This year, the bug to watch out for is the spotted lanternfly, a stunning polka-dotted menace that feasts on the interior plant sap of grape vines, fruit trees and more.
Maryland and D.C. “race to the top” — securing millions of federal dollars for schools. And Virginia’s attorney general sets off a courthouse scramble by authorizing stricter state oversight of abortion clinics. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Michelle Rhee Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools
- Donna Edwards Member, U.S. House of Representatives (D-MD, 4th Congressional District)
Politics Hour Extra
In response to questions about whether she’ll stay in her job if D.c. council chair Vincent Gray defeats Mayor Adrian Fenty this year, DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee says she thinks the best thing for D.C.’s children and school district is to have leadership in the school system that is “aligned with the mayor.”
DCPS Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee addresses questions on the IMPACT teacher evaluations and making the results of those evaluations available to parents.
Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD) talks about the Democratic Party’s election year challenges, including ethics charges against two of her colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour" featuring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers who moved to Ward 6 because he knew the nationals would be relocating there. And now that Stephen Strasburg is going to be having Tommy John surgery, Tom Sherwood is probably thinking about moving back to Ward 3.
MR. TOM SHERWOODI can't think of a better place for him to recuperate than in Southwest Washington. But letting you know this is the biggest story for three people, for him, as a young man to face possibly career-ending surgery, for the fans who have been having a terrific time buying his jersey and showing up and cheering the games, and third, for the team, the team player...
NNAMDIThe team had one responsibility, one.
NNAMDIProtect these guys.
SHERWOODNo, you -- well, you can't protect somebody who throws his arm like that, but then -- but this is a bad news for the team. And it's bad news for the ownership, which has been making money off of this young man. I hope it all works out well, but it is -- I saw the pitch.
NNAMDIThat was their only job. Protect...
NNAMDI...this young man.
SHERWOODYeah, but he has to go out and throw. And I saw the pitch. And when he winced, I said -- I texted my son at that very moment, said, that's more than a strain.
MS. MICHELLE RHEEYep. I saw that too.
SHERWOODAnd it was really horrible.
NNAMDIWhy are you joining the conversation? You have not yet...
SHERWOODYou have not yet been introduced yet.
RHEE...but I saw the pitch too, and then Kevin and I...
SHERWOODIt was horrible.
RHEE...went to a game.
SHERWOODIt was horrible.
RHEEI mean, we watched him pitch.
NNAMDIYou have not yet been introduced. Our guest...
SHERWOODWe have a new analyst.
NNAMDIOur guest is the...
RHEEI could be the sports analyst.
NNAMDIOur guest is the school's Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools system, Michelle Rhee. Chancellor Rhee, thank you for joining us.
RHEEThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAllow me to invite the phone calls. Have them come in early and often, 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, a tweet @kojoshow, or you could simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there.
NNAMDIMichelle Rhee, you have said that when it comes to reforming the schools, you don't see the same kind of commitment from Vince Gray that you see from your boss, Adrian Fenty. However, you've also stressed repeatedly that your approach is about putting the interests of children in front of the interests of adults. That said, what responsibility do you feel to the students within the system for maintaining steady leadership at the top of it? If Mr. Gray wins, don't you owe it to those children to try to work with him if he wants you?
RHEEWell, I don't think that there is a direct connection between steady leadership and effective leadership. And one of the things that I think is important for people to understand is that I think that the best thing for the children, the best things for the school district and the best thing for the city overall, are, is to have leadership in the school system that is aligned with the mayor. And I think that to have a dynamic where you have the school district head and the mayor at odds and fighting in the media and that sort of thing, I just don't think that that is going to be in the best interest of the kids or the city in the long-term.
NNAMDIMr. Gray has said in the past that he has had no problem working with you. It's your boss that he may have had a problem with from time to time. Don't you think you owe it to him and certainly to the children to at least see if it could conceivably work if he were to win office?
RHEEI think that would be a certain -- certainly a valid thing if I had not, you know, been working in the city and with him for three years. And I think that, you know, the chairman has made no secret of the fact that he has really disliked a lot of the reform efforts that we've put in place. And, you know, if you watch any council hearing where we've been there, and I think you can see that over and over again. So, you know, it's not as if somebody new who I don't know is coming into the game, and then I think it would be appropriate to sort of feel that situation out and get to know the person, that sort of thing. But the chairman and I have worked together for three years, and I think it's very clear where we stand.
SHERWOODThis is a fairly definitive statement. Seems to me you're saying, you're just short of a declarative simple sentence that I will enforcedly have to resign if Gray wins. Are you saying that?
RHEEThat is not what I am saying. And I am...
SHERWOODWell, you sound like you're very close to that.
RHEENo. And I have to be very careful because of the hatch-out rules...
SHERWOODYou don't want a threat.
RHEE...and all of those things.
SHERWOODI know you don't want a...
RHEEAnd I don't want -- I mean, you know, the -- part of the challenge is that I really try to stay out of it and, you know, completely. And then people -- well, said, well, people need to know. And so I started to comment, and then people said, well, why are you throwing yourself in the middle of this? So I really want to just stick to the things that I have said in the past.
SHERWOODWell, Chairman, okay. How about...
NNAMDI(unintelligible) you throw yourself in the middle of it. It is, in part --this election, that is -- about you. And I'm saying...
NNAMDI...if I am Vince Gray...
RHEEI disagree, and this why.
RHEEI think that this election has to be about these two men. And these two men have very, very different philosophies about education reform, very different stances about what we need to do in order to move the city schools forward, and so I think the decision has to be made based on these two people, these two politicians, who have very, very, very different viewpoints about what the next steps are to improve the schools.
NNAMDIIf Vince Gray gets elected to office and says, Michelle Rhee...
RHEEI'm not answering any of those questions.
NNAMDI...I want to have a conversation with you.
RHEEI'm not answering any of those questions.
NNAMDII want to talk with you about something.
RHEEI'm not answering any of those questions.
SHERWOODWell, I'll try. The fact is, last fall...
SHERWOOD...when you fired the first segment of teachers, and there was a subsequent rally on Freedom Plaza across from the Wilson Building, the city hall headquarters, Mr. Gray spoke to the fired teachers. What did you think about that? Was that the kind of support you say that you need, that you would not get from a Mr. Gray that you get from Adrian Fenty?
RHEEWell, the chairman repeatedly called for the reinstatement of those teachers despite the fact that I repeatedly said that a number of those teachers, in fact, the majority of those teachers, were people that I did not believe were serving kids well, that I did not believe, you know, he would want his grandchildren in those people's classrooms. And I think to repeatedly call for their reinstatement in a blanket way absolutely did not show...
SHERWOODAnd when you...
SHERWOOD...and there's a policy issue, as far as -- excuse me for interrupting, but this is radio. The second round of firing in the spring, my understanding is that before it was publicly announced, you actually were on the phone with him and explained it to him in detail. Yet his -- yet to -- either back you on the second round or to question you -- again, is that the kind of thing you're worried about?
RHEEWell, let me just say this, instead of talking about it in the negative. Let me talk about it in the positive. I think that what I need, in order to be effective as a leader, is the full support of the mayor. And, you know, as a, aside to that, I mean, when I talked to Mayor Fenty about where we were with the terminations and, you know, the fact that I was very sensitive to the fact that he was, you know, the election was upcoming.
RHEEHe said, you know what? We have to do this. We have to move forward with it. He said, because if this is going to mean that more kids have great teachers in the fall, then we're not going to look at the polling numbers. We're going to make the decision that is right for kids. And it's that kind of, you know, focus and just putting kids in what's in the best interest of the kids above, you know, anything else, I think is what we need in order to continue to push this reform effort in the city.
NNAMDIVince Gray has released an education plan, a 12-page blueprint, that calls for a community-based approach to reform among other things. Have you read it? If so, what do you think of those ideas in terms of your own conception of school reform?
RHEEI have read the plan. And, you know, I think a lot of the things that he talks about in the plan, I'm in favor of. We're actually already doing the vast majority of those things, so, you know, I don't think that there's anything in the plan that's alarming at all.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones, here is Harold in Washington. Harold, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HAROLDOh, hi. I just want to say hello to everybody there. I have a quick question for Chancellor Rhee. I have a relative who's in special education in D.C. public schools, and I tend to think sort of the Roman council's approach to public policy. The day after everything that you say you're going to do, the day after everything you proposed you're going to do is done, what does it look like? And how does it improve on things? So I just wanted to find out from Chancellor Rhee, what exactly are you proposing for special education? I mean, it's very problematic right now.
HAROLDSo the day after you -- you now have all the resources you need. Everything is in place. What does special education in D.C. public schools look like? And how is it, you know, how does the professionals who have to make it work, how are they better off because of everything that you propose to do? And I'll take your answer off the air.
NNAMDIThanks for your call, Harold.
RHEEI think that's a great question because the special education system in the city is one that has for decades been really troubled. And we have not been serving our most vulnerable children well. We are beginning to turn the tide on that. My special -- my deputy chancellor for special education, Richard Nyankori, has been doing a phenomenal job over the last two years. And I think to answer your question quickly, we want to create an environment in which our special educators are well-trained and well-supported and well-resourced, so that they can provide our students with the quality of education they deserve, and for our special education students themselves that they are in environments that meet their individual needs and ensure that they are growing academically.
SHERWOODDoes that include mainstreaming in special classes? I have a friend who teaches in Florida, and he assists in the mainstream classroom. But he's there to assist the teacher, so he or she can get the work done with everyone.
SHERWOODWhat does it mean for special ed because the city has wasted a fortune on transportation...
SHERWOOD...which I don't think is necessarily your responsibility. But just trying to get kids from far-flung schools and get them into our system, is that going to actually happen in the coming years?
RHEESo you're talking about a couple things. One, inclusion, which is taking special education students and including them in mainstream classrooms by providing them with the support that they need, so your friend is probably a push-in teacher where there's an additional special educator in a general education classroom providing assistance to the special ed kids. That, for some special education children, is exactly the right environment for them to be in because we are required by law to put them in the least restrictive environment. For other students though, they actually do need a self-contained either classroom or self-contained and more restrictive school.
RHEEIn terms of your question about special education transportation, you're absolutely right. We spend upwards of $90 million a year transporting our students to a lot of private schools throughout the region. And we really need to look at what we're doing to build the capacity within DCPS to serve a lot of those students better, so that they can attend their neighborhood schools.
NNAMDIYou're listening to "The Politics Hour." Our guest is Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the District of Columbia public school system. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Who knew he has a friend in Florida who's not a bartender?
NNAMDIMichelle Rhee, it's been a busy week for you. Schools opened on Monday. You found out on Tuesday that the system will get $75 million from the president's Race to the Top funds. What challenges are you expecting to face in the upcoming school year? And how do you plan on using these new federal dollars to face those challenges?
RHEEWell, we are, I think, in a pretty fortunate situation. We did not see the level of budget cutbacks that many school districts across the country did, so we are going to be able to use the Race to the Top funds to really enhance what we're doing in the District. We will be receiving about $30 million over the next four years and direct grants to the District, and then we will be eligible for competitive grants of about 16 million on top of that from the OSSE but with that $30 million...
NNAMDII was about to say...
RHEEI'm sorry, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.
NNAMDIThank you, thank you.
RHEEMy apologies. With that $30 million though, we will be spending about 20 million of that on our human capital initiatives, so really both...
SHERWOODDoes that mean raises?
RHEENo, it means bolstering our teacher evaluation system and our professional development for teachers. We are going to put data coaches in schools to help teachers really analyze their student work and determine where their kids need to go. And we're putting about $6 million into helping to turn around our lowest performing schools.
NNAMDIOnto Epsilon in Washington, D.C. Epsilon, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EPSILONYeah, thank you. Chancellor Rhee, test scores have been used to justify the reform, and they should be used for measuring progress. The most recent scores that came out for AYP shows that 88 percent of the schools in Ward 3 made AYP while 86 percent of the schools in Ward 8 failed. The achievements gap between blacks and whites is even more telling. The lowest achievement level for whites is at Watkins on Capitol Hill, which was 83.78 percent and then it goes up to 95.69 percent at Murch. While in Ward 8, we have Stanton School with the achievement of black -- I mean, the achievement level for blacks is 12.72 percent. At Terrell, it's 28.23 percent. At Savoy, a brand-new school, is 21.62 percent.
EPSILONSo you're saying that we're not serving the most vulnerable, and you also said that you are making decisions that are right for kids. But which kids are you making the right decisions for when the children, our black children -- there's a tremendous achievement gap, and our black children are not achieving at the same level that the white children are. And that hasn't improved since you've been there. And the other point I would make is that I am a parent of a D.C. public school student. Thank you.
RHEESure. So let me address that really quickly. First of all, you're absolutely right that the achievement gap that exists between black and white students is significant in the city. It has been significant for sometime, and it is still at an unacceptable level. That said, I do have to differ with your point of view. If you look at the black-white achievement gap and what has happened over the last three years, that gap has actually narrowed. It has narrowed significantly at the secondary level.
RHEEAnd it has narrowed while all the subgroups of children have actually improved their performance. So we still have a tremendous amount of work that we need to do to ensure that race and socioeconomic status are no longer the determining factors of academic achievement levels in our student body. And that is an incredibly important priority for us. We have not solved that problem yet, but we are making significant progress on that.
SHERWOODThere was a, in The New York Times, a story in the last week or so -- I've been on vacation, so it's hard to keep the days straight -- but that New York, which Joel Klein had jumped ahead in many test scores, had fallen back in the most recent testing without getting into the details of the tests. The same thing has happened in the District. Is there a situation here where reformers such as yourself or Mr. Klein in New York, come in and make some dramatic changes at the very start, but then it's hard to sustain them or to build on them?
RHEESo, I think, that there's a lot of misinformation about the New York situation. To be very clear, in...
SHERWOODThe New York Times was misinformed?
RHEENo. But what happened in New York is they changed the cut score. So when...
SHERWOODThe what score?
RHEEThe cut score for proficiency.
SHERWOODOh, the cut score.
RHEESo, in the past, where you might say, okay, if kids meet 60 percent, make 60 percent or more of the questions correct, then they are on grade-level proficient. And when you, then, change that mark to be 75 percent, then you're going to see a significant dip.
RHEESo what they did in New York was they changed the cut score and that had a dramatic impact, but that doesn't mean that progress hasn't been made there. And if you look at the NAPE examination, which is a national exam, and the progress that has been made in New York across all subgroups on the NAPE examination over the eight years that Klein has been there, it's been tremendous. Their graduation rates and the improvement there, the attendance rates -- I mean, on every measure of progress in schools over the course of Chancellor Klein's tenure there, they have seen massive improvements. And I think that a decision that they made at the state level, which then impacted every school district in the state and then to be able to -- for people to somehow assume that that means that his reform efforts aren't working just kind of makes that...
SHERWOODIt just seems like test scores are now like the economy. You can -- for every person, you could have a different opinion...
SHERWOOD...what the test scores mean.
RHEEIt's tough. But I think this is one of the reasons why the common core standards and the common core assessment that Secretary Duncan and the President are pushing right now are so important because that will mean that we have a consistent nationwide task.
SHERWOODOne measuring stick.
RHEEOne measuring stick that everyone has the same cut scores, the same proficiency levels, and then we're really able to do an apples-to-apples comparison.
NNAMDIWe've heard from a number of people this summer who are lukewarm, to say the least, about your IMPACT system for measuring teacher performance, specifically -- allow me to read from this letter to the editor in The Washington Post from one Glenn Campbell. "I am a teacher in the D.C. public schools. I just got my IMPACT teacher evaluation. On a scale from one to four, with four being the highest, my final score is 3.18.
NNAMDIMy evaluation has two components, an objective component based on student test scores and a subjective component based on the opinions of people who have evaluated my job performance. On the objective half, my score was 4.0, but on the subjective half, it was only 2.36. There are lots of ways to interpret this huge discrepancy. The evaluators may have not followed the directions correctly. The directions of the evaluators were given may have not been correct. The evaluators may have falsified the numbers for some reason. You can understand why D.C. public school teachers are concerned about this IMPACT evaluation system. It looks like the school system doesn't have a clue about what a good teacher actually looks like."
RHEEYeah, I am so...
NNAMDIThere seems to be a lot of concern about the subject that has been said.
RHEEI am so glad you read Glenn's letter. Because when I read Glenn's letter yesterday, what I said -- what I wanted to say to Glenn was, you should be so happy we have IMPACT because what used to happen is that 100 percent of your evaluation was based on the subjective measures of your principals. And now that we have the objective measures, based on which he got 4.0, now it's more fair for Glenn. So Glenn should be thanking his lucky stars that we have IMPACT. Because if we would have kept the old system and it was only based on his -- on the subjective opinion of his principal, then he would have been rated much, much lower than he deserves to be rated.
NNAMDIIt looks like I just throw you -- threw you a softball, so here it goes. The Los Angeles Times has sparked a big debate in the education community. They are publishing data with names about the individual effectiveness of teachers there. How do you feel about what the paper is doing? And how would you feel if that data was released about your teachers, teachers in your system, individuals with names?
RHEEWell, let me just say this. I, as the chancellor, see a lot of data. And I was in a circumstance not too long ago where I was looking at data from my own children's school. And I was looking at a pair of teachers who taught the same grade level, one who had great value added data and the other one not so good. And I thought to myself, as a parent, I thought, oh, my gosh, I wonder which, you know, class my child is going to be assigned to, and I started getting nervous about that. And then I thought -- my second thought was, really all parents would want to have access to this data. And if they did have access to this data, they would be making wildly different decisions for their students. So I think that putting data like this out there is an important thing to do.
RHEEHowever, I also think it has to be done in a responsible way. People need to understand context, and they have to have a full picture of what this data both means and doesn't mean so that there's not an overreaction to it. And I think if done properly, it could really be helpful to a lot of parents.
SHERWOODSo you would consider doing that in the future if you could get the data out so people could understand it? 'Cause right now, this mayor's race and your tenure is exactly where people are all over the map philosophically about whether you're doing well or you're a disaster, whether you've blown up the system that needed to be blown up, or whether you've blown up a system that could have just been righted in some other way. So then if you get all these teacher's evaluations out there, it just seems to me it would create chaos.
RHEEI'm open to the idea of doing it again if it could be done in the right way. And I think that if you'd...
SHERWOODIf you're going to agree on what the right way is.
RHEEWell, yeah, but I think that's worth a conversation. And I think that, you know, the teacher's union here in D.C. has certainly been at the cutting edge of these conversations. And I think that they would be willing to have discussion about what data is important to share with the public.
SHERWOODLook, but the teachers union can't agree on even who the next president is going to be or what they're going to do to move forward. They are in chaos right now. I think George Parker is suing the American Federation of Teachers over some issue involving his reelection efforts and...
SHERWOOD...it's just a nightmare.
NNAMDIDo you think she's going to comment on this?
SHERWOODYes. If you don't interrupt, she will.
RHEEI'm not going to comment on that.
SHERWOODGive her time to think.
NNAMDIHere's Zora in Anne Arundel County. Zora, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ZORAHi. Good afternoon everybody. I am calling -- I'm a former Fairfax County educator and actually did my first two years in Prince George's County, so I understand the need for education reform. I understand that there are so many things that have to be done. But specifically, the role that Rhee placed in the education reform in D.C. -- Chancellor, I've heard you say on several occasions that you believe that teaching is not a career but a profession or vice-versa, and so...
RHEENo, that's not correct.
ZORA...that -- I just heard a recent interview with Charlie Rose a long time ago, but this sense of teaching is not meant for long-term (unintelligible) ...
RHEEThat's not correct.
ZORA...of it. Okay, I'm willing to not be correct, but I understand that with this whole new teacher project or Teach For America model, that a lot of African-American teachers are being replaced by young, white teachers who don't necessarily have long-term intentions. And so I wonder what impact you think that this has on the students and what kind of cultural competency teaching are these teachers getting before and after they enter the classroom.
ZORAAnd I'll take my answer off the air.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Zora.
RHEELet me first say that I've never said that teaching is not a career but a profession or anything like that. I'm not sure what the difference of (unintelligible)
SHERWOODI think I've heard you say that...
SHERWOOD...teaching is not a lifetime job...
SHERWOOD...given lifetime job.
RHEEWell, right, so I do -- I have said that you -- once you have tenure, you should not be guaranteed...
RHEE...a job for life. I have said that. But what I think she may be referring to is the fact that what I have said is that we, as a school system, need to understand that not everyone is going to come in to teaching with the intention of teaching for their entire career, that some people will do that, and that's wonderful if they do. But other people are going to come in with the intention of teaching for five or seven years, and actually if they serve their children well during that time, then that's fine as well. And if you look at the research and data, what it shows is that for kids who are graduating from college now, they will change professions -- not just jobs but professions -- five different times during the course of their career. And given that, I think we have to have a different understanding of the fact that we will have some movement in and out of people.
RHEEAnd I think that it's important to support those folks while they are in the classroom. And for me, I mean, I always try to look at things from the perspective of a parent. And if I'm a parent and my choices -- here you could -- your child can either have a teacher who will do really, really well, but they're not going to be here in two years. Or you can have a mediocre teacher, but they're going to be here 20 years from now. If I'm a parent, I'm going to go with the fact that I want that great teacher now who is going to teach my kid for this particular year. And so I think we have to understand that while we want to encourage as many of our great teachers to stay in the profession as we can, that that can't be the expectation.
SHERWOODWhat about the racial aspect that it -- undercurrent of what she said, and partly of what you specifically said is that many of the young teachers coming into the system are white, replacing veteran African-American women and some men teachers.
RHEEYeah, so what I would say is that actually, the Teach For America program and the Teaching Fellows programs, also help to diversify our teaching base. So they bring in lots -- I mean, a pretty large percentage of the people they bring in every year, are people of color as well, and specifically African-Americans -- but certainly there are white folks who come in through the system. And I'm much less concerned about the race of a teacher. I'm more concerned about their effectiveness. And I think that that's the way that the majority of the...
NNAMDIZora raised the issue of, quote, unquote, "cultural competency." What do you interpret that to me? To me, it means that they are, that she's talking about specifically white teachers who are not familiar with black life and therefore may not be capable to understand kids' -- the behavior or the approach to learning of kids in class.
RHEEWell, I think that it's important for people to be culturally sensitive and to understand where their students are coming from, what challenges they face every day, and certainly, not every teacher, whether they're African-American or white or Latino, can understand the realities of each one of their children before they get there. The question is just, are you willing to learn those things? And are you willing to take those things into account and be sensitive to them as you determine what your instructional program should look like? And I think the most important thing for our teachers to have is a belief that despite every single one of the obstacles your children may face in their home lives, that you have to have extraordinarily high academic expectations of them.
NNAMDIHere's Tara in Washington. Tara, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TARAI was calling just to thank Chancellor Rhee. My husband and I are the parents of a 2-year-old little boy. We live in Ward 1 in Northwest, and you're the reason that we are staying in the District of Columbia. All of our friends are fleeing for Montgomery County and Fairfax County (unintelligible) schools, but we will stay here and be happy to be here and send our son to public schools because you're here and making a difference. So thank you.
RHEEThat's very nice. You know, it's really heartening because I was at a community meeting the other week in a community with lots of young couples. It's a very diverse neighborhood, and I went to this meeting and they said, well, lots of us have little kids, and some of us don't have any kids yet. But we want a great neighborhood school, and we're willing to invest with you. And we want you to stay and do this with us, and, I mean, you just can't, you can't buy that kind of enthusiasm and that level of investment that I feel that lots and lots of young families and couples across the city seem to be feeling right now. I think they -- not that everything is fixed, but they've feeling a tremendous sense of momentum...
RHEE...and energy towards this.
SHERWOODThe Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells was on this program on Wednesday saying that in Ward 6, Capitol Hill, near Northeast in Southwest, that all of the schools had higher enrollment. He said he went to every school, and he said he found people who were -- one, Allen Lew should be mayor, according to this, fixing up with the schools. He's the man who's been in charge of the physical rehab of all the city schools. They said that he is finding that parents are very happy to see schools where they think they finally run to the books at their own time, that there are, in fact, teachers in the classroom.
RHEEYeah, I think we are beginning to regain the confidence and faith of the citizens of the city, more and more of them, and we want to make sure that we don't disappoint them, that we live up to their expectations.
SHERWOODAnd that's why you are, despite your protestation, a factor in this mayor's race.
NNAMDIAnd while Sherwood is think of enrolling at Eastern High School, here is Randall. Randall...
SHERWOODI can be a teacher there, you know.
NNAMDINo, I mean as a student. Randall in Washington D.C., you're on the air.
NNAMDIGo ahead, please.
RANDALLHi, Kojo and Chancellor Rhee. I just have a, like a, well, I have many questions, but...
NNAMDIWe're running out of time, so could you please limit it to your best question?
RANDALLWell, oh, boy, my best question. Well, I'll just say this, as to the evaluations, and that is I know of a teacher who received a letter stating that she was not -- didn't have all of her certificates. The teacher made us parents aware of it and told us that she had all of the certificates, not that she received the letter. We, as parents, received the letter. And some of us approached her, found out that she had all the correct credentials, and she proved it. But she never received -- I don't know. I asked her. She said she never received an apology nor did the parents receive a letter stating that she had all the correct credentials. And that came from your office, and that's just of one of many problems that I have.
NNAMDIIt sounds like at situation in which you would have to be able to tell us publicly who you're talking about so that...
NNAMDI...the Chancellor can look into it.
RANDALLWell -- and she sent all the letters to parents. She should know -- have an idea of the letters that went to parents...
RANDALL...where the teachers prove that they were qualified, and the parents were to send letters stating that the teacher was qualified?
RHEESo, I think, what he's referring to is we are required by the federal government to send out letters when teachers are not highly-qualified. And what is important to know is that sometimes teachers can be certified, have their credentials, but not be highly-qualified based on the courses they are teaching. But that's not a decision that we make on our own. That is a requirement of the No Child Left Behind Law.
SHERWOODBefore we ran out of time, I do have a quick question. Jerry Weast, the long-time, 11 years superintendent in Montgomery County is retiring. If things did not work out for you here in Washington, would you consider applying for the job at Montgomery County school system?
RHEENo. I'm not in the market for any superintendents.
NNAMDIBut here is a final question we have from Matt in Washington D.C. Matt, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MATTYeah, just my quick question is, you know, Chancellor Rhee has -- she hasn't committed to -- you know, if Vincent Grey were elected, would she stay on? But my question is, if Mayor Fenty is reelected, would, in fact, she commit to staying on board if he is elected?
RHEEYes. I have committed to the Mayor that if he is reelected for a second term that I am committed to staying.
RHEEWell, my hope is for a second term. We, from the beginning, have talked about the fact that we really thought that it was going to take two terms to really transform the school district.
NNAMDIMichelle Rhee is the chancellor of the District of Columbia Public School System. Thank you very much for joining us. Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials...
NNAMDI...and good luck to you.
NNAMDIIs there anything you'd like to add, Mr. Sherwood?
SHERWOODWell, I have -- I can't figure of anything to top that.
RHEEThank you. It's been a pleasure.
NNAMDIHe endorses it. Thank you for very much for joining us. What you say -- what did you want to -- you want to talk about the wedding, don't you?
SHERWOODNo. I just -- you have postponed the wedding because you got...
NNAMDII knew you wanted to talk about it.
SHERWOOD...or on the wheel.
RHEENot postponed, change.
SHERWOODWell, you've -- well, you're not getting married on the Labor Day weekend. Or are you going to get married and not tell us? We -- can you answer that question?
RHEEWell, we're going to -- we are going to get married...
SHERWOODOh, you are? Okay.
RHEE...for sure. Yes. But...
SHERWOODCeremony's later, is it?
RHEEI wouldn't necessarily assume that.
SHERWOODOh, okay. Well, this is intriguing now.
NNAMDIIt's all being done in the interest of privacy. You want transparency in her marriage?
SHERWOODPrivacy, what does that mean?
NNAMDIMichelle Rhee, thank you very much for joining us.
NNAMDIGood luck to you. It's "The Politics Hour" featuring Tom Sherwood. Coming up, Donna Edwards, the Congresswoman who represents Maryland. She is a Democrat. But before she comes up, Tom Sherwood, talk a little bit about what happened this week with Mayor Fenty's appeal to try to have independent voters to be able to register on the day...
SHERWOODOkay. Well, this is intriguing now.
NNAMDIIt's all being done in the interest of privacy. You want transparency in her marriage too?
SHERWOODPrivacy, what does that mean?
NNAMDIMichelle Rhee, thank you very much for joining us.
NNAMDIGood luck to you. It's "The Politics Hour" featuring Tom Sherwood. Coming up, Donna Edwards, the congresswoman who represents Maryland. She is a Democrat. But before she comes up, Tom Sherwood, talk a little bit about what happened this week with Mayor Fenty's appeal to try to have independent voters be able to register on the day of the election itself. It was turned around. Some people feel it's an indication of desperation on the part of Mayor Fenty.
SHERWOODWell, I don't know if it is desperation, but it felt that way. You know, when the council passed legislation late in the spring, early summer, saying that you couldn't buy elections, you couldn't do a number of things, Fenty says he let that bill -- veto that bill because he said, I don't want to make any changes in the election law. And then, just in this past week, his lawyers try to get the elections board to say let independents vote in a party primary. So it made no consistent sense to me, and the elections board voting 2-0 said it doesn't. If you're not a registered voter -- if you're registered in the District of Columbia, you can't change parties within 30 days in election and vote. So that means independents who are registered as not aligned or no party can't go in and change to Democrat and vote -- only if you're a non-registered voter. If you live in the city, and you're a District citizen, and you're not registered, you can go and vote -- same-day registration -- and sign up for that day. But you cannot change parties or change your voting status.
NNAMDIThe other thing the Board of Education did -- I can put under the question, so what's Phil Mendelson going to do?
SHERWOODThe Board of Education?
NNAMDIThe Board of --
NNAMDI(unintelligible) the Board of Education?
SHERWOODI'm just -- I'm listening.
NNAMDIBoard of Elections. The Board of Elections failed to do -- can be called -- so what's Phil Mendelson going to do? He's got a challenger -- one of his challengers in the at-large race for the D.C. City Council whose name happens to be Michael Brown. And even though he has a different middle initial to the Michael Brown already on the council of the board, says he can put his name on the ballot just as Michael Brown.
SHERWOODWell, you know, just because someone's elected with a name like yours doesn't mean you can't run for an office. So it's just an unfortunate situation. I know that Phil Mendelson, the veteran councilmember, is worried about the confusion because he thinks Michael Brown, the city council at-large member, his name will draw a lot of votes for Michael Brown who's running for the council, who's a -- I think he's the non-representative statehood person, whatever they call that nonpaying job.
SHERWOODSo it's very confusing. And -- another person who's hurt by this is Clark Ray who's running at-large.
SHERWOODIt's just going to throw that election into some turmoil.
NNAMDIIt'll be difficult. Joining us now in studio is Donna Edwards. She's a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, a Democrat from Maryland. Congresswoman Edwards, thank you for joining us.
REP. DONNA EDWARDSThank you. It's good to be here again.
NNAMDIYou just heard Tom Sherwood ask Michelle Rhee whether or not she's in the running for Jerry Weast's job. I'd like your own evaluation of the performance of the Montgomery County school superintendent of long-standing Jerry Weast and what do you think needs to be done to replace him? After all, part of the district that you represent is in East Montgomery County.
EDWARDSThat's right. Part of my district is in the East Montgomery County, and I think that Jerry Weast, you know, over the years, has really transformed what our expectations are for education for our young people. And I think that's going to be a tough act to follow. And there are always ups and downs with any superintendent who's trying to make change. And I'm going to leave it to the Board of Education in Montgomery County and to our state superintendent to make those choices.
SHERWOODWell, you know, first of all, this is the week for the 90th anniversary of the women's suffrage amendment, so congratulations to the women for having the right to vote.
EDWARDSWell, I'm glad I have the right to vote, not just that, but, you know, I'm the first African-American woman to represent our district -- our state in the Congress. And I think if you look both at voting representation from members of Congress among women and then across the country in terms of our participation, we've seen, over the 90 years, great transformation. But we still have evidence there's a lot of work to do.
SHERWOODIt's a significant milestone. I do want to ask you though, as a member of the Democratic Party, you know this great thought that the Republicans could, well, take the House of Representatives this fall. What do you think about that, yourself? If you talk to Chris Van Hollen, your colleague from Montgomery County who's admired in -- trying to keep that from happening, what can you tell us about that? What are the chances that the Republicans could take back the House?
EDWARDSWell, I think that's wishful thinking on their part and especially for a party that really just doesn't have any new ideas and wants to retread what was done over the last decade that has really put us into a ditch. I serve with Chris Van Hollen, my colleague and leader on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is the vice chair of our Red to Blue Program, which is looking at some Districts where we're actually going to make gains as Democrats. And so I feel really confident going into November. I know that my colleagues are -- and they're excited about telling the story of what we've done to bring this country from the brink of, you know, the greatest recession that we've had out of financial disaster, losing millions of jobs across this country so that we can begin to move ourselves forward.
SHERWOODBut if I could just follow that...
NNAMDII'm glad you start -- oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead, please, follow.
SHERWOOD...(unintelligible) because -- all the political people that I'm reading nationally and locally are saying that the Republicans are going to -- in the off-year elections, they are the party controlling the White House, always generally loses seat. But this is going to be -- given the fact the economy has not turned around enough for the Democrat, but this could be a particularly bad year for Democrat.
NNAMDIThis week, we got more bad news, including data showing that existing home sales have plunged. Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times today that we're looking -- that what we're looking at is not a recovery in any sense that matters, following up on the points that Tom was making. When you look at the economy right now, in terms of your party, what do you see? For some, it doesn't look good.
EDWARDSWell, most economists actually say that although we haven't had the most robust recovery, that it's going to be steady-slow progress to recovery. Most economists say -- and I agree with them, and that's why we proceeded the way we have as Democrats -- is that, you know, we were in a ditch, and we've had to dig out of that, and that in fact, the stimulus package that the other guys are always telling us didn't work, in fact, it did work. It created jobs. It's helped to stabilize things so that we are in the pathway to growth. And I'm not saying it's not going to be difficult out there for Democrats -- it always is, as Tom's pointed out -- for the party that's in power in these mid-term elections. But -- and, you know, who knows? Maybe -- there may be a seat or two lost. I mean, it's not going to be the 100 that Republicans predict, but I think that we're going to maintain control of the Congress. We're going to continue working with this president, and we're going to do the things that the American people set us on the pathway to do.
SHERWOODAre -- have you weighed in yet on the Glenn Beck Restore the Dream rally at the Lincoln Memorial that happens to be tomorrow and the 47th anniversary of the Martin Luther King speech?
NNAMDIIf you haven't, now is your chance.
EDWARDSWell, I'm not sure there's much to weigh in on. I think, you know, any time you have somebody who's so centered around his own ego and self-aggrandizement and taking advantage, I think, of people's emotions and their fears, I think that's one strategy for the future. But for most of us, we understand that the longstanding dream that Martin Luther King Jr. had for civil rights and for social justice continues in this country, and that President Lincoln, who is immortalized there at that memorial, that dream continues. And this is going to be a blip on the screen when it comes to our continued fight for civil rights and social justice.
SHERWOODAre you encouraging people to go there, to counter this march and...
NNAMDIAre you following Eugene Robinson's advice in his column in The Washington Post to simply ignore that?
EDWARDSI have to tell you, I saw Gene Robinson's column this morning, and I thought it was right on track. Let's, you know, continue doing the work that we're doing. I know out in my community we continue to fight for social justice and for civil rights. We'll have a job fair on Monday, you know, as part of that, and work so that our small businesses can have opportunities in our communities. And that's what really counts for the American people.
SHERWOODI thought it was just odd that Glenn Beck has asked everyone to participate in this -- who's participating in this rally, not to have signs. I thought -- I don't know what that means. He says he doesn't want the message distorted, but I'm just wondering, what is the message? Do you have a sense of what that is? I can't imagine I would go to a protest and not be allowed to take a sign.
EDWARDSI am completely unprepared to read Glenn Beck's wishes, his writings, his, you know, thoughts. I think that that is beyond the scope of my capacity.
NNAMDITalking a little bit more about politics and what's going on for your party in these upcoming elections, you are a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Two very prominent members of that caucus, Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters, are both facing ethics charges. Other Democrats feel that if those charges are not resolved before the election, it could have an adverse effect on the party. But both of those members have pledged to fight those charges. How do you think those cases are affecting your party, and how do you think it'll play out this fall?
EDWARDSI actually think in individual races and individual congressional district, these are really not issues. People are concerned about their jobs. They're concerned about opportunities for themselves and their children. I think I had one question, over the course of the last two months, from anybody having to do with what was going on with...
NNAMDINow it's two.
EDWARDS...Mr. Rangel -- now two. But the fact is that this isn't a burning concern, and I believe, as Tip O'Neill said, all politics really is local. And it's about what's going on in local congressional districts. That's the way our members are running their races. And we created an ethics process, before I came into Congress, that's in place now. Part of that process is what we've seen played out at this point, and it's very public because it's very transparent. And I think, in the interest of due process, we allow that to go forward. We don't interfere in it because that's part of the dynamic that we've created. And then each of us goes back to our congressional districts and actually talks about what we're doing in our communities and in our districts.
NNAMDIOur guest is Donna Edwards. She's a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She's a Democrat from Maryland. Tip O'Neill, of course, is the late former speaker of the House of Representatives who is about the same age as Tom and me. But go ahead, Tom.
SHERWOODWell, I don't know about that. But I want to go back to the control of the Congress because I do believe that with all the euphoria of the Obama win, and if the Republicans take over the House and/or the Senate or both, that changes the national dynamics completely. What committees are you now on?
EDWARDSWell, I'm on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Science and Technology Committee. These are two committees in Congress that actually work in a very bipartisan fashion, whether they've been controlled by Republicans or by Democrats in the past, and I expect that'll continue.
SHERWOODBut -- and I bring this up not just because it's a nice national issue, but Maryland is unique in that it has, first of all, Chris Van Hollen, who's part of the leadership of the party. But then Steny Hoyer -- I mean, some people think he should be the speaker of the House, and that if he had been, maybe you wouldn't have all the issues you have with Nancy Pelosi. You have been a, you know, a person who's attacked regularly across by the...
NNAMDISo you're forcing her to choose between her congressional colleague from her state and a woman.
SHERWOODI'm just saying that Maryland is unique...
EDWARDSWell, what people know about me is that I don't get forced to do anything...
SHERWOODI'm just quoting...
EDWARDS...and I have a great speaker and a tremendous leader.
NNAMDIForce her, Tom. Force her.
SHERWOODI was -- you interrupted my flow of thoughts. Maryland stands to lose a lot in terms of political influence and power should Republicans win in November in the House.
EDWARDSWell, I start from the premise that they're not going to win in the House. And I also know...
SHERWOODBut you agree there would be a loss of a great deal of power if Steny Hoyer is no longer in the leadership of running the Congress, as opposed to being opposition.
EDWARDSWell, either way, they'll be in the leadership of how we recover and move forward as Democrats. I think that we're going to do that in the majority. And let's look at what the Republicans want to do, I mean because I think it's really important. They want to repeal health care. They'd just as soon we never did financial regulatory reform, so they want Wall Street to control the agenda. They don't like regulations of any kind, and here we have, you know, a major egg disaster with billions of eggs contaminated out across this country. This would be about taking not just one step back but giant steps backwards.
SHERWOODWould you want Nancy Pelosi to be the House minority leader if the Democrats lose control of the House?
EDWARDSYou know what? My thought is that...
SHERWOODTry it again.
EDWARDS...you always -- no, I'm not going to do it because we always move forward. And, you know, Tom, you're talking to somebody who -- all the political pundits told me that I could actually never win my seat in Congress. And so if I had believed them and rolled over and played dead, I wouldn't be sitting in this seat right now. And so I'm not one of those who actually listens to that. I know that we have to do our work. We have to communicate our message across this country. And in individual congressional district, our members have to go and tell the story what they've been able to do to stabilize the economy.
NNAMDISpeaking of Steny Hoyer, it's my understanding you spent part of this month in Haiti with the majority leader. What did you see there? And what did you learn about what that country needs at this point to recover from the earthquake?
EDWARDSI did. It's devastating. You know, Haiti is the poorest nation in this hemisphere and, I think, you know, has gone through tremendous ups and downs and many downs over the decades. And what I saw is a country that wants to recover, political leadership that wants to figure that out, but great, great devastation. I mean, it was difficult visiting the encampments. You know, and one of them that we visited, 46,000 people living in one place under tent and tarp. As we approached the worst part of the hurricane season that's coming, it's going to take a lot of recovery.
EDWARDSI think that for the first time, the United States and the world community is actually really focused on Haiti in a responsible way. In the Congress, we actually passed an aid package for Haiti of $2.9 to $3 billion which will go into that recovery. We've stepped up with our commitment. It's time for the rest of the international community to do the same.
SHERWOODIs it -- ain't that one of the issue is that the tremendous outpouring of emotional support and pledges was one thing, but the following up of getting those pledges in the countries and organizations to contribute has not met the -- what -- had met the expectations.
EDWARDSRight. I mean, we still have a long way to go to make sure that all of those who made commitments make those commitments.
NNAMDIAnd do we have a long attention span?
EDWARDSI think that in this instance, we do. I mean, Haiti was of course devastated by the four hurricanes that hit right in a row. Two years ago, I visited then -- and then came the earthquake in Port-au-Prince. I mean, things were just absolutely leveled, but people continued. They want to work. They want to build their homes. They want to send their children to school. Haiti is going to go through -- its election's coming up in November. I think that this is really, really important for them to have a successful set of elections and get a legislature in place that can move the country.
SHERWOODAnd we haven't even talk about Pakistan and the horrific changes there.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk about other global issues for a section...
NNAMDI...you write. We haven't talked about Pakistan. But let's talk about Afghanistan. Between Stanley McChrystal being fired and the WikiLeaks story, we spent a lot of time talking about the war in Afghanistan. But you recently voted against a supplemental funding bill that included money for the war. Why did you do so? And what do you think is the way forward in Afghanistan? Is there a way forward?
EDWARDSI think that the -- to the extent that there have been successes in Afghanistan. They have been stomped on by the failures. And, you know, I visited Afghanistan for the second time with the speaker, actually this time in May for Mother's Day. You know, this is -- our servicemen and women, the NATO officers are doing a really tremendous job there. They're doing what we ask them to do. The problem is that, I think, we've asked them to do the wrong thing. And so I have voted against those funding packages. You know, Afghanistan, in so many ways, is in the middle of a civil war. And I don't know that it's the United States' role to be fully engaged in what is a civil war.
NNAMDISo you think we should leave?
EDWARDSI do believe that we should leave. I, you know, I support the president's commitment to pull out in -- beginning in 2011. I wish it could be sooner, quite frankly. And I think it's going to be important for us, especially as the end of the year evaluation comes, to really put our thinking caps on because, you know, the treasure, not just the treasure in terms of money, but the treasure in terms of our young men and women who serve is so great. And we can't continue to make a mistake.
SHERWOODI went down to World War II memorial when the last troops were pulling out of Iraq and to asked veterans of that war what they thought. And they all just felt like they did not know what we were fighting for. And one guy said about Afghanistan, you know, they've been fighting for 2,000 years. I don't think our seven or eight years is going to make a difference.
EDWARDSWell -- and now is a decade. It's not just seven or eight years.
NNAMDIHere's Chris in Ford, Wash. Chris, we're running out of time. Please make your question or comment brief.
CHRISThank you, Kojo. Thank you Congresswoman Edwards for being on the radio today. I have a quick question. I run a small business in your district, the Maryland 4th, that operates at the intersection of high finance, social justice and public policy. What's the appropriate way for a local small business to partner with congressional offices to help stir federal foreclosure policy?
EDWARDSWell, I think, you know, today, if you take a look in today's Washington Post, what you see in there is the story of what's happening nationally around foreclosures. And -- but we know that there's been some effect and so across the country home foreclosures is -- have actually dropped a little bit because of local banks renegotiating mortgages. I think more needs to be done. I've always been in favor, frankly, of enabling homeowners to have their home mortgages considered in the context of bankruptcy. I think it's a really important thing. We tried to do it, I think, three times in this Congress. And each time, have not been able to get that through because of the opposition of the industry. But the reason this is important is because people need to be able to put all of their debt into context and then negotiate that.
NNAMDIAnd, Chris, thank you very much for your call. We're just about out of time. Donna Edwards is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She's a Democrat from Maryland. Congresswoman Edwards, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. When do you go back to work?
SHERWOODI'm going to go back to the TV station work on Monday. But next afternoon, we'll take a bike ride around the city and see it from a street point of view.
NNAMDIWe're happy that you consider what you do here work also. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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