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How will Vince Gray handle the DCPS teacher firings?

The numbers are in: Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is seeking to immediately fire 241 teachers, including 165 "ineffective" teachers, with another 737 teachers rated "minimally effective" and thus at risk for termination within a year. In other words, nearly a quarter of the D.C. Public Schools teaching corps is not up to par, in Rhee's view.

Read Bill Turque's very thorough story for more.

The immediate political pressure is on mayoral candidate Vincent Gray, who needs to toe a fine line between his education plan -- which promises to "remove low-performing teachers from the system" -- and the expectations of his supporters, many of which were left seething by last fall's teacher layoffs.

The circumstances here, however, are different from before -- and much trickier for Gray. Today's firings are based solely on teacher performance, as assessed by Rhee's new IMPACT system. Last fall's reduction-in-force involved teacher performance, but it was triggered by a budget shortfall, and Gray seized on the questionable basis for that shortfall in his challenges to the layoffs.

This time, if Gray sharply questions the firings, he will be in the position of defending teachers found to be ineffective.

If he does criticize the firings, Gray's education plan offers several hints on how he'll do it. He wants to "[h]old teachers accountable, while giving them the resources and respect they deserve" -- so he might argue that teachers haven't been given the requisite support. And the plan promises to "[m]ove swiftly to implement the independent evaluation of the current IMPACT evaluation system as required in the new teachers' contract" -- meaning Gray could say the firings should be help up pending that evaluation.

For a hard-line approach, look to Ward 5 D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., a stalwart RIF opponent and supporter of Gray's, who told me today he's "very interested in looking at the process" by which teachers have been fired. He said there are "huge issues" with IMPACT, citing the fact that "people without personal knowledge" of teachers' job performance -- a reference to "master educators" -- are tasked with judging teachers' classroom performance.

It's only been a few hours since the news broke, but so far Gray's passed on opportunities he's had to address the issue.

Gray was in the Post newsroom today to interview with the paper's editorial board (newsroom reports such as myself did not attend). In a interview taped afterward with editorial writer Jo-Ann Armao, Gray said he'd had a brief conversation with Rhee about the firings but demurred. "I want to look further at the basis for the dismissals," he said. "I want to learn more about this in the hours ahead." Afterward, Bill asked him for comment; Gray said he'd get a statement out soon.

Hmm: He'll get a statement to us. Sounds like his competition there.

Then again, you don't want to act before getting all the facts. Just ask Shirley Sherrod.

By Mike DeBonis  |  July 23, 2010; 3:20 PM ET
Categories:  DCision 2010 , The District , Vincent Gray  
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Next: DeMorning DeBonis: July 26, 2010

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