Education Opinion

A Star is Born - But Who Gets Burned?

By Susan Graham — September 20, 2010 2 min read
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When our schools become movie sets for grownups seeking the spotlight, children are sometimes left in the dark.

Education movie starlet Michelle Rhee walked the red carpet at the Newseum for the premiere of Waiting for Superman. Just the day before Rhee’s patron, Mayor Adrian Fenty, lost his bid for re-election in a primary that was more about her than about him. During the press conference “panel discussion” she told the press

Yesterday's election results were devastating, devastating. Not for me, because I'll be fine, and not even for Fenty because he'll be fine, but devastating for the schoolchildren of Washington, D.C.

Not one to compromise, it appears Rhee has indicated no interest in staying on to work with Vincent Gray even though he has left the door open to discussion. And so, sticking to her principles, she’ll take the high road and she’ll leave those kids to their fate. I’m sure it pains her, but she has her wedding to Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento, to re-plan. And, as the heroine of Superman, she’s got a movie to promote - which began with a guest appearance on Oprah. It must have lifted her spirits when

Michelle Rhee, the D.C. Public Schools Chancellor, was cheered on Oprah for efforts in challenging an entrenched teachers union and firing one thousand under performing teachers in DC.

I wasn’t invited to any of the early screenings or the premiere, but apparently Rhee plays “Warrior Woman,” who struggles to improve education despite the evil machinations of a dysfunctional city government, inept school personnel, and a greedy self serving union. She does what no one else has been willing to do: fire all the bad teachers.

Why? Because someone has to protect children. Michelle told Oprah

The reality is that we have some ineffective teachers, some bad teachers, who are in classrooms every day who are doing a disservice to our children. The data shows if [children] have three highly effective teachers in a row versus three ineffective teachers in a row, it can literally change their life trajectory.

In a recent address to new DC teachers, Rhee related some horrific examples of the kind of criminal ineptitude that cannot be tolerated. She told of a teacher who put masking tape on the mouths of 35 children to keep them quiet on the way to the lunchroom - and how their lips bled when the tape was ripped off. This same teacher took children on a field trip without collecting parent contact information. When one of them didn’t know her address at the end of the day, this teacher eventually dropped the little girl off with someone in the neighborhood who recognized her.

It is outrageous that this teacher, who had spent only a few weeks in training to develop instructional skills, was not fired on the spot. Yet she continued to teach in a Baltimore school for three years. What is worse, the DC Public Schools hired her for an administrative position.

That incompetent teacher is Michelle Rhee. She shared these personal first-year “war stories” with her new teachers a few days before they went into the classroom for the very first time.

And do you know what they did?
They laughed.

See for yourself.

Well, the reform is starting to fizzle. The election is over, and the gig is up. But hey, the movie is going to make her a star and, as she has assured us, she’s going to be fine because it appears that she’s moving on to on to a fresh batch of kids, greener pastures, and some new projects as first lady of Sacramento.

Rhee is a darling of the media and a guest of honor at the school reform table.

Highly accomplished teachers are expected to “know their place”
and stay in lunchroom where they belong.

Is it any wonder that our children are still waiting for Superman?

The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.