Oct 13, 2010

The Post's Bill Turque takes your questions about Michelle Rhee's resignation, her controversial tenure as D.C. school's chancellor, where she could go next and the likely candidates to replace her.

Hi All -- I'm Bill Turque, DCPS reporter for The Post. Happy to take your questions.

What does this mean for the union contract?

So far as we know, the union contract remains binding and in full force. Of course, it will be renegotiated in two years.

What do you think she will be doing next?

I suspect that she'll return to the non-profit/foundation world, maybe opening her own firm that helps school districts launch the kinds of changes she attempted here. She has said that DC is her first and last public school leadership job, and I tend to believe her.

More from The Post

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post Photo)

STORY: Michelle Rhee resigns as D.C. schools chancellor

DeBONIS: Michelle Rhee and the perils of the national stage

POLL: D.C. Schools Insider - What grade would you give Rhee?

FULL COVERAGE: Michelle Rhee

The quality of a school is measured by the tenure of the superintendent. A good superintendent that stays ten years typically has a better system.

School systems that flip superintendents like pancakes at IHOP suffer and the children reflect it. The other secret is parents participation.

 Your absolutely right, especially about the parental participation piece.

Is a black DC school chief  what Mayor Gray wants?

I honestly don't think Gray approaches the issue that way.

Michelle Rhee is being praised for attempting reforms yet criticized for alientating key policy makers. Could reforms have been attempted without alientating these leaders?

 That's a question that I think peopel will be debating for quite some time. We may start to get an answer when Gray takes office and tries, as he has promised, to be more inclusive and collaborative on school reform issues. If the pace of change slows or stalls, or strategic initiatives started under Rhee fall by the wayside, then we'll know.

Do you agree that the fallout from Rhee's decision to "restructure" Hardy Middle School was a factor in the election that cost Fenty thousands of votes ? Would you also agree that her handling of the Hardy situation was one of the main reasons that Gray was not going to retain her as Chancellor anyway ?

 I think the Hardy episode was important, but not decisive. Rhee and Gray were clearly at odds about her decision not to retain Patrick Pope, but that whole situation was part of a much larger tapestry.

Where to next for Ms. Rhee? Another school system? A book deal? Speaking gigs? Combination of all three?

Books and speeches for sure. Another school system? Doubtful. She has said that DC isher first and last superintendency, and I tend to believe her. I also think it would take a mayor willing to essentially cede all his power over schools to hire her. Not many of those.

Does Rhee's contract provide for a severance package when she resigns? (i.e., is this really a resignation, or is she being forced out, making her eligible for severance?) What will Kaya Henderson's salary be as the interim chancellor?

Working on that as we speak. Been looking around for a copy of her contract that's in my files somewhere. Don't know yet about Henderson's salary.

I have very mixed emotions on this. I think she had good ideas, but she was so darn arrogant. And she fired those teachers with no due process whatsoever. I'm hoping her replacement can achieve the same results without antagonizing half of the universe.

 That of course is the big question --  can you make fundamental changes in an institution like DCPS and do it in a collaborative and consensual way. I think we'll find out.

Of course, Ms. Rhee is the hero(ine) of the movie. However, my children andI are proof that you can get a good education in public schools. I was left with the impression that if those parents put the same energy into improving the public schools that they put into getting their children into charter schools, the public schools would be much improved as well.

Your sentiments are in line with those of many others who saw Waiting for Superman.

Bill: Do you think that Mr. Gray offered her the position of do you think that she quit? Your take on it. thanks

That's something we're still trying to sort out. Late Friday afternoon, my collaeague Valerie Strauss raninto Gray outside The Post building. He said then that he was still open to retaining Rhee and if he thought she was the best choice for the city he would "swallow it," meaning forget about all of the campaign season rhetoric. What exactly happened between then and now, we're not sure.

When will she be gone...exactly?

End of the month, we believe.

Do you think that the teachers union will attempt to undo any of Ms. Rhee's achievements? Why is consistant, quality education in public schools so difficult to achieve?

 The IMPACT evaluation system is quite unpopular with teachers and may be something the union pushes to modify.

Why are both the mayor and the council chairman apparently unable to distinguish between a campaign event and a government event? I was astounded that a change in DCPS leadership was treated as a campaign announcement!

Gray won't be mayor until January, and won't even be formally elected until next month, so as a practical matter everything he does until then is a campaign event. But Fenty was there, and made it clear that he will act on his authority to name Henderson.

Seems to have gone out the door with the new union contract. I agree it's ridiculous to rate 98% of all teachers as excellent, and also agree with Courtland Milloy's column some days ago that the contributions of many good teachers extend far beyond the classroom.

Having said all that, I really am not sure how to evaluate them fairly. Whatever method you use, you should not be so high-handed about it!

 Your comment distills what bothered a lot of people about Rhee.

I live in California and am concerned she will step into a political appointment as an educational czar here if Meg Whitman becomes governor. Ms. Rhee will attempt to gut and privatize the public school system. I still cannot understand how someone with only 2-3 years of experience as a teacher was chosen as D.C.'s Chancellor. Why was she appointed Chancellor? What were her qualifications?

I strongly suspect that Rhee will not be back in a public sector job any time soon, if ever. As for experience, she came highly recommended to Fenty by New York school chancellor Joel Klein, who used her teacher recruiting firm the New Teacher Project.

I heard some people are surprised she didn't wait until the end of the school year or even the next. Me, I'm surprised she didn't split sooner. What do you think?

I'm somewhere in the mushy middle. I didn't expect to stay until the end of the school year, but I thought she might stick longer than she did to smooth the transition. Henderson's appointment I think obviates some of those concerns.

I just want to say that I am heartbroken that Chancellor Rhee is being forced out. What a fabulous job she has done in DC -- really set the stage for long-term improvements in DC. Such a shame that the union was able to defeat her reforms -- and this coming from a former (non-teacher) union officer with lots of respect for unions.

Not sure that it's accurate to say the union defeated her reforms. Some of them are locked into the collective bargaining agreement, and Gray promised again today that he would keep moving her program forward. We'll see.

Michelle Rhee always stated her actions were in the best interest of the children enrolled in DC schools but her departure (in the middle of the school year ) reeks of selfishness.

After pretentiously stating Fenty lost his re-election bid based solely on DC residents' unwillingness to stomach tough reform, she then has the audacity to hit the national circuit touting her rough and tumble style as the ONLY answer to under-performing schools.

Why was this woman's grandiosity allowed to hijack the (much needed) school reform debate? Why do you think Rhee's approval is so split along racial/socio-economic lines?

  Her supporters would say that she didn't hijack the movement, but gave it new energy. Her story was a naturally compelling one: diminutive Korean-American woman comes to town to take on entrenched interests such as union and bureaucrats. The race thing always bubbled beneath and above the surface. Generally, I think the schools in the city's poorest neighborhoods were slowest to benefit from Rhee's initiatives. There were also some critics who I think simply would never accept a schools leader who was not African American.

I understand why this story is important but this coverage gives an impression that all DC students attend DCPS. Or that Michelle Rhee is the head of everything in the District.

Nearly half of DC's children attend charter and private schools. Rhee has nothing to do with those. There is also a State Superintendent's office that oversees all these schools.

I have respect for what she has done but I think her importance has been overblown. Her role was important but not singular. There are other players and processes in place to determine the future of DC schools.

It would be nice to see more reporting on the role of and movers and shakers in OSSE, charters and private schools in the District.

 I think that's a fair criticism. The public schools beat at The Post used to be split between two reporters. Now there's just one. But even so, I'm hoping that with Rhee leaving DC airspace there will be more opportunities for thoughtful coverage of the charters and OSSE.

Thanks all, it's been fun.


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Bill Turque
Staff writer Bill Turque covers education for The Washington Post.
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