Washington mayoral race hinges on education — and especially Michelle Rhee

Washington, D.C.’s mayoral race, as it turns out, revolves around one person. And she is not a candidate; she is Michelle Rhee, the district’s school chancellor.

Rhee was appointed to the position in 2007 by incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty, who will be challenged in the Sept. 14 primary by Council Chairman Vincent Gray. When Gray announced his candidacy in March, many thought it a foolish bid, saying he had neither the capital nor the political apparatus to pull off a successful run.

Tides have turned. A recent Washington Post poll showed Gray in the lead among all Democrats, at 49 percent to Fenty’s 36 percent.

But the centerpiece of this election cycle is what will happen to the reforms Rhee put in place for the public school system, should her strongest backer (Fenty) get booted out by the voters. Gray has made his dislike of Rhee’s initiatives known, criticizing her on multiple occasions for her reformist attitude and approach in tackling what used to be the worst public school system in the nation.

While Rhee won’t specifically say she would leave her post if Gray is elected, she did say in a recent interview with Newsweek that in order for her to do her job, she needs the full backing and support of D.C.’s mayor — whoever that may be.

“You need to be in lock step and have the same philosophy and outlook,” said Rhee. “But if procedure and harmony are [Gray’s] priorities, I’m not his girl.”

The story of Rhee’s intervention in the District of Columbia public school system is one for the books. Completely and 100 percent backed by Fenty, Rhee was given full control, and she took advantage of it immediately.

Within months, she fired 30 percent of the school’s bureaucracy, commissioned an outside audit of the school system, closed 25 underperforming schools and replaced half the district’s principals with her own people.

When it came time to negotiate the new contract with the city’s teachers unions in the summer of 2008, Rhee offered them an unprecedented proposal: the chance to earn a six-figure salary (nearly unheard of for public school teachers) in exchange for giving up tenure.

In 2009, when a budget crisis hit the city, Rhee fired 266 teachers who were, by her standards, underperforming. After that, she revamped the teacher evaluation process, tying it to student performance. More recently, Rhee fired another 241 “underperforming” teachers in July.

“It is clear Rhee has annoyed a lot of people, but it’s hard to be a change agent,” Russ Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, told The Daily Caller.

“I would say Rhee’s been doing a good job,” Whitehurst said. “She’s undoubtedly challenged the status quo. No rational person could have been happy with the status quo here before.”

The changes were drastic, and the reactions matched them. Not surprisingly, teachers unions fired back the hardest, claiming Rhee cooked the numbers during the teacher evaluation process so she could bolster her public image by coming down heavily on DC teachers.

“I’m not sure what the motives here were,” Washington Teachers’ Union President George Parker said in the Washington Post, “except a big splurge of news to show that this chancellor was the big hero cleaning up the D.C. schools.”


    Michelle Rhee has used Dr. Clifford Janey’s blueprint for the reform initiaves that were put in place prior to her taking coming to DCPS and her loss will be positive for our city, our educators and our students. We have an educational gap between rich and poor students which equates to black and white students in this city that borders on criminal.

    Dr.Janey’s contract with the Newark Public School system is not being renewed because you can’t measure a superintendent’s performance by only 36 months.”
    The decision not to reinstate Janey’s contract is based on a move by the Governor, Newark’s Mayor and others in the state to implement ambitious school voucher initiatives throughout New Jersey while also having private corporations run school districts. Janey, Oliver notes, resisted those efforts.
    “There has been a lot of talk about implementing these new initiatives in the state,” said Oliver. “And I suspect that Clifford Janey did not support the whole menu.”

    He is now a “free agent” and it will be a benefit to Washington DC if he were to be made Chancellor to “REPLACE” Michelle Rhee, since the reform plans being utilized are his. Let’s not forget “Dr.” Janey has earned his stripes in this area through something Michelle Rhee talks but does not walk; she is merely a “Chancellor” because she lacks the educational degrees necessary to be a “Superintendent”; she lacks a Doctoral degree. Earn it and then Learn it, Ms. Rhee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Swale/1546506349 Robert Swale

    “I’m not sure what the motives here were,” Washington Teachers’ Union President George Parker said in the Washington Post, “except a big splurge of news to show that this chancellor was the big hero cleaning up the D.C. schools.”

    Maybe the motives were perhaps educating children instead of feathering your own six figure job Mr. Parker? The teachers unions have had several decades now to do something about these substandard schools and they have done nothing but whine about their pensions and other benefits. Ms. Rhee is an american hero and should be revered as such no matter what happens to her job. It’s the poor and black residents of D.C. who need to realize that they are the ones being screwed not by Republicans or Teachers Unions but the Democrats who protect and enable the teachers unions despite knowing that they are out of control.

  • libertyatstake

    Whichever conservative gets elected Prez in 2012 should appoint Ms. Ree to tear down the Education Department brick by brick.

    “Because the Only Good Progressive is a Failed Progressive”

  • Pingback: Michelle Rhee won’t be new DC mayor’s “girl” | Joe Sacramento

  • Major_Skidmark

    Sounds like Mrs Rhee is a kick butt kind of gal. We need more like her.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Job-Force/1565184983 Job Force

    We did our own analysis regarding the election issue of DC contracts to friends of Adrian Fenty and here’s what we found out with ‘NO SPIN’ . Check it out and decide for yourself, then pass it on. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsUUHQWdNj8
    Please vote responsibly.

  • didacticrogue

    Rhee’s successes have guaranteed that she will never want for work. I hope (against hope?) that the voters and/or new mayor of DC will not be so short-sighted as to lose her and/or force her to leave. If they are, it will be The District’s loss, and some other miserable school system’s gain.

  • webelieveinfenty

    “We Believe in Mayor Fenty” – Please check out the videos that we have created in support of the Mayor. It shows a Ward 6 mother supporting Mayor Fenty, a Ward 3 mother, and a small Latino business, La Morenita, expressing their strong support.


    We also created a poster for each Ward, where you can print, post and show your friends that the Mayor Believes in the District.


    Twitter: @WeBelieveFENTY

    Vote FENTY – September 14, 2010!