Also in the WaPo another column* about how Michelle Rhee might not be the consummate people person.  Sure, she’s not and she could do better.  But, I’ll ask again the more basic question:  Would things really be any different in DC if she had the political skills of say, Bill Clinton? 

I doubt it for two reasons.  First, some of what she wants to do and what the teachers’ unions want are simply incompatible so someone will have to give.   That’s the basic calculus here and why it’s been so hard to get to a deal in DC on the teachers’ contract.  If anything though, Rhee might be in a worse positionif the differences had not become so stark and obvious over the past few years.  I’m not sure a bunch of niceties would have attracted the notice of the Nick Kristofs and Steven Brills of the world and started to really change the context of this debate.   Second, around this country there are plenty of superintendents, traditional and non-traditional, who are far better politicians than Rhee is.  And, it’s easy to forget that you can even include some of her predecessors in DC in that category (there were a bunch over the past decade…).  They do all the right things in terms of managing relationships and do them well.  But you know what?  They haven’ t accomplished dramatic change.   Rhee hasn’t yet, either, but she’s on far better path toward that goal than most if people can suck-up a little disruption, lack of stroking, and, yes, some tension in the interest of serving kids better. 

The title of the column today is “Schools Pay When Rhee Snubs Donors.”  OK, but another column could be, “Kids Pay When Rhee Focuses Too Much On Keeping Adults Happy.”

7 Replies to “Rhee-Assessing?”

  1. I’d like an explanation of how the context of the debate has changed. We’re talking about public schools here. We’re not talking about Michelle Rhee. Rhee is not the context. The schools are. Let’s keep that straight.

    I’d also like an explanation of how attracting the notice of Nick Kristof and Steven Brill has anything to do with changing outcomes for low-income kids.

    I’d also like an explanation of how one person who does not work well with others thinks that they can change a system that requires buy-in from other people-adults included. If she doesn’t watch out, she will be alone in Washington, DC.

    Please explain how Rhee’s vision of tying teacher status to tests is good for children. The tests that the children take have no impact on them. Not a bit. Are you aware of all the cheating that happened last year that is currently being covered up? Please, go talk to any teacher in Truesdale Elementary School for just a sample.

    Despite many claims, Michelle Rhee is working as a public servant. I know, she makes $300,000/year like someone in the private sector, but really, she needs to be held accountable for her actions. People in Washington DC should not simply stop watching her and accept what she says because she claims to be an expert.

  2. Yes, Michelle Rhee is not the nicest person in the world. Yes, she could do a better job of winning allies rather than alienating them. But all in all, she is doing a remarkable job — one that needed to be done years ago. As a DCPS grad myself, I am thankful that the mayor has had the guts to stick by someone who is making the tough decisions. The union abdicated its responsibility to the kids years ago and simply cannot be taken seriously now.

    You ask for an explanation of how, for example, attracting national media attention changes outcomes for low-income kids. All that attention has made DCPS the #1 place for energetic teachers to teach. I know talented people who have never been to DC or would never have dreamed of working for DCPS who are now moving their families to town to work in the schools. Why? Because Rhee has made DCPS ground zero in the movement to change our public education system. That’s exciting — and people who want to make a difference are learning about it because of the national media attention. Over time, that infusion of talent and energy will change outcomes for low-income kids.

    I’m tired of all the sniping Rhee gets from folks who, before she arrived, were more than happy with the status quo. Give her a chance — two years is not enough time, yet the schools already are making tremendous progress.

  3. That’s great that you’re DCPS grad. Well, I am too.

    Again, the whole point about this so-called reform is that it shouldn’t be about Rhee. When the success of organizational transformation relies on the cult of one person, you can bet that there will be failure.

    Your claim that people were happy with the things the way they were before Rhee is ludicrous. I have never heard anyone argue that there shouldn’t be changes in DCPS. Never. What I hear and what I believe to be true is that you don’t reform a system through intimidation of employees and lies about test scores and hiring, tacitcs that Rhee uses on a regular basis.

    Please stop claiming that Rhee and her ilk are the only ones who want to improve public education. This is another lie that the so-called reform movement loves to perpetuate.

    You make a claim that young and talented teachers are flocking to DCPS. What is this supposed to mean? That your young energetic friends are the saviors of poor kids? They’re the only ones who truly know or care how to educate? Nice dream.

    What you call sniping, I call accountability. She is a public servant. Why should anyone believe a woman who has three years of teaching experience and ran a human resources company when it comes to running a school system? She is not qualified for the position, something that she holds in common with many appointees of Adrian Fenty.

    I would LOVE to support what she is doing. DCPS is awful. But I can’t because I know that she is absolutely clueless about managing such a large organization and is driven by her ideology and arrogance. Her philosophy is exactly the opposite of what is needed in the effort to improve public schools.

    I will guarantee that these schools will be worse after she leaves. And please do not point to test scores as a sign that schools have improved. Test scores are a joke and everyone who teaches in DCPS knows it.

  4. There are at least two reasons why things would be different if Michelle Rhee had the political skills of Bill Clinton. The first is that she could build a reservoir of good will that would afford her the benefit of the doubt and patience. Richard Whitmire claimed in his oped that she has to act the way she does because the schools are hemorrhaging to charters, whereas districts like Long Beach had the luxury of time. But Long Beach (and other districts that sustained a reform path, like Boston) had that luxury because their superintendents built good will. The communities were willing to be patient.

    The second reason has to do with what comes after Rhee. I don’t have to tell you that the history of education is littered with great ideas that withered on the vine once a leader left the scene. Now, if Fenty is not re-elected or leaves office, the new superintendent will come in and be the not-Rhee. All of her ideas, no matter how great the are technically, will die. On the other hand, if she could build some broad ownership of the reforms, there is some likelihood they can outlast her tenure.

  5. “Rhee seems irked that policymakers see Washington as the laboratory of the education-reform agenda. ‘That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,’ she said, at the same spring meeting at which she bemoaned the lack of proper sockets. What matters is Washington’s kids, not a national agenda, she insisted.”

    Or as Courtland Milloy wrote, “How do you spell hypocrite?”

  6. Rhee came to DC from running an organization that she founded — The New Teacher Project. Is anyone sure that new teachers are not coming into the district vis a vie this project and through that of her colleague’s apparatus — Teach For America? Is this reform?

  7. Is it true that Randi W collects full salary from both the NYC union and the national? Does anyone really believe that she wants to negotiate with Fenty/Rhee if she has to give up ANYTHING? Takes two sides to negotiate. BTW I also believe that Fenty/Rhee have basically decided that there will be no new contract to be concluded before he runs for re-election. And if he is re-elected, won’t THAT be an interesting boost in his negotiating position?

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