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The Bee Eater: Michelle Rhee Takes on the Nation's Worst School District
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The Bee Eater: Michelle Rhee Takes on the Nation's Worst School District

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  458 ratings  ·  72 reviews
The inside story of a maverick reformer with a take-no-prisoners management style Hailed by Oprah as a "warrior woman for our times," reviled by teachers unions as the enemy, Michelle Rhee, outgoing chancellor of Washington DC public schools, has become the controversial face of school reform. She has appeared on the cover of Time Magazine, and is currently featured as a h ...more
Hardcover, 296 pages
Published February 8th 2011 by Jossey-Bass (first published January 31st 2011)
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Aug 22, 2011 rated it liked it
After seeing Waiting for Superman I had an interest in learning more about Michelle Rhee, the apparently ultra-controversial educational reformer and superstar of DC. It wasn't until I was at the Global Leadership Summit and saw her speak that I was compelled to buy this book. After sitting and reading it in just the course of a couple of hours, I have mixed feelings. However, I can't rate this book on Rhee, but rather on the quality of the text.

Obviously the author shows an extreme bias towards
Brent McGregor
Jun 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
What Would You Be Willing To Do?

What would you be willing to do if things were so out of control that nobody dared do anything?
What a tragedy it is that this book was even made possible in the wealthiest country on the planet. Having attended the second worst school district, Los Angeles (70's), everything in this book hit home. It is unbelievable that such low standards are maintained by the very people who claim to be fighting for the students, namely, the Teachers Union, Politicians, and the
Jaclyn Day
Dec 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read this book for a few reasons. First, I’m insanely curious about Rhee. I actively seek out articles about her or interviews with her and followed her movement as DC schools chancellor closely. Coming from a family of educators, I find her to be a fascinating public figure. The second reason I wanted to read this book is that despite my interest in Rhee, I still didn’t feel knowledgeable enough about her—or her policies—to make a judgment call on the work she did during her term as chancello ...more
Marialyce (absltmom, yaya)
Interesting, scary and eye opening are some of the adjectives I would use to describe this book. Written about the former chancellor of the DC schools, it makes one aware of the dire straights these schools were in before Michelle Rhee took over. Ms Rhee went in there like gang busters and aggravated teachers, administrators, parents, and stirred up the racial/political game. Tough and determined to put the kids first, she ruffled many feathers in order to achieve what she wanted, that of better ...more
Mar 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
It's evident that Whitmire is a Rhee supporter, perhaps even a fanatic. However, he states his bias and attempts to illustrate her failures as well as her successes. It was important for me to read something with that skew, as I am an avid Rhee hater. After reading this, my hatred of her has not fanned, but I do understand more her motivations behind her policies, and understand how her upbringing and background are significant factors to her aggression.

Whitmire's prose is easy to read and inte
Jun 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
It was difficult to rate this book because I initially felt that there were three elements I needed to assess:
1- the information in the book
2- the writing
3- Michelle Rhee

Then I realized that how I feel about Rhee should have nothing to do with my rating of this book. (But I totally approved of what she did and wanted to do. Her methods were sometimes not as polished as they could have been, but she was very sure of herself and what needed to be done just to make these schools marginal.)

Going on
Aug 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
Interesting read but it was extremely biased toward Whitmire's problematic (IMO) thesis.

Update: In thinking about it...obviously the point of writing a nonfiction book is to support your thesis :) I think what I meant was that I find his thesis problematic (mostly the way it seemed he was arguing that somehow the African American parents in D.C. were too uninformed to realize that Rhee was right all along...that they didn't know what they wanted) and that on numerous occasions he lapsed into a
Apr 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I was a fan of Michelle Rhee's from GO! I thought of applying in her district. I applaud the work she did there and found this book a very good read. A good overview of what she tried to accomplish and I think a reasonable treatment of the positives and negatives of her tenure. If you want a good view of what could be the most important issue in reforming public education - human capital management - read on. BTW.. I found the title to be of little importance. I think the author wanted it to rep ...more
Mar 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, education
It was interesting to dig into the Rhee experience in DC -- even though I closely followed the entirety of her tenure, I learned a good deal of new information. The book left me with a lot of questions, and I don't know if it was able to capture the whole story, but it's a valuable addition to the story of current ed reform. ...more
Sep 29, 2020 rated it did not like it
I found this book at a book sale. Looked interesting so bought it for 50 cent, should have skipped it and kept my money. The part of it that gives a very small peek into who Michelle Rhee is interesting. The rest of the book is a walk through of what is wrong with the educational system in Washington, D.C. and how she jumped in to save the system AKA the children. Author is very one sided and writing is dry, boring and filled with politics.
Diane C.
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
The semi-hysterical writing style put me off, and I quit 2 chapters in. I think this book is a case in point that you can't affect change by being a warrior, only with compassion. The DC school district would have presented a challenge even for someone like the Dalai Lama, after it's years of spiraling dysfunction. Michelle Rhee knew what needed to be done, but not how to do it. ...more
Michelle Smart
Jun 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Loved this guided tour of Rhee's reform in D.C. I was alternately dismayed and inspired as I learned about the challenges in the district and the way Rhee tackled them head-on. I think she may be my new hero! ...more
The story of a lady, who one day walked into a low performing class and got their attention by doing something unexpected, is anything short of being an amazing story of how she went against the grain and did what needed to be done, all for the sake of the children.

Michelle Rhee is the type of person that this world needs more of. The change agents that come in and make change happen, whether people like it or not. The only thing is that most of the attention that is created came from the people
The problem with reviewing biographies/memoirs is that I sometimes feel like, "What am I supposed to review here? The person's life or the writing?" I try to do a combination of both. I'm saying this only because this is my zillionth biography/memoir of the year and I feel sometimes it's tricky as to what to say. I digress . . .

The information/story of this book is definitely 4 stars, easily. The writing is ridiculously bad. The author is supposedly a journalist, and while the information, as I
Jun 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-keepers
The Message: Children deemed incorrigible can be taught!

On a humanitarian level The Bee Eater is quite compelling. One part I found distracting however, and that were the citations about the 'parents' reportedly 'in mass' disagreement over the teacher-firings. Inciting and citing `unsuspecting' gullible families blamed for the failing conditions of schools as one of the primary sources of opposition really was hard to read.

So, of course I jumped on Michelle Rhee's bandwagon. Coupled by what I r
Jun 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
If you liked Waiting for Superman and want a little more information about the day-to-day of school reform, this biography on Michelle Rhee's tenure as DC chancellor is an excellent start.

This book covers all the bases starting with Rhee's childhood and ending with what comes next for her. I think the book did a nice job of wrapping things up. Although Rhee had the right idea, the reader can see that her approach, which was often insensitive, was lacking. It's hard to argue with her philosophy t
Nov 02, 2012 rated it it was ok
Michelle Rhee hit the nail on the head -- if you want better results from the classroom, get better teachers. And, in my opinion, smaller class sizes. She is right about the "problem" not being the children. Every child can learn; it is just that some children arrive at school with more baggage to unpack before they can get down to the business of learning than other kids. An inner-city school, with students who don't have the advantages and resources of affluent suburban schools is going to req ...more
Camille McCarthy
Sep 12, 2013 rated it liked it
This book is an interesting look at Michelle Rhee's term as DC public school superintendent and the reforms she brought to the system. It goes into detail on her upbringing, focusing on the steps which led Rhee to be the strong and determined woman she is today. While the author at times appeared to be verging towards acting like a sycophant towards Rhee, he also acknowledged her faults and gave a pretty good analysis of her strengths and weaknesses. I especially liked that in one case he stated ...more
Jun 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Whitmire gets an excellent result at a different task--portraying someone who doesn't have a whole lot of time or interest being portrayed. Michelle Rhee is who she says she is--someone who puts kids first. This means, of course, that everyone and everything else comes in a distant second. Whitmire does a masterful job showing that this is both a blessing and a curse.

It's a blessing since, really, that's what we want out of our educators. We see how all of her experiences in and out of the class
Jan 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Several years ago I watched a PBS documentary on Michelle Rhee......who became chancellor of the Washington DC school district. Her story is interesting, especially understanding the small episode of her actually eating a bee!, hence the title of the book. This book illustrates the power of politics in the school system, and how disadvantaged many people are because of the fact they have no choice but to send their children to this terrible school system. Rhee was a political appointment, and al ...more
Jeff Raymond
Michelle Rhee is probably one of the most polarizing figures in American education currently, and is polarizing almost entirely due to her battles with the DC educational establishment toward the end of the last decade. This book, which is pretty positive toward Rhee on a whole, tries to explain how she got to that point, and how the DC battles occurred.

The book tries very hard to be even-handed, often to a fault. That might be the only flaw in what is otherwise a fairly well-written while basic
Aug 26, 2012 rated it liked it

Interesting journaling of Michelle Rhee's attempts to establish drastic school reforms. This book did suffer a few ways: (1) the author was rather biased towards Rhee, as she wrote the foreword to his previous book. This led to a telling of the tale that leaned heavily on one side, and wasn't as balanced as it could have been.; (2) despite the author's repeated interviews with Rhee, her cohorts and her family, this was still an unauthorized biography. Something was not quite ringing true with t
Mar 18, 2013 rated it liked it
Picked this up because I'm a big Michelle Rhee fan but the library doesn't have her book yet. Still an avid Rhee fan. The book goes over some key elements leading up to her tenure as DCPS Chancellor and then some of the major changes she led while in the job. It was written just after she left the post, so I was missing pieces on the lasting effect.
It was an interesting read, but about 2/3 of the way through the author switched to a much more subjective tone, and I didn't really connect with hi
Dec 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I thought this book was well written and presented a lot of behind the scenes maneuvering By the Washington DC mayor and Michelle Rhee in their attempt to reform one of the worst performing school systems in the country. Her ultimate measure of doing something or not was whether it was in the best interest of the kids in that system. Unfortunately for those kids, politics and turf wars by detractors on the city council as well as the teachers unions wore away at the improving results. And when r ...more
Charlotte Osborn-bensaada
Whitmire, clearly an acolyte of Michelle attempts the first draft on the tumultuous 4 years of school reform under Michelle Rhee. His book succeeds at exploring the underlying politics affecting the Fenty/Rhee reforms and in some respects the urgency that instigated their sometimes radical attempts. However the Bee Eater leaves one frustrated in trying to understand what it will take to get reform in DC, maybe that is DC's problem it does not really want it. As a person that has children in DCPS ...more
Samuel Lubell
May 04, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: education, nonfiction
This book is rather uncritical of Michelle Rhee and her tenure as superintendent of the DC Schools. The author attacks those who say educators can do little to counter the influences of poverty and family by pointing to some cities and schools that do better than others. However, this assumes that poverty is the same everywhere, which may not be the case. The author is too quick to assume that the teachers Rhee fired deserved it. Only at the end does the author admit that Rhee had faults and her ...more
Jun 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
If this book does not irritate/anger you as politicians who run on a platform of improving education, only to stand in the way of true progress, then I can understand how so many schools and ultimately children are neglected.

I was alternately proud to have people (Rhee and her staff) so dedicated and singularly focused on improving education as a vehicle to social reform, and I was so disheartened at the obstacles based on politicians egos, and a need to placate those that fail our students, th
Oct 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Really, really liked this book. The state of education in DCPS is appalling. Reading about the reforms that Rhee attempted to push through and the opposition she faced from district council members, union heads, and parents made me angry and so very sad for the children of DCPS. I can only hope that some of the reforms that she and her staff implemented can survive her departure and continued improvements will be made going forward. I would love to know the state of DCPS now, just 2 years after ...more
Jan 14, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: education
It's hard not to admire Michelle Rhee, and this book gives you many reasons why you should. Whitmire has created an easy-to-read portrait of a very polarizing figure. While there is a chapter in the book that alleges to review Rhee's faults, there are some holes in this story that Whitmire leaves out. Frontline's profile of Rhee was more balanced and included questions about possible cheating on standardized tests in D.C. during Rhee's reign. There's no mention of that at all in this book. Quite ...more
Jan 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
I gave four stars because I got an insight into the controversial educational reform in DC, got a clear understanding as to how some of that reform is reflected in district reforms around the country, and learned a little more about the philosophies of Michelle Rees (albeit from a friend). The book lost a star because the author purposely avoided ANY negative personal experiences and events in Michelle's life he felt was irrelevant to the subject at hand. However, casually throws "shade" at othe ...more
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RICHARD WHITMIRE (Arlington, VA) is a former editorial writer for USA Today and President of the National Educational Writers Association. A highly recognized and respected education reporter, his commentaries have been published in The New Republic, U.S. News, Politico, Washington Monthly, Chronicle of Higher Education, and Education Week. He also appeared on National Public Radio’s Morning Editi ...more

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