Friday, July 01, 2011

The Bee Eater: Michelle Rhee Takes On the Nation’s Worst School District

Here's another review of Richard Whitmire's must-read book about Rhee tenure in DC, The Bee Eater: Michelle Rhee Takes on the Nation's Worst School District (, with some shocking statistics that remind us what an unbelievable sh*t show DC was before she arrived:

When Rhee enters the chancellor's position, though, the narrative switches to a different reality:

         In spite of terrible test scores, in the year before Rhee's arrival not one teacher was let go for ineffectiveness.

         One school Rhee visited was built for 600 students but had only 83.

         Twenty-seven D.C. schools faced restructuring for failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress, but when Rhee investigated, she says, "Most of the people I talked to were like, 'What is restructuring? What is AYP?'"

         When Rhee closed 23 (!) dreadful schools, some of the loudest protesters were those with the most to gain: parents of students.

         When Rhee was blocked from firing staff, she found them so incompetent that she told them to stay home.

         Her fierce efforts to improve schools with high black enrollment often earned her credit for a "white agenda."

Rhee's outsider status helped her enact reforms against these nonsensical circumstances and brave the repugnance of the Washington Teachers' Union, Washington Post columnists, and city council members.


The Bee Eater: Michelle Rhee Takes On the Nation's Worst School District
By Richard Whitmire
Jossey-Bass, 2011, $24.95; 270 pages.

As reviewed by Mark Bauerlein

Soon after her widely publicized appointment as chancellor of the Washington, D.C., schools, Michelle Rhee devoted a day to school visits, some of them unannounced. At one, an odd thing happened. When Rhee and her party rang the bell at the entrance, the principal herself opened the gate and gazed at them questioningly. She had no idea who Rhee was.

That's the first of many anecdotes in Richard Whitmire's fast-moving chronicle of Rhee's life and career that impart the strange, dismaying world of public schools in the nation's capital. He focuses on her tense three-and-a-half-year tenure, the battle lines remembered by everyone—Rhee vs. the city council, Rhee vs. the teachers unions, vs. the Washington Post, vs. black parents. What isn't as familiar, and sometimes downright perverse, are the many bizarre yet customary conditions under which Rhee operated, which Whitmire portrays in illuminating (and infuriating) detail.

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