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Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 10/26/2010

Will Gray retreat on school reform? Here are 5 tests

By washingtonpost.com editors

By Richard Whitmire
Arlington


On Oct. 24, soon-to-be-departed D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Mayor Adrian Fenty wrote a farewell in The Post’s Outlook section: “We’ve done our best. Now it’s up to you.” Wisely, and appropriately, they kept their message at 30,000 feet. The big picture.

Allow me to address worried parents at ground level. How will you know if likely future mayor Vincent Gray succumbs to virulent anti-Rhee sentiment among some of his supporters and shifts her radical school reform agenda into neutral, to the kind of feel-good reforms seen in many urban districts. That is, just enough tinkering to trigger positive headlines but not enough to upset anyone — or really help students improve.

As Rhee indelicately put it just days after the primary, that would be “devastating” for D.C. students.

When it comes to education, Gray’s heart appears to be in the right place. He seems sincere when vowing to continue education reform. Certainly, his approval of Kaya Henderson as interim chancellor — Rhee’s close friend and deputy chancellor — is a positive sign. But let’s be real. The pressure to ease off Rhee’s reforms will be intense.

In Washington, much of the recent bump in enrollment comes from middle-class families, black and white, enrolling their sons and daughters in pre-K programs. I’ve interviewed some of those families. Rhee gave them confidence, while Gray worries them. If they sense that Gray will scale back the D.C. reforms, they will want to look for charter schools, private schools or a new home in the suburbs.

Here are five indicators that might help parents searching for clues about the future of the city’s schools. If any of the following pop up in the news, it’s time to worry:

1. Gray appoints a panel of experts to “evaluate” IMPACT.

IMPACT is D.C.’s new teaching bible that describes in great detail what good teaching looks like and holds teachers accountable for carrying it out. IMPACT may be a work in progress, but it’s still a generation ahead of anything used by other school districts.

The District’s new contract showered potential bonuses on 663 teachers faring well under IMPACT’s sophisticated evaluation system, but another 737 teachers rated “minimally effective” face termination next year if they don’t improve. Because teacher firings were a big reason Fenty lost, Gray faces enormous pressures to stop the raised ax from falling. What better way to do so than to appoint a commission designed to “improve” IMPACT? Problem is, the gains seen in D.C. schools hinge on dismissing more ineffective teachers.

2. Jason Kamras leaves.

Never heard of him, right? He’s the former national teacher of the year (won while teaching in D.C. schools) who invented IMPACT. The only way I can see him staying is if Gray strongly commits to staying the course on teacher issues. So if Kamras leaves, the first question to ask is: Why?

3. Patrick Pope gets reappointed principal at Hardy Middle School.

Pope was a good principal at Hardy; his Rhee-appointed replacement, Dana Nerenberg, is every bit as good. On its current course, Hardy could become the best middle school in the city. When Rhee moved to strengthen Hardy as a neighborhood school while assigning Pope to design a city-wide arts magnet, her actions were educationally correct but politically wrong. On primary day, the anger the Hardy controversy stirred up hurt Fenty. Especially damaging was the (false) impression that Rhee cared mostly about white families.

So why worry about Pope coming back? Neighborhood families would see that as a not-entirely-welcome sign, and it would be a symbolic indicator that DCPS will always be a racially isolated school district. Simply put: Our urban districts never succeed without drawing in families of all colors and incomes.

4. DCPS starts hiring back fired teachers.

Some good teachers got laid off in the reduction-in-force for reasons that had nothing to do with their competency: enrollment drops, teaching a subject that wasn’t needed at their school. But not that many. A few symbolic hire-backs would be a great move by Gray to mollify his supporters. But if it goes beyond a handful, buyers beware.

5. School reconstitutions cease.

When a failing school is turned upside down for a restart, the new principal gets to decide which teachers are effective and thereby invited to stay. This is as it should be. A handpicked, energized staff is what makes the takeovers (as at Dunbar) and makeovers (as at Eastern) work, and these are probably Rhee’s most promising reforms. But under the new contract, those “uninvited” teachers are no longer guaranteed jobs elsewhere in the system, triggering the firings Gray’s supporters want stopped.

So how many of these five does it take to sound an alarm? Only the first indicator, slowing down IMPACT, should on its own scare parents away. So much hinges on IMPACT. As for the rest, maybe a couple could be tolerated. Beyond that, worry is warranted.

Richard Whitmire is author of “The Bee Eater,” a biography of Michelle Rhee to be released by Jossey-Bass in January.

By washingtonpost.com editors  | October 26, 2010; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  D.C., D.C. politics, Fenty, HotTopic, Va. Politics, Vincent Gray  
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Comments

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Posted by: johngreg26 | October 26, 2010 7:03 AM | Report abuse

Will the Rhee biography highlight the fact she has no real classroom experience OR PhD.?

I mean, if education is not important enough to require it's jurisdictional chief to have the top education credential, what are we really teaching the children. Why bother with school, credentials are not important. Just wing it.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | October 26, 2010 7:43 AM | Report abuse

In other words validate Rhee moves, even the ones that were proven to be inappropriate or incorrect. Implied in this writing is that it is acceptable to make the schools moves that are appealing to the "Whites" in the disrict. However, anything done that may appear appealing to the "Blacks" would not be indicative of reform and would be proof that reform is dead. White hegemony is at an alltime high.

Posted by: statesman2 | October 26, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Richard Whitmire appears to be firmly in the camp of Rhee acolytes. That may not be the best place to be when trying to write an honest and accurate biography of Michelle Rhee.

Many of us give her credit for doing some good things but the reality is that she did make mistakes and those hurt her, some teachers, administrators and students in the long run.

She also refused to give credit to those like Clifford Janey who came before her and was the one who introduced the Massachusettes standards to DC raising the bar for all students. And time will tell if test scores go up or down this year. If they go down two years in a row maybe some self reflection would be good for Rhee and her supporters.

Also missing from so much of the discussion is that 40% of the Principals that Rhee herself brought into the system are already gone. Not a particularly stellar record of recruitment.

As to the IMPACT evaluation tool it is being evaluated itself and it should be. I Have spoken with a number of teachers who received highly effective ratings and they have some problems with IMPACT. Many highly effective teachers are turning down bonuses because of what they have to give up to get them.

Let's not judge Vincent Gray and the next Chancellor on these five phoney issues. Let's judge them on what the outcome for students is through their tenure here.

Posted by: peterdc | October 26, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

In January, Richard Whitmire will show us if he is honest and unbiased.
For in January, he will print the test scores that show Miss Rhee took her students from the 13th percentile to 90% at the 90th percentile on the CTBS (which, btw, were not show to the GAO when they investigated the private company running her school Harlem Park ES)

Or he will call her a liar.
Lying about the test scores, lying about the "acclaim" (her word) she received at the time (1995) from the Hartford Courant, The Wall Street Journal, the Home Show and Good Morning America.

Posted by: edlharris | October 26, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Rhee's reform was false reform. Hopefully Gray will be able to go up against the "false" reform of Michelle Rhee and bring in true reform. But if Gray does bring in true reform, will the author of this article support it? I doubt it.

Posted by: jlp19 | October 26, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Whitmire, You need to tell young people not to go into teaching anymore. Principals fire good teachers all the time before they reach tenure. And now you proposing teachers get fired if the school is failing, and it is not their fault. Since this creates career instability for young people, as a matter of honesty you should encourage them not to go into teaching.

How cruel to expect people to go into teaching, do their best, only to get tossed out at the drop of a hat. Start warning teachers of the career brutality you want for them, so they know not to go into it.

People need a stable income, no matter how little disregard you have for teachers as human beings - they need a stable income. If teaching is not going to provide it for them, tell them so they know not to go into it.

The anger I feel at this author for expecting teachers to go into a field where they will tossed around at the will of someone in power is very strong.

Posted by: jlp19 | October 26, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Whitmire,

When are you going to be honest and tell young teachers not to go into teaching anymore? This is only a matter of honesty. Are you honest enough to do this?

Posted by: jlp19 | October 26, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

You forgot one very important factor:

For over 50 years, "inner-city" school districts have been hiring teachers without full qualifications and/or experience. I was one of those teachers in the 1960s so I know firsthand how harmful that practice was, and is. In my opinion, this habit of hiring the least qualified for the most challenging schools is the most shameful practice in American education.

Rhee continued this practice. Why?

If Vincent Gray uses philanthropic money to support current teachers while hiring fully qualified and experienced teachers with proven track records of success, he will be bringing true reform to the children of DC. His plans to provide infant and toddler education and to expand preschool will also be huge for young children.

Best of luck to you, Mr. Gray!

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 26, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

to peterdc: The answer about test scores is easy. If they go up this year, Rhee will receive credit. If they fall, they will blame the teachers. That's how these folks roll. Take credit when things look good but never hold themselves accountable when things are negative.

I'm still waiting for Rhee to explain the decline in elementary test scores this past spring. Please someone correct me if I'm wrong but didn't she say they were going to look at the data and figure out what happened? I don't recall her ever explaining what she found when they dug into the data?!?!?

As for this book, big whoop. I won't waste my time reading it. If this article is any indication, it will be another "how great Michelle Rhee is" piece of literature. We've seen enough of that. Someone really needs to write an unbiased book/report/article of her time in DC and what a mess she made. I'm confident that in time she'll be exposed for what she really is: a fraud and a poseur.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | October 26, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Another outsider declaring what is best for DC residents. Mr. Whitmire stay the HELL OUT OF DC AFFAIRS.

You love Rhee than take her to VA with the rest of the tea party reformers.

I am so sick of this white folks know best attitude. Mind your own business. Write a fake phony book about Rhee and make a few dollars before the truth comes out.

Screw you and the WP for printing this bull day after day, week after week.

Posted by: guylady201001 | October 26, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Oh, Mr. Whitmire how do you know Pope's replacement is just as good.

Is that why she administered a sex survey to students without parental consent. Questions included how many times the students engaged in anal and/or oral sex.
Some replacement. Before you start to tell Mr. Gray how to manage the schools, learn the facts and stop trying to promote your sorry axx book.

Posted by: guylady201001 | October 26, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Deconstructing Whitmire’s article:

“The District’s new contract showered potential bonuses on 663 teachers faring well under IMPACT’s sophisticated evaluation system”
> Many haven’t taken the bonuses because there are strings attached, robbing them of rights given to teachers not rated as highly.

“the gains seen in D.C. schools hinge on dismissing more ineffective teachers”
> False on two counts. #1 DCPS hasn’t seen impressive gains under Rhee – nothing different from the small gains under all other superintendents* for over a decade. #2. The scores have been headed down* since the spring of ’09, when Rhee started her “reforms” of firing and RIFing teachers, and hiring inexperienced, untrained new college grads.

“[Jason Kamras] is the former national teacher of the year (won while teaching in D.C. schools) who invented IMPACT.”
> The scores in his school went DOWN while he was there.* If his invention had been in place at the time, his IMPACT evaluation could have moved him from effective to minimally effective. By the way, it’s hardly an invention. He based it on the Teach for America “Teaching as Leadership” framework. All TFA teachers (like Kamras) learn it as part of their quickie 5 week summer training on how to be a teacher.

“On its current course, Hardy could become the best middle school in the city.”
>It has been on that course for a long time now. But since Pope left, a lot of neighborhood families have pulled their kids out of Hardy.

“Our urban districts never succeed without drawing in families of all colors and incomes.”
>That’s what Hardy had succeeded at under Pope.

“A few symbolic hire-backs would be a great move by Gray to mollify his supporters.”
>Talk about mollifying. Gee thanks for allowing Gray to do something nice for his supporters. It might be good for the children too, to have experienced community-based teachers back, symbolism be damned.

“A handpicked, energized staff is what makes the takeovers (as at Dunbar) and makeovers (as at Eastern) work”
> Who says those takeovers are working? Eastern is basically shut down, opening up a year from now with a new principal. At Dunbar, all that’s known is that reading scores are up and math scores are down.* Whatever else is happening is not making the news – always a bad sign.

And who are you, Richard Whitmire, to make these sage pronouncements? You’re a free-lance education writer and author of what will probably be the first Rhee biography. (Excellent timing!) How does that make you an expert on the future of DC public schools? Even in this short column, you’ve managed to mangle numerous facts. This does not inspire confidence in your book. Perhaps it’s not meant to be factual, but rather to perpetuate the myth. If so, please put a disclaimer at the beginning – something more direct than “Michelle Rhee, Bee-eater.”

*references listed in a subsequent comment. No room here.

Posted by: efavorite | October 26, 2010 11:39 PM | Report abuse

* Mr. Whitmire and others reading here, especially parents – please check the references below, listed in the order mentioned in my comment posted at 11:39 PM.

http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/states/ (then click on “District of Columbia”)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/13/ar2010071306622.html
http://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/page/2/
http://www.nclb.osse.dc.gov/index.asp

Posted by: efavorite | October 26, 2010 11:44 PM | Report abuse

"4. DCPS starts hiring back fired teachers.

Some good teachers got laid off in the reduction-in-force for reasons that had nothing to do with their competency: enrollment drops, teaching a subject that wasn’t needed at their school. But not that many."

The usual BS from Rhee's lackeys in the media.

How do you know "not that many"?
Pillow talk from Michelle, like what she gives Jo-Ann Armao, the Post's hack editorial writer on education and the Post's answer to Larry King?

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | October 26, 2010 11:56 PM | Report abuse

You can reach Richard here:

Richard.Whitmire@gmail.com

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | October 27, 2010 12:01 AM | Report abuse

Richard has provided us with one more example of the effort to exert control over what happens next in DCPS. What should be listed are the indicators Mayor Gray should watch for:

1) More of the same massaging of the test scores to make something appear that does not exist.
2)Kaya Henderson continues to terminate teachers and administrators without due process.
3) Failure to immediately bring the IMPACT evaluation system under full review and analysis of experienced educators.
4)Money - Are DCPS funds being used effectively or are those funds being abused without the transparency of an audit?
Dick Whitmire tries to come across as knowledgeable only to be quickly seen as the least credible person to provide an opinion on the future of DCPS. Give us a break Dick!

Posted by: lightkeeper | October 27, 2010 12:24 AM | Report abuse

It is amazing to me that so many people of questionable character seem to have been around Fenty, and even more poor losers with questionable education credentials have declared themselves experts in education reform and attached themselves to Rhee. Whitmire you are one of those persons. Hopefully, you will move when she does so that you can chronicle her life from afar.

Forty percent of DC children attend charter schools. They have been successful at decreasing truancy and absenteeism; they have significantly higher graduation rates, some in the ninetieth percentile, and significant college acceptance rates. This was going on before Rhee and will continue. Get another dead horse to beat.

Posted by: topryder1 | October 27, 2010 7:44 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Whitmire,

Become an inner city teacher in a rough neighborhood Washington DC. Then publish your IMPACT evaluation.

Posted by: jlp19 | October 27, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse

Hey lets hold administrators accountable for school success like we plan to do with teachers. Our students are being discriminated at these schools. Students like SPED, ESL and African Americans. In fact the Office of Civil Rights, Dept. of Education recently found Oyster-Adams Bilingual school to discriminate against ESL and African American students. It appears Michelle Rhee appointed the principal at this school and despite these findings she did not fire the principal. Lets be fair. Lets fire ineffective teachers but also ineffective principals even though they may be friends of the chancellor. Schools are there to service students not support ineffective adults with glorified positions and a salary. It's about the students...not about the adults.

Posted by: amayarod | October 27, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Hey lets hold administrators accountable for school success like we plan to do with teachers.

Our students are being discriminated at these schools. Students like SPED, ESL and African Americans. In fact the Office of Civil Rights, Dept. of Education recently found Oyster-Adams Bilingual school to discriminate against ESL and African American students.

It appears Michelle Rhee appointed the principal at Oyster-Adams and despite findings of discrimination at Oyster Rhee did not fire the principal. Lets be fair. Lets fire ineffective teachers but also ineffective principals even though they may be friends of the chancellor.

Schools are there to service students not support ineffective adults with glorified positions and a salary. It's about the students...not about the adults.

Posted by: amayarod | October 27, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

The Post just won't let it go away will they. kekekekeke I bet Rhee will have a hard time finding a Rheeal job in education. She has over paid consultant written all over her.

Posted by: kentonsmith | October 28, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

I have just the person for your new chancellor. She's currently the superintendent of Seattle Public Schools and loves ed reform.

She's slashing and burning through our district and we've had just about enough of her. But hey, she is REALLY ambitious and a Broad Superintendent Academy fellow and cold as ice.

Sounds perfect for D.C. Please, take her off our hands so we can have our district back.

Posted by: westello | October 31, 2010 1:36 AM | Report abuse

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