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When she knocks, it's just 'Michelle'

Sometime this summer, you might answer a knock at your door to find Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee standing there, ready to tell you what a swell job Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has done.

But if she follows the legal advice she's received, she'll introduce herself as plain old "Michelle Rhee," without "Chancellor" or any other mention of her role as head the District's public school system. That's because the Hatch Act, the federal law that regulates political activity by D.C. government employees, bans the use of official titles or positions while campaigning.

Speculation about Rhee's role in the Fenty campaign began to build after her first-ever appearance in the annual Capital Pride parade earlier this month. She told my colleague Mike DeBonis that she wanted to send the message to same-sex couples that the D.C. public schools were welcoming places for their children. She toted a homemade rainbow flag reading "DCPS SUPPORTS ALL KIDS AND ALL FAMILIES!"

Exactly what plans the Fenty campaign has to deploy Rhee are unclear. Spokeswoman Helen Hare took the question Friday morning, but hasn't responded. She would undoubtedly be an asset--even if an untitled one--in areas of the city where her school reform efforts remain deeply popular.

Rhee said in an interview that she has not had a detailed discussion with the mayor's campaign about her role, but that she expected there to be one.

"I have communicated to the campaign office that I would imagine that at some point I would like to do volunteer work, going door to door. But I don't have any firm plans," she said.

Besides, she added, "I have a wedding to plan," referring to her Sept. 4 date with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. She said that much of whatever disposable time she had was going toward the yet-to-be-finalized guest list.

The Hatch Act offers a series of dos and don'ts for Rhee. She can attend fundraisers, but can't solicit money or be listed as a sponsor or host. She cannot invite subordinates to political events or otherwise suggest that they attend. She can make speeches, distribute literature and so forth, as long as she is not "on duty."

So when exactly is someone who routinely answers e-mails after 1 a.m. "off duty"?

"I think that even though I send e-mails late at night, most people would consider that to be off the clock," she said.

One Democratic operative close to Rhee said the campaign needs to be cautious about appearing to politicize her, and that too much overt politicking would tarnish her independent image. The other reality is that there are areas of the city, many of them east of the park, where she's just as unpopular as Fenty.

"This is one of these situations where the best thing she can do is be is be a good ambassador for reform and progress," the operative said. In other words, to keep working on the schools, and especially to make sure they open smoothly on Aug. 23, three weeks before the primary.The beginning of the school year, combined with the final days of what is shaping up as a difficult re-election campaign for her boss, is why she is putting off her honeymoon and returning to the District right after the wedding.

"I thought it would be weird for me to be gone during that time and I didn't want people to be speculating about that stuff," she said.

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By Bill Turque  |  June 21, 2010; 7:49 AM ET
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It doesn't matter to the Fenty campaign whether the school opening goes smoothly or not. The Washington Post editorial Board will smooth over or disregard any problems, and real reporting will be hidden on the back pages of the metro section or on-line, where Rhee supporters never go.

Posted by: efavorite | June 21, 2010 9:50 AM | Report abuse

"One Democratic operative close to Rhee said the campaign needs to be cautious about appearing to politicize her, and that too much overt politicking would tarnish her independent image."

Fenty is a "Democrat" out of necessity, but acts like his Republican backers. If Rhee is a Democrat, it's because she is uninformed about the basic tenents of the party, but Rhee being uninformed is the norm. She is, however, "independent" in the sense that she cares about nothing and no one but herself, or more precisely her self-image. Actually narcissistic would be more accurate.

Posted by: mcstowy | June 21, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Interesting that she will "campaign" for Fenty. Those of us who work in DCPS have been sent information via email twice about the Hatch Act and have even received hard copies in our school mailboxes. An intimidation tactic, no doubt, considering we've never had that information shoved down our throats before. Looks like they don't want DCPS employees campaigning for Gray. I am sick to death of the charade of Fenty and Rhee. They both need to go because neither one of the has a clue as to what they are doing. The data Rhee spouts is false and what gains have been made are very insignificant. Test scores have been rising over the past decade and in some instances, significantly more than before she arrived. The achievement gap has widened, not narrowed, since her arrival. When they both are gone, the truth will finally surface and hopefully by then WaPo will be back to some truthful and real investigative reporting.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | June 21, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Voters must keep in mind that they are voting for Mayor, not for school district Chancellor. Although there has been an improvement in school test scores under Rhee, the only way possible for scores to go was up. Also, like Fenty, Rhee has repeatedly demonstrated a disregard for District law and an inability to cooperate with other branches of government. Rhee could easily be replaced without any harm to District schools. The bottom line - Rhee simply isn't anything special.

Posted by: ashafer_usa | June 21, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

She will probably tell people what she said last week at the Thursday morning conference in Georgetown, “Making a Difference: Personal Experiences from Three American Leaders,” sponsored by Accenture.

Chancellor Michelle Rhee predicted today that the D.C. Public School system “will be in a wildly different place” in five years, in fact “the highest performing urban school district in the country and one that has the faith and confidence of the citizens of the city.”

The best urban school district will still be below surround Maryland and Virginian counties.
(And watch out Joel Klein.)

At least she has provided a data based goal for which she can be held accountable.

Read more at the Washington Examiner:

Posted by: edlharris | June 21, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Urbandweller - please get that information right to the Gray Campaign.

I asked Chairman Gray himself what restrictions public employees have regarding campaigning and he made it clear (as states also in this article) that it was fine as long as you were off duty - e.g., after-work hours, or during the summer, if a teacher.

These are the same regs that apply to all political campaigns. For instance, many state and federal government employees campaigned for candidates in the recent presidential and congressional elections, but they did it at night, on week-ends or took annual leave to do it.

Posted by: efavorite | June 21, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Rhee may lack common sense but she doesn't lack energy.

Posted by: aby1 | June 21, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

When talking w your mentor, efavorite, did you also ask the Chairman about his positive impressions of Chancellor Rhee's performance?

Posted by: axolotl | June 21, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

This is one time I wish I lived in DC rather than Virginia. I would love that woman to knock on my door so I would have the opportunity to ask her to leave my property.

Posted by: southyrndiva | June 21, 2010 7:18 PM | Report abuse


When talking w your mentor, efavorite, did you also ask the Chairman about his positive impressions of Chancellor Rhee's performance?

Posted by: axolotl | June 21, 2010 4:33 PM "

Boy, you are still really nasty, axolotl.
Go back to Bermuda, sans laptop and Crackberry.

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | June 21, 2010 9:42 PM | Report abuse

to axolotl: You need to read Diane Ravitch's "The Death and Life and the Great American School System." If you read it with an open mind, I don't think you'll be as supportive of Rhee and the reforms or the "takeover" of American public schools by the Broad, Walton and Gates foundations.

FYI, check the NAEP scores which have been posted on WaPo numerous times. Test scores have been rising in DCPS for a decade now with even larger gains than before Rhee came into the system.

Also, I remember when I was in school and didn't do well on tests, my parents told me I needed to study more and work harder and do better next time--which I did. We have totally "subtracted" the student out of the equation of education today. Why are teachers accountable for everything? We hold students (and parents) accountable for NOTHING now. Our society constantly wants to blame somebody else for our own personal problems. "Some students aren't learning because teachers aren't teaching." Hogwash! Some students aren't learning because some students aren't applying themselves and their parents aren't taking an interest in their childrens' lives. It's time to stop blaming teachers for the laziness which has crept into American society. Everyone needs a heaping helping of PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. Teachers can (and do) teach, but students must take responsibility for their learning, apply themselves, do classwork and homework and take advantages of the extra support offered to them. It's time we make students and parents sign a contract for learning and hold them accountable.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | June 22, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

She better take security with her. If she knocks on the door of a RIF'd teacher, a teacher who has recently found that retiring during the negotiating years forfeits their back pay, a principal she terminated, an educational aid that was terminated or a disatisfied parent, I doubt that the conversation will ever get to what a good mayor Fenty has been.

To put her out there on the street seems like a desperate move. If she is out there, shouldn't the Chief of Police and all other agency heads knock on doors as well? What a circus!

Posted by: candycane1 | June 22, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Scenario...Who dat knocking at my door? It is me, Chell. Girrrrrrrrl come on that Kev wit you? Yeah, girl...that is my boo. Y'all gonna still do that thang in Steptember? Girrrrrrl, you stil got anything to drank and to snack on...because a sistah like me gotta eat.

Okay you all know the rest.

That reminds me...I need to go shopping for my egg-foo young recipe. Does she prefer seafood, beef, chicken, pork or vegetables? If, she's accompanied by her beau...I will have some fried chicken-wings with mumbo sauce on the menu too.

Grape soda or kool-aid...wouldn't want to be caught of guard?

Posted by: PowerandPride | June 22, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

UrbanDweller--just finished Ravitch's book and have met her a couple of times.

While it is hard to forget she is/was a fully dipped Bushie (both father and son), I understand her arguments. But her logic and data drop out when she forgets about the teacher quality variable, among all the important issues. She'll have to revise the book when the several ongoing teacher-quality research projects are completed.

You use the word "blame" loosely. There is more than enough of that for every single party involved in DCPS, including the teachers, the union, the mayor, Rhee and all the other parties. They have all contributed to DCPS chaos.

Don't feel so put upon or in the cross-hairs. You're working hard and the environment is not good--that's clear. And all parents/citizens/taxpayers thank you for hanging in there and doing as much as you can.

But please don't ignore the role teachers play in the education process. Even if shunned by teachers as a topic, it is there, inescapably.

There's no plot of well funded foundations to takeover American public ed, UD. They just feel the desperation in all the urban systems and want to do something about it. Too many teachers unions and boards of education do not seem to want to do much about it other than defend the status quo.

Posted by: axolotl | June 22, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Teacher-quality research is already out. The most recent was published 6/9/2010 and no one seemed to notice. Why? Because it contradicts everything Rhee, TFA and Arne Duncan believe in. Once again their faith does not stand up to the evidence. Uncertified, inexperienced teachers are lousey and they negatively impact their students, yet this is the program Rhee wants to saddle DC with. Here's the link:

Posted by: mcstowy | June 23, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

axolotl: I guess you glossed over the sections of Ravitch's book which points out with clear data that there is no correlation between teachers' unions and student achievement. For example, Massachusetts has a very strong union and scores off the charts in standardized tests. The Southern States, which has very weak unions has much lower scores on standardized tests. Go back and reread Ravitch's book. I think you missed some parts.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | June 23, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

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