Political Animal


March 30, 2013 4:43 PM What Michelle Rhee doesn’t want you to know

By Kathleen Geier

What’s good enough for other people’s kids apparently isn’t good enough for the daughter of Michelle Rhee.

As The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss reports, one of education reform advocate Michelle Rhee’s daughters apparently attends an elite prep school for grades 5-12 that charges tuition of upwards of $20,000 a year. On one level, the hypocrisy is hardly shocking. Elites tend to educate their little darlings at ritzy private schools, where they can mingle with the scions of other elites. This happens even when said elites are public servants (which Rhee is no longer — though the same cannot be said of her daughter’s father, who is Tennessee’s commissioner of education).

Still, Rhee is famous for her zealous advocacy of what Strauss calls “a corporate-based school-reform agenda that uses standardized test scores as the major accountability measure for students, schools and teachers.” Yet her daughter goes to a progressive school that takes a very different approach, emphasizing small classes and educating “the whole child.” It sounds very nice, actually.

But the hypocrisy here really is rich. Worse still is the way she’s handling it. First, her spokesperson misleadingly announced that Rhee is “a public school parent” (because one of her kids goes to a public school. But the point is, the other doesn’t!) Now her representatives are clamming up entirely, saying, “It is our policy not to discuss where Michelle’s children attend school out of respect for their privacy.” But as Strauss points out, Rhee frequently speaks about her children in public.

This is a minor piece of dishonesty compared to the other scams Rhee has been involved in. But the clear “dogs won’t eat the dog food” inference that can be drawn here is damning. Would you buy for your kids the product that Michelle Rhee is trying to sell?

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • exlibra on March 30, 2013 5:47 PM:

    Rhee is a model proponent of that age-old tradition: quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi. I'm just surprised that she didn't stash both of her children in a fancy non-public school, while she worked, tirelessly, to dismantle as many public ones as possible for everyone else.

    Me, when it comes to our ed system, I'm a Randi Weingarten fan.

  • c u n d gulag on March 30, 2013 6:07 PM:


    If you could afford it, would you send YOUR child to the kind of school Ms. Rhee lobbies for?

    What's good enough for your'n, ain't near good enough for her'n.

    It's like health care, if you were a Congressperson, would YOU want to pay for crap care that the rest of us get?

    They may be imbeciles and morons, but they ain't THAT feckin' stupid!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • R on March 30, 2013 6:46 PM:

    So you think that no one who wants and can afford the absolute best eduction for their children should every be allowed to work in the public sector? We're all worse off in that case.

  • Citizen Alan on March 30, 2013 7:02 PM:

    I would be sympathetic if Michelle Rhee were working to make all schools as good as the one her darling little lamb is attending, but she is, in fact, doing just the opposite. She gets paid a large sum of money (enough to afford that fancy school for the little lamb) by advocating for the complete destruction of the public school system that serves all the dirty peasants who aren't fit to receive an education as good as the one the little lamb is getting.

  • Mike on March 30, 2013 8:09 PM:

    Using standardized tests as "accountability measure for students, schools and teachers" destroys the usefulness of the tests. They must be administered scientifically (think double-blind drug trial). When you pay or fire the test administrators and teachers based on the results you are changing those results. Standardized tests should measure the lay of the land, help to allocate resources and formulate and assess changes in curriculum and strategy. So many "reformers" who fixate on tests are con-artists selling the fiction that education can be improved without spending money.

  • emjayay on March 30, 2013 10:10 PM:

    There is no question that urban schools are in many cases still not that great. It's all about the clientele, and the dynamics that result when so many students come from dysfunctional violent segments of society. This isn't news. Efforts by schools to change the dynamic are called for. The KIPP school approach is one very good one. Not spending more money and contracting out to profit making businesses is not a very good one.

    We wouldn't even need KIPP or similar schools if we didn't have large poor dysfunctional violent segments of society. It's a product of the increasingly skewed income distribution in this country, recreational drugs being illegal creating lucrative illegal business opportunities, and (here he goes again) the existence of housing projects (or disguised as middle class townhouse housing) projects which create a multigenerational dysfunctional segment of society based on violence and dependency.

  • emjayay on March 30, 2013 10:35 PM:

    Concerning "her daughter’s father, who is Tennessee’s commissioner of education" - they have been divorced since 2007, six years ago. She has been married to Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento, California and former NBA player and graduate of Harvard Divinity School since September 2011. He has had a demonstrated and ongoing interest in education for some years. Also a number of sexual assault and harassment allegations.

  • Anonymous on March 30, 2013 11:09 PM:

    Her daughter goes to Harpeth Hall. Like most good schools it doesn't focus overmuch on standardized tests, but it isn't "progressive." Progressive schools have no grades and let children call their teachers by their first names and growth their own food and stuff.

    Harpeth is actually a fairly conservative girls prep school, as far as private schools go. It's famous for a capella singing on the academic steps and its celebration of George Washington’s Birthday.

    Perhaps the worst thing about the increasingly use of bubble tests is that now apparently schools that avoid them get labeled "progressive." The excessive focus on standardized tests is neither progressive nor regressive, it's simply a quick way to appear to be "measuring outcomes" and "focusing on results," without really looking into how education works. Schools that eschew such a focus aren't necessarily progressive; they're often more traditional.

  • devtob on March 30, 2013 11:41 PM:

    Were it not for her billionaire benefactors and a compliant media, Michelle Rhee would have been, long before this bit about her kid, thoroughly discredited as a cheater and a shill for those who want to privatize public education.

    And forced to earn an honest living.

  • Andrew J. Lazarus on March 30, 2013 11:51 PM:

    I didn't like this argument used against the Obama daughters at Sidwell, and I don't like it here. Perhaps the kid has the sorts of problems that make public school a dubious choice? You expect Rhee to go in public and say "My daughter has [severe learning issues; social phobias; etc.]? I didn't think so.

    There is enough to hang Rhee with, without this. Please.

  • Lolly on March 31, 2013 12:25 AM:

    Just to repeat--the issue is not really that she's sending her kid to a tony private school.

    It's that she's choosing to send them to one that follows principles close to the opposite of what she's trying to force on everyone else.

    And she's collecting wheelbarrels of money from corporations that have an interest in destroying the public education that we have now and replacing it with a for-profit system where tax money goes to corporations with profit, no education, as the main priority.

    Obama isn't blameless in all this--not because he sends his children to a private school (the president's kids have unique security requirements) but because he welcomed this grifter to the table instead of tossing her out on the street.

  • gloria on March 31, 2013 7:46 AM:

    When a parent sends one child to a private school while others in the same family attend public schools, there is often a specific issue related to the child. I live in the south and have three children, one of whom is openly gay. Fortunately, that child is able to a attend a public performing arts magnet school that is very accepting. If I didn't have the option of sending my child to this magnet school, I would beg, borrow, or steal to send him to a private school rather than risk his safety at our local football-crazy, gay-bashing high school. I don't know why Michele Rhee has chosen to send one child to a private school, but perhaps the underlying issues are private.

  • big sean on March 31, 2013 10:44 AM:

    Gloria, point taken. But as far as I know you aren't the face of corporate sponsored school
    "Reform" you don't collect huge speaking fees to forward its agenda and you didn't leave a chancellorship of a major city in a cloud of testing scandal. Michelle Rhee is guilty of all the above and her circumstances put a spotlight on her that she is obliged to understand. If poverty is NO EXCUSE then either is AFFLUENCE.

  • Slideguy on March 31, 2013 1:29 PM:

    Michelle Rhee is a very smart woman. Sociopaths always are. She knows her case is bullshit, but she keeps selling it because that's where the money is, and she doesn't care about all the kids who are collateral damage. Hers are safe.

    Our schools are failing for the same reason that our society is failing. The enormous increase in the wealth of the already wealthy, and the quickly diminishing fortunes of the poor and what's left of the middle class. The wealthy can afford, and have been allowed to buy their way out of the problems the rest of us face, and are no longer concerned with us. We don't matter, and neither does the school system that they no longer use.

    Finland's school system has a well-deserved reputation for excellence, but when asked if their model could be used in the United States, one of their administrators answered no, because their school system was based in the equality of their society.

    Quite frankly, we're doomed.

  • Mustang Bobby on March 31, 2013 3:08 PM:

    Ms. Rhee herself is the product of private schools. She graduated from Maumee Valley Country Day School in Toledo, Ohio. Take that for what it is worth.

  • Phil Perspective on March 31, 2013 4:48 PM:

    Andrew J. Lazarus:
    You can't equate the two. Do Rhee's kids get hassled at school? Doubt it. For better or worse, in this day and age, children of what ever President is in office will never go to public schools again. Why? "Security."

  • Chad Humber on March 31, 2013 5:43 PM:

    The KIPP school apprahc is NOT a "very good one". KIPP creates the appearance of success by carefully selecting students both on the front end and especially on the back end by churnign out anyone who is likely to pull down their standardized test scores. I am fascinated by the fact that KIPP in Austin TX and Albany NY both have washout rates around 60%.

    What KIPP is is a very racist, uncontrolled, very conservative honors program. It is as racist and elitist as the public schools that track all black students into lower-level classes. It is a dropout factory. It is a scandal.

  • gcwall on March 31, 2013 7:35 PM:

    The idea that a person is acting according to his true nature, when serving his economic interests ignores the fact that it is one aspect of his nature and not necessarily the primary one.

  • Andrew J. Lazarus on April 01, 2013 12:51 AM:

    Do Rhee's kids get hassled at school? Doubt it.

    And we doubt it, why? I doubt if Rhee's kid in private school would be hassled because of family connections, but there are also sorts of other reasons that she might not be a good fit for a public school: educational, social, psychological, whatever, and it's not our business.

    The fact Rhee sent another child to a public school should tell you this is a sneak attack on Rhee using her child, not even an attack on hypocrisy in general.

    I've seen conservatives claim that large numbers of public school teachers, presumably most opposed to Rhee's corporatist policies, send at least one child to private school. What are we to make of that?

  • Matthew G. Saroff on April 01, 2013 12:40 PM:

    The Daily Beast article is showing "page not found".

    I'm wondering if someone scrubbed it.

    Google cache is still available though.

  • bbbbmer on April 03, 2013 12:10 AM:

    There are a few questions that are worth raising about Michelle Rhee.

    1) As head of DCSchools how many MILLIONS OF DOLLARS did she kick back to her former husband's TFA-knockoff to supply non-union scab teachers to replace those she fired;

    2) Who is stifling the investigation of her own test score cheating scandal that everyone seems to know about but no one seems to be doing anything to prosecute;

    3) Why has she hired one of DC's premiere criminal lawyers to defend her against any results from what appear to be ongoing efforts to reopen the case against her;

    4) Why do her own children live in Kentucky, when she lives with current husband Kevin Johnson in Sacramento, himself a charter founder, and seven time alleged child sexual abuser with a history of both child sexual abuse and sexual harassment of employees at his 'school' that remain unprosecuted due to payoffs to victims, engineered by Rhee, herself, as published in archived articles in the Sacramento Bee and Phoenix Sun newspapers, authored by Dorothy Korber and Terry Hardy, who were fired for unearthing these deep dark secrets....

    The answers to THESE questions would be NEWSWORTHY, to say the least...