Two Years Later, Rhee Still Viewed as Hailing From Outside the Beltway

By Liana Loewus — June 12, 2009 1 min read
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Today marks the two-year anniversary of Michelle A. Rhee’s appointment as chancellor of the D.C. public schools by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. Take a look back at Alexander Russo’s blog post from this day in 2007.

At the time she stepped into the position, Rhee was characterized as an “outsider” because she was entering from the nonprofit sector (also because she was young, female, Korean American, and TFA-bred, but the nonprofit angle was easier to explain away). Today, many would say the characterization still rings true, but for a different reason: Rhee makes it a point to emphasize that her loyalties lie only with the students, not with the teachers or the status quo bureaucracy. She has dismissed dozens of principals and hundreds of teachers that she deemed ineffective. Her disinterest in saving jobs has angered educators, parents, and union leaders. (Her curt manner and blunt language haven’t done much to ingratiate her either.)

And though the news media have been merciful—OK, even fawned and groveled at times—Rhee struggles to gain headway with those education players who’ve been entrenched in the D.C. game for years. It’s possible she will continue to remain “outside” as long as she stays pinned to a self-imposed agenda, resists collaborating with stakeholders, refuses to sugarcoat the dismal realities of the system, and aims recruitment efforts at a “new breed” of idealists who are willing to sacrifice their personal lives to make a splash themselves. Rhee seems to believe that outside is where she has to be in order to make changes—and ultimately a name for herself. Others may see it as a futile effort.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.