Gauntlet Thrown Down on Education

DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee
Courtesy Center for American Progress
DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee

There’s no question that education reform is the biggest issue in the 2010 District of Columbia election campaign.

Mayor Adrian Fenty ran on a promise to reform the District’s woeful school system and won big time in 2006. Now, he’s backing his designated Chancellor Michelle Rhee in her every move, including her struggle to gain control over hiring and firing teachers. Rhee herself seems to have interjected herself into the campaign when she questioned challenger Chairman Vincent Gray’s commitment to education reform and whether he would support a activist reform chancellor like herself fully.

So it stands to reason, as rumors swirled last week, that when Rhee announced that she was dismissing 241 teachers, the majority of which had received poor or below-minimum performance evaluations under a new and controversial grading system, sooner or later the other shoe would drop.

After all, the 241 (and another 700 or more who are under the cloud of being judged “minimally effective”) teachers, coupled with the nearly 300 who were terminated after a controversial budget crisis last year, amount to over 10 percent of the D.C. teacher workforce. (Some of the 241 were fired for not being properly credentialed).

The firings, based on a new evaluation system called IMPACT, which included at least 50 percent value on test scores, comes about a month before schools are set to open and a little less than two months before the Sept. 14 primaries.

Yet, at this writing, political response has been muted. While the D.C. Teachers Union and its president have vowed to challenge the firings, which would seem to indicate they were surprised by the evaluations, and while there is considerable chat among bloggers, education professionals and the like about what the firings mean and the use of IMPACT, Gray so far has not taken a stand. He said only that he wanted to look further into the basis for the firings.

The firings, and the union protest, come after the District and the union had successfully negotiated a complicated contract agreement earlier this year, which included retroactive pay raises for the teachers but more control over firing by Rhee. An impending mass firing, or the use of IMPACT evaluation for this year appears not to have been mentioned at the time, although the union did object to the use of IMPACT in general.

Mayor Fenty and Rhee aggressively defended the firings as further steps forward in education reform. “Every child in the District of Columbia Public Schools has a right to an effective teacher, in every classroom, every school, every neighborhood, every ward of this city,” Rhee said. Fenty said the action puts the District one step closer to that goal.

Not explained was who would replace the fired teachers.

The issue now becomes who takes command of the education reform issue, an issue in which D.C., for better or worse, is now in the forefront of a national movement. With the firings, that issue has become central to any future debates in the election campaign.

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Wed, 26 Nov 2014 19:06:02 -0500

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