During Michelle Rhee’s book tour, the nation will hear a lot of claims about the dramatic changes she imposed on the D.C. schools, which qualifies her to export her ideas to the rest of the nation.
What should other states and cities seek to copy? D.C. Schools continue to be among the lowest performing in the nation, with the lowest graduation rate.
Michael Shank faults Mayor Vincent Gray for continuing to follow Rhee’s formula of thinking that firing teachers and closing schools is a substitute for addressing socioeconomic problems. The low education levels of D.C. high school students, he says, show how little Rhee’s reforms changed the quality of education in the schools she ran for nearly four years (and continues to influence through her successor and deputy Kaya Henderson).
Shank writes: “A neighbor of mine in Anacostia, who was interviewed for this article, is a teacher in a Ward 8 school. He notes that kids are dropping out of high school because they don’t have the basic skills that should’ve been acquired in elementary school. His high school students can barely “decode” (that’s teacher speak for sounding out words), and most of his students, with the exception of one, needed a calculator to tell him the answer to this math problem: What’s half of three? Remember, these are high school students.”
Mayor Gray won in large part because of dissatisfaction in the black community against Rhee. Yet he has maintained her people and policies. He even boasted, writes Shank, that D.C, will soon be a district in which half the students are in privately managed schools. “There is nothing radical about closing schools. It fails to address the problem, shifts the burden elsewhere and moves this city closer to a privatized all-charter system, out of accountability’s reach and away from public oversight.”
“This is where Gray’s fixes fall short. They’re looking at what ultimately is a socioeconomic problem, albeit manifested in the classroom, with educational lenses and educational tools. The adage is true: If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
“A more effective mayoral blueprint would operate across all sectors of D.C. jurisdiction, including housing, health and human services, public safety, environment, business, and education. This should be an all-cabinet and all-council conversation.
“The architectural integrity of this city is a stake if we don’t wake up to what is happening in our classrooms. Amid decorated State of the District speeches and ceremonious book signings, our kids’ minds are closing at a faster rate than D.C. can close its schools. Time to wake up and smell the mental decay, Mayor Gray, before it’s too late.”