Nov 29, 2008

DC School's Mascot - Broom Toting Rhee

DC Schools Chancellor Rhee (AKA The Broom Lady) gets the cover story in the soon to be released Decmber 8th issue of Time titled "How To Fix America's Schools". In the cover picture, Rhee appears with a broom. Sound eerily familiar to a former DC mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly who vowed to clean house with her infamous broom ? Some would argue that Rhee is on a singular mission to get rid of teachers (good and bad) and that she suffers from tunnel vision because she lacks multifaceted solutions to complex problems that plague public education and fails to include all of the stakeholders. Are you 'Yeah' or 'Nay' on Rhee's vision to save DC Public Schools ?

In the Time story, reporter Amanda Ripley reports that "Rhee has promised to make Washington the highest-performing urban school district in the nation, a prospect that, if realized, could transform the way schools across the country are run..." Ripley also looks at where President-elect Obama stands on education. (This subject of what should happen to No Child Left Behind sparked interesting conversation by many on line commenters. Of particular interest to me is a comment posted by Suzie from Maryland. Suzie sums up her thoughts this way: " Rhee is right that too many crappy teachers stay way too long in some of our schools. But I think she as someone earlier said needs to get more of those involved on board. She can do that by looking at what problems other than bad teachers lead to low student achievement and working on those problems too. Her current tone and singular mission isn't the way to do it. Black and white answers to problems shaded in gray won't solve those problems."

Suzie's entire post: "Now I understand better where Dee was coming from in the previous post though I still don't agree with a lot of what she said. I'm guessing that Dee is a Rheephile..If I had to sum up everything I learned as a historian in two sentences: Very few things in history and life have one cause. Also, very few things in history and life have one solution..To get less technical, I will quote wvng and say that there's no magic pony. Very little in life is black and white. So when, according to the article, Rhee blames the lack of achievement by students in inner-city schools pretty much solely on teachers, that worries me. Yes, there are sucky teachers in schools. I taught alongside some of them. I agree that it should be easier to fire them. But teachers alone can't solve the problem, in my view, as I said the other day. A few extra thoughts: First, teaching is like any other skill. You can get better through practice and study of that skill, but some people are just naturally more talented than others. Yes, you can attract more talented teachers through pay incentives. But does Rhee really think there are enough genius-level teachers who are ALSO willing to work incredibly long hours (as would seem to be necessary, given her requirements for teachers) to staff EVERY classroom in EVERY school in EVERY city? Even at a high pay ?

Second, I will second (!) what several others have said. Rhee is going all-in on her plan. But where is the data to back up the miraculous results that she thinks will occur?
Third, she taught for three years. Three. The same number I taught for, also in an inner-city school. Obviously, I feel like I know enough to run off at the mouth about the topic on the Swampland website. But I also have many family members in education, and you won't find me anytime soon claiming that I personally know how to fix all public schools. It's hard to build a grassroots movement when you only got a glimpse of what those grassroots look like--and moreover, she seems to be more into top-down management than bottom-up leadership. Does she have any mechanism actually to help improve the skills of teachers she finds lacking, or is it simply "meet my somewhat unclear requirements, or you're fired"? Wouldn't it be somewhat less expensive in the long-run to train at least some "substandard" existing teachers to meet her standards, rather than firing all of them?

One last thing: The snide tone of much of what Rhee said was really troubling to me. The parts that particularly grated: "They bicker over small improvements such as class size and curriculum, like diplomats touring a refugee camp and talking about the need for nicer curtains." And: "In the hallway, she muttered about teachers who spend too much time cutting out elaborate bulletin-board decorations...".Here's my point: these things matter. Maybe not as much as getting rid of obviously incompetent teachers, but they do make a difference. I taught a class of twelve one semester, and another of 32. I'll give you one guess as to which group of students got the most attention to their individual needs and difficulties.

As far as those bulletin boards, my mom is a second-grade teacher whose results (which are actually provable! imagine that!) are pretty much those that Rhee wants. Mom has taken kids reading at a 1.0 level and gotten them to 3.0 by the end of the school year. And yes, she spends a lot of her own time after and before school working on bulletin boards, along with homework, lesson planning, parent contacts, etc.You know why? My mom has found that when kids--particularly young kids--have a cheerful, neat, and creative (apparently a deadly word for Rhee) environment around them in the classroom, they tend to be more orderly and excited about school. At the beginning of each year, Mom laminates cuts out a big, bright cardboard cupcake with a candle on it for each student, and puts their name and birthday on it. Silly? Maybe. But it tells each student that she cares about them as individuals, and they love it. It gives them a sense of investment in the class and in their teacher. It means something. It takes time, though--time that Rhee might say is a waste..." Friday- November 28, 2008- Picture and post courtesy of Time. (posted By The Washington Teacher).


Anonymous said...

The magazine is Time, not to be confused with the New York Times or the LA Times, or even the Times of London. When one refers to the Times, it is NOT Time magazine, which is called Time for short (or for long). These are important distinctions that educated, literate people with first rate educations know. And we are, because we are DCPS teachers, despite what Rhee thinks of us. We know who we are.

The Washington Teacher said...

Thanks for the clarification Anonymous. In my zeal to consistently keep my blog updated, I almost find that I need an editor to catch the minor snafu's. The use of Times was a slip on my part.

Hopefully other posters will focus on the real issues at hand. I also encourage others to check out NYC educator's blog on this same subject @ titled: The American Way.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Candi, for making the correction and when I read and re-read the piece, I'll comment. But as for now, it is ironic that reporters at the national level (WSJ, Time and others) have had more access to Rhee than our local reporters, including Bill Turque, covering the DCPS beat. This was pointed out possibly on the DC Wire blog. In a way this national exposure Rhee is getting may be good. She might get offered some great job that will TAKE HER OUT OF DCPS!!!

jcan said...

Thank you for posting this article. The interesting part of this story is the recollection of students of meeting with Rhee. Once the students started asking for things of substance Rhee became "vague." I think Rhodes realizes that he was exploited by Rhee, by the end of the story, "Rhodes did not contact Rhee again." And he says he wants to major in "Public Adminstration, with a minor in English" because "that's what I have to do to take Chancellor's Rhee's job." Good job of inspiring the kids Ms. Rhee. Rhodes had a painful lesson that anyone who trusts Ms.Rhee will soon learn it not about the kids "only the celebrity".
Move over Paris and Britney, biggest celebrity in the world contest has a new contestant.
As you been reporting Candi others have noticed that Anacostia bathrooms are still "filthy and sometimes unsafe." Good Job!

Anonymous said...

After reading the article in Time, I can't help but wonder a few things. If Rhee is so insitent that great teachers can make all the differnece in students' lives, despite family socio-economic status, etc, than why is she so sold on TFA, TNTP and DC Teaching Fellows? Especially Teach for America (TFA), nicknamed Teach For Awhile. These people just dabble in what we do for a living, day in day out, year after year. Shoot, some of the teachers in my school have taught the parents of some of the kids, they've been in the field for so long. And doing a great job, too. It may take a teacher 2 or 3 years to get good at what they do. Rhee herself admits it took her a while to get a handle on discipline. By then, most TFA teachers are out the door and on to law school, where they had planned to go all along. But why is Rhee putting so much stock in TFA and similar programs?

MsMalarkey said...

Excellent post. I am interested to read the Time article, though I know it will serve to make me angrier than I already am.

As others have already said, Rhee has total tunnel vision when it comes to fixing the schools.

She reminds me a lot of previous administrators who have worked in my school and district and know nothing about working with people. Being intelligent is important, of course, but she and others like her only know how to be bullies. She does not realize that she will get real results if she implements her reforms WITH teachers, instead of AGAINST them. Joel Klein in NYC needs to learn the same thing.

DC parent said...

At this point - I feel like our only hope is the children - as wildly dysfunctional as they may be, they still have good common sense. At Hart, Rhee had to have two body guards escorting her at all times, cause I'm sure if they caught her alone for a second, she'd be posing on Time with two black eyes and a swollen mouth - Ms. Smart-Ass!

tauna said...

Hi Candi,

I want to thank you for visiting my blog, commenting, and inviting me here. I'm impressed!

I teach far from the DC scene (in New Mexico) but I try to keep up daily with what is going on nationally. Thank you for the valuable resource you are providing. I'm thrilled to be able to add you to my EdLink list.


Anonymous said...

Rhee's leadership style is that of a bully- mean, rigid and arrogant. A truly exceptional leader should be able to inspire people while holding them accountable. Dictators are never successful.

Anonymous said...

Linda Darling Hammond and Colin Powell as a team for Secretary of State with Dr. Biden and we'll see this Public Education ship sail and get back on course with a fair balance of interest with the Charter team. Colin Powell for inner city reform! That's my vote and then he teams up with Hammond and Biden!Rhee needs to go be captain for the autonomus schools somewhere. Colin Powell could take the toughest schools in any city and turn them around working with Hammond and Biden.The media says Obama is picking his Secretary of Education next week.Hang in there Anacostia !

Lindsey said...

Rhee has only a one dimensional game going transparent even the Anacostia student can see through it. Sad!!!

When she runs all the "bad" teachers out---as well as the good ones, what excuse will she then use for lack of student achievement....."the kids aren't effective enough?"

mommilan&jr said...

Rhee made a valid point. in this article and it hits home, because even though I am a teacher, I am a PARENT first! My stepdaughter is almost 9 and still cannot read... we just got full custody of her last year and have been playing catch up ever since... but like she said... this child may never catch up...and its not only her mother's fault. Her 1st head start teacher told me personally that the kids couldn't learn because of their environment (SE DC). The 2nd teacher never came to work so the aide had to teach, and she did not...not at all... the Kindergarten teacher did not teacher but gave a lot of run-offs for class and homework and most of it was coloring.. the head start tracer did too... even 3 year -olds need more than coloring all day! The 1st first grade teacher hardly saw my stepdaughter because her mom wouldn't bring her to school she repeated... and her 1st grade teacher last year was good, but could barely get much done because of the serious emotionally disturbed children in the classroom. This year she is in 2nd and the teacehr is pretty good, but 80% of the class is held behind... and come to find out the teacher the year before was on maternity leave for 5 months and a 1st year 1st grade teacher... the year before that they were with a teacher who parents have been trying to get rid of for years!!! If all that isn't real life proof that some teachers ARE NOT doing their job and children's lives can be set up to be unsucesseful... I don't know what else you folks want! But I want better for my kids and students, and if it requires giving up this and that... so be it!

This system is too touchy feely... if it were pin-pointed on your own personal kids.... u would be upset like me!

Anonymous said...


I have a child in DCPS too so this is real for me as well. It seems like some want to paint everything in black and white terms. Either we have a dictator or we have a system that promotes bad teachers.

I don't know what you mean when you say "this system is too touchy feely." Why because people think our leader shouldn't scowl and be disrespectful towards everyone? Or because people think that there can be a way to remove bad teachers without making all teachers at will?

mommilan&jr said...

Anon... no one seems to come up with any practical and NEW soulution to the problem but RHEE... so some think she is being disrespectful... but to me there is nothing more selfish and disrespectful than a teacher who refuses to push themselves a little harder to see that these children like my stepdaughter succed rather than trail behind further and further just because they "think" other factors keep her behind...maybe, but do your part to make sure that doesn't happen again... these are a different "brand" of children so we have to be a different "brand" of teachers.

Teachers are too touchy feely because WE think its all about US... CHILDREN FIRST!!!

I'd rather loose my job than to see my daughters' and son's futures fail because a teacher is upset at how her boss carries on! PLEASE!

And of course I understand that its a recession and the unemployment rate is high and that we all need a job...

of course she could maybe handle things better...but I stand by her saying that teachers need to be held accountable... because education is what we do and what most children in DCPS are lacking!!!

So what if their parent is on crack, or they haven't eaten breakfast that day, or is always sleepy, or they fight all day, or they have learning disabilities...etc, etc... there's ways around everything...if u put effort in...

Oh and yes, I have had all of these types of children as stated above...

The child on crack- I gave him the love he needed and the support that guided him to improve bit by bit through the year... and I worked on him skill by skill and goal by goal.

The child that didn't eat in the morning... I would sneak breakfast for him and/or give him some of mine.

The little girl who was always sleepy, I'd let her sleep...and when she woke up, she would do her work...and stay afterschool to finish or finish at recess..or lunch. Majority of the time... she would not sleep through lessons because she wanted to be invloved.

The child who fought most of the day... I kept his desk by my desk so that I could prevent fights before they started, and I would let him squueze my hands to get out his stress and frustrations when I saw him starting to reach his boiling point!

My stepdaughter has a learning disablity... I have been waiting on services for 2 years now... and with her... I know of course what she is missing and we start from there....she should not be geting the same homework as her classmates... but she does...and its frustrating for us all, especially her... and it causes her to withdrawl and close up! Now just imagine... half of DCPS children are like this!

Folks, it takes more energy (and this is factual) to frown and argue, then to grin and bear it!!! :)

I am NOT worried... about myself... ever... because I go above and beyond... but I have no sympathy for those who whine and cry and make excuses... that gets no one anywhere...

If you have no energy, your weight may factor, your age... God Bless...

but that is never an excuse that children should fail because you have "the right" to remain a teacher how ever long you wish... AGAIN ITS NOT ABOUT YOU!!!

I think I have said enough... proceed to prove me wrong...

Anonymous said...

you are a nut and your the only one who doesn't know it. Find a new blog to leave your lengthy therapist needing comments.

mommilan&jr said...

Candi... anon is name calling... Anon, and others, I asked you to prove me wrong and all you could give me is a useless "putdown."

You ARE an example of "the teacher who shuns out the child who is smart enough to question them... but instead of you giving an answer or NO response... you shoot them down with "whatever" and leave the question un answered...

"Would you please prove me wrong!?"

mommilan&jr said...

Also, again... let me introduce myself...

I am no newbie to DCPS.
I do think I have a valid point... and its not ment to please, but raise wonder...

I am a 31 year old mother of 3 in DCPS and I am an ECE teacher in a NW school.

I have a mother who was a teacher for 35 + years in DCPS and she was at more than 10 schools - all elelmentary. 5 of her DCPS years were served as a Content Specialist. She wrote the first set of standards MANDATORILY USED in schools for the Music departments ALL GRADES!

My father was a DCPD Officer Friendly in 8 different schools on all levels from PS-12th grade levels.

I attended 4 DCPS schools and I have worked at 8 different schools (2 were summer school sites)-PS-12 grade levels. I have also worked at 825 as an admin asst. during the summer of my second year of being a teacher.

My husband worked at 3 schools elem and jhs levels. He attended 3.

My son is in daycare and will be in DCPS next year, and my daughters (who have always attended different schools) have been in a total of 4different DCPS schools.

Not to mention the friends and family I have working in DCPS as well.

At this point in time folks, I have been in almost over 50 different school buildings witnessing all types of different groups of teachers and administrators. It was on both ends on why the children are failing....and EVERYTIME I witnessed it it was because of a Principal who lacked their Administrator skills or a teacher that lacked Educator skills... not to mention People or "Little People" skills.

I DO NOT AGREE that all responsibility should be left on the Principals... BUT something has to be done!!!


Me, my mom, my dad, my husband ALL want better than we had, which was not as bad as now I don't think... in our years attending and working for DCPS before the late 90's to the present...

We want this for my daughters and son... if I could afford private... I would! That's where my parents sent me the first half of grade school... on a teacher and police salary...but not anymore... not with 3 kids either...

If you can relate...think about it, if not... don't bother...please and thank you!

Excuse me for being so passionate for my own kids and other children as well...

The End

Anonymous said...

Momilian, I am interested in why your stepdaughter, if she has a learning disability, is not getting services. Does she have an IEP? Because if she does, SPED services are to begin the day after the IEP is signed. What I've noticed in my school, which is considered a decent one, is that teachers don't want to do the paperwork that is required to either retain a child or go through SST then all the way to having a child evaluated for a learning disability, then special ed services. Teachers, and the ones in my school are good and hard-working, just don't want to do all the paperwork, even though they should.
Also, about the teacher parents have wanted fired. Were there instances of child abuse/corporal punishment? Did the parents just complain among themselves or actually do something? What was the problem they had with her?
I appreciate what you wrote about how deal with a hungry child. You eed them. My collegue, an older white lady who has since retired, always had crackers and a jar of peanut butter to give a kid a little something.
I love your can-do attitude. But most of it is common sense and a teacher's (really a mother's) love for a child. I hope most of us still have it.

Anonymous said...


I am the ANON who challenged your belief that teachers are too touchy feely but I am not the ANON who called you a nut.

I still don't agree that teachers as a collective group are too touchy feely. Why do you believe this? Because teachers want support from their principals, appropriate classroom resources, adequate school staffing, a meaningful school wide behavior and discipline plan, training to better address the educational needs of students who are several grade levels behind and are disruptive?

Because teachers want to be held accountable in a respectful way and not scapegoated for all of the deficiencies of our messed up City?

Just because a person believes that we should not give up tenure does not mean that they want the system to keep incompetent teachers. Why should it be an either or question?

In response to your step daughter: you acknowledge that her biological mother was neglectful even to the point of not sending her to school. I think this had a huge impact on why she is so far behind. Yes, if she had a bad teacher one year that also compounded the issue. Maybe the teacher the next year who was absent frequently had legitimate medical problems. Maybe the teacher was like your friend Heather from Nalle who could not handle students with disruptive behaviors and just quite mid year. I don't know. The point is that the situation is very complicated and you can't blame all of the problems on all teachers. If your mother was still in the system she would be one of the ones Rhee wants to get rid of and who she mocks about having nice bulletin boards and being jaded regardless of how great of a teacher she really was to her students.

Anonymous said...

You guys need to go buy red rubby shoes and wear them to school.Come on Toto and let's get on down the yellow brick road. We'll get that broom to the Wizard of Oz !