While Michelle Rhee isn’t in danger of losing her crown as the nation’s Education Queen of All Media, the District of Columbia school leader’s popularity is taking a bruising hit back home.
Fenty, who took control of the school system and hired Rhee within six months of taking office in 2007, is up for re-election this fall.
In January 2008, 59 percent of residents approved of her and 29 percent disapproved. Now residents are divided: 43 percent approve of what she’s doing, and 44 percent are dissatisfied.
Even so, residents said in the poll they believe safety and teacher quality have improved since Rhee took over.
Rhee has the opposite problem of many superintendents and other politicians: her reforms are more popular than she is. Most leaders find they are unable to transform their personal popularity into lasting traction for their policies.
Both Rhee and Fenty have taken the hardest hits among black Washingtonians—an unsurprising fact, since that group comprises most of the city’s teachers. This group, however, is among the District’s most consistent voters.
Rhee has had a famously tense relationship with the city’s teachers’ union and invoked the ire of many more residents after an October layoff of 266 teachers, a move Rhee said was necessitated by budget cuts.
That relationship became even more strained last week, after Rhee took several days days to explain comments she made to a business magazine that inferred several of the teachers dismissed had physically and sexually abused students.
But in a story in today’s Post, Rhee said that she’s fine with not being popular—a sentiment she has expressed more than once.
“The bottom line for me is that more people think the schools are doing better,” Rhee told The Post. “I know that people don’t like change, and if they associate me with change but like the results, that’s fine with me.”
But what will it mean for the re-election chances of her boss, the mayor?
As the poll shows, the two are inextricably linked in the minds of District of Columbia voters, something Rhee herself acknowledged last November, when she told a forum that she’d feel “very responsible” if Fenty was not re-elected.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.