Loose Lips

Rhee-visionist History

Like most sequels, the current round of D.C. Public Schools closings is a lot less dramatic than the first wave presided over by former Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee four years ago.

That soap opera included a protest outside the Wilson Building set to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” police removing a man who yelled expletives at Rhee during a D.C. Council hearing, and some very unhappy councilmembers who had been kept in the dark about Rhee’s plans. This time around, there are still councilmembers irked at some of the planned closures and plenty of parents upset that their kids will either have to change schools or welcome a large influx of students from other schools. But the rage the District saw under Rhee is absent.

Instead, several councilmembers have made it a point to note how much better Kaya Henderson, Rhee’s one-time deputy and successor, is handling the process.

“We didn’t have all this interaction and engagement before,” says Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander. “This seems more like it’s a collaborative effort, it really does.”

Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, who was probably Rhee’s most vocal critic on the council, got in a not-very-veiled jab at his old nemesis at a hearing, calling Henderson a “breath of fresh air.”

So why the muted response compared to when Rhee shut roughly the same number of schools?

That question gets at the heart of what kind of legacy will be left in D.C. for Rhee, who resigned shortly after Mayor Vince Gray defeated Adrian Fenty in 2010 and went on to form a well-funded advocacy group called Students First. The reforms Rhee implemented—stringent teacher evaluations, a heavy emphasis on test scores, dismissals of ineffective teachers—have continued largely apace since Henderson took over, without the sturm und drang that accompanied Rhee’s tenure. Was all the noise during Rhee’s tenure because she was doing the difficult heavy lifting, or because of her style? Why is Henderson able to do exact same things Rhee did but at such a lower volume?

Unfortunately, Rhee’s new book, due out next year, doesn’t take much of a stab at solving those mysteries. (LL got his hands on a copy early.) Instead, the aptly titled Radical: Fighting to Put Students First reads like a zealot’s manifesto on the rightness of her cause.

“The question shouldn’t be ‘Why is Michelle Rhee a radical?’ The question needs to be ‘Why aren’t we all radicals?’” Rhee writes, after railing against U.S. school systems’ “celebration of mediocrity.”

As for her time in D.C., the book is heavy on details of the sorry shape in which she found the school system she inherited, as well as her battles with American Federation of Teachers boss Randi Weingarten over a new teachers’ contract. But there’s hardly any introspection on Rhee’s part as to why she was so widely unpopular with the District’s African-American parents, the ones whose support was crucial to her success in turning around the city’s schools. Instead, Rhee presents her time as chancellor as a battle between good (herself and Fenty) and evil (unions, other D.C. politicians), in which the evil side won.

The only person who appears interested in diagnosing Rhee’s unpopularity as chancellor is her husband, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson (also a former point guard for the Phoenix Suns). After campaigning for Fenty east of the Anacostia River and hearing residents complain about the mayor and Rhee, Johnson tells his wife that “you can’t make change from the top alone.” Later, when Rhee is beginning to map out her plans with advisers for Students First, Johnson scolds: “There’s no diversity in this room … What did we learn in D.C.? We can’t make the same mistakes. Why are we here? To build a group that appeals to white, male Republicans? Is that what we are doing?”

That’s not to say that fans of local politics won’t find the book interesting, as Rhee goes about settling some old scores.

Take the 90-minute tête-a-tête Rhee had with Gray a week after he beat Fenty. Rhee’s tenure was a focal point of the election, and Gray repeatedly declined to say during the campaign whether he would keep her if he won. After their meeting, Rhee bizarrely refused to stand next to—or even vaguely near—Gray as he spoke to reporters, creating one of the more awkward news conferences LL has ever seen. Gray said they’d had a “candid discussion” about education in the District.

But not that’s how Rhee remembers it. “We met for an absurd discussion in which he lectured me about higher education and other random topics instead of talking about whether it made sense for us to work together,” she writes. Elsewhere, she portrays Gray as a petty old coot who never got over feeling slighted by Fenty.

As for Barry, Rhee makes him out to be a cartoonish ward boss who sounds like a character out of The Dukes of Hazzard. Here’s how Rhee describes a scene in which she’s touring Ward 8 with Barry in his car:

“Marion Barry! Marion Barry!” I heard screams as if on cue.

A group of kids had spotted Barry’s car and were jumping up and down excitedly waving their arms. One little boy ran up to the car.

“Marion Barry!” he exclaimed. “Will you buy a raffle ticket from me?”

“Nah, I don’t want no raffle ticket. Why are you selling those anyways?” he asked.

“’Cause we need money!” said the kid.

“For what?” Barry asked.

“I need a soda and some chips,” said the kid.

Barry reached into his back pocket. He pulled out a twenty-dollar bill.

“Here,” he said, “go get you some chips and a soda. And stay out of trouble, hear?”

In contrast to her one-dimensional descriptions of Gray and Barry, in Rhee’s telling, Fenty undergoes a transformation from an easily distracted, unpolished, and uninspiring mayor-elect to an übermensch who offered her unfailing support and heroically sacrificed his political career for the sake of the children.

Rhee writes that she was hesitant to accept Fenty’s offer to be chancellor after an initial meeting from which she came away unimpressed. But she says she changed her mind after having a heart-to-heart in his office. “His head shined. His eyes burned,” Rhee notes.

She asks him:

“What would you risk for a chance to turn this system around? Because I can’t make any guarantees …”

He considered the question. He paused. His eyes relaxed.

“Everything,” he replied.

I believe he smiled. He had me at “everything.”

Later, when Rhee told Fenty that she needed to close as many as 40 schools because of the school system’s declining population, Fenty gave this piece of advice: “Do it,” he said. “Rip the Band-Aid off. Don’t peel it.”

Good advice for actual Band-Aids? Maybe. Probably not the best for closing schools, it turns out.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

Comments

  1. #1

    Great piece. Thanks for reading her so I don't have to.

  2. #2

    "Good advice for actual Band-Aids? Maybe. Probably not the best for closing schools, it turns out."

    If the goal is to get reelected in perpetuity, you're right. But that wasn't the goal.

  3. #3

    We're better for her having been here.

  4. #4

    RHEE AND FENTY ARE THE TWO WORSE PEOPLE TO EVER GRACE DC GOVERNMENT WITH THEIR PRESENCE!

    THOSE TWO ARE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE LIST THAT INCLUDES SHARON PRATT KELLY, GABE KLEIN, KWAME BROWN AND HARRY THOMAS!

  5. #5

    oboe you hit the nail on the head. I'm with you Drez.

    The biggest problem this city had with Rhee was her being "that Ko-rean" (with a heavily accented hard K!). Racism in the black community was incredible.

  6. #6

    Ron,

    What are you talking about, and how dare you try and speak for Black parents in DC. Rhee's ethnicity was never an issue with blacks, but her lack of respect and disregard for blacks was the problem we had with her.

    She excluded black parents in the reform process while embracing white parents and their wants.

    If you read this article first before labeling black parents in DC racists, I guess you would also be labeling her husband a racist, because he pointed out the exact same thing--being inclusive and working with other besides just whites in her soi disant reform process.

    So, I guess you calling blacks racist for voicing their concerns is what racist do!

  7. #7

    For the record, Ms. Rhee was quite disrespectful, rude and confrontation towards many current and former white DCPS employees that did not embrace her vision, goals and plans; and who totally disagreed with her stance on issues. The former white principal of Wilson High School who was hired before the Rhee regime came to DC (he is an excellent educator---and headed Wilson for many years) resigned because he refused to work with her due to her uncooperative and negative style. She also terminated many white young and veteran teachers and administrators in the DCPS that agreed with their black collegues on school issues---and had a love/hate relationship with the long-term and current principal of the high performing School Without Walls, who is a white male. She made it clear that she wanted to terminate him---because he stood his ground and did not back down when he disagreed with her controversal methods.

    Everyone really needs to stop the ongoing black-white hatred and claims of racism. Prior to Fenty's and Rhee's successful campaign to polarize DC and the DCPS, DC residents of all ethnicities and DCPS educators and administrators of all ethnicities worked together as teams, cooperated in neighborhoods, and developed lasting friendships, alliances and associations. That is not the case in DC now nor is it the case at the new punative DCPS. There is no team spirit or team work in the majority of DCPS anymore (to include the central office) and the faculties and staffs at the majority of the schools (elementary, middle and high schools---to include Deal Middle and Wilson High) are now very polarized---operating with high racial overtones.

    And, so many people to include the Mayor and City Council truly believe that the reforms started by Ms. Rhee and continued by Ms. Henderson are working----not because they personally have facts of this; but because the Washington Post said so. When was the last time you made an unannounced visit to a DCPS school? Well, let me tell you (and I have visited the majority of them), you would be amazed and dismayed at the blatant destruction of a once fine school system. Most of the schools are completely out of control with weak principals and dismal, fresh out of college teachers (these are new hires that have engulfed the schools under Rhee and Henderson). Our children are not receiving a quality nor equal education---as each school is allowed to operated differently---and this is education equality. Deal Middle has a traditional 7 period schedule (each class period is 45-55 minutes), where their students see all of their teachers every day. The rest of the middle schools in DC operated under a block schedule, with 90-120 minute classes; the students at these schools do not see all of their teachers every day---and folks want to know why the test scores at all the other middles schools are dismal.

    Please stop believing everything you read in the Washington Post and seeing in television media. Remember, there purpose is to sell papers and advertisements----regardless of the fact that what's printed or shown on TV is accurate.

  8. #8

    @Jane
    I also have been to many (15+) a DCPS school- before and after Rhee/Lew
    The improvement is astounding. The schools are not as you say ruined. They are in fact much better.

  9. #9

    I would like to see CP do a piece with the side by side comparisons that Jane and Drez talk about. That would be EXCELLENT! Let's have something more probing, creative and dynamic please. There's no way to know the truth. This might be a start.

  10. #10

    From WTOP:

    "The U.S. Department of Education reports new 2010-2011 school year data show the District's four-year high school graduation rate is 59 percent, lower than any state.

    "According to the data, of D.C.'s 191 schools, 147 are in need of improvement and 99 are in restructuring."

    Point in favor of - Jane.

    Disagree? Encourage CP to do some Real Investigating.

  11. #11

    Speaking only of Ward 5 schools, if the reforms are working, why has DC CAS test score been on a negative slide the last 5 years? Over the last three years enrollment at Ward 5 DCPS schools have also dropped every year. Yes, the schools may look better but that is a result of DGS and the Deputy Mayor for Education and not DCPS. It seems the only tool is to close schools which after the last school closures dropped scores at the consolidated schools and nothing else.

  12. #12

    SERIOUSLY DREZ???

    THE POINTS YOU TRYING TO MAKE IN DEFENDING RHEE IS AKIN TO WALKING UP A GREASED, METAL SLIDING BOARD WITH YOUR CHURCH SHOES ON.

  13. #13

    Adrian Fenty was a fine Mayor and truly misunderstood individual. Not the nicest fella in the office, but a darn good executive. Maturity and more substance would have made him a better leader. A little more politics across the river could have saved his skin during the election. His loss is self inflicted. He could have been Mayor for Life!

    Mayor Gray has governed DC well. What ever shortcomings he may have, Gray has self control and his personal faults do not affect his governing style. If only somethings moved quicker like in the Fenty Era, then the Gray Era would truly be a memorable one.

  14. #14

    By the way, Rhee was a real B. Sorry, but she was the most arrogant, self absorbed and a real narcissist person; I ever met, and I have met many in Washington. She cost Fenty the election. Kaya is also arrogant, but she handles her business with a little more diplomacy.

    Still our kids deserve better.

  15. #15

    Rhee found books collecting dust in warehouse

    Rhee delivered the books to DC school children

    Rhee was very good

  16. #16

    Rhee, and those who run education now in the city, would do well to heed Kevin Johnson's advice. You can set up a system (the Charter Board)and and oversight group (the State Board of Education) composed of well meaning whites, with no substantive representation of people who look like the 85 per cent of the children who attend public schools in DC and you will get nothing.

    We are inundated with rules and regulations which have absolutely no connection to the reality of the children's lives they attempt to govern. Improving schools does call for education reform, it does not call for the vilification of teachers nor ignoring parents and their concerns.

  17. #17

    Is anyone actually surprised that she hasn't learned her lesson?

  18. #18

    "His head shined"? is that a bald joke? I literally L-O-Led.

    Seriously though we shouldn't be surprised that Rhee does not try to understand why people didn't like her. She's been ego-centric from the start. She took a (somewhat) successful two years as a teacher and somehow retooled that into her being an expert on education, without any other sort of background on the subject. Why was she chancellor instead of superintendent? Because you need a degree in education to be a superintendent. She'll never understand that our schools are not a business but a service for ALL of our residents, not a select few with money and a soapbox.

  19. #19

    I must disclose that it is my intention to be a high school teacher one day. Not any time soon though. Unlike the other 22 year-olds that Rhee and Henderson have liked to hire (while firing older, experienced teachers), I want to live life and develop some wisdom and experience before I attempt to educate others. Teaching is not a mercenary, quantitative field like Rhee believes, it is an intensive, qualitative one.

    We should really start a "DON'T BUY THIS BOOK CAMPAIGN" when Ms. Rhee's book comes out.

  20. #20

    Loose Lips, why are you still talking about this WITCH?

  21. #21

    Rhee was/is an autocratic dictator posturing as a transformational leader. At least Henderson understands that building bridges among stakeholders yields the greatest return.

  22. #22

    Count on anything about Rhee to generate passionate commentary -- pro and con. My kids don't attend DCPS, so I'll stay out of the debate except to say this: quality public education is key to our country's future. The fact that folks are talking about it is a good thing.

  23. #23

    The basic problem is not just one that occurs in DC. You never get absolute power. You actually need to work with people to get things done. You can't get all of what you want, but you can make progress. Grandstanding and antagonism won't help you make progress on the ground.

    Now, who does it seem understands that message? Ms. Henderson or Ms. Rhee?

  24. #24

    @noodlez - Marion? Is that you? It would be on par.

  25. #25

    Talc
    I would be fine with that comparison. But do beleive it's been done in the media over the past decade if not longer.
    Point Rhee: Schools actually opened on time and with textbooks.
    Point Rhee: School population stabilized and increased.
    Point Rhee: Test scores went up
    Point Rhee: A new teacher contract was negotiated and approved.
    To the extent Henderson continues to improve DCPS along these lines, we're all better for it.
    But make no mistake- Rhee was needed.

  26. #26

    Rhee was rude and self absorbed. Not a good person. Like Miley said a real Queen B.

    Adrian on the other hand was a petulant child, but a darn good Mayor.

  27. #27

    You can't tell Rhee. When your husband has to call you on the same antics, then it is clear she doesn't see it as a problem.

  28. #28

    WOW!!!!

    Wonder if K Johnson knew all of that before the marriage that almost wasn't???

    Never encountered Mme Rhee, but MADAM Henderson is a real piece of work from the social perspective.

    Vince Gray had his work cut out for him just by succeeding a moron like Fenty. Really would like to know if the ego trip is worth it? If not yet, I hope he will have a chance to reconcile his differences with some who have been disappointed so far. Nickles was the power behind the Fenty mayoral seat, so any accolades for Fenty rightfully belong to Nickles. Now he too was an autocratic crusty old s-o-b, but he did know how to cover his azz, cross the t's and dot the i's for Fenty and his group of slapstick gangsters.

    I say Kevin Johnson for Mayor.......of Sacremento. And keep his First Lady far, far away from DC. Bet her long suffering first husband is relieved.

    @GHR: If you're only 22 y/o with that much wisdom, you and your family/mentors are to be commended. Hope I can stick around long enough to hear about and experience your aspirations for the future of my progeny.

    noodlez & SEis4ME: You whippersnappers (compared to me), ROCK!!! Keep givin' em some good ole soul Hell.

    DREZ: It must be cold out there in Fenty's shadow. Wonder if he even knows you're there? Of course he does. The question is: Does He Even Care?

  29. #29

    Has Vincent Gray been indicted yet?

  30. #30

    I predict that'll happen before March madness.

  31. #31

    We should remember that virtually every claim on Rhee's resume was a bald-faced lie.
    Most people get fired for that sort of thing.
    Any claims of growth of her students during her 3rd year are due to exactly the same sorts of fraud that other Ed DEformers have been doing elsewhere:
    Her school, Harlem Park ES in Baltimore, at her grade level, had attrition rates way higher than at any other school out of the 14 or so studied by UMBC. Plus, her school and her grade level had insanely high numbers of students whose scores were SO LOW THEY WEREN'T even counted.
    Some miracle.
    Meanwhile in DC, under her leadership, NAEP scores (which can't be tampered with) continued to grow in math, **just as they had Been growing since about 1995!!**
    Reading scores continued flat.
    The big difference under Rhee was that DC and DCPS now has the very widest disparity in proficiency rates between white and black students and between poor and non-poor students. Of any state or city for which NAEP has data.
    The vast majority of those supposedly stellar principals that Rhee hired after 15-minute interviews that she bragged about?
    Gone.
    Most of those supposedly wonderful TFA and TNTP teachers she hired that were going to show us veteran teachers how to do it?
    Gone.
    Those miraculous test score gains at Noyes ES under Wayne Ryan, whom she praised, rewarded, and promoted?
    Shown to be utterly spurious and a result of cheating.

    If some DCPS buildings are fixed up now, its not because of Rhee. That job was taken away from her--it went to Allen Lew.

    Those supposedly scientific IMPACT scores for teachers? They jump all over the place from year to year.

    Meanwhile, students are losing close to two full months of school on utterly inane standardized tests that now become the curriculum.

    Don't pretend Rhee had a positive influence. She is and was an utter fraud and hypocrite. So is her acolyte, Kaya Henderson.

    And finally: If they were so wonderful at improving DC public schools, then how come they are just now discovering there is a serious truancy problem, and how come the charter schools have gone from a few percent of the school population to at least 43% of the students under their disastrous tenure??

  32. #32

    Please do not keep entertaining this woman's narcissism. Most people who worked with her at some point and know her enough have no respect for her. She only cares about herself, charges 50K for speeches then hires a well known ghostwriter to help her write this book. She only cares about herself, nothing else. Very sad to know, but that is the truth and the donors of Students First should stop enabling this amount of self center behavior.
    She is nothing but a fake.

  33. #33

    I hope nobody buys this book and show this woman a lesson that the world doesn't revolve around her.

    Drez, I see what you're saying but you should not defend Rhee anymore. Frankly, she is not who you think she is. The results in DC would have been possible under any other previous decent Superintendent that had the control and power Rhee had because of Fenty. Why doesn't she spend her time helping someone? when was the last time you saw Rhee cleaning a school or reading a book in a classroom? why does everything have to be about building her profile?
    is enough.

  34. #34

    LL, you and MM should duct tape Drez' hands/mouth like Rhee duct taped the student in Baltimore.

  35. #35

    Drez,

    It's time for you to leave DC and relocate to the Rhee Center of Denial in Sacramento, California---where you will be guaranteed a place at the deceptive table. Please do us all a favor and go ASAP.

    It also obvious that the truth is hurting you greatly and that you refuse to or just don't get it. A change in your domicile is probably the therapy you desperately need. Take care.

  36. #36

    Oh and Drez,

    When I referenced "the blatant destruction of a once fine school system" in one of my earlier posts, I was referring to the quality of education being provided to the children of DC, not building appearances as you alluded in you post. You seemed to have misunderstood this greatly. Please know that building appearance is nice, but what is actually going on in the building is what's more important!

  37. #37

    who is the ghost writer?

  38. #38

    I miss Fenty, but so does Veronica Washington, Michelle Rhee and countless other GTOWN socialites...

  39. #39

    Remember Fenty's Smart Car in Veronica Washington's home and garage. Assume that the smart car was not the only thing inside Veronica's garage. BAM!

  40. #40

    Fuck you, Jane.

  41. #41

    WOW and lol at drez....how pathetic and small of you, you were simply challenged with facts and you react like a limp wristed bafoon....

    Man up boy!

  42. #42

    DREZ I TRIED TO WARN YA!

  43. #43

    @noodlez.
    Whatever. Bitch told me to move. To get out. Fuck her. She can get out.
    At the end of the day, no matter how much I've disagreed with anyone, I've always respected thier right to be. And to be here.
    And to Jane: I'm not going anywhere. Im young. I'm local. My kids are DCPS. And Fenty/Rhee set a lot of good things in motion. And if you don't like it, too bad for you.
    @seDCdude: you are still an idiot.

  44. #44

    Jane, dear lady, you ROCK.
    You pulled that Drez chain right off da hook.
    Exposed his slimy ass to da world.
    Knocked him to his knobby knees.
    Got him so flustered he doesn't know whether he coming or going.

    @Talc's Bro: Say Whaaattt?????
    .....And countless other GTown Hostesses with the Mostest?
    Damn, thats a long ride from Hood Rat Ronni.

  45. #45

    So, the only intelligent comment drez can offer is fuck you.
    I wonder his offspring talk that way in DCPS.
    What a sad cocksucker.

  46. #46

    Drez,

    F me???!!!! F you you poor excuse of a person!!!! You really are a pathetic, sad case and a obvious hemorrhoid. Further, your delusions have gotten old.

  47. #47

    Drez,

    Did I strike a nerve? WELL FANTASTIC!!!! You did not have to tell me that you are young because your immaturity and lack of facts is obvious. I feel sorry for your kids---because if they have to continue to get guidance and direction from you, their future does not look good. You left the most obvious attribute out when you stated that you are "young and local." What you left out is that you are a FOOL. And, please don't go around now pretending that you do not know that you are a fool, because I just told you!!!!!

  48. #48

    @Jane: They put my comment in moderation but I'm trying again: You, Dear Lady ROCK!!!!

  49. #49

    @ dumbrez

    And when she suggested that your delusional ass move she didn't say anything wrong JETHRO!

  50. #50

    @seDCdude.
    Good to see your parents can still afford thier Internet bills.

  51. #51

    Aww man...drez you are quite the (pirhanna) pariah with the pink bowrettes in your hair! You are who WE knew you were! ;)

  52. #52

    Awesome circle-jerk you got going, seDCdude.
    I'm assuming your parents buy your lube at Costco.

  53. B [formerly an "LOL"]
    #53

    Reform is still happening under Henderson. She is doing a better job than Rhee. At the time that Rhee came, there was a need to shake up some things in DCPS. But the Rhee model wasn't sustainable.

    I think that Rhee hasn't learned anything. But to be fair, I don't think that she was ever really in a position to get how poor her approach was. Her boss, the mayor, approved of her tactics and the national media loved her. She believed her own hype. Ignore that cheating scandal or how she played with the metrics.

    Henderson may not have the best numbers. But I trust them more than I trust Rhee's.

  54. #54

    Michelle Rhee was inexperienced and she made several big novice mistakes but she refused to take responsibility for the management errors she committed. Amazing how she thinks she can hold everyone else accountable and still - time after time - give herself a pass. Breathtakingly unprofessional.

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  59. #59

    Publier fantastique, je crois que les propriétaires de sites doivent acquérir beaucoup de ce site Web son utilisateur très agréable

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