Schools Monday: 20 Questions for the New Chancellor
When Michelle Rhee, Mayor Adrian Fenty's choice to take over the D.C. school system, appears before the D.C. Council for her confirmation hearing today, the temptation will be to focus on her lack of experience in Washington, as a schools chief or even as a principal or teacher. But the bottom line is that she will be confirmed, so there's little point in centering on Rhee's credentials or the gaps in her preparation.
I'd far rather see the council members try to push Rhee off the festival of vague responses that she has thus far provided--check out this chat she did here on the big site and tell me if you can find a single straightforward, meaty answer to a question.
Here are 20 suggested questions that might give us a better sense of where Rhee hopes to take the D.C. system and how well equipped she is to start turning the old battleship around:
1. Who are you going to bring with you to be your allies in the system's executive suite, and how are you planning to figure out who is trustworthy in the permanent bureaucracy?
2. Successful new superintendents often make a point of sacking a slew of the managers who have been at the forefront of resisting change. Will you embrace the need to fire recalcitrant and incompetent administrators and principals?
3. Conversely, what are your strategies for bringing on board long-term principals whose support you will need to have any hope of reforming what happens in the classrooms?
4. Similarly, many veteran teachers have seen superintendents come and go so often that they brazenly say the new chief can't make them do anything. How will you win over the more experienced half of the teaching force?
5. It's totally unfair and yet it's simply a fact that your arrival is immediately seen through the prism of race. What are your strategies for confronting the view that this school system, where nine in ten students are black, should be run by a black superintendent or chancellor?
6. This system suffers from a longstanding paucity of parent involvement, as well as a failure to protect teachers from a relative handful of very aggressive parents, some of whom make threats against teachers. How will you show teachers that you will act against those parents while also building ways to get more parents involved in constructive ways?
7. Do you plan to restore the art, music and physical education instruction that have suffered drastic cuts since the imposition of No Child Left Behind? How?
8. Schools in Fairfax and Montgomery counties have achieved impressive gains in black student performance on Advanced Placement tests, while Prince George's County has channeled more black kids into those courses without seeing an appreciable improvement in how well those students perform on the tests. What lessons do you draw from the different approaches of those systems and how do you plan to address rigor in the D.C. schools?
9. How important is it to the future and reputation of the system to lure a substantial number of middle class and affluent families back to the D.C. schools from private and charter schools?
10. What's your view of the need for the District to create and tout a small number of marquee schools that stress high achievement and absolute standards as part of an overall goal of luring more middle class and affluent families back to the public schools?
11. If you favor the marquee schools concept, how would you sell it to parents whose first concern is the far more numerous body of students who perform poorly and need the most academic help? And which schools would you choose to use as marquee schools?
12. What's your attitude toward public-private partnerships for the renovation of school facilities, such as the plan that has been proposed for Janney Elementary in Tenleytown? Do you favor selling school buildings in places that are likely never to have much school-age population, such as the system's various facilities in downtown Washington?
13. How much of the system's financial woes are attributable to the enormous number of special education cases that end up as legal battles? How do you plan to break the stranglehold that special education lawyers have on the system?
14. Everybody talks about adding rigor to the curriculum but when push comes to shove, standards are usually watered down so as to prevent the PR nightmare of widespread failure on standardized tests. How would you go about instilling rigor in a system where kids often just pass through, emerging with poor skills or none at all?
15. While the system has many good and energetic teachers, it also has a large cadre of teachers who believe that D.C's school age population cannot learn and therefore should not be challenged. How can you persuade those teachers to raise their expectations of poorly prepared students?
16. Should the D.C. schools break the 180-day, summers-off traditional school calendar and move to year-round education? How would you accomplish that?
17. Despite decades of efforts to stop them from continuing an illegal practice, many D.C. schools still include prayer in their assemblies and student gatherings. Will you stop this practice and how would you accomplish that?
18. You attended a selective private school from seventh through twelfth grades. As you have pledged to send your own children to D.C. schools, how do you expect their education to compare with your own?
19. Why should taxpayers and this council believe that the D.C. system will now be in any better position to implement the findings and recommendations of the outside consultants that Mayor Fenty has hired to examine the school system than the D.C. system was after the many previous reports by outside consultants?
20. What are the concrete pieces of evidence that we should look for in one, two and five years to be able to judge the system's progress?
Add your questions--the hearing takes place today as follows:
10:00 AM, COUNCIL CHAMBER, ROOM 500, PUBLIC ROUNDTABLE, COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE, Vincent C. Gray, Chairman
"Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools Michelle Rhee Confirmation Resolution of 2007â€³, PR 17-0318. To confirm the Mayoral appointment of Ms. Michelle Rhee as Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools.
By Marc Fisher |
July 2, 2007; 7:27 AM ET
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