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Posted at 10:43 PM ET, 02/13/2011

Five ways Rhee went wrong

By Jay Mathews

Richard Whitmire’s deft and revealing book about former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee chronicles a difficult time in the history of the city’s schools, when good people fought hard against one another because of sharply contrasting views on how to help our children.

The book is “The Bee Eater,” the title a reference to a moment when Rhee as a young teacher gained respect from her unruly Baltimore students by killing and swallowing a wayward insect flying around her classroom. The point was that this young woman had a taste for aggressive, if sometimes unappetizing, action.

The question of Rhee — her history, her iron confidence, her successes and failures — is still a hot topic. I got twice the usual page views on my blog last week just by raising the issue of her early teaching results.

In this book, Rhee fans like me will enjoy remembering her unexpected success in bringing energy and sanity to the District’s central office, closing 23 underused schools and getting an innovative new teachers contract. Her critics will nod as they read of her needlessly alienating city officials and good teachers and carelessly reawakening the race issue. Whitmire makes his admiration for Rhee clear but seems as baffled by some of her decisions as many of her friends were.

Now Rhee is one of the most recognizable education figures in the country. She is a hero to those who think urban schools need big changes and a villain to those who think the reform movement is off-track. The details of what happened to her in the District may seem old news to some, but those of us who care about the city’s schools want to understand what went wrong. Whitmire gives us much to think about.

She left her job because her patron, then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, lost the election. Much of that was his fault. But she contributed to the corrosive notion that she was not fixing schools the right way. At the end of the book, Whitmire produces a list of “Rhee’s True Missteps” worth remembering:

1. She failed to create public buy-in for the reforms. Whitmire mostly blames Fenty for this but says that Rhee could have worked harder to celebrate her improvements and drop the think-tank lingo when explaining to voters what she was doing.

2. She fought battles that didn’t need fighting. The best part of the book is Whitmire’s account of Rhee’s quixotic attempt to remake a school that did not need remaking, Hardy Middle. I think Whitmire is too willing to accept Rhee’s view that the school had problems, but he establishes a vital truth: Her actions at Hardy turned middle-class black families against her. She left the impression that she wanted them to stop driving their kids to Hardy from distant neighborhoods so there would be room for more white Georgetown families. That helped lose the election.

3. She made some terrible media judgments. She could be a reporter’s delight, often saying exactly what she thought. But she developed unfortunate grudges against reporters she could not afford to alienate and eventually gave her enemies too much ammunition with insensitive quotes.

4. She drove out (some) good D.C. teachers. She tried to win over the best educators in the city, but too many of them decided she was too eager to run their classrooms her way.

5. Her team came up short on school supports. The District was a decade behind successful districts in useful data systems, diagnostic tests and lesson plans, so teachers who heeded her call to raise achievement experienced the bitter disappointment of finding little to help them do that.

Both those who love and those who loathe Rhee ought to read the book carefully. She is only 41, with plenty of energy and ambition. Few others are likely to have as much influence over where our public schools go from here.

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education Web page.

By Jay Mathews  | February 13, 2011; 10:43 PM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  | Tags:  Richard Whitmire, The Bee Eater,, five Rhee missteps  
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Next: How Ed Harris and Jeff Steele got Rhee story

Comments

There's this, too. It's the latest.

http://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/

Posted by: chicogal | February 13, 2011 11:56 PM | Report abuse

Jay,

This kind of armchair quarterbacking misses the wood for the trees. In retrospect, Rhee set a bar that she could not possibly reach and now, after the publication of this tactical critique, she is trying to do something strategic about it.

Implicit in the characterization of Rhee’s missteps is the idea that had she done some things different, outright success was possible. After decades of bloody toes, that’s delusional. The mere fact that we are considering this possibility seriously comes from Rhee herself. By disavowing the gag order on discussing sacred cows, Rhee has created a sense of possibilities for urban education, hitherto unknown. More than anyone else today, she has stripped away the caked-up layers of “expertise” that have prevented us all along from focusing on the true beauty exists in classrooms all around America between talented teachers and their students.

Like other reformers, Rhee did not and could not by herself establish the political precursors that would have allowed her success. Need we count the “missteps” of every administration prior to Michelle Rhee’s? What does hindsight tell us about the reformers themselves? Look closely. It tells us nothing worth mentioning. What we learn is simply that over time, those in power keep their power. Period. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to forget who holds the cards. We, the reformers, do not. We might have a (one) microphone. Our opposition has an army.

Rhee’s strong-willed actions are memorable at all because of their naivete to this reality. Rhee suggested that fundamental changes were possible and she called them out by name. We can pontificate that she did not collaborate. She did not massage her messages. She did not meet with the right people. She was impatient. But what collaborative, more patient course has resulted in any greater gains for children in America? None. It’s never happened. Rhee’s mistakes are really parenthetical. She and a handful of aids were taking on the Red Army. No more “thoughtful” or “collaborative” or “savvy” school director has ever been able to materially impact the synapse between teachers and students (ie. what happens in the classroom) in any district of size, in the modern teacher union era.

The why she failed is not at all related to these five silly points. She didn’t have the fire-power.

For a moment, let’s imagine a mythical, parallel universe where children and parents are represented in local, state, and national politics with similar might as the teacher unions who swim up the rivers of education politics like Asian Carp up the Mississippi – practically unopposed and without natural predators. Let’s imagine that they are represented by StudentsFirst.org, an organization that one Tiger Mom school reformer has had the audacity to envision.

The rest of my reply is here:

http://edobserver.blogspot.com/2011/02/do-missteps-explain-it.html

Anthony

Posted by: anthonykrinsky | February 14, 2011 3:18 AM | Report abuse

Richard Whitmire has done excellent reporting and analysis in this book as well. It's not just a rehash of events, for me at least it added layers and layers of new information and perspective. And it's not always what you expect.

As he says in the intro, the book is also as much about the people that Rhee brought into DCPS with her (many still running things) as it is about her. These are the people that will likely guide DCPS through the next chapter. The stories of that band of crusaders, as well as the stories of teachers and administrators in places like Sousa (and Dunbar) are really well told.

It's also a substantive (perhaps definitive?) reporting/overview of Rhee's reforms and their merits and effectiveness. The Post acknowledges in the book they were focused on mostly the politics. He's quite critical of the Post (but has something nice to say about Jay Mathews).

And it confronts head-on the issues of race and class in DCPS, which have to be taken into account in any story written about our city.

As you said Whitmire's book "gives us much to think about".

Posted by: frankb1 | February 14, 2011 4:11 AM | Report abuse

Can an honest observer comment on whether The Bee Eater discuses Rhee's business sponsors at all? I would be very interested in a dissection of the specific interests which backed her meteoric rise in the first place.

Someone pulled Rhee out of the wreckage of the failed Edison for-profit Tesseract project in Baltimore and groomed her as a business agent for their expansion, it seems. Aren't we curious to know, exactly who those promoters were (and are)?

Dissections of "what went wrong" with the plan of forced business expansion into the $500 billion public education budgets need to (at least)mention business and profit objectives. The theoretical assumption that pursuit of profits will drive education improvement was wrong from the beginning, perhaps, and should be looked at in daylight, don't you think?

This "failure" was not a personal failing of Rhee's, Jay. It was yours, because you are employed by the Washington Post Corporation, a rapacious and dishonest corporation which supported destructive education policies because it was pursuing a secret business plan of its own.

If you feel Kaplan's for-profit objectives in K-12 education are valuable and worthy of expansion, you have an obligation as a journalist to disclose and defend them.

Proponents of the new corporate reform have slid down a slippery slope, telling themselves their evasions, coverups and white lies would be irrelevant after their victorious capture of the public systems. The argument has been that American education is so bad, even blowing it up is preferable to the "status quo".

Alexander Russo is beginning to have doubts. Read his piece, Jay, and do look at that video link I posted on your last column.
http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2011/02/reform-it-could-get-worse.html

Posted by: mport84 | February 14, 2011 5:01 AM | Report abuse

#4 nails it for me. Jason Kamras, I hope you are reading. You may have great faith in Teach 1-9, and you may want to try to define good teaching for all teachers in all classrooms for all time, but my students achieve mainly due to their parent's educational attainments and their fitness for working everyday. I'm an important factor too, and I am working hard to pull up the kids who came into the class ill-equipped, but you are overstating and overemphasizing teacher inputs to the degree that most teachers are fed up with your approach. The data being collected that he touts so highly is flawed and he's spending our tax money on this expensive, untested experiment. Will someone in the press please directly challenge this guy. Being Teacher of the Year six years ago doesn't qualify him to mess with every classroom in the District. He is incapable of differentiating between schools and classrooms and teachers. Jason "1 size fits all" Kamras doesn't get it and he is hurting DCPS.

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | February 14, 2011 6:33 AM | Report abuse

Now Rhee is one of the most recognizable education figures in the country. She is a hero to those who think urban schools need big changes and a villain to those who think the reform movement is off-track.
........................
Time to recognize that Ms. Rhee's place in education in the United States rested upon her false claim made on her resume and that she has repeated Ad nauseam this false claim.

Now instead of the specific detailed claim of extraordinary test results, Ms. Rhee admits that this claim is false by her changing the claim to only "significant gains."

Almost every resume in America contains the rather meaningless claim of significant gains.

Would Time magazine have had a cover story of Ms. Rhee if all she could say about her limited teaching experience was "significant gains"?

Would TV interview shows have booked Ms. Rhee if all she could say was "significant gains"?

Ms. Rhee claimed for years extraordinary results as a unqualified and inexperienced teacher and fed the misconception that unqualified and inexperienced teachers could work miracles in public education.

Now the truth is out that the claim was false and there were no extraordinary results produced by Ms. Rhee.

The truth is that the false claim of Ms. Rhee has affected a change in national policy where unqualified and inexperienced teachers are now to be considered as "highly qualified".

And what do the fans of Ms. Rhee like Jay Mathews tell us was the reason for this false claim of Ms. Rhee.

Supposedly the fault was not Ms. Rhee since she was supposedly told by her principal in a conversation the test results that she incorrectly placed on her resume.

Americans are supposed to believe that Ms. Rhee instead of intentionally using a false claim, was told in a conversation that she "Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90 percent of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher."

Even the fans of Ms. Rhee should see the absurdity of believing that the detailed specifics of the claim of Ms. Rhee came from a conversation with her principal.

Time to recognize that Ms. Rhee for years was an opportunist feeding Americans with a false claim that was even in 2007 questioned.

Time to recognize that Ms. Rhee in 2007 would never have obtained her position in Washington D.C. if there was the evidence that has now forced Ms. Rhee to change her claim since there was a public hearing in 2007 that specifically questioned her claim of extraordinary test results.

Ms. Rhee would not even be a footnote in history if the evidence that has forced Ms. Rhee to admit her claim was false by changing her resume was available in 2007.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 14, 2011 11:21 AM | Report abuse

"carelessly reawakening the race issue." When did DC put that one to bed Mr Mathews?

As the book recounts, PG school chief John Deasy (and probably others) warned Rhee back in 2007 before she took the job that "the racial politics are going to be insane. You are going to get slaughtered."

Insidious, pervasive race (and class) politics were in large part to blame for the truly appalling state of DC schools.

For a time Rhee was actually able to "disrupt the tradition black-white plot line." But then opponents of her reform policies, realizing they probably couldn't win on substance, revered to the tried-and-true winning strategy of racial demagoguery.

Sadly, some of that racial demagoguery was served up by The Washington Post.

Posted by: frankb1 | February 14, 2011 11:38 AM | Report abuse

A national figures admits that statements that they made numerous times publicly and in writing were based on a falsehood.

Normally a national newspaper would write that all national policies advocated by this national figure need to be questioned and scrutinized to determine the extent that they are based upon falsehood.

But this is not the case with the Washington Post.

The Washington Post believes that the recent national policy to now view teachers without qualification or without experience as "highly qualified" to meet Federal requirements should go unquestioned even though there is the admission of falsehood from a major proponent of this policy.

Perhaps the Washington Post believes that it does not matter if national policies are based upon falsehoods.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 14, 2011 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Five ways Rhee went wrong

1. Used a falsehood regarding her qualification in 2007.

2. Repeated to the American public though interviews for national articles, TV, and personal appearances the falsehood regarding her qualification.

There is no need to give anything more about Ms. Rhee.

If an individual has used falsehood for four years with the American public there is no need to look for other flaws.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 14, 2011 11:58 AM | Report abuse

The Washington Post should really question their policy regarding Ms. Rhee.

It is one thing for a national newspaper to support a national figure when there is no evidence of falsehood.

It quite a different thing for a national newspaper to remain silent when there is admission of a falsehood that had been told continuously to the American public for four years by a national figure.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 14, 2011 12:12 PM | Report abuse

For bsallamack---I don't think we have been the least bit silent, and if we have a pro-Rhee policy then some of our staffers, including me, should be fired for violating it. Our ed page has been strongly pro-Rhee, as have I, but my latest pieces have been mostly sympathetic to the critics. Our blogger and columnist Valerie Strauss has been strongly anti-Rhee and our reporter on the case, Bill Turque, has done his usual fair and deep job, with lots of stories embarrassing to Rhee, like the recent arbitrator's decision voiding her firing of 75 probationary teachers.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 14, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

She is only 41, with plenty of energy and ambition. Few others are likely to have as much influence over where our public schools go from here.

I find this statement rather hyperbolic and hope it turns out to be false.

Posted by: juliedearborn | February 14, 2011 12:42 PM | Report abuse

If readers have evidence of Ms. Rhee publicly using the claim that now is admitted to be be a falsehood please include that material on this website.

A reputable national newspaper is interested in this story and I would like to forward them this public evidence of the use of the falsehood.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 14, 2011 12:47 PM | Report abuse

She is only 41, with plenty of energy and ambition. Few others are likely to have as much influence over where our public schools go from here.

I find this statement rather hyperbolic and hope it turns out to be false.

Posted by: juliedearborn | February 14, 2011 12:52 PM | Report abuse

For bsallamack---I don't think we have been the least bit silent, and if we have a pro-Rhee policy then some of our staffers, including me, should be fired for violating it.
Posted by: Jay Mathews
...............
A national figure admits to a falsehood used for over four years.

The response is a homily on the idea of the word "wrong" when it is a question of national policy being based upon a falsehood.

Now we get an absurd review of a book written about Ms. Rhee before the admission of the falsehood. No concept that this book about Ms. Rhee is now irrelevant since it was not based on recognition of the admittance of falsehood that Ms. Rhee told the American public for years.

And by the way you told readers that you spoke to Ms. Rhee last Thursday but still have not told readers the nature of this conversation in regard to the new evidence that had been discovered and that has apparently led to Ms. Rhee to admit the falsehood of the claim she has made for years.

You also have not told readers who was the person at the Washington Post Ms. Rhee spoke in regard to the need to change the prior false claim. Why was not the name of this person in the article.

And please no simple homily. A claim is either true or false. When an individual with the appearance of new evidence admits that a prior claim has to be drastically changed it is obvious that the prior claim was false.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 14, 2011 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Jay, just admit it: this is your valentine to Michelle today.

The realities will overcome in the end and dear Ms. Rhee will be proved the charlatan she is.

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | February 14, 2011 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I grew up in Boston during the decade of court ordered public school integration. It was an incredibly tumultuous time. During all the insanity of that time I remember one bedrock; providing facts, telling stories, and giving an outlet to the community's emotions (but always challenging bigotry, ignorance and intolerance). That bedrock was The Boston Globe. They won a Pulitzer for their "massive and balanced coverage of the Boston school desegregation crisis."

The Rhee public school reform years were The Washington Post's opportunity to provide a similar public service to the Washington DC community. A good question (raised in Richard Whitmire's book) to ponder is why the Post didn't step up at a time when its community really needed it?

Posted by: frankb1 | February 14, 2011 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Also as a bit of new maybe: Mary Cheh emailed me to say that the arbitrator's decision WILL be appealed. Hadn't see that reported in the Post yet.

Posted by: frankb1 | February 14, 2011 3:49 PM | Report abuse

People outside of the classroom might think that driving out a few good teachers is just losing a few good people. But, for get an excellent teacher to give up what he or she has spent a career building it means very low morale.

I think people underestimate low morale and what it can do to a school. There needs to be positive leadership. And positive leadership shouldn't be looked on as weakness or any of the disparaging things like "holding hands and singing Kumbaya" that Rhee said.

Posted by: georgia198305 | February 14, 2011 3:59 PM | Report abuse

sorry NEWS...and hadn't SEEN that reported in the Post yet.

Posted by: frankb1 | February 14, 2011 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Will the anti-Rhee faction welcome me as a comrade in arms?
Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 10, 2011 5:36 PM
...............................
For bsallamack---

but my latest pieces have been mostly sympathetic to the critics.
Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 14, 2011 12:21 PM
...................
In this book, Rhee fans like me
article Jay Mathews February 14, 2011
...................
Well Jay Mathews still has not responded to questions regarding his conversation with Ms. Rhee last week.

At some point Jay Mathews needs to recognize this is a column on education and educational policies and not public relations.

Mr. Mathews has been whining lately with the idea that he sometimes is a critic of Ms. Rhee.

Since this is not a public relations or fashion column then critics of Ms. Rhee are not speaking about how she handles the media, or her hairdo.

Critics are speaking about her ideas in education such as emphasis total emphasis on standardized testing with the firing of teachers based upon standardized test scores, using teachers from TFA that do not have credentials or experience to replace teachers with credentials, and claims that the problem is not children that have difficulty in learning but incompetent teachers which follows from her massive firing of teachers that are supposedly incompetent.

Since Jay Mathews claims to be sympathetic to the critics perhaps he should readers which of the above ideas of Ms. Rhee he believes are false and invalid.

The media with media hacks can continue belief in false ideas but history has shown repeatedly that these false ideas do not work.

The critics of Ms. Rhee are those that believe that her ideas in education are as false as her claim on her resume.

The false ideas of Ms. Rhee deserve the dustbin like her resume and should not be used to formulate national policy on public education.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 14, 2011 5:39 PM | Report abuse

yet another way she's on the wrong track
(and quite frankly,
Rhee's way off the rails) --

Will eyes wide open members of the general public please become aware of Michelle Rhee's burgeoning & awesome HYPOCRISY ?!!
Her hucksterism and apparent sloganeering is.....
"Students First", but, but ... HER DAUGHTERS LAST !

Look at her overall pattern of: SELF-CENTERED, SELF-SERVING (NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER), DELUSIONAL MISCONDUCT, SLUTTY-SLEAZY, ABHORRENT BEHAVIORAL CHOICES, & SOCIOPATHIC UTTER NEGLECT of her two young daughters !

Definitely research her bizarre history with faux-fiance (serial molester of several H.S. students & teenage Americorps staff) Kevin Johnson and investigate Rhee's direct involvement with Johnson's Sacramento Charter School corrupt cover-ups of sexcapades, financial malfeasance & misuse of govt. funds.

It is obvious when examining Rhee's pattern of irresponsible, warped & selfish misconduct (including forcibly uprooting family members), that her ex-husband is now mainly the custodial parent providing consistent care & nurturing concern for
the well-being of their daughters and he is the only
mature & responsible adult in that family !

MICHELLE RHEE FIRST.....
Children, Community stakeholders, & especially the needs of
her own daughters
come LAST !

===============================

Posted by: honestaction | February 14, 2011 8:36 PM | Report abuse

Jay, and others,

I’ve not read Whitmire’s book, but as one who has a strong commitment to public education and who followed Rhee’s failed reform efforts, I think the list of “missteps” is incomplete.

I would add the following to the list:

(6) She too often distorted the truth and lied to teachers and to the public (about the school budget, about RIFs and firings, about new teacher hires, and perhaps most egregiously about her own teaching record). She destroyed her credibility.

(7) She never adequately investigated the cheating scandal that plagued DC test score results, and she left the distinct impression that she didn’t really want to know and that she was “gaming” test scores.

(8) She was too publicity hungry. (The ill-advised cover photo for Time magazine, the one with Rhee and the broom, sent a poor message to teachers sin the District and to teachers across the country.) Her desire for media attention made it clear that for Rhee, it was far more about “me” than “we.” Rhee has yet to learn what characterizes good leadership.

(9) Rhee was authoritarian and autocratic. Her top-down, “my way or the highway” brand of management alienated teachers and parents. Public school systems are not dictatorships, and those who try to operate them as such often find that commitment to them and their ideas is quite shallow.

(10) Rhee propagated business-model “reform” ideas that lack any reliable research foundation. Her emphases on charters, more standardized testing, and merit pay for teachers all lack substance and validity. Her “ideas” are popular with the blame-the-teachers crowd (and with those who wish to deflect attention from the real causes of the financial crisis and high unemployment) but they just do not hold up under scrutiny. They are, to return to misstep #6, a twisted, inaccurate and fabricated version of truth as it applies to public education.

There are those who idolize Michelle Rhee (ugh!). Of course, there are also those who adore nitwits Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin. And there are still those simpletons who believe that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Some still believe, despite the evidence, that the SAT actually predicts college success (nope!).

When we get focused on the truth about public schooling and how to improve it, then we’ll find it far easier to let go of the charlatans (like Michelle Rhee).

Posted by: DrDemocracy | February 15, 2011 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Readers please post documented cases of Ms. Rhee publicly using her false claim.

The national newspaper that might do a real story is still interested.

Unlike Jay Mathews and the Washington Post they understand that national policy based upon falsehood is a national story.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 15, 2011 11:50 AM | Report abuse

For bsallamack--I didn't report the conversation with Rhee because she didn't say anything newsworthy. She said what she has said in the past, and what her organization put out last week. She doesn't have the exact data, but thinks the UMBC study numbers do not rule out that the numbers she gave because it did not count all students. I think Guy Brandenburg's blog shows she is wrong about that.

for frankb1---Please note that Whitmire's point in his book is that the Post was too hard on Rhee and gave too much space to her critics in the last few months before the election.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 15, 2011 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Jay Mathews wrote: "for frankb1---Please note that Whitmire's point in his book is that the Post was too hard on Rhee and gave too much space to her critics in the last few months before the election."

Yes, several pages in the book are devoted to those issues.

But Whitmire's criticism was much broader that that! The reproach was as much about the overall depth and substance of Post reporting as anything else.

Except from The Bee Eater:

Page 4: "Occasionally, the newspaper launched an impressive series on DC school boilers not working, a baffling inability to count the number of students within its own system, or teachers absconding with student activities money. But the important issue - whether and why academic achievement in DC lagged well behind cities with similar student populations - was rarely explored."

Page 67: "What wasn't reported, however, was the attitude within the system, which was best summed up in the message of the sign Rhee's team discovered at Slowe Elementary: we're doing the best we can with the flawed children sent our way."

Page 180: "The Washington Post's Metro section...rarely looked at the less glamorous side of what was happening within schools."

Whitmire was also critical of the quality of the reporting:

Page 182: "On a few occasions, the reporting was more than just puzzling." Questioning the veracity of an important story Bill Turque wrote on test scores, Whitmore noted that "the Post still had not issued a correction or clarification on that story."

In summation Whitmire concluded:

Page 186: "The Washington Post has turned in many "finest hours" of reporting. Its coverage of Rhee was not among them."

Posted by: frankb1 | February 15, 2011 10:50 PM | Report abuse

Jay Mathews wrote: "for frankb1---Please note that Whitmire's point in his book is that the Post was too hard on Rhee and gave too much space to her critics in the last few months before the election."

Yes, several pages in the book are devoted to those issues.

But Whitmire's criticism was much broader that that! The reproach was as much about the overall depth and substance of Post reporting as anything else.

Except from The Bee Eater:

Page 4: "Occasionally, the newspaper launched an impressive series on DC school boilers not working, a baffling inability to count the number of students within its own system, or teachers absconding with student activities money. But the important issue - whether and why academic achievement in DC lagged well behind cities with similar student populations - was rarely explored."

Page 67: "What wasn't reported, however, was the attitude within the system, which was best summed up in the message of the sign Rhee's team discovered at Slowe Elementary: we're doing the best we can with the flawed children sent our way."

Page 180: "The Washington Post's Metro section...rarely looked at the less glamorous side of what was happening within schools."

Whitmire was also critical of the quality of the reporting:

Page 182: "On a few occasions, the reporting was more than just puzzling." Questioning the veracity of an important story Bill Turque wrote on test scores, Whitmore noted that "the Post still had not issued a correction or clarification on that story."

In summation Whitmire concluded:

Page 186: "The Washington Post has turned in many "finest hours" of reporting. Its coverage of Rhee was not among them."

Posted by: frankb1 | February 15, 2011 10:50 PM | Report abuse

Michelle Rhee is a dishonest, arrogant, ignorant narcissist.

She's a bully & a Walmart/Hedge Fund shill
because she knows her corporate puppeteers will protect her from her own brazen bumbling and also ply her with dollars, under the table.

Posted by: honestaction | February 16, 2011 12:12 PM | Report abuse

I, for one, don't believe she swallowed the bee.

Posted by: Jennifer88 | February 16, 2011 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Jay Mathews includes in his defense of WaPo coverage the following:

"our reporter on the case, Bill Turque, has done his usual fair and deep job, with lots of stories embarrassing to Rhee, like the recent arbitrator's decision voiding her firing of 75 probationary teachers."

How could any reporter do less, given the clarity of the arbitrator's decision. Not a story the reporter had to go out and get. And the conditions of the educational programs in the schools, the organization of DCPS Central? Teacher morale and turnover? What goes on in the public schools serving 40% of public school students? Really, there's not much on the record for a full time reporter, and not much database -dependent reporting, either.

Posted by: incredulous | February 16, 2011 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Several quick comments about Michelle Rhee, genuine education reform, and the Washington Post's education reporting (or lack thereof):

1. Michelle Rhee is the prototypical "reformer:" short on actual experience and lacking in understanding of pedagogy, and more importantly, seemingly clueless on what good assessment is and how it best used.

As others have pointed out, Rhee utilizes a top-down, authoritarian approach to change that fosters compliance rather than commitment, and that breeds mistrust, anger, frustration, and hurt. There may be some short-term "successes," but in the longer-term there's failure (with Rhee, failure came rather quickly).

2. Genuine education reform is focused on authentic inquiry-based learning that is student-centered, interdisciplinary, and problem-oriented. Assessment is part of the process, but not it's end result...the outcome is students who are skilled communicators and critical thinkers who understand the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in a democratic society.

Authentic reform is bottom-up, not top-down. Its management is more democratic and less authoritarian, which means that teachers have a critical role in shaping instruction and assessment. The purpose is not "test scores" or "competitiveness," but rather personal development, the nurturing of democratic character, and the abilities to analyze, synthesize and evaluate.

3. While there are some Post writers and bloggers who seem to get it right (Valerie Strauss and Bill Turque come to mind), more often Post education reporting fails to inform the public, and Post education editorializing is just plain dreadful.

Post education reporters too often write stories that gloss over important research. Story after story cites the SAT, for example, without informing readers that it is a worthless test. The Post reporting on Advanced Placement is egregiously worse, and Jay has much to do with this.

What rarely gets reported is how much the Post company now depends on its Kaplan subsidiary for profits. Kaplan has made a ton of money for the Post selling its SAT and AP test-prep services and materials (and misleading students at its for-profit schools).

The Post was a Rhee acolyte. It reporting and its editorializing, for the most part, continue to support a business-model, test-score-driven approach to "reforming" public education that makes it worse and not better, even as it fattens corporate coffers.

And there's the real story. Why do people (Rhee, Donald Graham, Wendy Kopp, a host of Post writers, etc.) push ideas and policies that have little or no research substance as "reform?"

And why do they find it so imperative to misinform the public, as Kevin Huffman did in his Post column advocating vouchers, to make their case?

Posted by: mcrockett1 | February 17, 2011 6:51 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Matthews:

These five are only the beginning of a much longer lists of Rhee missteps and disasters. Tell us again why you are her fan, please?

Posted by: vscribe | February 17, 2011 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Matthews writes
"our reporter on the case, Bill Turque, has done his usual fair and deep job, with lots of stories embarrassing to Rhee, like the recent arbitrator's decision voiding her firing of 75 probationary teachers."

He should ask Mr. Turque if he printed all of the stories that he had about the incompetence of the Rhee administration or just the obvious ones. Tell him that PJ told you to ask.

Posted by: 4therecord1 | February 17, 2011 10:34 PM | Report abuse

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