Enough feuding! It's time for a D.C. schools summit
I just might scream if I hear one more person invoke what is “best for the kids” in the growing conflict between D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and her critics.
Tension is rising over a seemingly growing gap between what Rhee says in public and what she actually does--and while everybody is arguing about who is right and who is wrong and who didn’t call whom back, guess who is going to suffer?
(Did I just invoke what is “best for the kids?” Okay, I’m screaming.)
Yesterday Rhee was hit by D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray for deciding unilaterally to lay off teachers and staff instead of trimming summer school operations as the council had ordered to save $9 million. It was suggested that she broke the law; she said she was on solid legal ground.
My colleague Bill Turque wrote in today’s Washington Post that the dismissals have brought us to the most turbulent time of Rhee’s 28-month tenure as D.C. schools czar. The enmity between Rhee and her critics has never been greater. And the public debate gets ever more shrill:
She’s right! Research says kids need summer schools!
She’s wrong! Kids suffer when teachers are laid off during the year!
She’s wrong! She can’t ignore the D.C. Council and do whatever she wants.
She’s right! The D.C. Council only cares about adults, not kids!
She’s right! And people who don’t see it that way don’t care about the kids!
She’s wrong! And we’ll never trust her again!
Here’s the problem: The toxic atmosphere will make it impossible for real reform to take place. It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong.
It’s time for someone to make a high-level intervention and put a stop to this feuding. I’d vote for the man who hired Rhee in the first place and made her more powerful than previous schools chief. That would be Mayor Adrian Fenty.
Rhee seems to think she can do whatever she wants because she is sure she is on the side of the angels in her reform efforts. She clearly views Gray as being the defender of process rather than the poor kids.
Such characterizations are not only pointless but they are dangerous because they only increase a polarization that is sure to end in another failed reform, which would be tragic for the nation’s capital.
The more the bureaucracy doesn’t trust her, the more entrenched it will get, and the less it will do what she wants.
If you don’t think this will happen, look at what has gone on in the District for years. With every new superintendent and every new reform policy, the folks who don’t trust their leaders just dig in, waiting for the next boss to show up. That’s how we got to the place we are today.
Rhee would get a lot farther if she made her case to the public, explaining why she was doing what she was doing. She doesn’t have to be nice about it. She just can’t say one thing when something else is really true. And she has done that more than once in recent months, and not only about the layoffs.
I found disturbing a recent story about Rhee by Turque, in which he quotes a few principals who said that Rhee asked at a principals' meeting how she could regain the trust of teachers. Such a question indicates that she recognizes that having their trust is useful.
But when Turque asked her about it, she denied every saying it. My instinct tells me that the principals did not misquote her. So why would she deny having said it? None of the possibilities are good.
Does it matter? Yes.
I have said before that I fervently hope that Rhee is able to succeed where her predecessors could not. But no matter how marvelous her policies, she won’t be implement them by hedging the truth. It’s that simple.
So, Mayor Fenty, do something. Hold a summit. Bring together Rhee, Gray and whoever else matters.
Shame them, if you must, to end their feuding. Tell them to return each other’s calls.
Because at this point, the adults are sounding a lot more childlike than the kids.
(Editor's note: For Jay Mathews take on the Rhee-Council dispute, go to: this link in his Class Struggle blog. He thinks one aspect of Rhee's argument is right.).
| October 31, 2009; 12:10 PM ET
Categories: D.C. Schools | Tags: D.C. Schools, Mayor Adrian Fenty, Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee
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