Embattled Michelle Rhee appears on 'The Oprah Winfrey Show'
Updated: September 21, 2010 - 04:10 pm
Let’s get this out of the way: Michelle Rhee does not get a car from Oprah. She does not jump on a couch. She doesn’t talk about outgoing D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty or presumptive mayor-elect Vince Gray, who wasn’t presumptive mayor-elect when the show was filmed earlier this month.
Rhee, the embattled D.C. Public Schools chancellor, has become one of the most-watched figures of the District’s post-primary transition. And where do embattled people often show up? Oprah Winfrey’s couch, of course. She appears today on The Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss public education as part of an episode that helps promotes the documentary Waiting for "Superman."
"This is a warrior woman,” Oprah says of Rhee, who is featured in the Davis Guggenheim documentary. “She is a warrior woman.”
Rhee does discuss the challenges of firing an under-performing instructor in front of the sympathetic Oprah audience, which gave her a warm reception during a commercial break, according to Winfrey.
"It's actually incredibly difficult to fire an ineffective teacher,” Rhee said. “You have to basically meet a criminal standard. That’s what's crazy about it. The rules were initially put in place for the all of the right reasons with the unions, to protect people from nepotism and unfair practices and that sort of thing. But it has become this bureaucracy that is almost impossible to overcome.”
Rhee said she wouldn’t want her own children in the classrooms of poorly performing teachers who were given a second chance, and she didn’t want other parents stuck in that position, either.
"That is absolutely ludicrous and it completely goes against everything that we believe in,” Rhee said.
Rhee cited a dismissal case that involved a longtime District teacher who fell asleep on the job, was fired, filed a grievance, and instead received a suspension. The teacher came back and was later eventually fired after a verbal incident with parents, Rhee said. She also discussed the controversial 2008 termination of Marta Guzman, the former principal of her daughters’ school, Oyster-Adams Bilingual School.
“Probably the most disheartening thing about that was the parents from the school, a lot of them were upset and they came up to me and they said, ‘Well surely, Michelle, she could not have been the worst principal in the District,’” Rhee said. “And I said, ‘Is that the standard that we have? Not the worst?’ That’s not good enough for our children.”
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