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DC schools chief approval ratings down, but customer satisfaction is up

Photo courtesy of Stockvault

Photo courtesy of Stockvault

What am I to make of a recent Washington Post poll that says D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s popularity has fallen—yet people are happier with the state of their schools?

It makes no sense to me that her “performance rating” has fallen from 59 percent last year to 43 percent this year. Or that her disapproval rating is 62 percent among African-Americans.

Test scores are up. Violence and crime are down. The quality of textbooks and other instructional materials has improved. Bad teachers are being taken out of the classroom.

This is exactly the progress that Washington, D.C., residents have wanted to see for the past 30 years, a period when a revolving door of superintendents and a variety of school governance models ensured that every step toward improvement was disrupted by political infighting and a sharp turn in policy direction.

Certainly Rhee is no saint. She’s made some questionable decisions. She’s also made her share of public relations blunders. She’s challenged the politically powerful teachers union and annoyed some parents with her willingness to make unpopular decisions, like closing their low-performing neighborhood schools.

But if concrete results are being seen, do people have to approve of how she’s doing things?

I’d like to think not. But given how special interest groups in Washington, D.C., have wasted decades of school reform by fighting on behalf of the status quo—and against anyone who challenges their privileges —it’s always possible that talk of Rhee’s popularity is just a sign that people once again are going to put adults ahead of children.

We are, after all, a society that likes quick fixes and immediate gratification. And slow, steady progress is boring. So there are always going to be those ready to junk what they’ve got—and get excited about a new “savior” of the schools who will “shake things up.”

Maybe I’m making too much of a simple poll. After all, we all love polls. We conduct polls about everything.

I just hope this poll simply reflects citizens’ feelings—not their intentions. I’d hate to think that education policy could ultimately be determined by a popularity contest.

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|February 4th, 2010|Categories: Governance, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |


  1. Claus says:

    It’s also important to note, however, that unpopular leaders can sink popular reforms. The Baltimore Sun recently came out with an editorial speculating that Baltimore’s superintendent, who champions many of the reforms Rhee has made her hallmark, will do better than Rhee, because he has been able to build support and collaboration in his district. PR blunders and ham-fisted communications can cripple a reform strategy. That’s something reformers always have to keep in mind.

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