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Michelle Rhee's 'sex with children' comments aren't the only ones that come back to bite

Michelle Rhee (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

You can see how it happens. You're a VIP who has endured a million interviews, but this one's different: It's an out-of-town reporter, or it's a cooler setting, so you get a little loose ... and that's when you step in it.

Is that what made Michelle Rhee utter her deadly gossip about last fall's school-system layoffs, not to D.C. education reporters but to Fast Company? ("I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school," she told the magazine, causing a stink with city leaders and the teachers union.)

Like Hollywood stars who assume that U.S. fans will never see their tacky Tokyo TV ads, political types have a way of letting their hair down when they think they're not around the regular old press-corps dweebs.

Like then-Mayor Marion Barry, who in 1990 was quoted saying Jesse Jackson (at the time mulling over a race for Barry's job) "don't wanna run nothing but his mouth" by an L.A. Times reporter who interviewed him in a bar. (Barry claimed he was misquoted; the Times stood by the story.)

Or Henry Kissinger, who in 1972 told Oriana Fallaci -- a dishy writer for overseas mags -- that Vietnam was "useless" and called himself a lone "cowboy." He later called it his "single most disastrous" interview.

Or Mitt's dad George Romney, who while running for president told a Detroit UHF station that he only supported the Vietnam War because the generals gave him "the greatest brainwashing." Torpedoed his campaign.

Or Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz, who in 1976 told a vulgar racist joke to former White House counsel John Dean -- who wrote it up for Rolling Stone. Butz resigned.

But now that every small-town paper is on the Web, and every ropeline stranger has a blog or a flip cam, pols are wising up. "Everybody's more on guard," said GWU journalism prof Mark Feldstein. "In the old days, the politicians and the press would go out to drinks, and stuff was kept off the record. Now there isn't that element of trust."

Will these gaffes go extinct? Not yet. ...

By The Reliable Source  |  January 27, 2010; 1:03 AM ET
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This is the problem right here. She is supposed to be the CEO of a school system. She is not a celebrity. If she would get off the stage, get away from the microphone, stop interviewing all across the country, learn her job and stop bashing the teachers in DC, perhaps she wouldn't step in it so much. Since we have not seen any real academic results that are the fruits of her labor, she should try "working" for a change. Perhaps she should shadow other school leaders to get a feel for the job. Grandstanding doesn't get it. What a joke!

Posted by: candycane1 | January 27, 2010 7:51 AM | Report abuse

This “sex with children” quote is Rhee’s most sensational gaffe, but certainly not her first; that is, if you consider gross contradictions to be gaffes. Here are some of her other direct quotes, with links to their sources.


2/9/09: “I do not blame teachers for the low achievement levels.” WaPo Op-ed

10/29/08 Five Year Plan: “too many of our teachers are not up to the demanding job of educating our youth effectively. We therefore plan to identify and transition out a significant share of the teaching corps in the next two years.” DCPS_Five-Year-Plan_Draft_Oct_29_2008.pdf page 26

2/9/09: Those who categorically blame teachers for the failures of our system are simply wrong. (WaPo Op-ed, cited above)

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)


2/9/09: “Teachers deserve recognition and respect for their efforts.” (WaPo Op-ed)

12/8-08: “The thing that kills me about education is that it’s so touchy-feely”… People say, ‘Well, you know, test scores don’t take into account creativity and the love of learning,’… I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t give a crap.’” (Time Magazine),9171,1862444,00.html

Posted by: efavorite | January 27, 2010 8:04 AM | Report abuse

Here are some of Rhee’s conflicting comments on DC teacher quality and tenure.


12/8/08: "We're in Washington, D.C., in the nation's capital, and yet the children of this city receive an education that every single citizen in this country should be embarrassed by.",9171,1862444,00.html

Two months later, 2/13/09: “I think that the talk about ineffective teachers is overshadowing the fact that we have thousands of teachers everyday who are going into classrooms and doing absolutely heroic things with kids.” TV News 4

One month after that, 3/13/09, in her Letter to DC Teachers: “You are the agents of social justice in our nation’s capital. You’re far more powerful than the Senators and Congressmen who work just blocks away from our schools. By pushing forward in the face of daunting challenges, you are providing the one thing that will give our children the opportunities they all deserve: an excellent education.”

A week later, in the NYT “D.C. is known as the most dysfunctional and worst-performing school district in the country,”


11/13/08, “Tenure is the holy grail of teacher unions but has no educational value for kids; it only benefits adults. If we can put veteran teachers who have tenure in a position where they don’t have it, that would help us to radically increase our teacher quality. And maybe other districts would try it, too.”

5/7/09: "I don't have any interest in making people give up their tenure….”

Posted by: efavorite | January 27, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

yawn, the paid union operatives are at it again with the talking points distributed by their lawyers. Give it up people, DC parents are smarter than you.

Posted by: bbcrock | January 27, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Here are varying 08-09 accounts of Rhee’s success while teaching in Baltimore in the 90’s, which is sometimes called the “Baltimore miracle” (usually by skeptics). Notice how she’s first credited with top scores, then “at or above grade level,” then it’s back to the top.*

9/1/08 Newsweek: “Over the next two years, working with another teacher, she took a group of 70 kids who had been scoring ‘at almost rock bottom on standardized tests’ to "absolutely at the top," she says. (Baltimore does not keep records by classroom, so NEWSWEEK was unable to confirm this assertion.)”

11/26/08, Time Magazine: “The second year, Rhee got better. She and another teacher started out with second-graders who were scoring in the bottom percentile on standardized tests. They held on to those kids for two years, and by the end of third grade, the majority were at or above grade level, she says.

5/7/09 Rhee quoted in Politics Daily: “In my second and third years of Teach for America-I taught a group of 70 kids there with another teacher-we took a group of kids who were performing at the bottom and took them to the top.”

Note that there is no documentation for this success, which is also mentioned more precisely on her resume. DCPSwatch 3/12/07: “Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90% of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher.”

*Links deleted because they would not post. These quotes can be googled with the info provided.

Posted by: efavorite | January 27, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Yes efavorite you are quite capable of cutting and pasting. Acknowledged that you are capable of receiving talking points from the union, cutting them, and pasting them in response to every article that references Michelle Rhee. Acknowledged that you do that well.

Posted by: bbcrock | January 27, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Finally, here are non-contradictory statements from Rhee on the subject of her honesty.

5/5/09, Politics Daily: “I am very frank, very blunt. It's important to be honest with people about the situation we're in.”

9/22/09, Interview with steve Perlstein, WaPo, in conjunction with the Marc Fisher feature in the Post magazine: “I’m not somebody who’s about spin, right? I’m a very blunt person, very frank, very tell-it-like-it-is.”

Posted by: efavorite | January 27, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Every verbally abusive public administrator I've ever known -- and I've known several -- without exception uses "frank" and "blunt" as euphemisms for their abusive behavior.

It all boils down to this, some people should simply not be public administrators because their "people skills" are dysfunctional.

In Rhee's case, this is painfully obvious. Alas, I don't think she'll ever change because I don't think she can. She never should have been hired to such a powerful position with a resume demonstrating such a skimpy track record of successful administrative experience.

Posted by: laboo | January 27, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

The DC school system has been dysfunctional well before Rhee was ever hired with no type of reported progress. Frankly I've seen more fire and passion aimed at Rhee from the DC teacher's union then I've ever seen from them. Which is sad. I really don't care if Rhee is a people person. What it boils down to is the children and if she's getting results for the children. The best interest of dc school kids is not the top priority of the DC teacher's union. Their top priority is to that of the teachers. I'm not saying that to indict the union or to say it's wrong. I'm just saying that because it's a fact. Just like the top priority of the baseball player's union is not the welfare or interest of the fans but rather players. I think we should keep that in mind when discussing anything concerning the teacher's union.

Posted by: 6thsense79 | January 27, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Look at this article about this incident at Newsweek: (You might want to add comments)

Posted by: resc | January 27, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Well said, I agee 100%. I could care less about her being a people person. She is there to do job. I could care less what the union leadership thinks, or the teachers. If you are an inaffective teacher, you don't teach my kids. It does not not make one hill of beans what the teachers think, those kids belong to chancellor Rhee. Chancellor Rhee is responsible for making sure the kids are being educated and she is responsible for doing that job within a budget. The union leadership, and the rest of those crooks are only interested in one thing; and that is covering their collective asses. In my world there is no such thing as collective bargaining. Here is your contract, do the job, or your fired. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK, CHANCELLOR RHEE. Some of us out here support everything your doing.

Posted by: fmingram | January 27, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

fmingram and 6thsense79, I couldn't have said it more clearly myself.

You have to be aware that the union is "astroturfing" these websites by spending hours each day cutting and pasting the same text here, at the Washington City Paper, and now as Resc suggests, at Most of the anti-rhee comments come from a small minority of people who post frequently. I see the same names show up on blogs like DCTeacherChic and others. It's all for show and naturally doesn't reflect the views of district residents and parents.

I'm particularly bad at not ignoring their cut and paste arguments, but I'm sure that about 6 of the accounts are from the same retired husband of a DCPS teacher who lives in PG County and has way too much time on his hands and no direct experience with DCPS.

Posted by: bbcrock | January 28, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

I've seen a lot of cut-and-paste astro-turfing claims lately.

I wonder if there's a pro-Rhee astro-turf operation run by the gates foundation and the federal city council?

Those guys have the big bucks. I bet they pay better than any astro-turfers on the web.

Posted by: efavorite | January 28, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

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