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The Bee Eater: Michelle Rhee Takes on the Nation's Worst School District Hardcover – February 8, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (February 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470905298
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470905296
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #205,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Richard Whitmire's deft and revealing book about former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee chronicles a difficult time in the history of the city's schools, when good people fought hard against one another ...
--The Washington Post

...(those) interested in gaining a comprehensive perspective on Michelle Rhee (the person, not the action figure), or on finding some Waiting for 'Superman'-like inspiration, would be wise to seek out and read The Bee Eater.

--The Education Gadfly

Whitmire's clear and easy-to-read style reveals the often-unreported efforts made by Rhee to reach out to both banks in an attempt to build schools into islands of refuge that would be "good for the students" --Educator Life

... a lively narrative on Rhee's personal history and the political and public policy drama that marked her three and a half years in Washington ...insightful commentary on one of the first pitched battles between the new generation of school reformers and the nation's urban educational and political establishments. -- Washington Monthly.

What isn't as familiar, and sometimes downright perverse, are the many bizarre yet customary conditions under which Rhee operated, which Whitmire portrays in illuminating (and infuriating) detail. -- Education Next.

From the Inside Flap

The Bee Eater chronicles the extraordinary life and work ofthe dynamic and controversial school reformer Michelle Rhee. Theauthor delves into Rhee's childhood (as the only Korean American inher graduating class in her Toledo, Ohio school), her firstteaching job in a West Baltimore classroom (where she once ate abee to the amazement of her students), her appointment aschancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools and her launch ofChildren First, her national advocacy group that draws on the toughlessons of Washington. While the book reveals Rhee's remarkableaccomplishments, it also explores many of the fundamental problemsin our current education system, the unpredictable politicsofleadership — and her shortcomings.

When Michelle Rhee first arrived in Washington, she found aschool district that had been so dysfunctional for so long thatmany had given up, choosing to blame race and poverty rather thanpoor instruction. There was no one being held accountable. Thedistrict central office had become an adult employment center, aplace to deposit job seekers. Rhee was convinced that Washington'sinner city students could achieve, but considerable obstacles stoodin the way — obstacles that needed removing.

Guided by the principles of outstanding leadership, strictaccountability, and the power of effective teaching, Rhee wasdetermined to turn around the Washington, D.C. schools. Herencounters with community politics and long-simmering racialtensions, and her battles with central office bureaucrats andteachers' unions, were so extraordinary that her efforts werefeatured in Time, Newsweek, The Wall StreetJournal, and a lengthy PBS series.

The Bee Eater holds the promise of educational excellencefor today's students and for tomorrow's school reformers.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Peter G. Keen VINE VOICE on July 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
My review addresses if this is a good book and worth reading, rather than to air my own political and social views. This is always difficult with a work that covers a controversial topic or a controversial figure. When, say, Glen Beck or Anne Coulter on the right and Michael Moore or Bill Maher on the left launches a book, there will be a flood of reviews from supporters or opponents of their views and it then becomes difficult to assess the book rather than the issue.
The questions I try to answer in my review are:

1. Is this a good book? Definitely 4 stars here. It is judicious in its judgments and clear in its analysis and conclusions. It's well crafted. One of the elements I most like is that while it is strongly supportive of Rhee, as it progresses and he has established her as a real and caring person, he adds layers of criticism and queries about how she operated. He lets Rhee express herself with him as the shrewd observer and doesn't try to build her up or give his own picture. It's very well done.

2. Is it reliable? Yes. I live twenty miles outside DC and, being an ex-elementary school teacher and ex-DC resident, followed the Fenty-Rhee story fairly closely. The book seems very accurate and balanced in its details and does enough justice to all the parties to provide an informed and sound narrative. It holds back a lot on the seamy aide of DC politics. Mayor Gray, who could have been portrayed as the villain of the piece, is perhaps too fairly treated. Within just months of his becoming mayor, there has been a nonstop flood of scandals, police investigations, accusations of bribes and diversion of funds, vote-buying, and all the regular mess of the city.
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40 of 51 people found the following review helpful By T. I. Farmer VINE VOICE on June 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Michelle Rhee hit the corrupt and incompetent District of Columbia school system in 2007 like a bunker-buster bomb - a tireless reformer appointed chancellor by new mayor Adrian Fenty to "do what's right for the kids." But by late 2010 it was she (and Fenty) who had been blown up, having alienated every key ally: parents, bureaucrats, teacher's unions and politicians.

Richard Whitmire's short, starstruck book sets out to explain how and why, but makes the mistake of falling in love with its subject: rationalizing her callous tactics, blaming others for her errors, and admiring the friction she created even though it finished her.

Rhee blew into her job like a slash-and-burn CEO hired to save a failing company, firing hundreds and disdaining help from veterans. She was right about the need to clean house. But she was also a political naïf who thought consensus was for wusses, picked pointless fights compulsively, ran over potential supporters, dismissed people and policies she didn't like as "crazy," never bothered to appreciate the District's delicate racial politics, and got off on shameless self-promotion. (She posed for the cover of Time magazine and numberless other press ops, and "gave good quote" ad nauseam to national reporters.) She professed compassion for "the kids," but showed none for adults; Rhee invited a PBS camera crew to roll tape while she fired a principal, an act of almost incomprehensible cruelty.

In Whitmire's telling the relatively young and inexperienced Rhee is so utterly self-assured, so scornful of opponents, and so inclined to treat everyone in her path as a speed bump, you start to feel you would not care to have much to do with Rhee even if you shared her goals.
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24 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Emily Hanford on February 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a gripping tale; I could not put it down. The book chronicles the massive challenges Michelle Rhee encountered when she took on the job of turning around the Washington, D.C. public schools. Rhee's bold moves and brash style shocked the city and Whitmire describes the stakes, the politics and the explosive, fast-paced story in stunning detail. There's plenty here for Rhee critics to contest, and if you are one of those critics you're probably not going to find much to like in this book. Whitmire is clear about his admiration for Rhee and his belief that her dramatic actions were badly needed. If you're not sure what you think about Rhee, or you are among her legions of fans, there's a lot here for you to consider. The book includes interviews with Rhee's family and colleagues, revealing details about her childhood and early career that offer important insights into her style and personality. She's a clotheshorse and a big eater. At the end of the book, just days away from resigning, Rhee is interviewed by Whitmire for the last time. A big bag of greasy French Fries and a jumbo cupcake sit uneaten on her desk as she juggles her phone and her Blackberry. It's a lasting image of a fascinating personality whose next moves will be equally interesting to watch.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By V. Hutson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I've been a teacher for over 25 years so I found this book extremely interesting. While the incompetence I have personally seen doesn't come near the incompetence of the D.C. schools, it doesn't surprise me. It does frustrate me when you see the self-serving components of "education as usual" defend the current failing system and work so hard to prevent real reform from happening. Especially when the victims are the children, and the victors are politicians, poor teachers, and teacher unions.

This book appears to be a well-balanced description and on what happened when Michelle Rhee tried to improve the D.C. schools. I write "appears" because just like the author explains in his book, we, like the D.C. voters are at the mercy of a reporter's agenda and integrity. I tend to think he is telling it as honestly as he can because although the overall message is a positive one about Rhee the author does include a significant amount of criticism of her as well.

This is a must read for anyone who wants to know why so many schools are failing.
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More About the Author

I'm a former editorial writer for USA Today with a long career covering three things: local issues at several newspapers in upstate New York, the Pentagon (after arriving in Washington) and then education. Defense issues, in contrast to education problems, were relatively clean and straight-forward.

Of all the education issues I've written about, the boys dilemma may be the most perplexing. The conventional wisdom at the time, that girls were having a hard time in school, turned out to be false, and my research into the issue turned into Why Boys Fail.

Former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee wrote the foreword for Why Boys Fail, and soon after the book came out I approached her about cooperating for a biography. After a lengthy deliberation -- for Rhee, national publicity has often backfired -- she agreed, giving a green light for me to talk to her family, friends and work associates. The result is The Bee Eater.

Next I wrote a book with the College Board about which school districts and school leaders were doing the best job educating low-income students: Achieving the Dream. One chapter in that book was about Rocketship charter schools, which led to the current book I'm working on, On The Rocketship, which is about high performing charter schools trying to reach more students now attending lousy schools. On The Rocketship will be released in June, 2014.