17 November 2008

These two need to be stopped.

Adrian Fenty, who apparently thought that running a school system boiled down to slapping paint on walls and hiring incompetent, unprepared managers, and Michelle Rhee, who has no idea how to manage a large organization, must be stopped. In their latest move to mask their sheer ignorance of education, Rhee and Fenty are seeking to declare a "state of emergency" in the DC public schools. Now, in a "yes we're all concerned" kind of way, DCPS has been in a state of emergency, but in a technical, as in "declare martial law, suspend laws, shoot to kill" kind of way, no such state of emergency exists.

These two must be stopped.

I argued this publicly and privately to anyone who would listen when the school takeover was being floated and Rhee was handed the reins: this maneuver [the takeover] had nothing to do with improving DCPS and everything to do with dismantling the teacher union and outsourcing -- essentially privatizing -- public education. With every move Michelle Rhee has made, I've only grown more confident in that prediction. [as a side note, I suppose when I use "incompetent" in relation to Michelle Rhee, then I'm taking at face value her claims to want to improve the system -- I think she's a tremendously competent tool of the think-tanks and foundations that want to dismantle public education in the US, but a terribly incompetent manager.]

Now comes this bizarre move, where she and Fenty seek to invoke the same sort of emergency activity that New Orleans used after Hurricane Katrina. Under the Bush regime, neocons and neolibs alike looked to the "state of emergency" conditions to suspend ordinary regulations that sought to protect workers and turned the New Orleans rebuilding effort into a giant laissez faire showplace of corruption and thievery. Let me be clear: privatization in most of these contexts means taking public money and handing it over to cronies in the private sector, often giving far more for far less and with no oversight or accountability.
If adopted, the measures would essentially allow the District to begin building a new school system. Such an effort would be similar to one underway in New Orleans, where a state takeover after Hurricane Katrina placed most of the city's 78 public schools in a special Recovery School District. About half of the district's schools are
charters, and it has no union contract.

Unfortunately for Rhee and Fenty, DC apparently hasn't suffered any major natural disaster like a hurricane, earthquake, or flood (although I might make the argument that Rhee's tenure has been an man-made disaster, maybe like an act of terrorism...though that's a bit harsh isn't it?), and I doubt Barack Obama's administration will be as friendly as Bush's was to undermining public education.

Teacher unions aren't the problem. Bad management is the problem. Critically underfunding local school in-classroom and enrichment activities is the problem. Utterly mismanaging facilities is the problem.

Yes, there are bad teachers out there, just like there are bad co-workers at most offices in the private sector, but anyone who thinks the solution to DCPS is to dismantle the teachers union is falling for the old bait and switch. Destroying the teachers union does nothing to improve education but it goes a long way toward satisfying the anti-government forces whose ultimate goal is to undo government support for education.

For years -- long before Rhee rode into town -- DCPS's problem has been a lack of good management at the top. That lack has resulted in crumbling facilities and moronic curriculum decisions that treat phys ed, art, and music as luxuries rather than integral components to education (not to mention an administrative attitude that placed little emphasis on keeping track of students and seriously underfunded guidance offices). That's where the problem lies, and until someone addresses that root problem -- the imperial central administration -- DCPS will not improve.

These two must be stopped.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

While I agree with much said here, you've placed on everyone except who deserves it most--the parents. If parents don't start doing a better job at raising self respecting, disciplined children, the best teachers and management in the world is not going to make a difference. What chance does an excellent school system have against a child who comes to school low on fuel because of lack of breakfast and low on self respect because of an environment that may be riddled with violence, drugs, etc.?

Certainly all DCPS students with discipline problems don't come from such a severe environment. Some just act out because they can. The schools give teachers no authority to handle out of control children. If a student hits a teacher, the teacher can't even defend him/herself. So who's in charge?

We're running around in circles to avoid the obvious. What's happening in DCPS is going to be happening in all schools if we don't draw a line in the sand.

Anonymous said...

While I agree with much said here, you've placed blame on everyone except who deserves it most--the parents. If parents don't start doing a better job to raise self respecting, disciplined children, the best teachers and management in the world is not going to make a difference. What chance does an excellent school system have against a child who comes to school low on fuel because of lack of breakfast and low on self respect because of an environment riddled with violence, drugs, etc.?

Certainly all DCPS students with discipline problems don't come from such severe environments. Some just act out because they can. The schools give teachers no authority to handle out of control kids. If a student hits a teacher, the teacher can't even defend him or herself. So who's in charge?

We're running around in circles to avoid the obvious. What's happening in DCPS is going to be happening in all schools if we continue to fail to establish authority.

Cary Sabados said...

Anonymous,

Actually, he hasn’t placed blame on everyone:

"Teacher unions aren't the problem. Bad management is the problem. Critically underfunding local school in-classroom and enrichment activities is the problem. Utterly mismanaging facilities is the problem."

DCPS is one of, if not the worst, public school systems in the country. I, personally, would refrain from claiming that something is not a problem. You claim that the Teachers’ Union is not the problem. I have heard accounts that anywhere from 0-1 teacher (out of 4,500) were fired during the 2006-2007 school year due to poor performance. Yes, many businesses have bad workers. Most successful businesses also have accountability and work to eliminate inefficient employees. DCPS teacher culture seems dead set on avoiding such accountability. And really, why wouldn't they? If we imagine that people will always do what is in their self-interest, then why would someone accept a plan that could potentially lead to their firing. They would - under Rhee’s plan - if they believed they were good enough to earn the bonuses. They wouldn’t if they didn’t want to lose their job security. Unions are a problem insofar as their main aim is to protect the jobs of their members, regardless if the work they do is detrimental to the students they teach. It doesn't seem like these interests are aligned with the interests of education as a whole, which is to prepare students for productive and successful lives. I am a teacher. I taught in a mismanaged, poorly run, underfunded school in DC. The idea that that, or "bad parenting," is a reason to excuse the work that you do is absurd. Basing pay off of the number of years someone has been teaching or the number of classes he/she has taken is similarly absurd. Which is how an art teacher with a doctorate, 20+ years of experience and a horribly run classroom ended up making twice as much as me.

Teachers unions are surely not the only problem facing DCPS, but they have a significant part to play. Saying that being against Teachers’ Unions is a veiled way of “dismantling public education” seems rather illogical, as in a “suspend the laws of logic, shoot to kill” kind of way. I would be interested in evidence to support such claims as: “I think she's a tremendously competent tool of the think-tanks and foundations that want to dismantle public education in the US,” “Let me be clear: privatization in most of these contexts means taking public money and handing it over to cronies in the private sector, often giving far more for far less and with no oversight or accountability,” or “although I might make the argument that Rhee's tenure has been an man-made disaster, maybe like an act of terrorism...though that's a bit harsh isn't it?”

You claim that Fenty and Rhee “must be stopped.” Were you so angry and incensed when Janney was the superintendent? Or were you happier when the worst school system in the country kept a lower-profile?

cuff said...

Wow. The anons are out in force. I'll start with the last question: I supported Janney; he was doing a good job and his academic emphasis was on track as evidenced by the fact that Rhee hasn't changed much of anything in that direction.

My comment on Rhee as a man-made disaster was a riff on her attempt to declare education in the District in a "State of Emergency" similar to Hurricane Katrina's effects on New Orleans. It's a rhetorical strategy extending her logic to indicate its absurdity.

Additionally, you only have to follow the money to understand where the impetus for privatization is coming from. Right-wing thinktanks like the Herritage Foundation provide the, um, "intellectual" underpinnings and rabidly anti-labor hacks like Richard Mellon-Scaife provide the funds for the assault. Also you have various foundations ponying up "start up" money for Rhee's two-tier pay system...but once the union's busted that money will be hard to come by and it will be back to Chef Boy-ar-dee for the teachers.

And finally to second anon: whose fault is it that the awful art teacher remains in the building? If I'm a manager and I don't document violations, then I'm not doing my job. And in case you haven't noticed, Rhee's not targeting bad teachers...she's targeting teachers who don't toe her line, as in the AP biology teacher at Wilson.

Anon #1: You're right. I didn't talk about parents. Rhee has absolutely no control over the parents and how they parent. She can make suggestions, she can open up resources (see today's Post), but she can't tell them what to do. DCPS has looked at parents for a long time (before and including Rhee) as people who should mind their own business -- principals get shitstorms rained down on their heads from central office when they fail to "control their parents," because CO doens't like to hear from parents.

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