Our Rhee on Rose: When Kevin got hissed!


This has the faint sound of a novel: Although it apparently wasn’t his, George Burns was famous for saying it:

“Sincerity is everything in show business. Once you learn to fake that, you’ve got it made.”

That’s how it works in show business. To understand the American discourse, you have to master three basic concepts: Novels, scripts and “zombie facts.” (Paul Krugman; just click here.)

When Michelle Rhee sat down with Charlie Rose, Charlie inquired about her husband. Rhee is married to Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, the former NBA all-star.

Johnson has also been involved in urban education. Until we’re shown that he has failed in some grotesque way, we very much respect his efforts. But when Rhee responded to the (leading) question from Rose, we thought we were possibly hearing a novel.

After Charlie told Rhee who her husband was, this is the story Rhee told:
ROSE (2/18/13): Does Kevin Johnson believe the same things you do about teachers unions?

RHEE: You know, so—

ROSE: He’s your husband.

RHEE: This is my husband who is—

ROSE: The mayor.

RHEE: —the mayor of Sacramento.

ROSE: Former NBA all-star.

RHEE: That’s right. It was interesting. When I first met Kevin Johnson I was— I was listening to him speak, and he was talking about the fact that when he retired from the NBA, he decided to go back home to the neighborhood that he grew up in and start a charter school. And he said that when he went into the school, it was one of the lowest-performing schools in the city and he said, “This is what I’m going to do, we’re going to make this school great again,” and the teachers you know all clapped.

And he said, "A week later I came back and people were hissing and booing as I came in and I realized the teachers union had come in and told them, ‘This is terrible, you’re going to lose your jobs,’ etc.”
Did that actually happen? Presumably, the school is question is Sacramento High, Johnson’s alma mater, which he opened as a charter in 2003.

But did that story actually happen? To us, it has the feel of a novel. First, the teachers all clapped for Johnson. But wouldn't you know it? Just one week later, “people” were hissing and booing!

In that week, the fiendish union had struck—the fiendish teachers union.

As we said, we respect Johnson’s efforts. Beyond that, teachers and their unions aren’t always sensible or right. But did that story actually happen? In a slightly saner world, we would expect a major broadcaster to challenge or question a tale which seemed to have such a novelized feel.

That isn’t what happened here. Here’s how Rose reacted:
ROSE (continuing directly): Yes, yes.

RHEE: And the teachers union spent $750,000 to try to make sure that he couldn’t open the charter school. And when he— When he told that story and I listened to it and I thought, “Wow, we have something in common!”

ROSE: "Radical: Fighting to Put Students First." Michelle Rhee, thank you.

RHEE: Thank you.

ROSE: Good to see you.

RHEE: It’s good to see you, too
“It’s good to see you, too,” Rhee said. We’ll guess she really meant it.


  1. Rhee is a despiser of teachers and a liar as this obvious hate-filled lie shows us. The story is completely impossible as any teacher would know in an instant and any thinking person would know on consideration.

    I have never had so much disdain for Rhee as now, and I have long known what a liar she is.

  2. I guess the most disappointing part of this story is that Rhee is married to Kevin Johnson, who by all accounts is a decent guy trying to make a difference in his city. Her poisonous attitude toward teachers and their union is likely to contaminate his thinking as well. I continue to lose respect for Charlie Rose, who maintains his pose as a serious man but seems in reality to be an empty suit.

    1. Don't know where to begin on Charlie Rose, so I'll just go with the Wikipedia article on him, "Personal":

      "Rose's twelve-year marriage to Mary Rose (née King) ended in divorce in 1980. Mary is the sister-in-law of Morgan Stanley Chairman John J. Mack. Since 1993, his companion has been socialite and chairperson of the New York City Planning Commission and director of the city department of planning Amanda Burden, a stepdaughter of CBS founder William S. Paley.[19]
      Rose owns a 575-acre (2.33 km2) farm in Oxford, North Carolina, an apartment overlooking Central Park in New York City, a beach house in Bellport, New York, an apartment in Washington, D.C.,[3] and an apartment in Paris, France."

      Empty suit, indeed. In NYC, you'd recognize Rose at a glance as someone posing as an intellectual and journalist but really just part of the tediously powerful in-crowd. He married the right women -- I guess he's got some kind of charm of the right kind....

  3. Michelle Rhee represents all that is wrong with educational reform. It's reform by insistence that "Even though I've never been in your classroom, school or community, I know better. You're fired."

    I taught at Sac High. KJ and Superintendent Dr. James Sweeney did a bait and switch, offering to help SHS better serve its students. Teachers were open to discussion at first but it soon became a blame game in which we were told that we didn't know how to teach.

    At one time, SHS was a model of inner-city educational success. In the decade before its closure, Sac High had more specialized programs to offer than any other campus in the city. Among them, the Visual and Performing Arts Centre (the 1st of its kind in California), Math and Science, Medical Studies, ROTC, AVID to name a few.

    Sac High's failures were led by an incompetent administration that pretended to care about documentary evidence. They took a state grant and mis-spent it. When the state threatened to take over administration of the school, the district closed the 2nd oldest high school west of the Mississippi River.

    What really happened is that documentation led to whole populations being cast off in an effort to move targeted individual students from one quartile to the next. Staff was cut out of decision making. Edicts from the administration came to us as "givens". We were told that we didn't "understand" the kids. Discipline in the halls was a joke.

    Instead of helping the community of Oak Park, the school was closed and made into a charter school. The Sac High campus was no longer the community school, but was only open through application. Students living within sight of the campus had to transfer to other high schools outside the area. Of course, scores improved. The low performing student was no longer a part of the community. The Oak Park area of Sacramento continues to suffer the diaspora. One of California's most distinguished teaching staffs was cast to the winds of retirement, reassignment, and seeking employment outside the district.

    The better solution would have come from a state take over. Institution of clear-minded administration and management would have saved Sac High for its community.

    Real reform is needed in the public schools. Proper reform will come from true open dialogue, study, development of new methodology, and standards that can adapt to every student and school. Not form the arrogance of elitists who won't acknowledge that experience has much to offer and wisdom that cannot come merely from theory and opinion. We've got to look at all the facts on the ground.

    1. Very interesting explanation and worth continuing. What did KJ accomplish in all then?


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