How many lies and evasions can you find in Michelle Rhee’s performance on the Steven Colbert show? I did my level best to transcribe the interview.
STEVEN COLBERT: My guest tonight is the former chancellor of DC Public Schools. So my security team’s pat downs and metal detectors will be familiar to her. Please welcome Michelle Rhee!
Hey, Ms. Rhee, thanks so much coming on. Now, uh, young lady, you’ve got quite a… a storied history when it comes to reforming education. You were, uh, let’s see, this is a photo we have a, we got a shot of that maybe here on [camera] two. That’s a photo of you on the cover, uh, that’s Time magazine, uh, about two years ago.
MICHELLE RHEE: Yes.
SC: This time it says, “How to fix America’s Schools”.
SC: You, you were the king of Reform School Mountain, and, and now you’ve just lost your job…
SC: … as the head of DC’s schools.
MR: I did.
SC: What gives? Who did you cross?
MR: Well, my boss, Adrian Fenty (laughs) …
MR: … who was the mayor of DC, uh, lost his election, so that means that I lost my job.
SC: So you lost your job and now the kids get left behind?
MR: Uh, well no, hopefully they don’t…
SC: Are you a fan of [the] No Child Left Behind [act] by the way?
MR: Actually, I am uh, a fan of No Child Left Behind.
SC: Thank you for saying that George Bush was our greatest president!
SC: That’s kind of what you are saying, then, because that was his thing, right?
MR: It was his thing and I actually think that you should give credit where credit is due, and this is one area that President Bush actually did a very good job in because he brought, he brought accountability to the public schools.
SC: Now as, as an educator, or as someone who was reforming education, what was the biggest challenge that you have faced?
MR: I think the biggest challenge was, was changing the culture of the school districts. I think that people were not used to being held responsible for, for what our jobs were, which was educating children.
SC: You talking [indistinct], you talking teachers’ union?
MR: I’m, I’m talking about the teachers’ union.
SC: Unions? You know we had a strike around here, you should do what I did. You know I sent out hooligans armed with truncheons, and I beat my writers until they came back here and they started to tippety-tappety again. Why didn’t you do that? Why didn’t you crack a few skulls?
MR: Well, we thought that, that, that we should use, you know, a carrot instead of a stick. And so what we wanted to do was, actually, set up a, a system where we could pay the best teachers a six-figure salary and give them what they deserve, and also ensure that we, you know, hold them responsible for doing a good job that if they were ineffective we could quickly remove them from their duties.
SC: So let me take you to task for a second here. What is the big deal on education? Sell me on educating children. Why?
SC: Right? Because, because, why should I care? Let me put this delicately. Why should I care about the kids at George Washington Carver High School when my kids are doing fine at Ed Begley Junior Prep?
MR. Well, actually, a lot of people think that their kids are doing well at Begley Junior [indistinct] …
SC: My children are the smartest kids in the world!
MR: … however …
SC: My children are the most brilliant, beautiful, perfect children in the world!
MR: You may think so, but what the data says is that if you look at the top five per cent of American students they are actually 25th ouf of 30 developed nations in terms of the, the global …
SC Yes, but if I refuse to learn math, then I wont know that
[Indistinct, competing voices talking at the same time]
SC: You say, you say you want us to be number one again?
MR: Yes, that’s right.
SC: When were we number one? Is this not a myth? Were we ever ahead of Germany?
MR: Nyahs. [I think she was trying to say “yes’ – GFB]
SCL Really? They had jets in World War Two!
MR: America was number one in the 1950s. America, we were number one in graduation rates, we were number one in rates of going to college, and our proficiency rates were a lot higher than most developed nations.
SC: What happened? What happened? What has happened to our schools that you are trying to reverse?
MR: So I think that what happened is that we have a lot of special interests who are driving the agenda in public schools. You have, you know, textbook manufacturers, you have teacher unions, you have, you know, food service people, and the problem is that there is no organized interest group that represents children.
SC: What about the kids? Did you ask the kids how they think schools should be changed? Did you try 7-Up in the water fountains?
SC: Donut day?
MR: You know it’s interesting because I actually did talk to the kids all the time and I asked them if I could do one thing that would really improve your experience in school what would it be. And they didn’t ask for Sprite in the water fountain. They asked for great teachers. They said, if you bring us great teachers, that makes everything worthwhile.
SC: Well, what, now that you’re no longer the head of the DC public Schools, what is next for you? What job will you be forced out of next?
MR: Well, hopefully I won’t be, be forced out of any job, but I’m trying to figure out right now what makes sense of a, of a, a, next job.
SC: You ever thought of being a correspondent?
MR: Well, I’d be interested in joining the team.
SC: Do you have a resumé?
MR: Uh, no, I don’t.
SC: Ah, well, then we’ll need to see some references.
Well, thank you so much.
Michelle Rhee, former head of the DC Public Schools!
We’ll be right back!
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