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Rhee: Gray's "disdain" no secret

On Thursday afternoon I spoke with Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee about her comments earlier this week to my colleague Nikita Stewart, essentially tying her future in the city to the re-election of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty:

BT: It looked like your comments yesterday closed the door pretty categorically to serving in a Gray administration if asked. Did you close the door?

MR: You know, I didn't close the door per se. But what I did do is make it very, very clear that if you look at the last three years we've seen unprecedented growth in student achievement levels, we've raised graduation rates, we have steadied enrollment for the first time in decades, we have signed an historic teachers' union contract. And the reason why we were able to do all those things is because of the commitment of this mayor and his willingness to make really tough decisions and stand by those decisions and take the heat for all those decisions. I don't believe that we can, I can, continue in this role and that we can continue this reform agenda with anything less than that.

BT: So what you're saying is the capacity of his opponent to actually continue that work makes it not possible to continue.

MR: I don't think it's any secret--the chairman certainly hasn't made any secret of the fact-- that he has a fair amount of disdain for the way we have conducted this reform effort to date. So I don't think he's been shy about that. And so it's very difficult for me to understand how anybody thinks that all of a sudden he would embrace this reform agenda, this particular reform agenda.

BT: At end of the day, you don't see any common ground? Let's just assume for argument's sake that you wake up on Sept. 15 with Mayor-elect Gray, OK? You don't see any possibility for any negotiated common ground?

MR: We've worked together for three years. Over the course of that three years he's repeatedly said he's not happy with the way that the reform efforts have gone. I'm very clear on that. And again, I think it's naive to believe that all of a sudden, overnight, just moving from Sept. 14 to Sept. 15 that's going to change. We've been in this for three years now. I think that what is in the best interests of children and what's in the best interests of the city is to make sure that the mayor and the chancellor are in lockstep, that they are on the same page have the same philosophy, the same vision of where and how this reform effort should move forward. I think that the differences between Mayor Fenty and the chairman in how they would approach this effort are very, very clear. In fact, in some cases I don't think you can get more stark in terms of those differences. And I think the mayor has also made it clear that I am a part of his vision and his plan.

BT: You'd be walking away from a staggering amount of work, wouldn't you?

MR: Yeah, if that were the case that would be really difficult for me because I love my job, I really do. I love my job and I feel if we have four more years--which I'm confident that we will--we will be able to accomplish a tremendous amount. But I also believe that the best interests of the children and the system in the long term are to have leadership that are in sync with one another. I think a mayor and a chancellor bickering constantly would be a very troublesome dynamic.

BT: Let me suggest one other scenario, which is that there's a certain amount of theater going on here. That things might be different after the election, and that you're staking out this position to support the mayor.

MR: You've known me for a really long time and you know how I am. I say what I mean and I mean what I say. I don't stake a negotiating position. That's not who I am. The other thing is I think I was really clear with the people of this city from the get-go that I was actually very hesitant to take this job early on because I didn't think it was possible for a mayor to give me the kind of support a superintendent would need to do this kind of change. It was only because he convinced me that he would do that.

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By Bill Turque  |  July 2, 2010; 11:39 AM ET
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The other thing is I think I was really clear with the people of this city from the get-go that I was actually very hesitant to take this job early on because I didn't think it was possible for a mayor to give me the kind of support a superintendent would need to do this kind of change. It was only because he convinced me that he would do that.




Calling for enforcement of the Hatch Act.

BT - shame on you for pushing this women's agenda.

Posted by: fmurray200111 | July 2, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

The other thing is I think I was really clear with the people of this city from the get-go that I was actually very hesitant to take this job early on because I didn't think it was possible for a mayor to give me the kind of support a superintendent would need to do this kind of change. It was only because he convinced me that he would do that.




Calling for enforcement of the Hatch Act.

BT - shame on you for pushing this lying, crazy, self-promoting woman's agenda.

Posted by: fmurray200111 | July 2, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

So Bill - how many more times is WaPo going to regurgitate Rhee and Fenty's line that "Scores are up" before you write a big front page article with the statistics showing that scores have been rising for over a decade under six different superintendents, the achievement gap has widened, etc, etc. I know you've mentioned those things in articles, but that's not what sticks in people minds - especially when people want to think that Rhee's performing miracles. Reporters shouldn't take sides, but they should report all the facts, shouldn't they? I do think the newspaper has an obligation to not simply repeat talking points, when they know readers can be seriously misguided by them.

I think especially of all those sophisticated voters "west of the park" who think they're doing the noble, best thing, when actually they are being seriously duped.

Perhaps you could start by asking Rhee to explain just how she raised the scores and then not just print her response, but point out that none of her teacher removal techniques (via RIF, firing) were implemented until after the 2009 NAEP scores came in.

It took considerable badgering on my part to get the Post to stop repeating Rhee’s line that Shaw middle school’s DC-CAS scores stayed about the same, when fact they decreased.* But the Post finally did it, and in future articles, the Post acknowledged that the Principal’s efforts in his first year of a turnaround had resulted in lower scores. PBS published the same false information about Shaw, but they were much quicker to correct their error,* no badgering needed. In both cases there were official stats to back up the claims and there are now too.* Lots of people on these message boards have seen them and learned from them, but all the general public hears is “scores are up!” And as smart and analytical as some of these people are, they just accept it at face value, with no curiosity and no skepticism. Isn’t that where investigative reporting comes in?

* references in the order mentioned

Posted by: efavorite | July 2, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

What? The incompetent dictator will resign if she doesn't get her own way all the time? Oh dear, whatever shall we do?

Posted by: aby1 | July 2, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Ms Rhee, Please Shut Up! You are not running for mayor. This city is tired of your grandstanding and self serving ways. Please get on your broom and go straight to the west coast.

Posted by: fivetogo | July 2, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse


I don't think Turque means to support Rhee's agenda. I think he may have his job threatened if he didn't scale back on his critism of her.

Posted by: aby1 | July 2, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse


Perhaps you are right but is disgusting the way the WP keeps putting this woman out as though anyone gives a flying ---- how she feels about Gray.

She is attempting to blackmail the citizens of DC to keep her job and Fenty (her first class butt kisser) as mayor.

DC residents should be insulted by her actions and the fact that King Fenty has turned this nut job loose on DC and more important the children of DC.

For those who feel they cannot live in DC without Rhee should pack their bags and follow her to H..L.

Posted by: fmurray200111 | July 2, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse


I couldn't agree with you more. I wish the Washington Post would tell the full truth about Rhee. I suspect there are money interests behind her that are keeping WaPo from printing the truth.

Posted by: aby1 | July 2, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Chancellor Rhee: "I say what I mean and I mean what I say."

Oh Good - another chance to pull out the list of Rhee inconsistencies that Valerie Strauss published in January - complete with verification of each comment - which is more than Rhee can say about her "Scores are up" claim.
Click here for the full article:

Here's a sample:
2/9/09: “I do not blame teachers for the low achievement levels.” (Washington Post Op-ed)

11/08: “As a teacher in this system, you have to be willing to take personal responsibility for ensuring your children are successful despite obstacles .... You can’t say, ‘My students didn’t get any breakfast today,’ or ‘No one put them to bed last night,’ or ‘Their electricity got cut off in the house, so they couldn’t do their homework.” (The Atlantic magazine)

Posted by: efavorite | July 2, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Does the Chancellor always mean what she says and say what she means? Her press release from 3 days ago is titled "A Solid Foundation Built, A Pledge to Finish the Job."

Posted by: berniehorn | July 2, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

folks the wp is gooding to keep this up until fenty is defeated.

Forget the laws and rules (hatch)....the next article the WP writes about people breaking the law ignore it.

Posted by: gordonbundy | July 2, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

I see DC's Socialist Teachers Union, the self-entitlement employment agency for the incompetent, has called an alert & regrouping of their "members" to post the H@&& out of this article.. GO RHEE!!!

Posted by: genbarlow | July 2, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse


You are foolish to think that everyone who post on this subject is a teacher or a member of the union.

Attacking the union is the only way you and others can justify your blind support of a sadistic lady and her lap dog boss.

It is obvious that you would not recognize incompetence if it slapped you in the face.

Finally right--GO RHEE GO

Posted by: fmurray200111 | July 2, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

This column could have made the same point in many fewer words if "My way or the highway" were substituted for every Rhee response.

Posted by: efavorite | July 2, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Are there any other agency chiefs vowing to leave if Gray wins? Are there any other agency chiefs that ignored the signature of the mayor, their boss, regarding the budget? Are other agency chiefs violating the Hatch Act? Is the school system the only thing that needs reforming? Does it come down to this only?

My list goes further. It includes frat bros and illegal contracts, SYEP disasters for three years, city services, potholes, ridiculous increases in fees, Kelly Valentine and the Office of Risk Management, Peter Nickles Peter Nickles Peter Nickles, Valerie Santos, fire truck drama, Ron Moten and the Peacaholics,snow removal that could have been better if Fenty had found the snow machine that was found in a parking lot, homeless shelter assaults, drying up the reserves, crack dealing canvassers and on and on and on.

If Rhee needs a PR person because her foot gets stuck in her mouth, how does she think she can help Fenty? It doesn't appear that he can speak for himself about education and clearly validates the reason he didn't show up for the debate.

He looks more dumb the more she speaks for him. "Can't make it Work"

Posted by: candycane1 | July 2, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Michelle Rhee's shows that me she is out of touch, she services at the appointment of the Mayor, not the reverse. She is not one of DC's finest and she will not be missed if she leaves. She nor the Mayor is doing what is best for DC.

Posted by: qnwelzbth | July 2, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

I hope we do not have to endure an article a week with Rhee stroking her ego until the primary in September.


You are right about Fenty. And just think, I thought he could not look any dumber than he did on FOX recently. Guess I was wrong.

Posted by: fmurray200111 | July 2, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

An even better reason to vote for Vincent Gray, knowing this awful 'educator' won't be with us any longer! Can't wait til she and Fenty are GONE!!!

Posted by: tman2 | July 2, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Say what you will about Rhee, but at least she is pursuing reform. I have yet to see any evidence that Gray will support anything more than the pre-Fenty status quo. In fact, all I've ever seen from Gray are political games designed to remove all controversy and halt all reforms indefinitely.

For those who hate Rhee, remember this: change is never easy, it's always controversial, and some people will almost always be upset by the outcome.

But have any of you ever been inside of a DC Public School? The status quo is so undeniably horrible that any change--any change whatsoever--is better than the status quo.

As for the Hatch Amendment references, come on. If a mayoral candidate had a history of openly criticizing and undercutting the effectiveness of the Department of Parks and Recreation, you don't think the DPR Director would have anything to say about it? It's not campaigning, it's fighting for the mission of the organization. There's a big difference.

Posted by: punditpending | July 2, 2010 7:45 PM | Report abuse

Errr... Hatch Act, not Hatch Amendment.

Posted by: punditpending | July 2, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

Rhee commenting on the election in her position as school Chancellor is a clear violation of the Hatch Act. She needs to be prosecuted.

The Fenty administration - King Fenty, Rhee, Nickles, etc. is absolutely thoroughly corrupt. They disgust me!

Posted by: ashafer_usa | July 2, 2010 8:11 PM | Report abuse

what do people think about Gray's plan? I mean it is fun to beat up on Rhee [really fun in fact]. Yet, how would we compare the Gray plan with the Fenty view of education?

Posted by: mamaspearl | July 2, 2010 8:25 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Turque,

Do you not find it strange that after years of snubs and communication only via her various spokespersons, this legend-in-her-own-mind, hubristic egomaniac NOW considers you suitable for a one-on-one interview?!

This woman is inserting herself into a campaign that has absolutely nothing to do with her, and she’s exploiting you and your national platform in the process. She would have the uninitiated and ill-informed believe she is the author and master planner of education reform, when, in fact, it was begun before she got here (e.g., Dr. Janey created a set of curriculum standards for the entire school system—the foundation of any reform effort) and it will continue long after she’s gone.

Many of my colleagues and I (including some principals) have discussed the need for reform for years. The difference is that we have favored a positive, constructive, collaborative approach, unlike the “scorched earth/slash-and-burn” variety embraced by rhee.

As no one wants to hear her blabber on about her unsubstantiated/doctored data-infused claims of über success, I suggest you return her the favor and send all her future calls to voicemail.

Posted by: schooletal | July 2, 2010 9:20 PM | Report abuse

I suspect enrollment is steadied due to the recession. People do not want to pay for private schools.

I am shocked that she won't condsider working for another mayor. What about the kids?

efavorite, you were right about the carefully crafted stuff. Oh well.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 2, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

Bill Turque,

I disagree with many of these posts. I find your columns to be quite objective when it comes to this issue.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 2, 2010 10:00 PM | Report abuse

Rhee says Gray's disdain is no secret. Well, it is no secret how she has disrepected the entire City Council by not attending meetings when asked more often than not. She has made caustic remarks about multiple council members so her disrespect is no secret.

I agree with efavorite that an honest analysis of the data should be done because the fact of the matter is, scores have not consistently gone up under her watch. In fact, her greatest gains happened in 2008 and were the fruit of Dr. Janey's labor. Amazing how the very things she needs to elaborate on are the very ones a catch phrase is used -- "Scores are up." Ask the important question about for whom were scores raised. Had the mayor shown up at the education debate and was he articulate enough to discuss the scores empirically, since he is in control of the school system, people could have heard the argument on how scores have gone up.

Rhee continues to break the Hatch Act. She has inserted herself into the election. It seems to me she spends time all day advertising herself, grandstanding, being political but not very much time on the day to day operation of the system from Tuesday through Thursday, what is alleged to be her work week.

Posted by: southyrndiva | July 3, 2010 9:56 PM | Report abuse

"I don't think it's any secret--the chairman certainly hasn't made any secret of the fact-- that he has a fair amount of disdain for the way we have conducted this reform effort to date."

Key words here... "THE WAY"! There are many of us who have a fair amount of DISDAIN for THE WAY you've done things. Some of us even agree with WHAT you're doing... but THE WAY is what we are taking issue with.

"We've worked together for three years"

NO YOU HAVEN'T. You haven't worked "TOGETHER" with anyone in this City since you arrived but Fenty. That's ANOTHER thing we take issue with. You failed to show at Council hearings, showed and brought no paperwork with you, failed to respond to request from parent bodies, student bodies and showed YOUR DISDAIN for the entire council, teachers, parents, students and citizens for three years and you call that working TOGETHER?

The other thing is I think I was really clear with the people of this city from the get-go that I was actually very hesitant to take this job early on because I didn't think it was possible for a mayor to give me the kind of support a superintendent would need to do this kind of change.

Uhhh, what story are you watching? The "people of this City" had nothing to do with you coming here... you see while there was a national search going on and supposed collaboration between the Mayor and council to find an "Appropriate" Candidate for the job... the Mayor circumvented the intire search and picked someone totally unqualified who could never even be considered for the job. "The people of this City" had no say then so we are having our "say" at the polls in September. Bye-bye!

Posted by: tformation1 | July 3, 2010 11:09 PM | Report abuse

"Say what you will about Rhee, but at least she is pursuing reform."
-punditpending (Is that you, Kevin Huffman????)

You can be granted that.
She is pursuing "reform."
The question would be what reforms and will it really improve DCPS, such that students , say from Stanton Elementary which recently lost its principal and will be turned over to a private firm, be scoring at the top percentile on DC-CAS and the NAEP?

I doubt it.
She hasn't done anything like it in her 18 year career in the education field, despite her "Baltimore Miracle."
Such miracles were not duplicated by the teachers she trained in The New Teacher Project.
Such miracles were never repeated by any other TFAer.

Her "reforms" seem mainly designed to promote herself.
C'est moi.

Posted by: edlharris | July 4, 2010 2:19 AM | Report abuse

Reading Rhee's latest sound-offs remind me of Colbert King's column about her that he wrote two years ago, after sitting down with her one year into her administration: It is all about Michelle, her rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding.

Posted by: vscribe | July 4, 2010 2:39 AM | Report abuse

If Gray wins, Rhee would just be another in a long line of adults who quit on the children of DC because of . . . . . well just pick a reason.

Posted by: Anne_Darcy79 | July 4, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

But what I did do is make it very, very clear that if you look at the last three years we've seen unprecedented growth in student achievement levels

By what measure?

To quote Joe, "You lie."

Posted by: edlharris | July 5, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Complete autonomy bordering on license has been as important to Michelle Rhee as it has been to Sarah Palin. Her dissing Vincent Gray rather than making a commitment to work with the next mayor, whoever he is, so long as DCPS benefits, reflects at best most anybody's preference to be queen / first lady in the city in which her husband is mayor, and on the same coast, rather than being, say, in Stan McChrystal's position, you know, subject to civilian authority.

Posted by: incredulous | July 5, 2010 10:21 PM | Report abuse

I do not have children attending DC Public schools but as a product of the DC public School system, I must say that I am appalled at what Ms. Rhee is referring to as "Reform". I dont see it. As a social worker who interacts regularly with disenfranchised public school families and children, I am saddened to see the lack of progress in terms of growth, resources and services available to assist the children who need them. Whenever I ask about services or resources the typical response is usually " due to budget cuts, they no longer exists". Teachers cant teach and students cant learn without the proper tools and resources to do their jobs. In some schools, basic necessities such as soap and toilet paper in the children's bathrooms are lacking. How tragic! In some instances, there were no teachers to staff the classrooms. How can the students be learning and improving if there is noone available to teach them?

Posted by: Junadee | July 7, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

PunditPending @ 7:45 pm--the "undeniably horrible" situation you are describing is the current status quo, is it not?
As for "change is never easy"--no, it is not and that is all the more reason to approach it with intelligence and respect for those who are expected to change including being guided by their experience in questioning the validity or efficacy of a particular change. That questioning does not always mean resistance; most often it means that people simply want to have more information about why and how? Ms. Rhee's distain for the people, especially the teachers, who she wants to change has made things immeasurably harder for her by creating animosity where there was none before. Her comment that if Gray likes process and harmony, she's not his "girl", is so telling that she distains those things and those things are the heart and soul of a good home environment and a well functioning school system. She has hurt children with her beliefs and actions, not raised up an ailing system to serve them. I don't hate her but I do hate some of the things she has done in the NAME of "reform." To her, it is completely unimaginable that parents would not want their 5 to 10 year children trying to cross NY Ave. to go to school. She distains their perfectly responsible and justified fear for their children's lives in such a plan and told them they "would get used to it" and "come to accept it"! Is that your idea of school reform? It's not mine.
Junadee--STILL no soap and toilet paper after three years? That's not my idea of reform either!

Posted by: 1citizen | July 9, 2010 12:17 AM | Report abuse

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