Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What Went Wrong? Fenty's Real Mis-steps

The election confirmed what polls had shown for several weeks, that Fenty and Rhee had squandered their opportunity to reform the schools and the city. The question is how did this happen? The final vote: after Fenty's $5 Million warchest had been spent and the Washington Post editors had cheerled unceasingly for the Mayor and his accomplishments -- Vince Gray won -- 57% to 42%!

The Washington Post continues to insist in its post-election analysis that mayor Fenty's missteps were all about his personality and his failure to listen to his paid advisors. In the first salvo of their post-election analysis, reporters Nikita Stewart and Paul Schwartzman traced back examples of Fenty's hubris over the past year. But their analysis manages to maintain the myth that his policies and accomplishments really deserved to get him re-elected.

What the Post seems incapable of understanding, but what those close to the ground in DC schools know only too well, is the story of how the missteps and reform strategies of the Rhee administration served to alienate at least as many parents and teachers as they served to inspire. The very constituencies that should have been supportive of the reforms, those that were desperate to improve the quality of teaching and learning in DCPS, were growing to hate the sloppy teacher evaluation process, the increasingly test-driven strategies, and the autocratic, demoralizing fear-based culture that is so antithetical to respect for teachers and good teaching. Its time the Post started to ask why the Rhee reforms are so unpopular among accomplished teachers and activist parents?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Rheeform" -- What Went Wrong?

The meltdown of Adrian Fenty's re-election bid and the surprising Washington Post poll indicating that the Chancellor's approval/disapproval rating is 40% to 41% after three years has caused thoughtful DCPS watchers to begin to discuss the blunders that have been made that have so alienated parents and teachers. The Journal Rethinking Schools is publishing one analysis later this month that puts Michelle Rhee's leadership into a bit of historical perspective. A pre-publication copy of the article is available here, without pictures. Rethinking Schools is a national education journal written by and for teachers that has been published for more than 20 years with some of the most thoughtful and well-researched journalism in the field of education.
And Mark Simon got a Washington Post Op Ed published on what the Rhee administration did wrong and caused Fenty to be un-elected as a corrective to the lack of journalistic scrutiny of the Washington Post's coverage.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Washington Post's blind allegiance to Michelle Rhee

There is a larger story overshadowing the report on DC test score achievement gaps in the Washington Post dated Aug. 27, 2010 by Bill Turque: Michelle Rhee's "reform" program is a failure.
DC test scores, which began to improve under Mr. Janey's tenure, have flattened. The Post struggles to defend Ms. Rhee by pointing to the nationwide pattern of lagging test score gains; quoting Ms. Rhee's spokeswoman (Jennifer Calloway) cautioning against drawing broad conclusions from single-year test data; and in a last desperate line of defense, suggesting that perhaps there was "some anomaly in the tests."
I would like for the Post to stop cheerleading for Ms. Rhee and look at the facts: her "reform agenda" is not working. Demonizing veteran teachers, relentless teaching-to-the-test, imposing a flawed and overly-subjective evaluation system (which, hypocritically, places strong emphasis on single-year test scores) have not succeeded.
Ms. Rhee, Mayor Fenty, and the Post cannot have it both ways: if test scores determine whether a teacher receives a raise or loses his/her job, then they should rightly redound on our city leaders in the same fashion. Why are teachers not given 3, 5, or 7 years to improve their students' test scores? Ms. Rhee calls the disparity "unacceptable" and pledges to eliminate it, but she offers no new plans. Increasingly it seems she and the Mayor have succeeded in firing alot of teachers and building some new schools while achieving little educational impact.
Buried at the end of the report is a telling quote from Bruce Fuller: "Part of this hitting the wall may be the troubling fact that we may need to somehow attack family poverty before we see greater progress in closing achievement." Troubling fact indeed! The Mayor and Chancellor have placed the entire responsibility for improving the education of our youth on classroom teachers when a broader societal effort is necessary. Until we face this issue testing, charter schools, Teach for America, IMPACT, and Ms. Rhee's "reform agenda" will have no positive and lasting effect.