, or not paying attention.

Posted by: Trulee | February 1, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse


'And for bermanator34, when you get to know Jerry better, you will understand what a deeply held respect he has for media coverage. It is the sign, in my view, of a good superintendent, although I might recommend that Chancellor
Rhee dial hers back a bit until she gets the hang of it."

I agree, of course, but the way he goes about doing it is not the same way that Michelle Rhee does. You never get the sense that Weast is, to use a sports term, "putting himself above the team." With Rhee it seems that the focus is on her first, her methods and management style second, and everything else third.

Posted by: bermanator34 | February 1, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I can't speak for others but I DO recognize that Rhee has probably done some very good things for the district. However, you seem to believe that the end justifies the means, but I do not.

Treating people, children and adults, fairly and with dignity, must come before all else.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | February 1, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

For Trulee--good schools start with good principals, such as Maria Tukeva at Columbia Heights. She is not a Rhee hire, but many of the best people now running schools in the system are. If you don't give her credit for that, then you are not being fair, or not paying attention.

Really? Maria Tukeva who has driven out almost half her staff in 2 years, where teachers are demonized on a regular basis (read the Fithy Educator for more details), and who insists on making students at a 5th grade reading level take AP English. If that is your idea of a good principal then I think that's part of the problem.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | February 1, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Jay - could you provide specific AP information on Columbia Heights? I have heard in years past that its high number of AP tests and passes is mainly a result of making all the kids take AP Spanish (just as you say they all must take AP English). Of course most of them are native Spanish speakers and the test is meant for native speakers of English, so it wouldn’t be surprising if most of them passed – in fact it would be disturbing if they didn’t. While I’m glad they are getting good academic instruction in their native language, it’s somewhat disingenuous to count it as a great achievement, when their skills are already much higher than what the test is geared to.

The DC Public schools AP site provides aggregate data for Hispanics. I suppose most of them are from CHEC, but don’t really know.

Among Hispanic public school kids taking AP Spanish, the site lists 12 fives, 21 fours and 17 threes, and 13 each of twos and ones. However, for Spanish Lit, which they are less likely to be learning at home, all 12 public schools Hispanics who took it got ones.

In AP English, 102 Hispanic kids took the test and 10 passed (2 fours, 8 threes).

As for the wonderful administration, again, I’ve heard a very different story. For more information, please check this blog
It’s written by a young teacher who just quit at the end of the first semester.

For specific info on AP classes, please see this page on the blog

Posted by: efavorite | February 1, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

What efavorite says suggests that most schools with "miraculous" or even greatly improved test scores are just gaming the system. That was certainly the case at the school where I taught.

There are 1001 ways to make test scores look great even when children are not really making much improvement. For a good description of this, read "Tested" by Linda Perlstein.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | February 1, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

As a Rhee supporter, it's been difficult to watch this all unfold the last couple of weeks. I can't understand why she has such difficulty admitting mistakes.

Posted by: Jessedavidam | February 1, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

For efavorite. I plan to provide that data on Columbia Heights in the Friday column. Many took AP Spanish, but everybody took AP English Lang and AP English Lit, and did better overall this year then last.
You fell into my trap. I was waiting for someone to raise your point. My daughter is fluent in English and took English AP , along with AP Spanish. Her Spanish got pretty good, although not nearly as good as the English spoken by the average Columbia Heights (then Bell Multicultural) student, many of whom I spoke to. People oohed and aahed about Katie's Spanish proficiency. She got into a great college, in part because of that, yet in terms of total bilingual proficiency, she was not as good as a typical Bell Multicultural kid. So why then are we denigrating them for taking "just" AP Spanish, as if that was a waste of time for them? Isn't the purpose of education to produce a more effective person? isn't fluency in two languages a greatly needed skill in this country? Isn't the Bell Multicultural doing something that few other schools are doing, and with 84 percent low income kids? I had the same view that you had once about Hispanic kids taking AP Spanish. I think we need to think more carefully about this stuff.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 1, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Wyrm1---you are getting to the heart of the matter. I measure schools by how well they teach students. You seem to be measuring them by how comfortable the teachers are. Which is best for our city, and our kids? Tukeva has built that program steadily over several years. The teachers I interviewed had no complaints about her. No principal, particular one with high standards, is going to be super popular. He or she is too often telling too many people that they have to improve. But unless the teachers you cite have the same kind of track record for achievement that she does, I am prone to listen to her, not them.
Thanks very much for this. It will be very useful in the Friday column. Yours, I think, remains the majority view.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 1, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

For Trulee---I accept most of those ingredients you suggest for good schools, but not good parents or PTAs. good schools dont start that way, at least not in urban neighborhoods. Good parents have been disappointed again and again by the vacuum of leadership and competence in their city schools. That is why they have such low expectations. In urban environments, good schools have to start with good principals and good teachers, or they will never get to the point where good parents can revise their expectations and give them full support.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 1, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Jay, then we'll have to agree to disagree, or talk offline. The School I Dare Not Name got where it is today in some part because of a very strong, supportive PTA and LSRT. I bet the current principal and teachers there who have been around for awhile would vouch for that statement. Parents don't always give up and walk away, even when the principal has weaknesses but the teachers are strong and the parents are hopeful and persistent. Sometimes parents stay and fight.

Posted by: Trulee | February 1, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

If she goes...then what? If you don't think there are not superintendent hopefuls out there in America just waiting for this vacancy to be posted, then you might be in la-la land. I will say it until I am blue in the face...the next person appointed into the Chancellor positon will want ALL that RHEE has secured and more.

The pondering question is, will the next mayor be willing to give that same flex-account of responsibilities to the leader of DCPS under his/her regime. Even if we went back into the attics of where we store Superintendents and brought back Ackerman, Janey or whomso-ever else they would have loved to been able to wreck havoc in a professional way.

Hey, I would like to see Linda Cropp at the helm...just to give a good spin on things... Can't you see it a former DCPS employee, who was a former councilmember running the school system? Again another headliner getter...and it would be enough to make us all forget about Rhee.

We all know how DC thinks when it comes to dissatisfaction...who can't remember the Barry to Pratt Kelly politcal days and what was her slogan "time to clean house" all with yielding a broom.

It would just be so cavalier to chase Rhee out of town considering that we chased her down to get the job.

What is that saying "it is cheaper to keep her."

Is this first time that the Washpo did a poll on whether the leadership of DCPS should stay or go?

Posted by: PowerandPride | February 1, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Jay - it’s more a case of you flinging me into your trap.

I said: “While I’m glad they are getting good academic instruction in their native language, it’s somewhat disingenuous to count it as a great achievement, when their skills are already much higher than what the test is geared to.”

You said: “why then are we denigrating them for taking "just" AP Spanish, as if that was a waste of time for them? Isn't the purpose of education to produce a more effective person?”

Keep this up and I’ll soon have a dandy set of quotes demonstrating how Jay Mathews misrepresents his readers’ comments.

Thanks for posting the CHEC scores – I’ll be looking for them on Friday.

Posted by: efavorite | February 1, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

These poll results, buried farther down in the article, are telling: The proportion of parents in the city who see violence or crime in schools as a "big problem" has declined from 78 to 65 percent. Those with children in public schools are more favorable, with 57 percent calling it a big problem. The quality and availability of books and other instructional materials is viewed as less of a major problem by all parents, dropping from 67 percent to 48 percent."
Before Ms Rhee arrived there were articles chronicling the notorious issues with simply delivering textbooks to classrooms every year. New books sat in the central warehouse while students went without. Another interesting result of the poll:
The percentage of District parents regarding teacher quality as a "big problem" is down from 53 to 43 percent over the past two years. Among parents of students in D.C. public schools, 40 percent still call this area a large problem.” This number is moving in the right direction, and Ms Rhee has raised this issue as one of the biggest challenges in the district.
Yes, her communication skills could be better, and while her "personality" ratings are falling, her performance metrics are improving, especially among those who see her work most closely, the parents in the district. The students benefit from receiving books on time, from studying in safe schools, and from having highly effective teachers in front of them every day. Some other improvements not mentioned in the poll include reduced truancy and absentee rates of students and improved coordination and delivery of mental health services for students. It would be a shame to see all of this great work disrupted by a change in leadership. Better to focus on improving her communication and interpersonal skills, but not the current course and speed of improvement for students.

Posted by: emilymb1 | February 1, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

What is most striking about the Post's poll is the fact that although public feeling for Rhee is growing more negative, feeling about the D.C. schools in improving.

But before they call for her to leave, they might examine the contradiction between their bad feelings about her and their improving feelings about the schools she is running.
There is a real poll that rates Ms. Rhee performance very low.

Mr. Mathews then writes an article that pretends there is a supposedly great "feeling" that the schools have improved.

Based on this "feeling" Mr. Mathews believes the results of the real poll should be ignored because those who participated in the poll did not consider this imaginary "feeling".

Does Mr. Mathews expect us to respect him for his intelligence and logic or because of his attempts at spin?

Posted by: bsallamack | February 1, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

For those who are interested, the results of the national reading tests of 2009 are still not available.

The policy of education of this nation is heavily based upon testing while the results from tests given in February 2009 are still not available.

Instead of spending billions on testing and computer systems for individual school systems the government should first fix the problems with the only real standardized tests of the nation that give a true picture of education in this nation.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 1, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse


In regard to Columbia Heights Educational Campus: the school does everything it's supposed to. It has AP for all, it has small learning communities, teachers meet every morning, it embraces the CHEC seven (seven instructional strategies that have been researched and documented as being highly effective in urban education), it requires all students prepare and demonstrate a portfolio of their work, etc.... It really sounds fantastic, and to some degree, I would say it is. I admire Tukeva for the incredible amount of work that she's done there (and incredible is truly an understatement). The woman deserves all the credit in the world. However, the sad reality that anyone who's ever worked at this school can tell you is that there is ZERO trust between the teachers and the administration.

You say that you'll measure schools by how well they teach children, not how well they treat teachers, and I'd say that that certainly makes sense. But what many fail to remember is that the way schools treat teachers often has major implications for how well they teach children.

The program at CHEC certainly has its merits. However, the chasm between administration and staff has grown so large, and the professional environment become so toxic (largely as a result of a few megalomaniacal administrators), it's caused not only the turnover of almost half the staff two years in a row (which is awful for students), but also a complete lack of trust between staff and administration. So when the admins come out and prescribe that the staff do one thing or another, regardless of how good it actually is for the students, many of the staff blow the admin off because of the horrendous things the admins have done in the past (and this includes physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual harrassment, and blatant bullying).

I respect your views, but I have to say that unless you actually followed a few teachers around for a couple weeks in that environment, it'd be tough to really see the sad state of affairs that school is really in. I've come to believe that test scores often tell you virtually nothing about how a school is affecting students and the community. The students see it and the staff see it: the school cares about nothing other than test scores and looking good on paper.

I'd refer you to my blog for a more detailed account:

Posted by: TheReflectiveEducator | February 1, 2010 6:57 PM | Report abuse


Fair enough, I don't know Ms. Tukeva well enough to criticize her as an individual. However, I know too many teachers who have been victims of the abuse described by filthyteaching. She is the principal and is responsible for the behavior of her administration.

I agree there are times when a prinicpal and teachers may not be on the same page and as a result the principal might not be super popular, but do you really think that getting rid of half of your teachers in 2 years makes a better school or that there might be a problem of some sort?

In fairness, I don't work at Bell (nor do you), but the experiences of the people who work or worked at Bell are VERY different from what you report with no complaints. Completely ignoring concerns of teachers and other professional educators is your right, but honestly, do you expect teachers to be honest with you when their views could cost them their jobs?

Posted by: Wyrm1 | February 1, 2010 8:56 PM | Report abuse

Jay -

Why I am happy with my local school and not with Rhee.

Performance is up and what our kids are being taught is a strong curriculum. Thank you Janey. The DC-BAS is finally in line with the DC-CAS and teachers can get student level data, again thank you Janey.

Some great cosmetic and some system improvements to school buildings. Thank you DC activists who embarrassed the City Council into a real long term commitment to repairing our physical school facilities after they blew a billion dollars on a baseball stadium. Rhee took a careful long term plan on how to responsibly spend that money that had been developed with stakeholders and threw it out. Now we have been doing cosmetic fixes to water damage without repairing the roof above. Painting classrooms where it is known the walls need to be ripped out to rewire in a year, etc. So much of this funding that was hard fought for is being poorly spent.

As an LSRT member this is the first year her budgets have not been horribly late. Later than any superintendent in 30 years. Making planning much more difficult than in the past. She wrote a report saying one thing schools make the mistake is not to start hiring in February or before and then didn't get us budgets until May. And her school models for spending are a mess. We need to rip them up and return to the weighted student formula. Of course the other example of her budget competence is the RIF. We knew at our local school that the council had been warned funding levels might be changed before she did. Also her budget director Wepman gave her options besides the RIF. Have we ever been told what those options were?

Treating everyone who was in the system before her as an incompetent idiot and then being surprised why she is not trusted is a good statement on her people skills. Fear and intimidation can get short term results, but becomes a cancer that destroys organizations from the inside.

On her new principals. I'd like to see data on which principals she removed and replaced with hers. We are not being told where to be able to see if her choices are good. There are a couple of prominent failures where she had to remove them after the beginning of the year, but no data comparing system veterans with her choices. No comprehensive before and after across the system, just anecdotes and those are not consistently good anecdotes.

I could go on, but with Rhee I see the politics of assertion, "I put the children first." No data to support it, just a lot of bashing people who disagree with her on anything as not being "for the children." I don't doubt she is for the children, I doubt that she is competent to really help them.

Posted by: qazqaz | February 1, 2010 9:07 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I'm so sick of the entire Michelle Rhee drama.

If you'd like to speak to a really collaborative progressive superintendent contact Sydney Cousin in Howard County. Dr. Cousin, who once worked for DCPS, is supportive of his workforce, works well with the three labor unions, is respected by parents and the community and has led Howard County to become one of the best school systems in the country.


Posted by: lacy4 | February 1, 2010 9:08 PM | Report abuse

Jay, when you say that you care only about how a school teaches its children, not how it treats its teachers, it displays ignorance about how management and the workplace function. How do you divorce how the educators are treated with how the children are taught? A happy teacher teaches with passion, a disgruntled teacher does what they have to do and the school and students suffer as a result. That you would think the only thing that matters is the students, at the expense of the teachers is just as misguided as the kind of teachers you claim to deplore - the type that seek their own comfort over the betterment of the children that are their responsibility.

Posted by: adcteacher1 | February 1, 2010 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Now, my connection with DeMatha Catholic High School is as a student, not a teacher or parent, but I don't recall Mr. Moylan or Dr. McMahon acting this way.

Posted by: edlharris | February 1, 2010 9:16 PM | Report abuse


Very well said!

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | February 1, 2010 10:28 PM | Report abuse

I think you need a separate Rhee blog for all of the drama. She should never have been hired in the first place. For someone that looks down on teaching, she got out after only two years, it's simply ironic that she is having all of her problems. I can't wait for the next person already.

Posted by: ericpollock | February 1, 2010 11:03 PM | Report abuse

Jay, bubbala, Paul Vallas?

An estimable individual. Energetic, tough and capable. But a superstar superintendent? As I recall the Vallas tenure in Philly was marked by a lot more thunder then progress and Chicago's miracle has turned out, to a greater or lesser extent depending on who you're talking to, to be an artifact of artful data manipulation rather then of organizational improvements. Now he's in New Orleans and as I understand it the Recovery School District has only twenty-two schools to run so maybe Mr. Vallas can make an impression although being eighteen months later to open then area charters doesn't bode well.

New York shows up twice, once under Rudy Crew and once under Joe Klein and if it's now a world leader in education, as one might suppose enjoying the benefits of two superstar superintendents, then it's not a widely-recognized distinction.

I appreciate the desire not to appear nuts but really, we're getting past the point where the unquestionable nature of school districts is a given. They're just a way to organize public education and not, on the evidence, a particularly effective way to organize public education.

You might want to reflect on the value and purpose of the school district.

Here's an item to consider: if the people who ran the Topeka, Kansas school district had been clever enough to divide their district so that the black kids were in the new, distinct school district there wouldn't have been a Brown v. Topeka.

The point of the school district was to provide a means to discriminate along social and economic lines. Not a great starting point for a school.

Posted by: allenm1 | February 1, 2010 11:23 PM | Report abuse

why do you "vote" at all. Report, then shut up would be good for a change.

Posted by: lps2001 | February 2, 2010 12:37 AM | Report abuse

This debate about Rhee is great. But why just blog it? Clearly, these people have advice for Rhee - she's young and intelligent and has made some mistakes - send her your great ideas -- everyone wants the same thing -- do you think she wants unhappy teachers? Of course not -- send her your plans (or send them to ay and he can compile them and send to her). Otherwise, its just like Republicans against Obama - no alternative plan or ideas? Don't we want him to succeed? Don't we want her to succeed? Get in the game!

Posted by: LP59 | February 2, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

We all hate politicians, but not the guy that represents us. The school systems in America are failing except for ours. Two commonly held positions. I am not surprised that there is a dissonance in the public. I was struck from the moment Rhee started how many people were taking bets until she was forced out. Yes she has made mistakes, but I want her to stay just because I am done with the number of people who would rather see her fail than the system succeed. This is the group that always wants to claim they were victims, it was better in some other time, that no one understands at some point you got to try something new, take a risk, think beyond yourself. I think this is a relatively small group, but they are a cancer in the DC school system and their impact is toxic.

Posted by: Brooklander | February 2, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse


"This debate about Rhee is great. But why just blog it? Clearly, these people have advice for Rhee - she's young and intelligent and has made some mistakes - send her your great ideas -- everyone wants the same thing -- do you think she wants unhappy teachers?"

I actually DO think she wants unhappy teachers -- or at least, she doesn't care whether the teachers under her care are happy or not. So I doubt that she would be interested in hearing how to make teachers happy as much as she would welcome suggestions that would get them to leave.

Posted by: bermanator34 | February 2, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Brooklander says, "but I want her to stay just because I am done with the number of people who would rather see her fail than the system succeed."

I want her to go because I do want the system to succeed and think it can't until she goes. She is the cause of the toxic environment.

I and many others who are now Rhee critics supported her strongly for a while - not just because she represented much needed reform, but because she seemed to have the smarts and determination to do it.

Now it's evident that she has failed and that the system can't begin to recover until she goes.

You are simply incorrect in your assessment and I'm sure that in time, you'll realize it.

Posted by: efavorite | February 3, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse

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