Obama Not Considering Fenty, Rhee for Administration Positions

Askia Muhammad | 10/20/2010, 12:26 p.m.

President Obama Meets with the Trotter Group

President Barack Obama said outgoing D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) and his handpicked Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee "deserve enormous credit" for their school reform efforts, but he's not yet prepared to offer either of them positions in his administration.

"I think Mayor Fenty and Michelle Rhee shared a passion for trying to shake up a status quo that wasn't working. And they deserve enormous credit for that," the President told members of the Trotter Group of African American columnists Fri., Oct. 15, in response to a question from The Washington Informer.

"Now, what we also know is that in bringing about change, you've got to use some sugar and some vinegar," he said.

"There's got to be both snapping people to attention, but there's also got to be some encouragement. And I think that one of the things that [Education Secretary] Arne [Duncan] has done very well is to say, look, yes, the status quo is not working; yes, we've got to improve our performance, and that means everybody -- teachers, students, parents, principals, community -- but we've got something we can build on."

"And if we all pull together and don't insist on being tied down to the old ways of doing things, we can make real progress."

Obama said he believes history will recognize Duncan, a former schools chief in Chicago, "as one of the finest Secretaries of Education we've ever had."
Education reform has been a cornerstone of Obama administration policies, and the District under Rhee and Fenty has fared well, going so far as to win a share of billions of dollars awarded to 16 states in the "Race to the Top" academic grants competition.

"Because if we've got schools where half the kids are dropping out, we've got schools where only one out of 10 are reading at grade level -- and that includes a lot of schools out there, and it's been going on for 20, 30, 40 years," that is a formula for failure, and is the definition of "madness," Obama said--doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.

"No -- or that somehow it's not the fault of the schools, it's the fault of the parents and these are poor neighborhoods -- we know that's not true because there are schools that succeed wonderfully in preparing our kids for college and careers even in the toughest neighborhoods."

But when pressed about a future role for Fenty in the Obama education scheme, the President said he has no current plan to hire either of the outgoing D.C. officials.

"I suspect right now, after having been mayor for four years, [Fenty] just wants some rest. But I haven't had a conversation with him," Obama said.
The President also explained his comments on the "Today" show when he appeared to dismiss all D.C. Public Schools as being unfit for his school-age daughters to attend.

"...I was asked, did I think that the average D.C. parent had the same opportunity to send their kids to a school that was as good as the school that my girls were going to. And the answer is, absolutely not. Of course not -- because the average D.C. parent doesn't have the same resources to find a school that provides the same resources, teachers, support, that work at Sidwell Friends. That's not a controversial statement. That's true," he said.

"If I were living back in Chicago, I could get my kid into Whitney Young, which is where Michelle went to. I could get my kid into Walter Payton. There are a bunch of terrific magnet schools that are out there that would give them a great education. And there are some very fine schools here in Washington, D.C.

But if you are an average parent, the odds of you being able to get your child into the limited slots that are available where you can guarantee your child's success in the school system is not there yet. That is not a controversial statement. That is just a fact," Obama said.