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Michelle Rhee's 'Hard Decision' to Vote for Obama

Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee almost voted for Sen. John McCain in November but switched her vote to Sen. Barack Obama at the desperate urging of one of her best friends, she told Time for a profile appearing on the magazine's website today.

Rhee, who highlighted her reformer image by posing for the magazine's Dec. 8 cover with a broomstick and a stern expression, is a self-described life-long Democrat. But during the presidential campaign she frequently praised McCain's steadfast support of the No Child Left Behind Act, while criticizing Obama and the Democratic party for being beholden to teachers' unions.

"It was a very hard decision," Rhee said of her vote. "I'm somewhat terrified of what the Democrats are going to do on education."

No word on whether the intermediary was Jason Kamras, a top Rhee aide who advised the Obama campaign on education issues.

Now that Obama has won office, Rhee has reasons for both hope and alarm.

Before clinching the nomination, Obama bucked the National Education Association to introduce a Senate bill that would reward teachers according to the sort of statistically-based rating system Rhee champions. In his book "The Audacity of Hope," Obama also stressed the need for linking increased teacher pay to greater accountability. And in his last debate with McCain, Obama even praised Rhee, describing her as "a wonderful new superintendent ... who's working very hard with the young mayor ... who initiated, actually supports, charters." (Rhee said she slept through that moment.)

But more recently, Obama's choice of campaign adviser Linda Darling-Hammond to lead his education transition team has sent nervous ripples through the reform community. A Stanford education professor, Darling-Hammond's views are believed to be in sync with that of the unions.

Rhee said she is still hopeful that Obama and Congress--which controls the city's budget--will throw their weight behind her.

"It would send a huge message if this Administration actually took a side on where we are with the union negotiations here," she told Time.

Nurith Aizenman

By Kathryn Tolbert  |  November 26, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Education  
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Something in the middle is required. There is no art or music or much of anything that's not in the No Child Left Behind test taught in my grandson's school. It's all about the test. He's going to need a broader education in the world -- who's holding the teacher accountable for that?

Posted by: Jenny6 | November 26, 2008 8:39 AM | Report abuse

What's largely been standing between our kids and a solid education is indeed the teachers' unions. I wasn't a big fan of Ms. Rhee until I saw that. She at least can point to a fundamental problem in the system.

Though I agree with Jenny6's comments of 'teaching to the test', it's the same problem with AP courses.

Posted by: kolbkl | November 26, 2008 8:49 AM | Report abuse

who cares ms rhee who you would have voted for.
like your one vote would have altered dc's 3 electoral votes for obama; or his landslide win. better instead focus on and worry about how dc votes for or not for the mayor you're linked to. cause if he's out, you're out. see capt ramsey as exhibit a

Posted by: kedavis | November 26, 2008 8:51 AM | Report abuse

Are we short on news in the Post? Who cares what Rhee thinks or who she voted for in the General Election.

She should just concentrate on doing her job!

Statements like she is afraid of what the "Democrats" are going to do to education is myopic!

Some parents want more for their kids with respect to foreign languages and physical education.

Michelle, just because you switched your vote does not mean that you are a Democrat! You should have stayed with McCain if he shares your beliefs!!!

Posted by: dcchamp1 | November 26, 2008 8:58 AM | Report abuse


O come on... Casting a Republican vote in DC is like screaming for help on a deserted island... Pointless...

Posted by: indep2 | November 26, 2008 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Not surprising - you'd expect someone like Rhee to vote Republican. She'd have the perfect school system in DC, if not for all those horrible, wasteful, lazy teachers.

It would be nice if this woman actually cared about the students in the system, rather than making herself famous. You know what, Rhee? Don't do us any favors by deigning to cast your precious vote for our side. We'll do just fine without you. Go back to creating your own personal fiefdom at the expense of DC teachers and students.

Posted by: cupgoddess | November 26, 2008 9:02 AM | Report abuse


I am a lifelong Democrat and I am disgusted by the horrible, wasteful, lazy teachers. Far from using hyperbole, what you described is EXACTLY what the teachers really are. I have met teachers and visited schools in the DC Suburbs and have met about 100 DCPS teachers and let me tell you, Rhee is 100% right here. There is a MASSIVE problem with the teachers and how they pass off their own failures to prepare for class and communicate information onto everyone else in the system. Two years ago they complained about the central administration, now that Rhee fixed that they complain that Rhee isn't fixing the parents or that Rhee isn't addressing concerns of the drug gangs in Anacostia High School (this is a true statement a teacher told me).

People need to be made aware that the majority of DCPS teachers are delivering far less results than their counterparts in PG County or MoCo or Fairfax, Arlington, etc.

The old PTA I was an officer in compiled lists of teachers who they wanted out of the school FOR CAUSE. Can you imagine that? Not just crank parents whining about jr getting a bad grade, I mean parents coming to us with a dozen class handouts that contained serious grammatical and spelling errors they confusing "They" for "Their" as in "Jimmy and Janey turn in they homework" instead of "Jimmy and Janey TURNED in THEIR homework." Think that flies in Bethesda schools?

Posted by: bbcrock | November 26, 2008 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Frankly, Rhee gets close to $1 billion a year, for 45K students. She should not have a concern over what any party or union issues. she has resources unlike any school district she now needs to get to work implementing an effective plan.

Posted by: oknow1 | November 26, 2008 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Why would Rhee say such a thing or even agree to the Time interview.

I am more and more of the opinion that Rhee is more out for herself and what she can get out of the Chancellor's job than what she can do for the children of DC in the long run.

With this interview as with so many others she is doing she is setting the stage to blame others for her failures.

With Mayor Fenty being an early and strong supporter of Obama who then won DC with over 80% of the vote one has to question what Rhee is doing in this interview.One must remember how she blamed the press for the poor contract negotions when she spoke in Denver and then said if she doesn't win this negotiation she is "scr-wed" in another interview.

To ask the Adminstration to take sides in a union negotiation against a union that supported them is also absurd.

Rhee would do much better if she didn't handle her union negotiations through the press and wasn't so antagonistic but rather got down to business and managed to get a new contract.

Rhee is displaying all the problems one has when one comes from a small non-profit into a big organization and doesn't understand how it works. Small gains may make for nice headlines now but they won't solve the problems of the DC school system for the long run which is what we must do. We need teachers dedicated to the profession and to children for the long haul and not just a few Teach for America, or often known as Teach for Awhile teachers who are in it only as a bridge to another career.

Posted by: peterdc | November 26, 2008 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Ms. Rhee, other than firing teachers and principals, what exactly have you done for D.C.'s schools? You sound like the archetypical CEO, whose idea of turning a business around is to fire everyone to cut costs, but provide no innovation or leadership. Care to bring us up to date, Ms. Rhee? Bush's No Child Left Behind is nothing more than teaching students to pass a test so the school can get more federal money. What a cynical, mean spirited goal.

Posted by: swatkins1 | November 26, 2008 10:42 AM | Report abuse

"The Audicity (sic) of Hope Obama (sic)," time for the author of D.C. Wire to clean up this entry a little bit!

Posted by: mediaskeptic | November 26, 2008 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Why is Rhee now publicizing how she voted, well after the election is over? Could it be that she did, if fact, vote for McCain, but thinks it best now to say she voted for Obama, so that Congress will "will throw their weight behind her?" Where was her public support for Obama BEFORE the election? If she spent more time developing sound programs and policies for DCPS (note to Rhee: knee-jerk termination is not a policy), maybe she'd have less time to pursue more limelight for herself.

Posted by: schooletal | November 26, 2008 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Why is Rhee now publicizing how she voted, well after the election is over? Could it be that she did, in fact, vote for McCain, but thinks it best now to say she voted for Obama, so that "Obama and Congress will throw their weight behind her?" Where was her public support for Obama BEFORE the election? If she spent more time developing sound programs and policies for DCPS (note to Rhee: knee-jerk terminations is not a policy), maybe she'd have less time to pursue more limelight for herself.

Posted by: schooletal | November 26, 2008 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Who Rhee voted for is not news. Even for the blogs.

Posted by: kelly5612 | November 26, 2008 12:41 PM | Report abuse

I could care less who she voted for. I can see that she has scared the Central Admin to death (which is good) and got the teachers in a tizzy (not so good) but done nothing to improve student achievement. She is kind of like a female Fenty. In the news alot, talking about nothing. DC we can do better than this. What the heck is the problem. Fenty is almost as bad a disaster as Sharon Pratt-Kelly and to make matters worse he is a native son. Mo County you are starting to look better everyday.

Posted by: scrappyc20001 | November 26, 2008 2:19 PM | Report abuse

The errors in what bbcrock noted in some worksheets written by a DC teacher (I am one too)are typical of so-called Ebonics, once called Black Vernacular Speech. Another example I heard from a colleague is "who book is that?" meaning "whose book is that?". This variety of English is routinely spoken by children in DCPS on the playgrounds and cafeteria. However teachers who may speak Ebonics at home or in a casual setting should speak and model standard English in a classroom and professional setting. Additionally, it should not find its way into worksheets, blackboards or written communication. Where I teach, my colleagues usually intact with students in speak standard English. And I, not a speaker of it, understand it, as Ebonics is the home language of my students.

Posted by: chelita | November 26, 2008 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Who does care who she voted for? What I care about is her packing her things, getting on the broom she posed with and riding out of town. How could someone as supposedly busy as she is have time to talk about voting? Has she forgotten many people know she criticized the Democratic Party so vehemently? Why is her vote even important? There should rhealy be more important things to talk about, things like how to heal a school system without firing everyone when you've gotten caught LYING about having so many candidates when you really don't.

Posted by: southyrndiva | November 26, 2008 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Rhee needs to be more concerned if her boss will be the boss in two years as oppose to doing interviews for Time magazine and advertising who she voted for. As a parent of two elementary school children, all she has done up to this point is cause "confusion and heartache to a dysfunctional school system". She was actually quoted saying that in an interview over a year ago. Rhee and Fenty have pissed so many people off in the city that their failure is IMINENT! I know quite a few teachers in DCPS and what they have to deal with as far as student behavior and initiative is deplorable! How do you change the parent and encourage them to be better parents? Most of these kids are forced to grow up early and have no viable vision of a future for themselves. My son, who is in pre-K, had no teacher the first week of school because the central office dindn't send the principal of that school enough candidates to make a good hire. It wasn't until I emailed someone at the central office that a teacher was re-assigned. I hate to put it like this but this is becomming black and white. No schools west of the park were closed and they are all predominently white while every school closed was in a predominently black community. Her children attend Oyster-Adams and I'm sure they didn't experience what my son experienced the first day of school. Fenty/Rhee: Your days are numbered so have fun while it last..

Posted by: DCNative7 | November 26, 2008 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Based on the range of comments on this thread, the DC Public Schools are beyond fixing.

As to ebonics, my wife is an expert in American and British sign language, and as a linguist respects ebonics as a separate valid form of English. However, as one of the posters has noted, ebonics should not be used in the classrooms, IF the aim of the school is to prepare students for the larger American English-speaking world outside. Appropriate dress and speech are important components of job success. That's just the way it is. In the near future, with jobs at a premium, these collateral factors will be even more critical for job seekers. So graduates speaking Spanish or ebonics are going to be at a huge disadvantage.

Posted by: JohnRVA | November 26, 2008 4:08 PM | Report abuse

You're kidding me, right? She turned a no-brainer into a fullscale lament? No wonder DCPS is imperiled.

This is yet another reason why Fenty and his gang of destructo-cons should be out of a job come the next election.

Posted by: overhereontheleft | November 26, 2008 5:16 PM | Report abuse

I would suggest Rhee research the causes of poor academic performance. She might be surprised to learn teachers are not the most important factor affecting children's academic performance. If she were familiar with the research of Coleman and others she could then design effective policy rather than in engage in the high publicity antics of a frustrated and worthless bureaucrat.

Posted by: KeithNewman1 | November 28, 2008 8:49 AM | Report abuse

It is noteworthy that you have focused on such a small part of the article in TIME. That article is quite revealing in terms of the negative quality of Ms. Rhee's attitude. In one paragraph alone the words used to describe her accomplishments in her first year were "closed", "fired", "shut down" and "dismissed". Nothing about improvement. This feeling of negativity was further reinforced by the recounting of the email exchange and following meeting with Allante Rhodes, the student from Anacostia High School. I think the portrayal of that exchange by Rhee in interviews and Rhodes own take on that exchange is indicative of what is essentially wrong with Ms. Rhee's approach to the problems in our system. As teachers we are often confronted with the cold hard truth by the things our students write or sometimes say to us. These truths are hard to argue with. The truth that comes from Allante Rhodes at the end of the TIME article is a harsh truth indeed.

Posted by: adcteacher1 | November 28, 2008 12:19 PM | Report abuse

I, like many, am uninterested in who Rhee voted for in the Presidential election.

However, after reading the Time article, and actually experiencing the division that she has brought to the D.C. Public School system, I am convinced that she is more interested herself than the best interest of the students.

Sure, there are Fenty loyalists who seem to believe that the only and best method of reform is to fire everyone and contemplate on it later. However, the firing of the social workers at Child and Family Services Administration following the Bonita Jacks case proved that methodology to be severely flawed. In the wake of that tragedy the city, because of the difficulty to recruit highly qualified social workers willing to work under the brutal authoritarian leadership mandate of Fenty by way of his appointees, has LOWERED the hiring standard to allow for less qualified unlicenced social workers to qualify for these sensitive jobs. I imagine the city will soon offer applicants bonus' as well.

Where Fenty and Rhee have and continue to fail in their reform initiatives, is in the exercise of transformational leadership by way of positive transactional relationships. In short, making yourself and your ideas so popular among those most impacted by them, that they trust that you have their best interest at heart, despite the instability that change brings.

Fenty and his leadership are antagonistic leaders. You can feel it in the negative words that they use to describe others. Look at Peter Nickles, he is the Fenty model of government leadership and diplomacy. Unfortunately, Fenty doesn't have enough pink slips that will make this methodology successful.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | November 29, 2008 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Michelle Rhee is to education what Anna Wintour is to fashion, Ann Coulter is to incendiary provocation and Madonna is to righteous self-promotion. How can you not be entertained?

Posted by: Incidentally | November 29, 2008 4:25 PM | Report abuse

As a parent I'm sure Rhee wants to believe that she is doing all she can to help her kids succeed, and that a students study habits and, consequently, their test scores and grades are directly related to who presdies over the day-to-day running of the school or the classroom. But, to underestimate the importance of parental involvement in children's education is a dire mistake. Even in a failing school there are students who succeed. If you take a closer look and ask, "What do MOST of these students have in common?" you will find that, more often than not, those successful students will have some stable support system -- parents or guardians or mentors who care for them and about their education. Those people will encourage them, attend conferences,and/or stay on them about turning in school work. Rhee complains that there are too many warm fuzzys floating about schools -- that's becuase educators have a lot of heart. They have to, because sometimes that's the best motivation they muster to prevent them from joining the ranks of people who leave the field because they just wanted to teach -- not deal with outrageous discipline issues, disrespectful students (and parents), and, worst of all, administrators who do not back their classroom policies or value their input. Education Administration, whether you're reform-minded or not, is a delicate matter, and, as someone with no prior experience running a school, or a school system, or even teaching under NCLB (or with varifiable measures of student achievement), for that matter, Rhee should step back and listen -- to the teachers and administrators, as well as the students, before continuing to bulldoze her way through education reform. Parent/Guardian/Mentor support is extremely important in education reform, and ultimately, the reformer who discovers -- or GASP! -- creates ways to wake that sleeping giant is the one who will make the longest strides in closing the achievement gap, raising overall test scores, and, best of all, motivating students to learn just for their own benefit.

Posted by: theothereduwonkette | December 1, 2008 4:04 PM | Report abuse

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