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Monday, June 28, 2010

Gray Debates Self

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.

15 comments:

  1. Thanks for your reporting, RE. It is much better than whatever Monsieur Turque and the gang will turn out.

    You seem a little concerned and underwhelmed avec Gray. Well, what do you expect?

    He is not a sharp government executive, but he is capable enough to chair the Council. He is not deep in education. He has a fundamental liking for, and gives support to, Rhee. Indeed, when she is before the Council, he seems to be flirting with her. And he is polite and not brash. He is too polite to deal with the figuratively cudgel-wielding union members who would like to take control of the schools away from the parents and citizens, or so it seems.

    If Fenty had shown at the debate, there would have been some grande fireworks. And the room would have been packed with sniveling, catcalling, booing teachers, both crazed unionistas and others for whom being in the firing zone is unbearable for public employees who feel entitled to lifetime jobs no matter what they do.

    If Madame Rhee has done anything, she has smashed that idea, and she did not have to break the union to do it. The union was quite capably self-destructing.

    The no-show of parents is not too surprising. I would have gone to learn and for the show of a debate with King stirring the pot. I would not have learned much from Gray alone, however.

    That teachers were not much in evidence is somewhat of a surprise. Quite possibly they will prove again (1) they won't bother to vote, or (2) they don't think enough of the District to live here. We should have little regard for teachers in both categories.

    Someone told me that an activist unionista has suggested "marching on Washington" and "boycotting" to stop the perceived madness of school reform. One can reasonably ask, is reform any worse, or possibly better, than the underlying, baseline chaos of public education as conducted today by teachers and principals, with help from intrusive bureaucrats? Who are you going to complain about and target in the March on Washington? Last I knew, the "march" on Washington on April 10 drew at least ten DC teachers out of 4000.

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  2. Ask the forum promoters to whom they marketed the event. I'm guessing that it was mainly targeted to "young educators" and the media.

    Please don't presume parents and other citizens aren't interested in school issues, when it's quite likely that they were simply not informed.

    I’m also guessing a lot of people who signed up decided not to attend because Fenty dropping at the last minute out was as much as they needed to know to influence their primary vote.

    Also the poster above who comments that "Someone told me that an activist unionista has suggested "marching on Washington" and "boycotting..." most likely read that on a Wapo message board yesterday.

    RE - next time you're reading WaPo messages, check the comments from staunch Fenty/Rhee supporter "Axolotl" and see if they don't sound a lot like Anon at 6:06AM, and a lot of other Anons here. I think he’s discovered your blog and feels threatened by it.

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  3. RE, I'm a parent and I'm interested in policy. I've attended policy events at the Urban Institute and EPI.

    I was initially made aware of this particular event via your blog and it was made clear it was already overenrolled.

    Regardless, who actually makes an effort to reach out to public school parents? It's not the Rhee administration. I'm told on a regular basis that the stable home life I provide, the healthy meals, the non stop reading, the museum trips, etc... make absolutely no difference in my child's life.

    Rhee tells me that it's all on you, the teacher, to make my child achieve.

    And on that note, while I was planning to take my children to a museum today, I think I'll buy a violent video game and have them while away the summer that way...

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  4. Here's a great comment from the Wapo article on the Fenty no show:

    "I don't worry about Rhee being fired because with a new boss, she will have to learn professionalism, how to be accountable, responsive, be prepared to take orders, "report" for duty, turn on the desk lamp and get from under the spotlight. Her workforce bashing days will be over. She will have to conduct herself as an employee under contract and as a public servant not a celebrity. That will become her biggest challenge. It won't be long.....
    Candycane1 at 6/28/2010 11:53:52 PM

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  5. To Ms. eFavorite/ methinks you are annoyed that folks have picked up on the high-pitched call for a "boycott" and "march." With all due respect to you, Ms. Axie, and all the usual hangers on here and on other blogs, thoughts like that could get noticed by more than one person. (Am flattered by your guess, regardless.) It's ok. No one's threatened by our freewheeling discussion or talking darkly about it, so please relax. We are all in this together, believe it or not.

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  6. I am very saddened but not surprised by what you have reported as to Gray's own thoughts on education.
    I disagree with all of them!
    DCPS is under the control of a member of an "education reform movement", not the Mayor, the Council or the people of this city.
    There's a very good description of that "movement" in the June 13th NY Times magazine by a writer named Steven Brill.
    The mayor I'm looking for knows that our Home Rule government has been weakened by the Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007, that DCPS has been taken away from the people to whom it belongs and will do everything possible to correct this intolerable situation.
    I don't think Gray fits that description.

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  7. Sarah -- Find out a little bit more about Gray than what you've read here before you jump to that conclusion.

    Follow his city council activities in education for starters. I'd give you more specific directions, but if you're clever enough to find your way here, I figure you're clever and motivated enough to do your own thorough research.

    Then again, maybe your purpose here is to influence votes away from Gray. That would be clever too.

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  8. There ya go, again, Madame EFAVorite, looking for plots in all the wrong places.

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  9. Sarah,

    U say "DCPS has been taken away from the people to whom it belongs." Who took it away?

    To whom does it belong--other than all citizens of the District?

    I could have sworn the elected Council voted unanimously for the contract yesterday, and has supported, or not opposed, almost all of the reform efforts in the last three years.

    What are you talking about?

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  10. I voted for Fenty and although I was not convinced that mayoral control of the schools was needed to effect the reforms that were already beginning with Superintendant Janey's leadership, I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt thinking that the change in governance and the creation of a chancellorship position would merely speed up what had already begun. By the time of the "RIF", I knew I was wrong. Two days later, I learned of the chancellor's plan to close Scott Montgomery ES in my neighborhood which is on the north side of New York Ave. and "consolidate" the students into the Walker Jones school on the south side of that major roadway, requiring the 5 to 10 year old kids to walk across one of the 10 most dangerous intersections in the city. That plan was finalized on December 15th and that's when I began a very focused effort to find out what kind of "reform" was going on here. One of the first things I learned was that the Office of the Ombudsman had been closed on September 30, 2009! Over the next next few months, it became clear to me that the reform of DCPS that I thought was underway had been transmografied into something the chancellor wanted and any questioning of it was merely "pushback" to be deleted. The more I watched as hundreds of people testified to the Council about the sudden, incomprehensible things that were happening to which they could get no explanation from the chancellor or anyone else in DCPS, such as the McKinley kids leaving school to go to DCPS headquarters and then down to city hall just wanting to know, what is going on with our teachers being taken out of the classroom like criminal suspects while we are trying to prepare for graduation, the kids from Bruce Monroe supposedly temporarily bunking up with Park View while a new school was being built, the kids from Hardy and their parents wanting to know why they were losing Principal Pope--the more I could see the difference in what the citizens' expectations were and what was actually happening.
    Why? What did all this have to do with making DCPS a well run and highly functioning school system? Ironicaly after all those months of reading, watching, and notetaking, I happened upon an article in the New York Times that put it all together. It is called "The Teachers' Unions' Last Stand" and is written by a person named Steven Brill. Here's the link:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/magazine/23Race-t.html?
    The people mentioned in it, along with those in the Washington Post front page article of June 18, 2007, "Maverick Teachers' Key D.C. Moment, Program Behind Fenty's School Pick Finds Fame, Clout", some of which are the foundations which have given money toward the contract, are the ones who have taken DCPS away from all the citizens of the District to whom it rightfully belongs.
    Watching how the Council and its chair have handled themselves with the people and with Rhee and other DCPS decision makers in the hearings of the past few months has informed me that they either do not know what kind of "reform" Rhee has been up to or they do and they have been aiding and abetting it by misleading people to believe that they are as offended and insulted as the people are. Either way, Anonymous at 1:52 pm, the fact that the Council has "supported, or not opposed, almost all of the reform efforts in the last three years." is exactly the problem for me. I want meaningful opposition to people from outside DC having this kind of control over our local affairs, not kowtowing to it. And EFavorite, I won't being voting for Fenty again nor is this post by RE all the info I have about Gray.
    Scott Montgomery, meantime, has now been completely leased by KIPP Will Academy which had been leasing the second floor since 2006. Money to run a DCPS school no longer needed while money is coming in instead. Is that merely an oddity or just the beginning of something that Obama/Duncan might Really like?

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  11. Sarah- thanks for the detailed info. Please consider posting your experience in the comments section http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/30/AR2010063005401_Comments.html on today's front page Post story about Rhee not committing to stay if Gray is elected Mayor. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/30/AR2010063005401.html

    Also, consider shortening it and submitting it as a letter to the editor or a citizen response.

    I understand your concerns, but I think if you watch Gray more closely you may see that he intends to move towards a type of "reform" that you would support.

    In fact, I suggest you contact his campaign directly to express your concerns and get some response.

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  12. Sarah, I see your pique began when your convenient neighborhood school was closed. That's understandable, but look, we had no school leader for a few decades--with the skill and the political will--to get our bloated roster of schools shrunk. Every mom opposes the loss of a neighborhood school. We just can't afford it, and we need to close more. Also, you are worried about "outside" interests, it seems. Well, we need a lot of them because our schools only reached the depths with an inbred, closed-loop, incompetent B of E, a teacher corps that felt entitled to jobs and easily dodged any departures for all but the most egregious reasons and easily batted away attempts to measure performance. And we pay the top dollar for all of this; go figure. Some teachers would like to dump DCPS education quality issues exclusively on socio economic conditions and those awful or missing parents. It's odd that you say nothing about the need for upgrading teacher quality, or the traditional role of the union in blocking any change whatsoever to teacher accountability or job security. You only comment is on the unverified handcuff story.

    You say nothing of our elected representatives--all of them--endorsing the new contract or of their general approval for almost everything Rhee has done.

    And you have not answered the basic questions: exactly who "took away" DCPS, and to whom do the DCPS belong? Sarah, is there some big conspiracy going on?

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  13. EFavorite and Anon at 750: I apologize. You are right. I shouldn't judge the degree of parent involvement in DC based on who showed up to that event.

    I would, however, say that parent involvement continues to be one of the biggest problems in our most challenged districts. There are millions of amazing and super-involved parents. But sadly, there are millions more who couldn't care less what their kids are doing.

    What I was also trying to communicate with my last comment in the post, however, was that the people being brought into the system, while often bright and talented, are uninterested in remaining a part of the community for longer than a few years. I don't know if this is fixable, but I think the system would be a lot better off without the truckload of naive, transient, youngsters being dumped into the system year after year.

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  14. Giving credit where credit is due:
    The DC Council, which I said in my comment at 2:06 has kowtowed to Rhee, passed an Act on June 15, 2010 called the District of Columbia Public Schools Teacher Reinstatement Congressional Review Emergency Act of 2010. Basically it calls on the Chief Financial Officer to determine whether DCPS had a budget surplus in FY 10 or if it was an accounting error and if so, what is the feasibility of reinstating the teachers. It began as Bill 18-0842 and is now A18-0456.
    As I'm sure you know, A stands for Act and an Emergency Act is effective for 90 days. In this case, it will expire on Oct. 5, 2010.

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  15. Is there a reason axolotl is afraid to post here as axolotl or her real self?

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