Feature

Author of the week: Michelle Rhee

Perfectionism is a major theme in the life of Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington, D.C.’s school district.

Perfectionism is a major theme in Michelle Rhee’s life, said Andrew Goldman in NYTimes.com. During her controversial three-year tenure as the chancellor of Washington, D.C.’s school district, Rhee shut failing schools, fired underperforming teachers en masse, and tied bonuses to student test scores. Strict accountability was also important to her parents, both immigrants from South Korea. In her new memoir, Radical: Fighting to Put Students First, Rhee writes that Mom grounded her when her younger brother brought home bad grades. “You’re his older sister,” her mother would say. “It is your responsibility to make sure that he is doing what he needs to do.” The lesson paid off: Before her rise to national prominence, Rhee only once lost a job—at an ice cream shop that specialized in sloppy sundaes. “I liked to make my sundaes neat,” she says. “They didn’t like that.”

Rhee wouldn’t say she’s been perfect, said Kevin Cirilli in Politico.com. She admits she should have been a better communicator in D.C., particularly when critics attributed soaring test scores to cheating at some schools. But if she’s softened since stepping down in 2010, her young daughters might not know it. She says that when they bring home soccer trophies, she’s not impressed. “They suck at soccer,” she says. “I try to tell my kids, ‘If you want to become good, you’ve got to work hard.’ I think that we are doing the wrong thing in our society when we are congratulating mediocrity and participation.”

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