Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

October 17, 2010

Quotes From Michelle Rhee

Filed under: Michelle Rhee — millerlf @ 4:41 pm

Michelle Rhee’s greatest hits

Washington Post-October 14, 2010 Valerie Strauss

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee gave us many reasons to remember her when she is gone.

There’s the schools she closed. The teachers she fired. The contract she signed with the Washington Teachers Union. Her frequent use of the word “crap.”

Here’s some quintessential statements that Rhee made as chancellor. Thanks for many of these to my colleague, Bill Turque, who often stood alone in his strong coverage of Rhee’s tenure.

I think my favorite is the one about taping students’ mouths shut.

Let me know what I’ve missed.

We will no longer describe failure as the result of vast impersonal forces like poverty or a broken bureaucracy.”
July 2007 confirmation hearing

“My job is to hear all the input, and then as the leader, then decide which are the things that I think are going to move student achievement forward in this district. And I have to make those decisions. That doesn’t mean that I’m not listening. It just means I have to choose to take into consideration all of that input.”
During an interview with The Washington Post’s editorial board in January 2008

“I’m a serial monogamist, not a job hopper,” she said in a June 2008 interview, adding that she was prepared to stay for two full terms of Mayor Adrian Fenty. That plan went awry when he lost last month in the Democratic primary to Vincent Gray, chairman of the D.C. Council.

Addressing teachers at an August 2008 back-to-school rally at the D.C. Convention Center, she said the following, referring to the closing of 23 schools that uprooted hundreds of teachers, buyouts and relentless pressure put on teachers to raise standardized test scores.

“I know I haven’t made your jobs easier this last year. I’ve heard all the rumors. ‘Rhee is trying to get rid of the veteran teachers. Rhee is trying to get rid of the black teachers.’ … I understand the anxiety.”

“What I need is for you to have trust, in me and in the school district. I know that trust doesn’t come overnight, and I have to earn that trust.”

“I think if there is one thing I have learned over the last 15 months, it’s that cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated.”
September 2008 Aspen Institute’s education summit at the Mayflower Hotel

“People often say to me the teachers unions are here to stay, that they are big players, that I have to find a way to get along. I actually disagree with that. It’s important for us to lay out on the table what we’re willing to do, but what our bottom line is for kids. The bottom line is that if you can’t come to agreement then you have to push your agenda in a different way, and we’re absolutely going to do that.”
September 2008 Aspen Institute’s education summit at the Mayflower Hotel

“People tell me the unions are an inevitable part of this [school reform]. My thing is, what has that gotten us so far? All the collaboration and holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya’?”
2008 round table at the Fordham Institute.

“The reality in Washington D.C. is if you live in Tenleytown versus if you live in Anacostia, you get two wildly different educational experiences. It’s the biggest social injustice imaginable. What we are allowing to happen in this day and age, we are still allowing the color of a child’s skin and the Zip code they live in to dictate their educational outcome, and therefore their life outcome. … We are robbing them every single day of their futures. And everybody in this country should be infuriated by that.”
In a speech at a D.C. restaurant in May 2008

“Korean people are not the most tactful. I grew up with Korean ladies who’d say, ‘Gee, you’ve put on some weight.’ It has for as long as I can remember driven me crazy when people beat around the bush instead of saying, ‘Look, I need you to do this.’ ”
Quoted in a Washington Post Magazine profile by Marc Fisher, September 2009

Rhee was pictured on the cover of the Nov. 26, 2008, edition of Time magazine, holding a broom while standing in a classroom, a symbol of her determination to sweep out the old and bring in the new. From that cover story by Amanda Ripley:

Then she raises her chin and does what I come to recognize as her standard imitation of people she doesn’t respect. Sometimes she uses this voice to imitate teachers; other times, politicians or parents. Never students. “People say, ‘Well, you know, test scores don’t take into account creativity and the love of learning,’ ” she says with a drippy, grating voice, lowering her eyelids halfway. Then she snaps back to herself. “I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t give a crap.’ Don’t get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job.

“I have talked with too many teachers to believe this is their fault. I know they are working furiously in a system that for many years has not appreciated them — sometimes not even paying them on time or providing textbooks. Those who categorically blame teachers for the failures of our system are simply wrong. ”
Rhee wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post published Feb. 9, 2009.

“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?”
Feb. 9, 2010, to Fast Company magazine.

She sent a report to D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray in February 2010 saying that she had fired 10 D.C. teachers for administering corporal punishment and two for sexual misconduct since July 2007. This was different from an account she gave after the Fast Company interview, in which she said that five had been suspended for corporal punishment and one was under investigation for sexual misconduct.

“When you cut our budget by $20 million, you didn’t call me to ask me if it was okay to cut summer school or not.”
Said to the D.C. Council on Oct. 29, 2009, in a hearing after she laid off 266 teachers Oct. 2, saying she had just discovered a $43.9 million shortfall in the 2010 budget. The panel was angry because it had cut the school budget $20.7 million July 31, 2009, as part of a citywide belt-tightening, but at the time, Rhee kept hiring new teachers. She actually hired more than 900 teachers in the spring and summer of 2009.

Then, last April, it became public that Rhee had found that there really was a $34 million surplus in the school system budget back in February. Why didn’t she reveal the surplus earlier? She said:

“We got this information very late in the game. The most important thing is for people to look forward.”

In August 2010, she offered two anecdotes to a group of new teachers, both of them describing her struggles 18 years ago as a fledgling second-grade teacher at Baltimore’s Harlem Park Elementary, which she said was “the worst and in many ways definitely the toughest year of my entire life.” Reported by Bill Turque on his D.C. Schools Insider blog.

The first:

Rhee said she had poor class-management skills, recalling that her class “was very well known in the school because you could hear them traveling anywhere because they were so out of control.”

On one particularly rowdy day, she said she decided to place little pieces of masking tape on their lips for the trip to the school cafeteria for lunch.

“OK kids, we’re going to do something special today!” she said she told them.

Rhee said it worked well until they actually arrived at the cafeteria. “I was like, ‘OK, take the tape off. I realized I had not told the kids to lick their lips beforehand. …The skin is coming off their lips and they’re bleeding. Thirty-five kids were crying.”

Later, Rhee tried to clarify in an e-mail, saying that the students’ mouths weren’t covered. “I was trying to express how difficult the first year of teaching can be with some humor. My hope is that our new teachers will bring great creativity and passion to their craft while also learning from my own challenges.”

The second:

This involved an after-school trip to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor that Rhee took with four students as a reward for good behavior.

As she drove them home, she asked where each of them lived. Three gave their addresses, but despite repeated attempts, the fourth would not respond. It was early evening and the school was locked, meaning she did not have access to their emergency contact information.

“I start to panic … my heart is beating 100 miles a minute,” she said. Then the other three children, sensing her worry, chimed in. She recalled one little boy saying:

“Lawwwd Ms. Rhee, whatchu gonna do!!!!??” Rhee boomed, drawing a big laugh. “Lawwwd Ms. Rhee, whatchu gonna do!!!!??”

Rhee said she eventually found a neighbor who was able to take the girl home.

Asked by Turque about what the teachers thought about her anecdotes, she said:

“The feedback that I got was positive and folks said my stories were humorous and helpful.”

You can listen to Rhee’s address to the teachers here.

“Yesterday’s election results were devastating, devastating. … Not for me, because I’ll be fine, and not even for [Mayor Adrian] Fenty, because he’ll be fine, but devastating for the schoolchildren of Washington, D.C.”
Sept. 15, 2010, a day after Fenty lost the Democratic primary to Gray

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