Michelle Rhee


Private School Grads Fixing Public Schools

Flickr: TopRow

Maumee Valley Country Day School, Michelle Rhee's alma mater.

The New York Times points out something important about the school reform movement– those involved, including former D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee and President Barack Obama, did not attend public schools:

Those who call themselves reformers are a diverse group, men and women of every political stripe and of every race and ethnicity.

But there is one thing that characterizes a surprisingly large number of the people who are transforming public schools: they attended private schools.

Which raises the question: Does a private school background give them a much-needed distance and fresh perspective to better critique and remake traditional public schools? Does it make them distrust public schools — or even worse — poison their perception of them? Or does it make any difference?

Fenty Lost Because of Style, not School Reform

Flickr: Intangible Arts

Former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty with a young constituent in 2007.

Our former Mayor is in denial about why he’s no longer in office, according to TBD. Hint: he may not be a martyr to education reform, after all.

In interview after interview, the ex-mayor and Michelle Rhee, his former schools chancellor, have argued that political defeat is what happens to those who are so bold as to champion an aggressive stance toward teachers unions and a program of radical shifts in how business is conducted in the classroom…

The real danger lies not in pursuing Fenty-Rhee-style education reform, but in pursuing anything in the Fenty-Rhee style. That means no dissing the media at every turn. No brushing aside the concerns of great Americans. No scorning the notion of legislative oversight.

For as long as he remains in denial about his mayoralty, Fenty will likely keep peddling his tale of woe about education reform. As time wears on, however, he’ll have to make peace with the facts: His signature issue of education reform is popular among District voters, who still saw fit to vote him out of office.

Did Michelle Rhee Lie About her Record?

Flickr: Shannan Muskopf

Standardized Test.

Michelle Rhee is a champion of standardized tests– but how did her own results as a Baltimore school teacher measure up? Guy Brandenberg, a now-retired D.C. teacher with three decades of experience published a blog post that accused Rhee of lying “in an effort to make gains in her class look more impressive than they were.” Via WaPo:

Rhee, who resigned last year as chancellor, denied fabricating anything about her record and said Brandenburg’s conclusion was unfounded. But she acknowledged this week that she could have described her accomplishments differently in 2007, when then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) selected her to be chancellor.

At issue is a line in Rhee’s resume from that year that described her record at Harlem Park Elementary School: “Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90 percent of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher.”


Rhee addressed questions about her resume in 2007. At the time, she acknowledged that there was no documentation to back up the assertion of performance at the 90th percentile…Brandenburg, who retired in 2009 after teaching for more than 30 years, said the study presents “clear evidence of actual, knowing falsehood” by Rhee.

Hey! Kaya Henderson is not Michelle Rhee!

Flickr: Barry S.

Dunbar High, marching at Obama's Inauguration.

Interim Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson wants everyone to know that she is a different, separate person from her predecessor, Michelle Rhee. Here’s a snippet of Bill Turque’s Q+A with Henderson:

BT: Do you have many “What Would Michelle Do” moments?

KH: Not many, maybe for two reasons. Michelle and I worked together for a zillion years. In many cases I know what Michelle would do. But the real question is what will Kaya do? Because everything that Michelle does is not what Kaya would do.

BT: What’s Kaya done that Michelle probably would not have done?

KH::I think probably Dunbar. I think Michelle might have provided Friends of Bedford more opportunities to correct the situation at Dunbar. I don’t know for sure…

BT: There is the view that philosophically there is no difference between you and Michelle Rhee, that you both believe in the singular importance of teachers as the determinant of success inside the school, and that poverty has been used as an excuse for mediocre education. Is that true?

KH: I think we’re philosophically aligned, but we’re two different people. Right? Because we have philosophical alignment doesn’t mean we’re going to do everything the same way. Poverty matters. However, I can’t control poverty. And I have a budget that allows me to deal with kids from sometime in the morning to sometime in the evening. So within the realm of my control I can only do what I’m going do.

Kaya Henderson: A Hugger and a Closer

Flickr: ghbrett

"Hugs": a word I don't associate with Michelle A. Rhee.

Interim Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson is a friend of Michelle Rhee’s; Rhee, the controversial former broom-wielder, is also Henderson’s mentor. And yet, Henderson does things a little differently:

Since becoming interim chancellor after Rhee’s abrupt departure in October, Henderson has brought a more naturally accessible style to the job. At meetings around town, her entrance often comes with a broad smile and a round of hugs. “She wasn’t a hugger,” Henderson said of her predecessor.

Some skeptics have already suggested that Henderson is simply “Rhee-light.” But friends say those who who doubt her toughness, or her resolve to preserve Rhee’s emphasis on teacher quality and accountability, are underestimating Henderson.

“People are just starting to learn about her because she was under such a shadow with Michelle Rhee,” said Jacques Patterson, chairman of the Ward 8 Democrats and project director at the Federal City Council, an influential group of business and civic leaders active in education reform. “Kaya is very focused, very clear thinking and knows where she wants to go. She can be as hard charging as Michelle Rhee but she won’t be a bull in a china shop, breaking china.”

See? She’s a “hugger”. As for “closer”, this is what happened after a meeting with students, staff members and parents from River Terrace Elementary in Northeast, a school marked for closure:
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Reversing Rhee’s Direction on Hardy Middle School

Flickr: Steve Hutchinson

Now reading: “Hardy Middle School principal is reassigned” by Bill Turque at the Washington Post. It struck me as I was reading it that while this is merely a “news” article that most of us will skim through as we go about our day, for the mostly African-American kids who trudged through “more than a year of turmoil at one of the city’s few academically successful public middle schools”, this could be awful– with far-reaching consequences.

I went to Catholic school for most of my life, and once, in 7th grade, I asked a question in Math class that annoyed my teacher so much, she literally threw the book at me–as in, she hurled the textbook she had been consulting at my head. She had horrible aim, so I was fine, but I will never forget how embarrassing that moment was, and how everyone in my class reacted. I have always thought that the reason why I hate and am awful at math (after excelling at it, as a child) was because of the shame and memory of that outlandish and anomalous experience. This affects me to this day, even as I’m writing for you on DCentric– I tense up when I come across statistic-filled reports from think tanks or articles dense with numbers. Nearly 24 years after an awful middle school experience, what happened to me as a pre-teen makes me, in a very real way, less capable as an adult. Who knows how Hardy Middle School students have been impacted, and how a year of “turmoil” will affect their futures?

Interim D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced Wednesday that she has reassigned the new principal of Hardy Middle School, acknowledging that poor decisions by the District had contributed to more than a year of turmoil at one of the city’s few academically successful public middle schools.

In a take-home letter distributed to students at dismissal, Henderson said Dana Nerenberg will return full time to Hyde-Addison Elementary, where she also serves as principal. The move rolls back one of Michelle A. Rhee’s most bitterly disputed decisions as chancellor, to replace veteran Hardy principal Patrick Pope in December 2009

The transition to new leadership has left the Hardy community badly fractured. Some returning parents said the school environment had deteriorated, with increases in fights, tardiness and disrespectful behavior toward staff…

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DCPS Bonuses Come With Strings

Flickr: Adam Holloway

According to WAMU’s Kavitha Cardoza, “Of DCPS Teachers Offered Bonuses, 40 Percent Say: ‘No, Thanks‘”:

One of former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s signature initiatives was to reward good teachers with bonuses of up to $25,000. To qualify for the full amount, teachers have to score high marks on their evaluations, teach at schools with majority low-income children, and teach a tested grade and certain subjects. Bonuses were offered to 636 teachers, but 40 percent turned down the money…

I read this and immediately wondered why anyone would turn down extra money right now. Well, because:

But these teachers had to agree to give up some job security. For example, they could lose their jobs because of program changes or enrollment declines at their schools.

Diane Terrell, a teacher at Stoddert Elementary School, refused her $5,000. She says a bonus shouldn’t come with strings attached.

“You think you can come and wave money in front of us and we will give up everything to you. I could not do that,” she says.

Two teachers were eligible for $25,000, the maximum amount. Both accepted the money.

Rhee and the GOP

Flickr: Mike Licht

Now reading, “Is Michelle Rhee becoming a Republican darling?” from Mike DeBonis at the Post:

Rhee’s message has been embraced by the favorite media outlets of the conservative movement. She rolled out her policy platform in a Wall Street Journal op-ed and made an appearance on Fox News Channel (in addition to appearances on the Today Show and other less partisan forums). Today, a post on the Heritage Foundation’s blog calls on “opponents of sensible education reforms to put the needs of children before the demands of special interests–as Rhee’s aptly named group suggests.”

It’s not hard to explain the GOP’s embrace: Rhee’s policy agenda has long been heavy on attacking the role of teacher unions in blocking the sorts of reforms she believes are most effective — eliminating teacher “tenure,” ending seniority-based teacher transfers, evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores, etc. Democrats, with their closer ties to national unions, tread more lightly around those issues in a way that the GOP does not.

But the question for Rhee is to what extent she wants her nascent national brand to get caught up in partisan politics, especially going into a presidential election year.

Worksheets instead of Teaching, in D.C.

Flickr: rkeohane

A worksheet.

Now reading: “The McEducation of the Negro: Franchising is an outstanding model for selling Big Macs. But it can be toxic to classrooms” by Natalie Hopkinson:

That’s how it went: rewards and punishments, then worksheets. No instruction, just worksheets. At the end of the class, Bridgers, who works as an exterminator, pulled aside the teacher, a young white male and recent graduate.

“I wanted to know when he was going to do some, you know, teaching,” Bridgers explained to me recently. “You know, like, how we used to have in school? She would stand in front of the class … “…

Of course, today the “reformers” say that that way of teaching is old school. It was fine before the days of social media and the “information revolution” and the global economy. But now, as the argument goes in films like Waiting for Superman, no self-respecting parent would ever send his or her child to a “failing” public school like the one that generations of Bridgers’ family attended in their neighborhood in Northeast Washington.

For Bridgers’ son and a disproportionate number of black students around the country, charter schools have become the preferred choice.

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Rhee: “Lack of Experience” isn’t so bad


Cathie Black. Three lawsuits regarding the legality of her state-issued waiver for a lack of education credentials are pending, in New York.

This little article caught my eye when I read my New York Post, this morning:

Former Washington, DC schools chief Michelle Rhee said her appointment to the post three years ago was met with nearly identical opposition to that being faced by incoming New York City Schools Chancellor Cathie Black.

“People were [effectively] rioting in the street, saying, ‘How can somebody who’s never run a school, who’s never run a school district, do this job?” Rhee told The Post at a Manhattan Institute event in Midtown yesterday.

“And I think what I showed is that you don’t necessarily have to have been a superintendent before,” added Rhee, who launched the Students First advocacy group earlier this month.

“She’s shown in her experience in business that she can run a multibillion-dollar organization, that she can turn something around, so I don’t think her lack of experience in education disqualifies her.”