12 June 2007

The Sell-Out

This morning Mayor Adrian Fenty unceremoniously dismissed DCPS Superintendent Clifford Janey and installed Michelle Rhee, whose classroom experience consists of three years teaching and whose administration experience consists of . . . well, nothing.

Much like we appoint absolute no-nothings to run major corporations and bring in total outsiders to perform surgery to escape the "medical industry establishment," Fenty has taken the bold move of placing a person whose major credential is that she runs a boutique teaching program that's the darling of the right-wing.

Rhee's New Teacher Project trains teachers for urban school districts, and that's a good thing. However, the other side of that coin is that Rhee's non-profit produces studies that blame teachers unions for making "it difficult for systems to get rid of poor teachers." This canard, one of the key talking points from libertarian and other elitist anti-education groups, functions on the notion that unions run the schools. If only it were so. For better or worse, administrators run the schools and are responsible for keeping poor teachers in the classroom: a diligent administrator who does his or her job supplies bad teachers with bad reviews and documents problems. Unions protect teachers -- good or bad -- who have good performance reviews. Unions ensure that due process is followed, even if under the Bush regime the notion of due process and rule of law are seen as "quaint notions."

As I have one child in the system and will soon have another, I hope Rhee succeeds, or at least doesn't do any more harm than has already been done. However, Janey should not be forgotten so easily. He implemented a much more rigorous curriculum and system of standardized testing, and as expected, scores dipped because everything became suddenly more difficult (which by the way is why the Post's series this week should be taken with a grain of salt: it relies heavily on test data from the previous year, a year in which the curriculum and tests changed: it was all new to the teachers and the students).

But I get ahead of myself. For those who think Fenty has brought in a breath of fresh air to the system, think again. It doesn't take long to watch the strands of the web appear:

*Kaya Henderson, the newly appointed deputy chancellor, once worked for Rhee at New Teacher Project and is currently on the board of EdBuild.
*EdBuild, most recently profiled by Colbert King, has received a 57.6 million dollar contract from the now more or less defunct Board of Education.
*Former Board of Education member Julie Mikuta left the board and shortly thereafter joined EdBuild, a "non-profit" whose sole purpose was to funnel DC's funds for school modernization into its well-connected founders' pockets.
*EdBuild's first president, Neil Albert, became the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development under Fenty.

What a tangled web we weave...

As for Rhee herself, consider this interesting quote that finishes up the Washington Post article:
"I'm not a career superintendent," Rhee said. "We see the harm that comes when people come in and in 2 1/2 years they're off to the next job after making 4 percent gains. I only took this job because I believe I can do it over the long haul."

In my limited understanding of English, I usually associate someone who does a job for the "long haul" with someone who does that for a "career," but I suppose that's the Old Speak, and then there's the curious notion that she seems to be blaming Janey for leaving so soon (his tenure coincidentally has only been 2.5 years), when it's pretty clear he was staying up until Fenty showed him the door.

I'm willing to bet that Fenty's shadow education agenda includes quick sell offs of valuable and irreplaceable school property to reap windfalls for connected local developers.


Reya Mellicker said...

I had a bad feeling about Fenty, a feeling that's being confirmed every time I read about anything he has done. Appointing people who have no experience is exactly what the president does.


Momentary Academic said...

This stuff just makes me nervous, Cuff. Nervous.