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Why Rhee chose Anita Dunn

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee called on Washington's top echelon of political consultants when she began looking for help with her communications strategy last year. Former White House press secretary Mike McCurry, Bill Clinton campaign manager James Carville and Gore campaign chairman Donna Brazile were among those she said she spoke with.

But it was Anita Dunn, President Obama's former communications director, who made the most favorable impression, Rhee said, because of how relatively little she suggested in the way of changes to her often unvarnished public pronouncements. She said that while the others proposed major fixes, Dunn called for "tweaks." It probably also doesn't hurt that Dunn remains well-wired in the Obama administration, still carrying out spot communications assignments, including Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court.

"We just hit it off," Rhee told the Young Education Professionals at a Tuesday night Q & A. at Shaw Middle School@Garnet-Patterson. She said Dunn understood that Rhee and DCPS were not the usual kind of clients.
"We're a school district, we're not politicians," she said.

Dunn has brought some new depth and sophistication to DCPS' outreach to the public and the press, but it's hardly been seamless. Confusion, fuzzy math and muddled facts still seem to accompany many big Rhee initiatives. Witness the disarray surrounding the funding for the new teachers' contract and the lack of clarity in last month's initial announcement about the number of teachers who had been dismissed for poor evaluations. But Rhee says Dunn has been a major upgrade.

"We brought her on because we were doing a really crappy job" communicating with the public, she said.

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By Bill Turque  |  August 11, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Add category , Michelle Rhee  
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Next: Getting a handle on teacher attrition


Honesty goes a long way and you don't have to pay anyone a hefty salary for that. Rhee should give it a try.

Also, respecting parents and teachers will help the communication flow but it must be sincere and not feel like a publicity stunt.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | August 11, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

2 interesting points:
1. Rhee chose Dunn because she essentially said she (Rhee) wasn't really doing anything wrong, while the others were honest about the need for major changes. Typical of Rhee's preference for sycophants over talent and honesty.

2. The ongoing illusion in DCPS (and the Fenty Adminstration in general) that their problems are merely of "immage" and "miscommunication" rather than substance. In fact, Rhee's reigh of error (not a typo) has been a disaster for DCPS. Her TFA cult-belief system includes education policies that are discredited by both research and esperience. The result: In just 3 years she has ended and reversed nearly 2 decades of pro0gress in DCPS. This result was both predictable and predicted when she was hired. She was unqualified when hired and has proven her lack of both qualifications and quality wwith nearly every decision she has made, unless you consider ignorance, arrogance and stupidity (the inability to learn) positive attributes in a person running a school system.

Posted by: mcstowy | August 11, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

I have been trying to guess which of the comments on WAPO education articles are plants for Dunn/Rhee. Don't you think?

Posted by: stevendphoto | August 11, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

"Confusion, fuzzy math and muddled facts still seem to accompany many big Rhee initiatives."

Thanks Turque for telling us about these things.

Posted by: educationlover54 | August 11, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

rhee should have saved her money.

Posted by: bnew100 | August 11, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

"We brought her on because we were doing a really crappy job," said Michelle Rhee.

Please, Anita Dunn, advise Michelle Rhee to exclude the word "crappy" from her comments. Surely, the leader of a school system could choose more eloquent words.

Posted by: ocisab | August 11, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Bill - Instead of just posting these gossipy little items, How about a blog post telling us whether or not you're going to write a big article analyzing 2010 DC-CAS scores?

Since they were posted last Friday, all we've gotten so far is an article focused on KIPP and a tidbit on Tyler.

Is that it?

Posted by: efavorite | August 11, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure Bill will get to it.
Hopefully he is working on it now.
One problem is that teachers and principals are focussing on this upcoming year.

As for bnew100's comment that Miss Rhee should have saved her money,

it's not her money..
$100,000 was donated by Katherine Bradley to D.C. Public Education Fund, the non-profit set up by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to handle private contributions to school reform.

If you go to the website of DC Public Education Fund (, you can read this:
"DC Public Education Fund’s mission is to dramatically improve student achievement in the District of Columbia by serving as a strategic partner to businesses, foundations, community leaders, and individual donors in supporting and investing in high impact programs with the District of Cloumbia Public Schools."

Exactly how does spending $100,000 on PR to get the message out "dramatically improve student achievement in DC".
Is Squier Knapp Dunn hiring DCPS high schoolers to do the work?


Posted by: edlharris | August 11, 2010 7:04 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Rhee made an excellent choice in choosing Ms. Dunn, who seems to have reminded her client that "silence is golden" and "If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all."

I'd be willing to bet Ms. Dunn was not consulted before Michelle wrote that foolish letter to the editor.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | August 11, 2010 8:11 PM | Report abuse

Anita Dunn took the job because it was easy money. Anything anyone has to say to Rhee about an improved self image goes through one ear and out the other. Rhee can't be helped and Dunn saw a chance to make quick, easy and good money. That is not to criticize Dunn.
It's just that Rhee is hopeless cause. I'm sure that in Dunn's inner circle, she's saying, You can't tell Rhee a damn thing" lol!!!

Posted by: candycane1 | August 11, 2010 8:46 PM | Report abuse

Anita Dunn: And since I can't tell her anything that she will listen to, I tell her whatever she wants to hear.

Posted by: candycane1 | August 11, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

1. ". . .because of how relatively little she suggested in the way of changes to her often unvarnished public pronouncements."
In other words, Rhee chose someone who is basically doing nothing, getting paid for it and allowing Rhee to shoot off her mouth as usual. That's good use of our tax dollars!

2. "We brought her on because we were doing a really crappy job" communicating with the public, she said.
And you're still doing a crappy job both at communicating and at running DCPS!

Posted by: UrbanDweller | August 11, 2010 9:12 PM | Report abuse

UD -- Dunn's pay is not from tax dollars.

Dunn has helped Rhee make hardly any improvements, e.g., her "welcome" to the new teachers yesterday.

"Crappy" is ok -- go to TheWashingtonTeacher for some really choice profanity in a public place.

Don't expect the WaPo educational news coverage (not the opinion writers) to get any better.

When it comes to "respect" for parents, DCPS teachers could do a lot better. It usually comes across in any setting or channel as parent-bashing. The kids don't fail to hear this from the "educators'" comments and tone. Truly great for discipline. Something for experienced teachers to work on.

Posted by: axolotl | August 12, 2010 8:03 AM | Report abuse

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