So Mayor Adrian Fenty decided at the last minute not to attend the Great Education Debate put on by the Young Education Professionals - DC (YEP-DC) tonight at the Navy Memorial and Naval Heritage Center auditorium. But Chairman Vincent Gray did show up as planned along with a good-sized contingent from the WaPo who sat front-and-center and a significant number of young people all trying to figure out the mess that is ed policy in the District. Many people apparently decided not to come, however, after they learned Fenty cancelled. Colby King didn't attend and the guy whose question I had to ask the chairman apparently couldn't make time for the event either. The auditorium was about half-full.
Chairman Gray fielded questions for over an hour on education. He touted his ongoing support for a system of public education that would begin at birth and last until the age of 24. He mentioned his ongoing support of a system of mayoral control. He said he thinks the Fenty administration has been 'opaque' in its decision-making process. He said he believes Rhee has provided strong leadership (I don't think there's really much question that he would likely keep her as chancellor). And he said he believes strongly in making significant efforts to bring more of the community into the conversation surrounding education. Gray suggested (i.e. did not state explicitly) that the biggest problem with Rhee is that the conversation revolves too much around her and Fenty because they make all of the decisions when more people should be involved. Oh right - and Gray champions market-based solutions to public education.
The reason I titled this post, "Gray Debates Self," is because I thought there was a fundamental contradiction in a lot of what he said. He made a huge point about voting for mayoral control back in '04 when it did not pass (and pointed out that Fenty voted against it then), but later took about ten minutes to discuss how important it is to put the public back in public education (for which he received a good amount of applause). He wants parents, community members, educators, and students to take more of an active role in making DCPS a better place for students to learn.
Am I missing something, or is mayoral control antithetical to putting the public back in public education? Isn't mayoral control a big reason why Fenty and Rhee have been able to be so 'opaque?' How does Gray reconcile supporting a system that denies citizens' opportunity to participate in public school governance in the most direct way possible in our republic yet, at the same time, claim he wants the public to be uber involved in their schools?
Another issue not raised (no big surprise) was Rhee's raising of private money and the contract provision that allows those dollars to be removed if Rhee loses her job.
The biggest problem I see here: the people who are interested in DC ed policy are people like me. I was here for a year, and I'm leaving in August. I didn't meet any DCPS parents at the 'debate' tonight. I didn't meet any students. I didn't hear any questions from anyone who's taught in the District for more than a few years. For the most part, the people interested in DC ed policy are journalists and uber ambitious TFA-type transients who see this as a good place to jump start their careers. If those are the only kind of people you can get to show up to events like this or work in the schools, then longterm and meaningful solutions to DCPS's problems will always remain just beyond the horizon.