That’s Right Nate

Thoughts from a right thinker.

Michelle Rhee and the Washington Education Miracle Part IV

with 20 comments

And now gentle reader, we find ourselves at the penultimate act of our little drama.   Throughout the summer of 2009, the DC Public Schools recruited like a drunken frat boy collecting phone numbers at a kegger.  By the end of the summer, there were a whole host of new, young, and energetic students ready to take their places as teachers in the system.   Then calamity struck.

The schools had a $40,000,000 budget shortfall and the only way to close it was to cut staff.   There is nothing harder for an administrator than when you suddenly reallize that you don’t have $40 million that you thought you had.  I still get embarrassed over the time I was 8 and went to the local convenience store for chips and pop and didn’t have enough money because I didn’t know about sales tax.   The Chinese word for crisis is the same as their world for self-serving and manipulative stunt.  Knowing this Michelle Rhee made lemons out of lemonade by getting rid of some of those tired and worn out teachers I mentioned in part 2.

Over 200 teachers were let go and the day was saved.   Police were dispatched to classrooms and the older incompetent teachers were forcibly evicted.  This provided an excellent lesson for students who witnessed their teachers’ removal about not getting old and lazy. Much fat was trimmed.  A few examples I found using this internet machine of mine:

  • Students at McKinley Tech told NBC4 that their French 3 class became an introductory Spanish class when the French teacher was fired.
  • Jodie Gittleson, a teacher at Shaed Elementary School who was laid off, told the Washington Post that her students were being mixed among the second and fourth grade classes.
  • Students related a host of problems to WAMU-FM Dana Downs from Alice Deal Middle School says she was in the middle of a science project she was excited about. Now a different teacher has come in and abruptly changed course. Downs says students are also acting out in class, taking advantage of their new teacher. She says “they will talk really loud and won’t listen to her and throw things.”
  • Many of the district’s councilors received layoff notices just as students are getting their applications together to submit to colleges.
  • Taesha Hines from Ballou Senior High School complained that gym is required for graduation, but the cuts have left her school with only one gym teacher

Many of the teachers who were laid off had excellent performance evaluations.  These are exactly the kind of deadwood that are so difficult to trim because at a due process hearing they will simply use the superior rating the principal had given them to cast doubt on that principal’s claims of their incompetence.   Fortunately for Washington, DC, this budget shortfall provided a nice route around those kind of regulations.

There have been other moments of note in Rhee’s tenure.   Standardized test scored did improve, which is usually a good sign that the district is becoming more conscious of standardized tests.  Rhee also dropped support for National Board Certification–a highly valued national program for improving classroom instruction.  She has charged straight ahead with her vaunted IMPACT program which was piloted in Fairfax County in 1987 much to the amusement to one of the guinea pigs, Erica Jacobs.  Unfortunately, the union contract still seems stalled.  For some reason, the union is having trouble trusting Michelle Rhee to bargain in good faith.

I’m not from Washington, DC.  I’m from Chicago where we have had our own miracle worker Arne Duncan chosen for better things.   I won’t tell DC parents how to feel about their own child’s education prospects from hundreds of miles away.   However, in my previous entry, EFavorite posted the link to a comment by a Washington Post reader claiming that Michelle Rhee’s administration has fascist tendencies.   I can’t really speak to that, but I wonder if the sight of police leading teachers away in front of stunned students might answer the question for me.

This blog is satirical and my regular readers must be hating the last 4 articles which have gradually become less and less of my usual style.   However, some things are quite difficult to joke about–the future of our children is one of them.   A lot of well meaning liberals have gotten behind this new generation of education reformers who believe the two best ways to improve education are to bust unions and replace older largely African-American career teachers with young privileged white teachers who will spend 2 or 3 years in the classroom before moving on to bigger and better things.   These people believe that experience is a detriment and not an asset.  I wonder how these became liberal values.   Yes, the Bush family have embraced Michelle Rhee, but so have the Obamas and Oprah.

School reform has always been something that has been done to teachers, not by teachers, or with teachers.   Parents have rarely had a say either and of course children don’t know what’s good for them.   You can’t reform anything that way.   When the largest stakeholders in any endeavor are seen as the opposition you will fail.   There is another type of education reform you don’t hear much about.  If people gave it a chance, it might have a hope of accomplishing something substantial.   I don’t agree with everything that these people want, but a lot of it sure looks worth looking into.  The idea of a free, equal, and quality education is an ideal that binds us as a nation.   It has sadly never been a reality in the United States.

[As always, I appreciate feedback and comment whether you are in DC or not.  If you missed the other 3 parts of this story, please go to part 1.]


Written by thatsrightnate

October 24, 2009 at 9:40 pm

20 Responses

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  1. Thank you, Nate, for this excellent series. Please add updates as this situation unfolds. It could get very interesting very soon, as Rhee’s protector, DC Mayor Fenty, is under attack for illegal contracts.

    Regarding your point on Rhee’s bi-partisan appeal, just this morning, I found a 2007 commentary by a conservative republican education pundit that sounds downright prescient in light of recent events in DC. Take a look at it here:


    October 25, 2009 at 9:38 am

  2. Thanks, I’ll be sure to update when necessary. This is a national blog out of Chicago so my access to DC information is admittedly limited.


    October 25, 2009 at 10:21 am

  3. Uhmm. Actually, teacher PERFORMANCE was a factor in determing which teachers were separated from DCPS due to a budget crisis precipitated by cuts promulgated by the DC Council to the existing DCPS budget. Note it was not limited simply by SENIORITY as many “Olde School” union types would have it. There is no data to support the idea that more teachers with service over 5 years were fired than others with less than five years. You have an opinion. Fine. You are not entitle to make up facts.

    Tom M.

    October 26, 2009 at 11:10 am

  4. Hey Tom,

    Thanks for letting me know what I’m entitled to do. I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree here.

    On the one hand, you believe that the people who were let go were let go based on performance even though some of the dismissed teachers had received exceptional performance evaluations. You believe that it was seen as academically beneficial for French 3 students to go back to English 1. You believe that it was a good thing for high school students to apply for college with brand new guidance councilors, and you believe that disolving a third grade class and mixing those students with 2nd and 4th graders is beneficial.

    I respect your point of view, but I believe that maybe the reason that the school district recruited so many new teachers and continues to recruit new teachers despite being forced to terminate so many is because of an ulterior motive–a motive that has been publicly stated by the chancellor.

    Now, as to making stuff up–everything I posted is easily linked to. You, on the other hand, backed up your suppositions by using capital letters for words like Performance and Seniority. I must admit, I found that very convincing use of capitals. This is certainly more proof than Ms. Rhee provided for her supposed appearances in the Wall Street Journal or Good Morning America, let alone her class’s amazing test scores from her teaching days.


    October 26, 2009 at 12:35 pm

  5. Tom M – Rhee just said this, in her “Chancellor’s Note” (issued Last Friday, after school was out)

    “I hope to be clear to any who are making assumptions about teachers who lost their jobs, that this approach does not mean that all DCPS former staff were poor educators. Performance was not the only factor in a decision to lay off an employee. For example, if two strong educators held positions at a school that could only support one due to low enrollment, a talented educator with less experience than his or her colleague would have lost his or her job to the struggling economy.

    While we have made some hard decisions and our hearts are with the hard working DCPS staff who lost their jobs, I am confident that including school needs and staff performance was the right decision for children.”

    Wasn’t that SINCERE? I’m SURE she MEANT it.

    Nate – I’m SURE you’ll take me even more seriously than Tom M, as I did links AND caps in the same post!


    October 26, 2009 at 1:50 pm

  6. As for showing improvement on standarized tests, I can see how you would think NAEP math scores increased under Rhee, because of how Rhee and others have reported it, but that is not accurate. While DCs math scores did continue to increase (unlike those most other states), the rate of increase is less than it has been in recent years and DC is still at rock bottom nationally. Thus there is no indication that anything Rhee has done has helped – there was more growth under other superintendents who were not “reformers.” And there is at least a suggestion that her influence has hurt the rate of increase. I know this because I checked the numbers on the national site. Here they are:

    DCPS NAEP scores:

    4th grade
    2000 – 192
    2003 – 205
    2005 – 211
    2007 – 214
    2009 – 219

    8th grade
    2000 – 235
    2003 – 243
    2005 – 245
    2007 – 248
    2009 – 254

    You can check them for yourself at

    In a recent Education Next article, writer Michael Petrilli initially gave Rhee credit for the rising math scores, but then acknowledged that a comment of mine made “a fair point about the achievement increases preceding Michelle Rhee’s time in DC” at He also amended his article to include a link to the NAEP site.


    October 26, 2009 at 1:53 pm

  7. I hate to be a blog hog, but considering how data driven Michelle Rhee is, I know she’d want me to get this information out as widely as possible. Please pass it on to all your little blogging friends (after verifying it of course – don’t just take my word for it.)

    On another data related issue, Jay Mathews conceded that I was correct about Shaw Middle School’s AYP scores declining, not staying “about the same” – which Rhee asserted in a WaPo Q&A.

    PBS made a correction on its website a couple of months earlier when it misreported the VERY SAME INFO.

    She is a real statistics wizard. She has the audacity I mean capacity to misrepresent publically available information and then to repeat the misrepresentation. Thanks to me, even though the fake news is spread far and wide, I’m at least able to make corrections on blogs like this and occassionally get “real” journalists to back off misstatements about her statistics when presented with verifible facts.


    October 26, 2009 at 2:11 pm

  8. Wow–links and caps. Good job!


    October 26, 2009 at 6:34 pm

  9. No hate, Nate. We can deal with the non-satirical. Good reporting. Yeah, SCREW those old experienced bastards!!

    equa yona

    October 26, 2009 at 10:17 pm

  10. Thanks Equa Yona for your comment 🙂


    October 26, 2009 at 10:21 pm

  11. According to some, the US public schools are way behind those in other nations; therefore, US schools need to copy the practices found in other high scoring countries.

    In that case, could someone please list for me all of the high-scoring nations that have broken up their urban public school systems, turning them over to a totally disorganized ad-hoc non-system of essentially private charter schools, run by pretty much anybody who claims they have an idea?

    And can someone please list for me all of the high-scoring nations that systematically denigrate the value and worth of their professional teacher corps, trying to replace them with a group of temporary, essentially untrained, recent college grads who have very little intention (or track record) of staying on in the public schools for the long term?

    And can someone please list all of the high-scoring nations that pay teachers based on their students’ test scores?

    (Personal note: I actually attended school in France for 2 years in the equivalent of grades 4/5 and 12, many decades ago. With my wife, a current DC school teacher, I visited and sat in on some classes in some Dutch International Baccalaureate schools about 2 years ago. I have also viewed videotapes of Japanese and German mathematics classrooms, and have examined Turkish, Chinese, Romanian, and Singaporean textbooks, some in English, some in their original languages. I am not aware of ANY other public school system which is engaging in the demonizing ot teachers the way Michelle Rhee and others are doing here.)


    October 27, 2009 at 11:34 am

  12. My blog is usually satirical and I really want to insert my customary French slam here, but you really beautifully express some very good points–thank you.


    October 27, 2009 at 8:46 pm

  13. Great work Nate— Rhee makes my skin crawl. She should be viewed as a joke and yet it seems every media outlet is desperate to jump on the bandwagon and shower her with undeserved praise. As a teacher who has taught on the west side of Chicago and in an affluent suburb, I am certain that her test prep, teach for America, give no quarter approach will lead to minimal gains before being exposed for the fraudulent system/philosophy that it is. After seeing the piece on her and the DC RIF situation on the Newshour, reading your posts was quite cathartic. Thanks!


    November 18, 2009 at 8:21 pm

  14. You’re welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed.


    November 18, 2009 at 10:44 pm

  15. I just found your website via another website. I have enjoyed reading your coverage of the Idiot of the Decade, Michelle Rhee. This unqualified, questionable failed teacher needs her head examined. She is not qualified to teach or lead a dead man. I plan on voting for anybody that will run against the other Idiot of the Decade, Adrian Fenty. He’s a puppet. DC has been fooled, into thinking that Fenty would make a change in DC. Well, I will not be fooled again.

    Five to go

    December 6, 2009 at 4:55 pm

  16. I’m glad you liked. I hope you’ll visit again and also visit my education blog at


    December 6, 2009 at 6:37 pm

  17. I’m so glad I pulled my kids out of DCPS before Rhee came in. As a DC citizen and tax payer, I’m appalled at her behavior, actions, and attitudes. What’s worse is the almost unconditional support that the Washington Post gives her—many DC citizens are not paying attention and rely on the Post to tell them what to think. Rhee is a destroyer, and the kids will lose the most. Thank you, Nate, for the sanity check in these 4 articles. No one could imagine the shenanigans going on here in DC—this is the tip of the iceberg, but I’m grateful for your reporting.


    December 8, 2009 at 6:16 am

  18. Thank you DC Citizen


    December 8, 2009 at 7:13 am

  19. Hi, Nate, in case you haven’t yet heard, I want you to know the latest. Rhee is quoted in Fast Comany Magazine as having said that some of the teachers she RIFd in October hit children and had sex with them.

    For full details, read today’s Bill Turque article in WaPo

    Also see Turque’s blog posts that preceded the print article and Jay Mathews’ tentative take on the story.


    January 23, 2010 at 7:30 am

  20. Thanks for the update. I hadn’t seen this story. I made a post on my education blog with my views on this little tidbit.


    January 24, 2010 at 2:07 pm

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