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Posted at 9:53 AM ET, 03/10/2011

DCPS budget: The Brian Betts effect

By Bill Turque

One sad footnote to the FY 2012 budget is the nearly 50 percent cut in spending for Shaw Middle School@Garnet-Patterson. The Ward 1 school became one of the feel-good stories of the Michelle Rhee era when a group of eighth graders approached the former chancellor in 2009 and asked if she would add a ninth grade to Shaw. They wanted more of principal Brian Betts, who they said had changed the culture at the newly-merged middle school. About 100 students signed on. In the winter of 2010 Rhee granted another extension allowing them to stay for their sophomore year.

But Betts was murdered last April, and now school officials have decided to disperse the ninth and 10th grade classes formed on his watch. The school's projected enrollment for the fall is down almost 50 percent, from 318 to 152, and with it the available funding. Shaw will also lose staff positions along with the 29 other "receiving schools" that were bulked up when they took on students from shuttered buildings in 2008.

All told, Shaw's 2012 budget is down 43.5 percent, from $4.4 million to $2.5 million.

By Bill Turque  | March 10, 2011; 9:53 AM ET
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You are right, this is sad for Shaw students. It's also important to remember that in the end, budgeting is a zero sum game. The resources are in fact finite.

Rhee showered "extra" on her favored principals at Shaw and Sousa, up to $12000 per pupil.

Nice for them, but there were other schools, equally impoverished, who got their budgets cut to make up those millions of dollars.

Look at 2010 budgets and the CSM breakdowns for schools that didn't curry Rhee's favor and I think you'll be shocked. Mary Levy has all the data, but schools like Stanton, Miner, King, Thomson, Savoy and Ferebee-Hope got to pay for Rhee's investment in "superstar" principals.

That's pretty sad too.

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | March 10, 2011 10:40 AM | Report abuse

The headline is tasteless.

Posted by: OrdinaryDCPerson | March 10, 2011 11:23 AM | Report abuse

"Feelgood story" is a good way to put it.

If the kids scores had gone up the way Rhee expected with the energetic principal and young unjaded staff, the school would be thriving, despite Betts tragic, untimely end. The success story of the rising scores (just like in Rhee's Baltimore school!) would have permeated the city and Neighborhood yuppie families would be standing in line to get in.

Instead, the scores went down and then bounced back a little to where they were pre-Betts. That's the part you don't hear about -- except in the comments section.

This used to be the only place you heard about the steadily rising NAEP scores. Now that a big National Academy of Sciences study is saying the same thing, DCPS and WaPo have quietly dropped the "Scores are soaring" feelgood story.

Posted by: efavorite | March 10, 2011 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Why don't the successful programs in DCPS gets replicated elsewhere? For example, Deal Middle School has an assistant principal for each grade!!! The administration there is better organized than any school in the District. Please Turque, do some investigating on this.

Posted by: lois3 | March 10, 2011 1:23 PM | Report abuse

The too-common under-researched story. What happened to Shaw MS funding for this year? How many of the students stayed at Shaw? Betts had most everything and, per his practice as he talked it in the 3 part series available on you-tube, did most everything right. OK, so he explicitly taught the test -- he said so-- and didn't get alot out of that effort. But, what of the rest? Were his kids less likely to come under court supervision? More likely to be in clubs? Have better grades? Did the school attract students in the lottery last year, and the year before? Were his teachers more likely to be highly rated? Were they more likely to remain in DCPS?
How about it, Bill Turque, how about some reporting, or will you do for post-prize reporting what Obama did for post-prize peace?

Posted by: incredulous | March 10, 2011 1:42 PM | Report abuse

The snide nature of some comments here is a disgrace. Part and parcel of the District of Columbia Public Schools "community." We (every participant group) are the gang that cannot move forward because everyone gets dragged down. Your side or the other side, it makes no difference. No one is allowed to move forward. Take no prisoners, kick 'em in the teeth. No compromise of collaboration. No excuses for nastiness; the "Chancellor" is long gone. Facts don't matter, or they do. Research? Who cares? Let's take a few days/weeks/months/years/decades to solve the problems.

Why does anyone feel good about what is happening????? We are in good company, according to Arne Duncan, but I sense our system is in the bottom ten per cent. Who is going to lead us out of this bucket of failure?

Posted by: OrdinaryDCPerson | March 10, 2011 4:44 PM | Report abuse


I generally like your work but this is pretty shoddy. You lead with the 50% cut in budget and don't put it into context until the end of the 2nd paragraph.

Also, even with this cut, Shaw is still getting more per student then any other middle school (and almost twice as much as Deal and Hardy ($15,189 per student vs. $8,400).

Posted by: Wyrm1 | March 10, 2011 6:59 PM | Report abuse

I wonder why Richard Whitmire did not include anything about Shaw and Mr. Betts in his book on Miss Rhee.

Posted by: edlharris | March 10, 2011 7:39 PM | Report abuse

Another of her failed experiments. With all due respects to the late Mr. Betts who sounded like a wonderful principal, Ms. Rhee's "Superman" theory is bankrupt. We need to support the huge majority of teachers struggling against the odds to help students survive and achieve. That makes more sense than looking for the next "American Idol" teacher.

Posted by: itsalltrue70 | March 10, 2011 9:53 PM | Report abuse

Shaw has 150 students and Eastern has 160 students but the discussion is leading that funding was only high because of favor was given to super principals. I would like to say it was not super principals but moreso super promises from Rhee to the parent base.

As we have a Chancellor, her claim to fame is that she's rectified Dunbar of which is Gray's high school alma mater and she's saved River Terrace, again a Ward 7 school of which our mayor resides. So the future is looking bright for any school that has the Mayor Gray connection.

The Shaw experiment was a disservice to the recieving high schools of Dunbar and Cardozo.

Posted by: mlr1960 | March 10, 2011 11:05 PM | Report abuse

This just shows the misguided, business-driven notion that one person (superman) can rally the troops. It takes a village to sustain changes.

Posted by: stevendphoto | March 11, 2011 3:21 AM | Report abuse

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