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Rhee's tough advice falls flat with some in Tampa

It was only a week ago that Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee co-authored an Outlook piece with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty that expressed pride in their accomplishments but also acknowledged that they "fell short" in building broad community support for school reform.

"The lessons learned from that weakness, however, can become a strength. We reach out today to ask the entire community to embrace the school reform efforts in the months and years ahead," they wrote.

Maybe that note of regret made it into Rhee's comments to an audience of urban school administrators in Tampa Friday at a conference of the Council of the Great City Schools. But it didn't make it into an account of the session in The St. Petersburg Times, which called her "a one-woman wrecking crew, a miracle worker or the quintessential 'mean girl' in American education reform." Rhee described her turbulent three and-a-half-year tenure, which included the firing and lay offs of hundreds of teachers, some for poor performance.

"Be prepared to be Ms. or Mr. Unpopular. I am really good at this one right now," said Rhee, whose last official day on the job in D.C. is Friday.

Rhee's comments drew applause, but on another panel next door, Hillsborough County schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia said she "absolutely" opposed the tone Rhee has used to talk about struggling teachers.

"We're coming from a different approach on the same issue," she said.

Hillsborough County is one of the recipients of a "deep dive" grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The system will receive more than $200 million over seven years to overhaul its teacher recruiting and development practices, with an emphasis on peer evaluation and collaboration. Elia said that poor performing teachers will still be dismissed, but perhaps in a kinder and gentler fashion.

"They're going to leave or we're going to say, 'Let us help you leave,'" she said.

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By Bill Turque  | October 25, 2010; 8:53 AM ET
Categories:  Michelle Rhee  
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Easy for Elia to say. But unless she is committed to evaluate all teachers and move out all who do not warrant investment (remedial and/or further prof dev), she will be singing a different tune. There is no way that terminating such teachers will ever feel right to the unionistas and others who view a public school system as, first of all, a jobs program. That is exactly the problem with some of the teachers and all the sr. union officials in the District. The system is not run primarily for teachers' benefit. Vice Gray believes this sincerely and with great commitment.

Posted by: axolotl | October 25, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

My God

Please stop with the "job programs" and union bashing.

Rhee bashed the teachers of DC enough. Most education leaders will not back her in her angry woman pitch against teachers.

Posted by: bnew100 | October 25, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

ax: Please change your tune. We're tired of hearing the same ole same ole from you.

Rhee was a disaster and the truth is finally coming out and time will continue to reveal her horrible "reforms" on DCPS.

You are a smart intelligent person--I can tell by your posts. I'm confident one day you will see Rhee for what she was: a lot hot air, very controversial but not much substance at all. I'm not one for looking at test scores, but if you look at those, they didn't rise any more than the did before she came here. The achievement gap actually widened under her "reign."

No teacher I know of sees DCPS as a jobs program. Even teachers that I believe are less than par, work very hard against great odds. What they need is real professional development and real support to improve their instruction. So far, they're not getting that in DCPS. IMPACT is designed to be used as a tool to fire teachers. There's nothing supportive in it all.

I'm glad the truth is finally coming to light and I'm glad not everyone sucks up everything Rhee says as gospel. The people in Tampa apparently are very wise as were the voters in DC on September 14!

Posted by: UrbanDweller | October 25, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Well come on Rea has damaged DC please don't let her try to damage your schools she is not Certified to teach or Lead a school district and. Further more. She could not handle a 3rd grader. She. Put tape on his mouth what someone needs to do is. tape her mouth shut .Because she has totally messed up the lives of so many others.

Posted by: Darksecrettt | October 25, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

axolotl is not for educating kids, he and many others are purely anti-union. that's the real agenda. the problem is many folks, including union members, are so uninformed they have no clue to realize the attack. little do folks realize there is still a fringe voice in this country that is fundamentally opposed to public education. All this lunacy is related.

Posted by: oknow1 | October 25, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Fortunately teachers are mostly people of high moral character who can usually be depended upon to do the right thing. This is why 50% of them leave teaching during the first five years. Many realize that they are not suited to teaching and leave of their own volition. Others are counseled out in the gentle way of education. K-12 teaching is the most self-selective of all professions.

Do administrators wish to ensure that ALL their teachers are effective? Here's a method that will guarantee that every teacher is competent: Hire only teachers who are fully qualified. If possible, place inexperienced teachers with mentors before giving them a classroom of their own. Once the teacher is hired, make certain that they are given the help and support that they need. Follow the legal procedure for evaluating and dismissing a teacher.

Teachers are among our nation's heroes for all that they do. Once the effects of this recession are over, citizens will once again recognize the sacrifices that teachers make.

The fact that Michelle Rhee bragged about taping the mouths of children (hopefully she made it up) and is still seen as a savior of education tells us all we need to know about why our system is less than stellar. I agree with the poster who said that soon everyone will see her for what she truly is. The Time photographer will get the credit for being the first to see.

Thank you, Teachers, for the contributions that you make.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 25, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

"with an emphasis on peer evaluation and collaboration"

I'm shocked to hear that the Gates Foundation would give money to any district that would encourage collaboration rather than competition. I hope this news report is correct.

I hope that we don't find out that the Gates Foundation made any crazy stipulation. I hope they actually do support collaboration.

Posted by: jlp19 | October 25, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad Ms. Elia expressed her disagreement with Rhee. Hopefully no wealthy person will take revenge on her for it. If hear she got fired, we know why.

Posted by: jlp19 | October 25, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

EVERYONE READ THIS! It's from the St. Petersburg Times There are some truly unbelievable quotes in there:

"I had to fire the principal of my kid's school. That did not go over so well," Rhee said. "But you can't take on a high-quality evaluation system if you have weak administrators."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the scores go DOWN after Rhee fired the principal at Oyster Adams (her kid's school)? Yet, here she is, still bold enough to say that she fired him/her because this person was a "weak" administrator? If this person was a weak administrator, the person Rhee replaced him with must have been an even weaker administratorm judging by the test scores.

Posted by: thebandit | October 25, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

As long as the ego of the "saviors" trumps even the desperation of the "saved," nothing meaningful will transpire. Pointing fingers is a wonderful diversion, but it never, ever got a job done. To read more on my take, please visit my blog at

Posted by: dcproud1 | October 25, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

UD - you want to blame parents and poverty for all education problems, while freeing teachers of any responsibility. That does not go along with your being "highly effective," by your own account. If you read carefully my cumulative posts (yes, I know, that is too much to ask), you would see that I see many of the faults you attribute to Rhee. Nonetheless, she did a lot of good, including getting the ball rolling on teacher evals and trying to raise the quality of the teacher corps, ignored by all previous supts. You are too good to want to roll back DC public education to what it used to be eight years ago when you came on board. And, as you have occasionally agreed, the union is a very big part of the problem. It truly does not want to discipline or fire any teacher. We still have more than our fair share of those who cannot cut it. And many more who could be a lot better if given the professional development opportunities while freeing themselves from the anti-public rants that make them look like The Children are an after-thought. You under-appreciate how woeful teachers' reputations are for defending the status quos and pining for the good ole days of Barry jobs programs, while demanding higher pay and job security. Vince Gray is not going to roll things back, from every utterance and sign that he gives.

Posted by: axolotl | October 25, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

Rhee’s rhetoric features attacking teachers and blaming unions. Her attempt to mislead the public has failed and will fail across the US and around the world. She only knows about brooms and masking tape – nothing about instructional leadership. Her narcissistic mean girl behavior is an attempt to cover for her lack of knowledge in curriculum and instruction as well as her inability to reflect on her own mistakes.

Posted by: nfsbrrpkk | October 25, 2010 10:25 PM | Report abuse

Linda/RetiredTeacher wrote:

"K-12 teaching is the most self-selective of all professions."

Huh? Teachers are currently drawn from the bottom third of high school graduates. The truth is exactly the opposite, Linda: teaching is NOT a selective profession in this country.

That's the real problem. Finland has unions and one of the best school systems in the world. But the union is not protecting ignorance and incompetence. Just over 10% of applicants are accepted into university teacher-education programs in Finland.

Here, everybody who went to a college with a school of education knows that those students had the lowest SAT scores and graduation rank.

Gender discrimination provided a steady stream of very talented women into our school for a long time. Those days, thankfully, are over. But we need to rethink how we recruit and compensate our teachers.

Posted by: trace1 | October 26, 2010 6:50 AM | Report abuse

Trace1 - please note the term "self-selective" which means deciding for oneself.

I take it to mean that people enter the field because they want to, not because they are pressured, and that they decide to leave or stay on their own, based on their personal sense of being suited for the work.

Posted by: efavorite | October 26, 2010 7:11 AM | Report abuse


Your comments make it painfully clear that you do not have children who have been trapped in DCPS classrooms with "teachers" who have no desire whatsoever to be in the classroom - other than they are counting down to a pension.

There is absolutely no incentive to "self select" out of teaching at a certain point -- and there is every incentive to stay in it, for all the wrong reasons.

Posted by: trace1 | October 26, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

My kids were in DCPS for a long time, and there were some fine teachers, to be sure, but also plenty of teachers who should have "self-selected" out, but didn't. They did not stay because of a "personal sense of being suited for the work," as you say, but because they were filling a spot until the pension came due. The good teachers knew who these people were, and why they were staying. It was a loss for everyone -- students, parents, good teachers -- except the deadwood teacher.

That's the truth. After a certain point, there is very little self selection going on, and all the incentives are in the wrong place.

Posted by: trace1 | October 26, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

trace1: The problem now is that very good teachers are being "IMPACTED" out of teaching on DCPS because of an unreliable evaluation system designed by a teacher with no experience in HR management or performance evaluation design and implementation.

We're really no better off than we were before Rhee came.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | October 26, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

FYI on the former principal of Oyster Adams where Rhee's own children attended: this person left Fairfax County Public Schools after establishing a very poor reputation as a principal there. Why DCPS saw fit to hire this person after a past like that says something about top management skills at DCPS, not the teaching staff. And grade scores going up or down after that is not a sole or even best measure of good accomplishments at a school.

Another FYI: Fairfax Schools, having one of the best reputations in the USA, has just as high staff turnover as most other places, about 10% a year. This means that every five years, HALF of the entire teaching staff is relatively new and inexperienced. Does anyone prefer a doctor to operate on him with less than five years experience? A lawyer to defend you in court who is still learning his way around? Since when did know-little public and know-nothing politicians get to tell doctors and lawyers what to do and who best to do it? Bill Gate's millions make him an expert? Arne Duncan taught in a public school for ten years?

Trace1, how are you so sure that so many teachers in DCPS are so awful? You have observed them for many hours using professional evaluation standards? I don't think so - don't be mean and judgmental. Your statement of "lowest third of high school graduates" etc. has no data to support it unless you can indisputably cite it here. Please stop the wild statements.

As for "Ax", just ignore her/him.

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | October 26, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

1bnthr.: you should hold off on the doctor analogy because teachers, anywhere, do not have that level of training, certification, licensing, or supervision. Further, doctors have inescapable responsibility and can be held accountable for their errors. DCPS teachers cannot.

You are in denial about the quality of teachers. Think of a bell curve -- we would be lucky to have just that, but years of doing nothing about quality creates a big backlog of those who should be shown the door and others who have had their further development delayed.

Don't insult our intelligence with your blanket statements about teachers. Trace1 has it right. Anyone with even mild observation of teachers here would agree, except those who are not committed to education success and are mainly interested in bucks and pensions. That alone is the attitude which is driving our good teachers out.

You probably don't even live in the District.

Posted by: axolotl | October 26, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse


A question for you. A Montgomery County teacher called in to a WAMU radio show about DCPS and said that in her opinion, IMPACT was not that different from the eval. system Mont. Cty. has used for quite a while. It also uses student test scores, at least to some degree. Do you know what the real differences are in how teachers are evaluated in DC and Mont. Cty?

If good teachers are "impacted" out, we are indeed in big trouble.

The other major problem I saw in DCPS was lack of a standard curriculum. (Sorry, but Janey's "standards" didn't cut it in practice.) A friend's daughter is taking Spanish 2 in Montgomery County -- the tests are determined across the County, what will be on them and when they should be given. The tests are, in fact, graded by the County. In DCPS, Spanish 2 can mean a ridiculously easy, useless class, or something real -- depending on the teacher and/or the school. How does that happen and more importantly, what needs to happen for that to change so kids can be assured of a quality education?

Just FYI, I know several kids who went from Deal to Walls. They are struggling mightily with the expectations and the work. They will tell you that they were simply not prepared by the low standards, uneven teaching and weak curriculum at Deal. My son was there for 8th grade, and when I saw what was going on, I made other arrangements for my younger two.

Posted by: trace1 | October 26, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse


Nobody (except you?) disputes that the caliber of teachers in the US must be raised:

To wit: "Only 23% of new teachers come from the top third of their college classes; By contrast, In Finland, Singapore, and South Korea, 100% of educators come from the top third;

Some 47% of new U. S. teachers come from the bottom third of their class"

Oh, and my interest and bona fides as a commenter: 10 years as DCPS parent, both before and during Rhee's tenure. How about yours?

Posted by: trace1 | October 26, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I believe the principal was Marta Guzman. When Ms. Guzman was asked why she was fired, she said she didn't know. Rhee claims Guzman knows why she fired her.

Posted by: educationlover54 | October 26, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse


"Huh? Teachers are currently drawn from the bottom third of high school graduates."

The bottom thrid of high school graduates don't go to college.

And I was 34th out of 520. Was I in the bottome third?

Posted by: educationlover54 | October 26, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, educationlover, a mistype there . . . I meant bottom third of college grads.

Posted by: trace1 | October 26, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Pathetic. It's all about the adults with many of these commenters. The kids: Let 'em suffer.

Posted by: Craig_Colgan | October 26, 2010 8:25 PM | Report abuse

Craig: yes, you have come into a teacher-centric zone, where many adults are in denial and The Children are secondary.

We are Waiting for Claptrap here, more ed. school "research" that will light a path out of the darkness that the grant-takers and study performers have been cultivating for decades.

Posted by: axolotl | October 26, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

One statistic that needs to be clearly understood by everyone is the fact that teachers are drawn from the bottom third of college classes because the top two thirds do not want the job. This is not the fault of teachers, who can hardly be criticized for consenting to do work that other college grads (especially men) refuse to do. This is a societal problem. In my opinion it is due to the fact that teaching and teachers are looked upon with disdain by many (but not most) citizens. Read some of these posts and see that negative sentiment clearly and consistently expressed. Also, most teachers come from the working class and research tells us that all test scores, including those of the SAT, correlate very highly with socioeconomic status.

The fact is that many intelligent and well-educated people are not going to attend college for five years only to be treated with disrespect. If we want teachers from the top third of college grads, we have to offer these people higher salaries, better working conditions and professional autonomy. That's how it's done. With all the bashing that's going on right now, I predict a severe teacher shortage in the next ten years when all the baby boomers are retired and the women are in other professions.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 26, 2010 9:25 PM | Report abuse

Would someone please tape Rhee's mouth shut just like she did her students when she was in Teach for America?

She's gone, history. She failed miserably. She had no experience in public schools except for her two years as an un-ceritified teacher in the Teach for America corps. She had no business as Chancellor of the DC schools and the sooner she's gone, the better for the students in DC.

Posted by: dorainseattle | October 27, 2010 2:18 AM | Report abuse

I agree with much of what you say, with one caveat. I don't know that teachers will ever have the respect that many of them deserve as long as iron-clad union job protections and seniority bumping rights remain in place. I cannot think of one profession with those kinds of protections that is highly respected in this country.

In fact, most professionals are not even unionized, they join associations. There is an inherent tension, at least in this country, between professional status and union protection.

Posted by: trace1 | October 27, 2010 7:09 AM | Report abuse

Find Rhee in the CSPAN coverage of a ballyhood "summit of innovating leaders" The Daily Beast sponsored in New Orleans last Friday.

It is either too bad that an illness is taking over her body, or less than a coincidence that three years of vituperative scolding has contored her visage to more and more resembles insult comic Gilbert Gottfried's mid-performance.

Frightening. But, not as much as repetition of barely understood hypotheticals in the manner and for the purpose that people believe in eugenic culling of the population to elevate its prospects.

Posted by: incredulous | October 27, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

There are many ways to achieve the desired success in K-12. Professional development surely is significantly better than ranting and raving. This was only appropriate because Rhee thought it was just fine to run over minority parents. She has discovered that it is not. That is the lesson she can take to her next job.

There is no liklihood that Jerry Weast could close five or six schools in Montgomery County and the parents not know until it was put in the paper. That of course is only acceptable for DC taxpayers and parents. We have decided that it is not accaptable here either. Poof, be gone!

Posted by: topryder1 | October 27, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse


Did you know that teachers tried to start a professional association (National Education Association) but legislators only allowed them to bargain for working conditions so it became a labor union?

I do agree with what you've said however, regarding the tension between a labor union and a profession. It's my belief that teaching is now where medicine was 200 years ago and law was 100 years ago. Soon it will become a full profession with teachers making decisions for a school in the same way that doctors make them for a clinic, lawyers make them for a law firm and university professors make them for their department. At that time teachers' unions will become the professional organizations they were originally intended to be. Only then will we attract the the most talented college grads. These people want to be decision-makers.

As an aside, Rhee has given us a good example of why unions are needed for teachers at this time. Dismissing teachers and replacing them with "connections" (friends, relatives, members of an agency founded by chancellor, etc.) is exactly what happened before teachers formed unions.

Let's all unite to support teachers, the people who have elected to be in the classroon with the children.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 27, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Linda, you agree that unions and professional status don't go together in this country, and hope that teachers' status will one day equate to doctors and lawyers (non-unionized) but then you say, we need the unions for job protection. I'm sorry, but you just can't have it both ways. I'm sure there are lawyers who lose their jobs when partners bring in people with connections. If they're good lawyers, they find other jobs.

And when you say "soon it will become a full profession with teachers making decisions for a school in the same way that doctors make them for a clinic," aren't you talking about charter schools? That's already happening there, and that's why some very talented teachers shun union "protections" and sign on for duty at charters.

Posted by: trace1 | October 29, 2010 6:57 AM | Report abuse

Linda, you agree that unions and professional status don't go together in this country, and hope that teachers' status will one day equate to doctors and lawyers (non-unionized) but then you say, we need the unions for job protection. I'm sorry, but you just can't have it both ways. I'm sure there are lawyers who lose their jobs when partners bring in people with connections. If they're good lawyers, they find other jobs.

And when you say "soon it will become a full profession with teachers making decisions for a school in the same way that doctors make them for a clinic," aren't you talking about charter schools? That's already happening there, and that's why some very talented teachers shun union "protections" and sign on for duty at charters.

Posted by: trace1 | October 29, 2010 6:57 AM | Report abuse

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