Education in D.C.


Here in the nation’s capital education has been a hot topic.  Under former Mayor Adrian Fenty and former School’s Chancellor Michelle Rhee major shakeups and changes occurred in the District’s school system.  Some might even suggest that the education debate with Rhee cost the Mayor his reelection bid.

No matter what you thought of the former Mayor and Chancellor, education continues to be a focal point.  When Rhee fired teachers near the end of her term last summer parents and educators alike were mad.  The local teacher’s union raised great concern with Rhee’s ability or inability to command such a struggling school district.  A year later residents are faced with the same dilemma, but under a new face and name: Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

Recently she fired over 200 teachers for low performance, measured by the IMPACT evaluation tool developed by her predecessor, Michelle Rhee.  Was there a big media storm about it? Were there protests or even various op-eds written about Henderson’s inadequacy to perform such a daunting task? It makes one wonder the vilification District residents put Rhee under for doing what she said she would do: strive to make the District’s school system better.

This news comes on the hinges of the recent scandal that’s rocking the Atlanta school system where teachers, principals and even the superintendent have been implicated in cheating.   According to a Georgia State investigation hundreds of Atlanta public school teachers and principals changed answers on state tests in one of the largest cheating scandals in U.S. history.

Back in March, Henderson asked the D.C. Inspector General to investigate erasures which occurred on standardized tests at many D.C. schools between 2008 and 2010, noting that “a high erasure rate alone is not evidence of impropriety.”

Fast forward to the current situation, the District is again faced with low performing teachers and the Chancellor is faced with firing them or keeping them at the expense of student’s educational growth.  When former President George W. Bush enacted the “No Child Left Behind Act” it spotlighted those low-performing districts, schools and teachers.  A competitive edge was incentivized with money to have districts, principals and teachers to improve performance.

Now that the new Chancellor has again fired low performing teachers, as her predecessor the looming question remains, Is the Chancellor acting in the best interest of the students? Firing any worker can be a tough job, especially when the worker has delicate minds in their hands to shape and mold.  Henderson’s actions seem to be more understood now that the city has gone through the “change” Rhee instituted. Some might say that change should be a gradual process, maybe even test-running new initiatives like IMPACT before teachers are forced to comply.  However, at what cost? The longer District residents resist to new change the longer residents will have to wait to see the changes they desire.

It’s a double-edged sword. As with the teachers and principals in Atlanta who were willing to succeed even at the cost of cheating, District teachers and principals should not take this approach and one can only hope that the Inspector General’s conclusion about erasures is false.

Each parent desires to have their child educated by the best teachers, at the best schools and in the best school districts.  However, when faced with low performance at any of these levels, parents, teachers and administrators must look at the problem face on and decide in the best interest of the children.  If that means some teachers have to be let go, keep in mind that these decisions are being made with the students in mind- one can only hope at least.



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