Rhee Defends D.C. Tenure Ahead of Book Release

Rhee: "If bringing some commonsense solutions to a dysfunctional system makes me a radical, then so be it."

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBCWashington.com
    Michelle Rhee

    Former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee broadly defended her management style Sunday ahead of the release of a new book describing her educational philosophy.

    In an interview broadcast on ABC's "This Week," Rhee told interviewer George Stephanopoulos that she was doing "absolutely the right things" prior to her departure from DCPS in October 2010. She is currently the founder and head of the political lobbying group StudentsFirst.

    "My style is -- is very deliberative and very focused on doing what's right for kids," Rhee said. "And so I wouldn't change that so much. But what I did learn about my experiences in D.C. is that what we were doing, I think, were absolutely the right things. I needed to focus a little bit more on how we were communicating those things and how we were doing things."

    Rhee courted controversy almost from the moment of her arrival in 2007, closing 23 schools and firing 36 principals in her first year in the position. In 2010, Rhee fired 241 teachers under the terms of a new contract with the teachers union. Later that year, she resigned as Chancellor following the defeat of then-Mayor Adrian Fenty by Vincent Gray in the Democratic primary.

    Rhee's aggressive style drew massive public attention. Rhee made the cover of Time magazine in 2008, and made an appearance in the 2010 documentary film Waiting for Superman. Earlier this year, PBS' Frontline program aired a documentary called "The Education of Michelle Rhee," which showed the chancellor firing a principal. Rhee appeared to regret that decision Sunday, telling Stephanopoulos "So should I have fired ineffective principals? Absolutely. Should I have done so on national TV? Probably not."

    Rhee's critics have also raised allegations that she failed to adequately investigate allegations that principals and teachers tampered with students' answers on standardized achievement tests. A review of her forthcoming book "Radical: Fighting to Put Students First" by Washington Post education reporter Bill Turque notes that Rhee "glosses over" the issue.

    "It's interesting," Rhee said at the conclusion of her interview with Stephanopoulos, "because when I first got to D.C., people said, 'Well, gosh, she's so radical, she's a lightning rod,' and in my mind, I was doing the things that seemed to obvious to me, you know, closing failing schools, removing ineffective people, cutting a central office bureaucracy.

    "And finally, I came to the conclusion that if bringing some commonsense solutions to a dysfunctional system makes me a radical, then so be it."