Remember her? The former Chancellor of DC Public Schools. She was called the face of reform of public schools in the US-especially in DC. On her first day on the job she said, “I am Michelle Rhee. I’m the new chancellor of the D.C. public schools … and no, I have never run a school district before” (CNN). Nailed it.
She has no degrees in education, and three years of classroom experience with Teach for America (TFA). In her first year with TFA in the Baltimore City Schools, she failed miserably. So on the first day of her second year, she took a different approach. “I wore my game face. No smiles, no joy; I was all thin lips and flinty glares. My mistake the first year was trying to be warm and friendly with the students, thinking that my kids needed love and compassion. What I knew going into my second year was that what my children needed and craved was rigid structure, certainty, and stability” (Substance News).
She taught second grade.
According to Kugler (2010), “Rhee admitted that she taped shut the mouths of her young students because she could not control their talking”. According to Rhee, she tried the tape method after she was unable to keep the little ones from making noise when she marched them through the hallways to lunch. In an even more disturbing revelation Rhee laughed about when the tape was removed hurting the children- some even started to bleed (Substance News).
In 2007, after three years with TFA, Rhee was appointed as School Chancellor by DC’s newly elected Mayor Adrian Fenty. In her time in DC, she closed schools and fired teachers. Lots of teachers. According to Deal (2008), Rhee, “… gained the right to fire central-office employees and then axed 98 of them. She canned 24 principals, 22 assistant principals, 250 teachers and 500 teaching aides. She announced plans to close 23 underused schools and set about restructuring 26 other schools (together, about a third of the system). And she began negotiating a radical performance-based compensation contract with the teachers union that could revolutionize the way teachers got paid” (The Atlantic).
She spent three years as a highly polarizing figure in DC, and a self-proclaimed change agent for what’s wrong with public schools, though there is no data to support her success. She left the job in 2010 when Fenty lost his reelection bid for mayor.
Well she’s back in the news this week. Rhee and her husband, former Sacramento mayor and NBA player Kevin Johnston started a charter school chain called St. Hope in Sacramento, CA. Rhee is on the Board, and though her husband was a founder, he is no longer affiliated with the chain.
The Los Angeles Times reported this week that teachers at St. Hope want to unionize, citing growing discontent over the schools’ management and high turnover of staff, teachers, and administrators. A majority of teachers, school psychologists, and other certified educators signed a petition to be represented by the Sacramento City Teachers Association (which is an affiliate of the California Teachers Association and the National Education Association).
The chain’s four schools employ about 100 teachers. One teacher said, “Our desks are old, we have to fight for resources for kids — and when we asked where the money’s going, we never get a full answer” (Phillips, 2017). The union says that educators are frustrated with the network’s lack of transparency regarding school finances and their evaluation system. Salaries fluctuate by as much as $10,000 a year, based on observations from “often overworked and inconsistent” administrators (Brown, 2017). A science teacher, earned an unsatisfactory rating after creating a new course, at the school’s request, then received his contract for the fall: “It was for $10,000 less than he’d made the year before” (Toppo, 2017).
“Our kids deserve consistency,” said Kingsley Melton, a government teacher at Sacramento Charter High, who is in his sixth year of teaching there. “In many cases, our students come from homes where there is no consistency. They need us to be the constant and not the variable.” Kingsley said teachers also want more transparency from the administration—“We have never seen a budget,” he said. “We don’t know where the money goes and why” (Will, 2017). Melton also said, “Next year I’ll have my seventh principal — and I’ll be in my seventh year” (Toppo, 2017).
In response to the request for unionization, Chief of Schools Shannon Wheatley expressed disappointment in employees who want to form a union. Wheatley said he had worked for a traditional public school “that prioritized the needs of adults before those of children.” …I came to St. Hope so that I didn’t have to deal with union politics and adult issues dominating the day” (Phillips, 2017).
Rhee has offered no comment.
Another charter school story with a different twist. Another story of Michelle Rhee doing what she does. With Betsy DeVos taking all the news lately, thanks to Michelle for providing fodder for this week’s blog, which could have been called Charters and unions: The continued failure of educational reform. People always say of weather forecasters – how can they be wrong 100% of the time and still have jobs? Is this also true for reformers? I’m going with yes.
These are my reflections for today.