Rhee’s five big missteps

Jay Matthews

Richard Whitmire’s deft and revealing book about former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee chronicles a difficult time in the history of the city’s schools, when good people fought hard against one another because of sharply contrasting views on how to help our children.
The book is “The Bee Eater,” the title a reference to a moment when Rhee as a young teacher gained respect from her unruly Baltimore students by killing and swallowing a wayward insect flying around her classroom. The point was that this young woman had a taste for aggressive, if sometimes unappetizing, action.
The question of Rhee – her history, her iron confidence, her successes and failures – is still a hot topic. I got twice the usual page views on my blog last week just by raising the issue of her early teaching results. In this book, Rhee fans like me will enjoy remembering her unexpected success in bringing energy and sanity to the District’s central office, closing 23 underused schools and getting an innovative new teachers contract. Her critics will nod as they read of her needlessly alienating city officials and good teachers and carelessly reawakening the race issue. Whitmire makes his admiration for Rhee clear but seems as baffled by some of her decisions as many of her friends were.