This is the last of 3 guest columns on this topic, by the same author.
The sequence of events as described above along with multiple other factors listed below, give credence to the opinions of many that the 2010 DC Democratic primary election was a referendum on Michelle Rhee; however, I prefer to view the election as political democracy self correcting.
WHY MICHELLE RHEE HAD TO GO
1. Never Vetted
Adrian Fenty violated the review panel requirement; he broke the law in picking a Chancellor without allowing a review panel of stakeholders to participate in the selection process. Fenty did not inform the council of his choice until the eve of the announcement and did not give her name to a panel of parents, teachers and students as the takeover legislation required.
2. Not Qualified
Michelle Rhee’s title was chancellor, not superintendant; her title was changed because she did not meet the qualifications for employment as a school district superintendent. DC’s children need and deserve: the best, the brightest and the most qualified school leaders.
3. Résumé Discrepancies
RHEE’S OFFICIAL RÉSUMÉ:
• Taught in Harlem Park Community School, one of the lowest-performing elementary schools in Baltimore City, effecting significant measurable gains in student achievement. 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.
The following text is excerpted from the “The Daily Howler,” an American political blog written by Bob Somerby.
In a wealthy suburban school district, that would be a remarkable record—one a principal ought to verify. In a school like Harlem Park, it would be an educational miracle—a revolution.
If so, Michelle Rhee should have been arrested and held for further study. If those deserving Harlem Park kids really did achieve at those levels, a young teacher had authored an educational miracle; she had somehow managed to solve a heart-breaking, decades-long educational puzzle. The school should have been crawling with researchers, trying to figure out what she’d done.
RHEE’S OFFICIAL RÉSUMÉ:
• Classroom practices featured on “The Home Show” and in the Wall Street Journal and the Hartford Courant.
Unless something is missing from the Nexis archives, Rhee’s claim about the Courant is simply a bald-faced misstatement. How about Good Morning America? In the Nexis archives, transcripts of the program only date back to July 1996. (There is no report on Rhee, or on Harlem Park, in the archives after that date.)
4. A Question Of Ethics
Just after D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty nominated Michelle Rhee for the chancellor’s job, Sacramento Mayor and former NBA star Kevin Johnson, Rhee’s “boyfriend,” personally called nearly all 13 council D.C. City Council members and flew from California to tell them that Rhee is a hands-on executive who works round-the-clock. He credited her with helping to turn around Sacramento High School. “He was the showstopper,” recalled D.C. State Board of Education member Mary Lord. “It was sort of like, if she’s got the support of a star like that, it’s all well and good.”
Most recently, a little more than a week before the September 14th primary, Chancellor Rhee campaigned for Mayor Adrian Fenty as a “private citizen” though DC’s Hatch Act mandates that government employees not to use their positions to influence elections.
5. Budget Pressure Debacle
In the spring and summer of 2009, Chancellor Michelle Rhee hired 934 new teachers; just six weeks into the school year in October 2009, Rhee fired nearly 400 DC Public School employees, including the 266 teachers citing a $43.9 million dollar budget pressure. Later, it was discovered that the budget pressure never existed; Rhee claimed a math error caused the budget discrepancy. On April 13, 2010, five months after the October 2009 mass firing, Rhee announced a $34 million budget surplus that she intended to use to fund the groundbreaking contract for which she has been much heralded. Only, District of Columbia Chief Financial Officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, said that the $34 million dollar surplus did not exist because DC Public Schools’ central office overran its budget by 30 million dollars.
6. Smear Tactics
In February 2010, Fast Company, an online magazine, followed up on a September 2008 story it ran on the “Iron Chancellor” Michelle Rhee. The article addressed accusations by the Washington Teachers Union that Rhee had manufactured a budget pressure to excuse the firing of 266 teachers. Rhee’s response was:”I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school. … Why wouldn’t we take those things into consideration?” Later, Rhee finally released a statement explaining that only one (1) teacher had been accused of sexual impropriety and that only 9 of the 266 teachers who were fired in October 2009 had dubious work histories. However, 257 teachers were also slandered and included in the list of teachers fired for budget reasons.
7. Unbecoming Behavior
• Michelle Rhee behaved in a manner unbecoming of the high standard expected of a chief executive officer. In December 2008, DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in all black, stone-faced and holding a broom; the caption next to the photograph read, “How to Fix America’s Schools.” Rhee’s aggressive actions, her abrasive and oftentimes demeaning talk with regard to her inherited DC Public Schools staff, along with that broom picture (a broom is a floor-sweeping device used specifically to sweep out trash), was most indicative of her meager estimation of veteran DC Public School educators. The cover was intentionally debasing and threatening.
• Recently, Michelle Rhee recounted her year long ordeal as a “crappy” second grade teacher 18 years ago at Baltimore’s Harlem Park Elementary to a room of new DC Public School teachers. Rhee told the novice teachers that she placed pieces of masking tape on the lips of her thirty-five rowdy 2nd graders on a trip to the school cafeteria for lunch; after arriving at the cafeteria, the kids removed the tape along with the skin on their lips, which caused bleeding; thirty-five 2nd grade children began crying.
The other story Chancellor Rhee recounted to the group actually involved her speaking in Negro dialect when impersonating one of her students. “Lawwwd Ms.Rhee whatchu gonna do!!!!??” Rhee boomed, drawing a big laugh. “Lawwwd Ms. Rhee whatchu gonna do!!!!??” (Washington Post)
• Michelle Rhee called DC Council Chairman Vincent Gray’s primary victory over Mayor Adrian Fenty a “devastating” blow to children in Washington’s traditional public schools.
8. Poor Judgement
On June 27, 2008, former NBA star Kevin Johnson and Michelle Rhee’s boyfriend was the subject of an investigation conducted by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the misuse of $850,000 of Federal grant funds provided to St. HOPE Academy from 2004 to 2007. Then DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee visited Gerald Walpin, who was inspector general of the government volunteer organization AmeriCorps. “The basic point of her meeting with me was to tell me what a great guy he was,” Walpin recalls, “and what wonderful work he has done, and that maybe he had made mistakes administratively, but that she thought I should give as much consideration as possible to his good work in deciding what to do.” Previously, Rhee had called Walpin to see how the investigation was going; she was planning to include St. Hope in a group of educational organizations that would be hired to run 10 of the District’s most troubled high schools.
On four different occasions, young women or teenage girls had accused her boyfriend/fiancé, Kevin Johnson, of inappropriate sexual conduct. Three of the four were affiliated with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the parent body for the the volunteer organization AmeriCorps. Although charges were never pressed, one of the students said she was offered $1,000 per month in exchange for her silence. In the summer of 1995, allegations surfaced that Johnson inappropriately touched a 16-year-old girl. No charges were filed in the case. St. Hope was eventually ordered to pay back $425,000 of the AmeriCorps funds; however, no action was taken on the sexual allegations. A congressional investigation report contains charges that DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee handled “damage control” after allegations of sexual misconduct against Kevin Johnson surfaced. (The Washington Examiner, The Washington Times)
9. An Accountability Double Standard
Brian Betts was Michelle Rhee’s superstar principal of Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson. Rhee recruited Betts from Loiederman Middle School in 2008 after he failed to get even an interview for four principal positions in the Montgomery County, Maryland school system. Betts was given “unprecedented power to mold his staff;” he personally selected 28 of his 35 teachers and staff. Betts said he wanted a school full of young, ambitious and not yet “jaded” teachers; he hired only two teachers with more than five years of experience. Betts received extra money from Rhee to hire two young teaching stars also from Loiederman to coach his almost entirely new staff. Shaw had the best technology, texts and instructional materials. Shaw became Rhee’s showplace school, where she sent celebrities and reporters to observe her “best and brightest” do their thing. Quite remarkably however, the test scores of students attending Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson did not go
up; they actually went down. Tests scores are Michelle Rhee’s own yardstick to measure a school’s effectiveness. That very same year, Michelle Rhee fired a whole lot of principals, most of whom had far fewer resources than Mr. Betts; they likewise had consolidated schools with merged student populations and much better test scores. (Washington Post, 2008)
10. If It Looks Like a Duck…..
Shady is, as shady does.
Our children in the District of Columbia, as do the children in Atlanta, need and deserve a quality education; their lives depend on it. They do not need to be caught up in the biggest power grab in the history of American public education. The Michelle Rhee story had the potential to become the greatest success story of the American education reform movement. “New chancellor takes on the worst performing public school system in the nation, disembowels the big bad teachers’ union and saves the day for thousands of poor and illiterate inner-city kids.” The only thing wrong with this story is that it is simply not true; it has been grossly distorted by nonsensical propaganda.
The deplorable truth is that cheating on state standardized tests has become a national epidemic; a lot of people know about it and a lot of people are not doing anything about it. Honesty, it seems, has not instantaneously yielded booming increases in student achievement levels; so across the nation, we have collectively resorted to fundamentally dishonest approaches to school reform.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that intelligence plus character is the goal of true education; I surely hope so.