Are we speaking the same language on D.C. school policy?
Some time ago a faithful reader and commenter on this blog, dccitizen1, asked me a good question about the School Without Walls. It was a small issue, but concerned how D.C. schools really work, a favorite topic of mine.
The question was why Rhee "abruptly and unilaterally dropped the Senior Research Paper from the School Without Walls curriculum."
When I contacted Rhee about this, she quickly replied: "I am not involved in decisions like that. They are made at the school level. Do you want me to connect you with the principal?"
I forgot to pass that on right away to dccitizen1. It was Thanksgiving week and I was in California. But dccitizen1 asked the question again recently and I finally sent dccitizen1 Rhee's two-month-old response.
Dccitizen1 said Rhee's account was different from one in the The Examiner, and her response was a lie.
I said I would check the story with the principal at Walls, as the school is commonly called. His name is Richard Trogisch, and he has been very successful in sustaining Walls' long tradition of excellence.
Here is what I found, after hearing from Trogisch, from D.C. instructional superintendent of high schools John Davis, who is Trogisch's supervisor, and more from Rhee. I know this seems like a small issue, but I think it illustrates the problem we have had lately of accusing each other, and the Chancellor, of lying, when a careful look at the facts shows something less clear and more interesting.
Let me know what you think:
Trogisch said that in November 2007, in her first year as chancellor, Rhee turned up at a parent meeting at the school without prior notice. It was a time when she often dropped in on school events, to meet people and get a sense of what was happening.
The issue they were discussing was the Senior Project. Trogisch was telling some parents that their kids had to do it. Some of the parents were resistant. Rhee spoke up, according to Trogisch, and said he could not require such a project for graduation, although he could certainly urge kids to do it. [Shortly after this post went up, Trogisch corrected my recollection of our conversation. From the beginning, he said, the project was not scheduled to be required for graduation until 2010. What he was telling the parents in 2007 was that all seniors had to take the Senior Project course, and he heard Rhee say at the meeting that the course could not be mandatory.]
Trogisch said he did not speak to Rhee about this later. He waited to see what would happen. Participation dropped, he said. Only 22 of the 100 seniors took the course and did the project. Many of those who participated told him later it helped them in college. Trogisch persevered and asked his superintendent, Davis, for permission to require the course the next year. Permission was granted. The course and project are now required and Trogisch says it is working well.
When I asked Rhee about Trogisch's account, she said:
"Yes, there's a huge difference between 'dropping the senior project' and that decision and making it a graduation requirement. In order to make something a graduation requirement, there's a process that you have to go through. However, implementing the project is the principal's decision. Therefore, my statement stands that I didn't and wouldn't make those kinds of decisions. If the school wanted to make it a graduation requirement, the principal would have to initiate the process."
She asked Davis to give me his thoughts. He said:
"The senior project was definitely not dropped from the SWW curriculum as the writer stated. It was clear that there was a lack of communication regarding the class. It was also clear that an accurate, timely process was not taken to ensure that students and parents knew of the requirement much earlier, preferably before they enrolled in SWW. With that, the principal and I never dropped the senior project, but gave students the option of taking that class or other offerings at the school. We then ensured that following classes of students and their parents knew of the requirement in a timely basis."
I also asked Rhee if she had any memory of the Walls meeting two years before I asked her about it last November. She said: "I didn’t realize that’s what you were referring to until later."
My conclusion: Rhee didn't lie. She didn't remember the meeting in 2007 when I first asked her about it, and didn't believe she was shutting down the program when she said then that the principal could not require every student to take the course. She recalls saying what Davis said, that such programs need more time to set up before they became a requirement. That is exactly what happened.
It is interesting to me that the instructional superintendent has so much influence on these decisions. I didn't know Davis, or his job, until this issue came up.
He and Trogisch made the right decision. Senior projects are a wonderful idea. I wish more schools had them.
If anyone else has interesting cases like this to investigate about any of our area schools, send them to me here, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read Jay's blog every day at http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle.
| February 3, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
Categories: Jay on the Web | Tags: D.C. schools, John Davis, Michelle A. Rhee, Richard Trogisch, School Without Walls, dccitizen1, did Rhee lie
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