Michelle Rhee on D.C. Kids' 'Crappy Education'

Schools Chancellor Rhee is national face for education reform.

September 15, 2010, 2:13 PM

Sept. 16, 2010 -- Washington, D.C., Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee does not mince words.

"They are getting a crappy education," Rhee said while discussing the district's schoolchildren in an interview with ABC News. "I mean, you could try to sugar coat it all you want. Subpar, or whatever. But what it is in terms that everyone can understand -- they are getting a crappy education."

It could be comments like that, not to mention aggressive and controversial education policies, that landed Rhee in the spotlight of the new documentary "Waiting for Superman," and could possibly cost her her job.

Rhee, who has become the national face of education reform, could end up jobless after D.C. voters ousted Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Under Rhee's three-year watch, more than 200 teachers have been fired. Almost 20 schools have closed, and pay has been tied to merit evaluations. But test scores have shot up for elementary and secondary school students, and teachers' salaries were raised.

"The situation we inherited three years ago in Washington, D.C., was absolutely deplorable," Rhee said. "People need to understand that and if that makes people uncomfortable, then so be it."

The victor in Tuesday's Democratic primary -- and therefore almost a sure winner come November in this overwhelmingly Democratic city -- is City Council Chairman Vincent Gray, a chief Rhee antagonist at oversight hearings.

Gray has not said he would fire Rhee, but he hasn't said he would keep her on either.

"I have said on many occasions that after this election is over, I'd like to sit down with Michelle Rhee and let us walk and talk through it, you know, how we might work together," Gray said on CNN Tuesday.

Rhee had campaigned for Fenty. The Washington Teacher's Union campaigned for Gray.

"This has been a significant change in direction, and it's going to require me sitting down with Mayor Fenty, the chairman and other people to see what's in the best interests of our kids," Rhee said Wednesday in an interview with MSNBC.

Rhee Feels Guilty About Fenty Loss

"I do feel sort of bad and guilty," she said. "This man, Adrian Fenty, is truly the best leader I've ever worked for. We need more leaders like him who are willing to stake everything to make sure our kids are getting a good education."

Obviously, D.C. voters disagree. And so do the leaders of local and national teachers unions.

An op-ed Wednesday morning by George Parker, president of the Washington Teacher's Union, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, made no mention of Rhee. The article was titled "No Turning Back for D.C. Kids," and it suggested that the teachers would be happier and work more collaboratively with Gray.

"Public education is a marathon, not a sprint. Yes, there's urgency to fixing our schools, but we have to set ourselves on a long-term path toward constant and sustainable progress," wrote the union leaders.

President Obama stayed out of the race, but Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appeared at an event with Fenty and Rhee in the closing days of the campaign. It was not a campaign event, but Duncan announced $75 million in new federal funding for D.C. schools. He was noticeably absent from any event with Gray.

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