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Signal on D.C. education reform from Gray's camp

On Sunday, the All Opinions Are Local page of ran a commentary by former D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous. I am rerunning it because I think it has unusual importance as we look toward the future of D.C. schools under Vincent Gray. The piece doesn't indicate ties to Gray. Nor does the identification of Chavous that ran with the piece. But Chavous is close to the presumptive mayor and the commentary provides many clues to what Gray might try to do.

I realize this is a throwback to my China-watching days, reading more into an editorial than it seems to say. But Gray has expressed his support for charters, a theme of Chavous's piece, so there are clear links between Gray and this line of thought. Chavous is worth reading in any case, and it is important to note that he is probably the best-informed and best-connected person in the Gray camp on educational innovation and education policy issues.

The Black Alliance for Educational Options, of which Chavous is board chair, has been the most aggressive African American organization in the country in pushing for increased parental choice in schools, particularly urban schools. It has supported not only charters, but taxpayer-funded vouchers that would allow students to attend private schools, such as the D.C. program that is being ended by Congress. It is always possible, once the Gray administration gets started, that it will be even more revolutionary (Chavous's word) and infuriating to some educators than the Fenty administration was. Whether Gray can be innovative and still remain in tune with community leaders, as Chavous recommends, remains to be seen, but it is an intriguing line of inquiry.

Read the full Chavous piece after the jump.

By Kevin P. Chavous

Enough already! I love Michelle Rhee, and I introduced Adrian M. Fenty to the issue of education reform back when he was on my D.C. Council staff. I applaud both of them for their commitment to changing the D.C. public schools. But to suggest that Fenty’s and (let’s face facts) Rhee’s upcoming departures from their positions will be devastating to education reform in the District is not supported by our history.

In fact, maybe the change will provide the impetus we need for something lacking in the education reform movement in America: a true revolution.

For several years, starting with our unique charter school initiative, the highly successful federal government partnership that created the Opportunity Scholarship Program, and, more recently, the reforms driven by Rhee as schools chancellor, the District has been a laboratory for education reform admired by reformers throughout the nation. Changes in leadership will not turn back the clock. But as with other education reform efforts across the country, many believe that the District’s quest for change has lacked a soul — that it has been a top-down, elite-directed effort.

Yes, there has been progress. The work of folks such as Rhee, New York’s Joel Klein, Louisiana’s Paul Pastorek, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, President Obama and others has been laudatory. So is the work of our emerging new education leaders like KIPP, Teach for America and countless charter school operators such as Friendship Public Charter Schools’ Donald Hense. These innovators toil every day to close the three primary achievement gaps affecting the lifeblood of our nation: the education deficits between children of color and white children, between all low-income children and children of means, and between all U.S. children and children from other industrialized nations. Despite our best efforts, however, each of those achievement gaps are either stuck in place or growing. At this rate they’ll never be closed. Worse, the education reform movement in America has no sense of urgency in closing these gaps. So the gaps remain. They will only be closed by a sustained, people-driven revolution.

Why a revolution? Throughout history, no meaningful movement for change has ever occurred without one. Such revolutions are needed to overthrow an entrenched oppressor that is working against the masses or infringing on their freedom. When the masses become fed up with the oppression, a revolution is inevitable. As history teaches us, leaders such as George Washington, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. provide leadership in freedom fights. But it is the people who turn those fights into revolutions. Revolutions have a sense of urgency.

In our national education reform movement, the people have yet to weigh in, but they are increasingly becoming fed up with the status quo. The masses intuitively know that what we do in our schools largely doesn’t work for many kids, yet they aren’t engaged in the fight for change.

Often, those of us fighting this fight every day unwittingly push away the very people needed to turn reform into revolution. We do so by not engaging parents, by not being inclusive, by knowing it all. Now is the time for us to let the revolution in education take hold. In places like D.C., Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, there are parents and other stakeholders who are ready to go to the streets and fight for the education for their children. These folks understand what past revolutionaries understood, that revolutions are messy, not nice. And that the people’s demand for change must be addressed immediately, not by way of an incremental three- to five-year reform plan.

So while we acknowledge the contributions of Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty to the cause of education reform in the District, their exit offers us an opportunity to engage those stakeholders needed to transform our movement into a true revolution in education. Once that happens, the goal of ensuring that each American child has a quality education becomes far more important than arguing over who is in charge.

The writer, a former member of the D.C. Council (D-Ward 7), is chairman of the board of the Black Alliance for Educational Options and a distinguished fellow with the Center for Educational Reform.

By Jay Mathews  | September 28, 2010; 12:40 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Kevin P. Chavous, Vincent Gray, a clue to Gray's education reform plans  
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"The work of folks such as...Education Secretary Arne Duncan, ... has been laudatory."

He tells a lot in that sentence.

Posted by: edlharris | September 28, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

I have yet to have it explained how Gray, who was elected in no small measure by the teachers union, can push a pro-charter, pro-voucher agenda down those very same supporters throats. More charters, means fewer traditional public schools, means fewer union teachers needed. And, could we please take the charter discusssion down at least one level and ask what works and what doesn't in charters? For every KIPP, there is a failed charter in DC and the vast majority of charters are no better than the traditional schools. Yes, some are better, but what about them makes them better is not that they are charter schools, otherwise all charters would be better than all traditional public schools and that is simply not the case.

Posted by: horacemann | September 28, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Gray has been very upfront about being pro-charter.

Id be shocked if he were also pro-voucher.

Also, if Chavous loves what Rhee has done so far, and how she's done it, I doubt that he and Gray think very very much alike on educational issues over all.

Posted by: efavorite | September 28, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I think you're engaged in wishful thinking here. The Washingtomn Post certainly has a piece of the education reform profiteering proceeds, but it staked its whole claim to the DC motherlode on its patronage of Fenty. Fenty lost, and Rhee really did look "shaken" after she talked to Gray about the transition. How many metaphors can we think of here, fellow Post fans?

You staff writers are trying to reassure yourselves that the Post can continue fattening its Kaplan K12 for-profit cash cows over at the OSSE. Even if the "education reform" gravy train stays on track, though, the Post has lost control of which station it will stop at.

Yes, Gray has supported charter schools in general and uttered all the required praise of "reform". But maybe the Kaplan K12 Virtual Charter chain isn't his idea of a quality reform? Maybe none of the services your employer is selling to the city schools would stand up to scrutiny from an unbought mayor. Maybe what Gray asked Rhee for is records of payouts of public money to for-profits for special education services, and she hasn't actually kept track.

You education "reporters" should look into the question of what this wonderful invisible "reform" really consisted of, instead of speculating about your dwindling political leverage. Start by defending (or at least disclosing) this web-page:

I don't know if you staff writers own actual stock in the Washington Post Corporation, but, Jay, you have asked us all to support Kaplan to protect your salary and retirement. Is your retirement invested in Post stock? WPO share price is up suddenly, because the Post is in a buyback drive. My advice is, sell.

Posted by: mport84 | September 28, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

for mport84--- that line about supporting my salary was a joke. I know humor on the internet is tricky. Please dont take that seriously.

Good comments on Gray, but I still think he will be a guy full of surprises. He didnt have to say much in the campaign because he was winning by being the anti-Fenty. He is very smart, and has not had a conventional career. That makes him very interesting.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 28, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

My apologies regarding Gray being pro-voucher. That was incorrect. You may be right, Jay, that Gray will surprise people, but the most surprised may be the very people who thought by voting for Gray they were voting for rehiring teachers, reopening schools and undoing Rhee's personnel decisions.

Posted by: horacemann | September 28, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Gray said he is in favor of rehiring teachers who were unfairly let go.

He is too sensible to re-open schools that were closed for under-enrollment, but I wouldn't be surprised if he made it easier for charters to use that space.

I think he will attempt to change to Rhee policies that are flawed - like IMPACT, for example - and will keep those that are good and are working - like the new food service system, perhaps (Sounded good, but I don't know how it's working out).

Because Gray has listened so much to DC teachers and students, he knows what the issues are - perhaps better than Rhee or Fenty ever did. Because he's mature and intelligent, I think he'll make a lot of good decisions. And Because many people like and respect him, I think they will be more likely to cut him some slack when he makes a mistake or does something they don't completely agree with.

I'm hoping he can bring enough stability to the system to be able to attract good principals, teachers and administrative staff and quickly get rid of some of the people Rhee brought, especially principals.

Posted by: efavorite | September 28, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

I believe Gray already said he would consider rehiring teachers who were dismissed due to budget cuts. Why wouldn't he?

No one wants ineffective teachers in the classroom. I can't speak for others, but what angered me so was the way many teachers were treated. Many were insulted and fired based on false pretences (e.g. the budget shortfall that wasn't). I also strongly disapproved of actions bordering on the unlawful. I'll say no more about that because it should be left to those in the legal field. I WILL say this: in addition to losing their jobs, I hope some of these "reformers" are hauled into court.

Seeing the electorate left out of "reform" was also bothersome, to say the least. We all got a good lesson in why autocracy is problematic.

Mr. Gray strikes me as the type of person who will bring about true reform: more charters started by teachers and without the testing and financial fraud; evaluation of teachers that is valid and fair; more preschools to prevent the achievement gap; new teachers who are experienced; help for struggling teachers; and, above all, involvement of teachers, parents and community members in bringing about positive change.

Horaceman, I think you'll be surprised to find out that almost everyone wants to improve schools in DC, but they want to be part of it.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | September 28, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

Read the Valerie Strauss and see why all public school teachers in the United States should convince Democrats to select another Democratic candidate for President in 2012.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 28, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

We shouldn't forget that finances for DC Gov aren't looking that great-another shortfall of $175 million.
Unless DCPS receives funding from another source, there will be pressure to cut from DCPS.
Maybe Michelle is smart to leave.

Posted by: edlharris | September 28, 2010 9:50 PM | Report abuse

Jay - I think you're hoping that Gray will be full of surprises and that, having lost your idol Rhee, some of them will suit you.

I'd be surprised if he veers from what he's said and done so far. Having observed him in various settings, he seems quite consistent to me and not like a full-of-surprises kind of guy.

He's also mature and considering that he didn't enter politics until he was close to 60, I doubt (but don't know) that he harbored life-long aspirations of political greatness.

This suggests he could be the grounded guy he seems to be.

I hope I'm right and you're wrong, because I like what I've seen and don't crave any off- the-wall surprises.

Posted by: efavorite | September 28, 2010 10:03 PM | Report abuse

"We do so by not engaging parents, by not being inclusive, by knowing it all."

He is completely correct here. Often we don't listen to the parents and they are the ones who really know the child. Parents should be made welcome. We really have to bend over backwards to get them into the schools.

Parents too, have to step up to the plate.
Spend some time in your child's classroom. Is your child doing his or her work? If not, why not? Does your child need glasses, does he or she need to sit away from friends? Is he or she getting enough sleep? Does he or she need extra help? How are you going to assure that your child gets extra help?

If parents really want charter schools and vouchers, I say let them have them.

However, to get your child learning, you have to be willing to put in time with your child. No teacher can take the place of a parent or any older caring person sitting down next to a child and helping that child with homework or listening to that child read.

It is very boring, but if you want a revolution, parents have to do their part and like anything in parenting, it isn't easy.

On Gray, I would have to agree with efavorite so far.

Posted by: celestun100 | September 29, 2010 1:13 AM | Report abuse

By boring, I don't helping a child is boring, I just mean it is not something we normally think of as "revolutionary". Perhaps it is more like "common sense".

Posted by: celestun100 | September 29, 2010 1:14 AM | Report abuse

". . .almost everyone wants to improve schools in DC, but they want to be part of it."

And that's the challenge of a post-Rhee world and was the challenge of a pre-Rhee world. You can't have everyone involved, because everyone doesn't agree on what improving schools means. As a result, you get little or nothing done. I don't think people who argue for more community involvement really want "everyone" involved, I think they want everyone to do what they think is best.

And there are lots of people who are not interested in improving schools including disengaged parents, burned out teachers, people who don't want to pay higher taxes to fund educuation, kids who are coasting through school with no consequences etc . . .

Posted by: horacemann | September 29, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

And there are lots of people who are not interested in improving schools including disengaged parents, burned out teachers, people who don't want to pay higher taxes to fund educuation, kids who are coasting through school with no consequences etc . . .

Posted by: horacemann

You forgot:

... phoney reformers who are pursuing an ideological agenda, not an educational one (Rhee, Klein, Duncan, Gates Broad, Walton, the Washington Post), for-profit educaion and testing companies, anyone who has ever worked for TFA (unless they've escaped the cult and started to think for themselves, I recently read one blog comment by just such a person), anyone who sought the end of bussing for integration, etc...

Posted by: mcstowy | September 29, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

We all agree that change are needed to be made nation wide,parents teachers, clergy and the whole community needs to come together and stop making this about a one person show.

Posted by: annettecovington35 | September 29, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Gray remains in favor of (good) charters and the use of vouchers.

He's not likely to force reopening of closed schools. We still have way too many; they just bleed millions needed elsewhere in DCPS. More parents need to realize this, and he will tell them.

Finally, while torn, Vince is not about to go to war to rehire teachers. He knows that this, too, would, on net, be undermine getting any further improvements in schools. It will only crush the DCPS budget, already under heavy pressure from special interests. And on the facts the court case for rehires is not promising.

Posted by: axolotl | October 3, 2010 8:07 PM | Report abuse

Comprehensive development guidance models designed to maximize school counseling services. "YoNoBullyBro"...Theme song Wooly Bully. Bus full of traveling to your school, Dr's of Psychology and School Guidance Counselors.No time to wait for Superman but blow him up and attach him to the top of the bus.Budget cuts hampering counselors from spending time with students ? Share solutions and these are tough times and our young Americans need your support and team work is critical.Anderson Cooper with CNN will be on the Bully problem in our schools this week and hope you'll share solutions. No,not a fan of Rhee Reform and don't see the testing results up even after so many teacher's fired but wish her well. The results were a huge blow to Rhee's educational reform and Dr. Duncan needs to pay attention to that.Under Rhee reform school counselors eliminated in elemenary schools without 600 students ? Budget crunching to create more problems we don't need for our American Public School Buildings.Find solutions to make a difference for the young people and help support! That's what we're thinking with YoNoBullyBro.Any ideas to plug into this concept are welcome.Make it happen and a difference for the little ones Mr Gray and we'll be watching to make sure you do.

Posted by: jbatman | October 4, 2010 12:21 AM | Report abuse

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