Rhee Rebuffs Criticism of DC School Reform

Chancellor says tests scores are up, bureaucracy is down

Last week, dozens of fired teachers and angry parents filed into a 15-hour council hearing to complain about the three years of school reform under D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Only a handful of witnesses said positive things about the strong-willed chancellor, who was brought in by Mayor Adrian Fenty to perform a massive overhaul of the much-criticized system.

Today, Rhee herself took the witness stand before the council to answer her critics.

"We set an ambitious pace for change in order to produce results worthy of the children and citizens of the District of Columbia," Rhee said in her opening remarks.

For a while it seemed like a rerun of the old school board days when council members questioned Rhee about individual school issues, rather than broad policy statements. Many council members have been lobbied hard by Hardy Middle School parents who are upset that popular principal Patrick Pope is being reassigned.

Marion Barry complained about news reports that Rhee has hired a public relations person for $100,000 (with private funds) to help shape the school image. But Barry drew laughter when he said he had used one or two "spin doctors" himself.

Rhee's opening statement detailed her three years of rising test scores, reduced central office bureaucracy and fewer schools with better teacher assignments.  She didn't back down from the pace of changes but agreed she could do more to publicize her changes and to involve more community people in her decision making.

At-large council member David Catania said he voted for change and strongly supports Rhee's efforts.

"You are producing more change more often than the community can consume," Catania said, adding that it can be "hectic" and "frightening" to parents and school employees. But Catania and other council members said they voted for change and support Rhee's strong moves -- as long as she better explains herself.

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