Nightly News | September 15, 2010
WILLIAMS: A few other big races to note here. Here in New York state , another win for tea party supporters. Carl Paladino , political newcomer from Buffalo defeated former congressman Rick Lazio in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Also here in New York City , Democrat Charlie Rangel won renomination to Congress in his Harlem district, despite some recent ethics problems. And in Washington , DC , voters have fired their mayor, Adrian Fenty , who's held that job for just three years.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: While it was just a city mayor 's race, that Washington election result last night was heard across the country by those who follow education reform . That's because the defeat of Mayor Fenty there in Washington likely means the departure of a big reformer, the powerful, controversial Michelle Rhee . She's the chancellor of schools in DC. This comes just as her profile is about to explode even bigger because of a new film coming out called " Waiting for Superman." That premieres tonight in Washington -- something about timing -- and our own Tom Costello is there for us. Tom , good evening.
TOM COSTELLO reporting: Good evening to you, Brian . We're at the Newseum for "Waiting for Superman"'s premiere. Michelle Rhee really has been the national symbol on education reform , and she admits she probably played a part in Mayor Fenty losing his
job. So the question now: What happens to DC schools?
Ms. MICHELLE RHEE: We have more than enough for everybody.
COSTELLO: For nearly four years, Michelle Rhee has been on a warpath, along with Mayor Adrian Fenty , overhauling a school district many regard as a national disgrace with an on-time graduation rate of just 49 percent, closing 26 schools, laying off 470 teachers she called underperforming, and demanding accountability from those who remain. There are signs of slow improvement. In three years, math proficiency scores have gone from an abysmal 27 percent to 43 percent, reading proficiency from just 29 percent to 43 percent. Still not good enough, she says.
Ms. RHEE: But the bottom line is that's still -- it's only half of our children who are on grade level, slightly less, actually, and so when I look at how much still yet has to be done, it's still quite daunting.
COSTELLO: Championed by education reform advocates, Rhee appears in a new movie about the state of America 's schools, "Waiting for Superman."
Ms. RHEE: You wake up every morning and you know that kids are getting a really crappy education right now.
COSTELLO: But she also alienated teachers, parents and many of the voters who turned Mayor Fenty out of office Tuesday. Education analyst Jack Jennings:
Mr. JACK JENNINGS (Center on Education Policy): I think she's smart. I think she knows what she's doing. But she is a bull in a china shop. She's just charging around without understanding that this is politics.
Ms. RHEE: I make decisions as a mother. So when I'm thinking about closing down a school, I think about it from the perspective of, 'Is this a school that I would feel comfortable having my own child in?'
COSTELLO: Rhee won't say whether she wants to stay in DC. She's engaged to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson . But today the man who will be Washington 's next mayor declined to say whether he wants Rhee to stay.
Mr. VINCENT GRAY (District of Columbia Democratic Mayoral Nominee): Let me assure everybody also that we're not going to be turning back any clocks on school reform . We're going to be moving full speed ahead.
COSTELLO: Michelle Rhee says if she had to do it over again, she would probably communicate better, but, Brian , she says she has no regrets about any decisions she's made.
WILLIAMS: Tom Costello at the premiere of this new movie, "Waiting for Superman," about education reform there in Washington . Tom , thanks.