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Schools Monday: The Mountain Rhee Must Climb

Everyone knows D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has a steep mountain to climb. The problems, as documented in the Post's ongoing series on the District school system, are every bit as tough as in any other city in the land. And the tools for coping with those problems are of questionable quality, at best.

But the political moment seems right for sharp and deep change--a popular new mayor whose chief talent is enormous energy, a new chancellor with all manner of new powers, a changing electorate with less tolerance for the same old stagnation.

Why, then, are many of Rhee's colleagues in the ranks of school superintendents so skeptical that the District system can be turned around in just a few years?

Here are the views of a prominent superintendent of a suburban system that has won acclaim all across the country. The superintendent spoke about Rhee's situation on the condition that he not be named, so that he could speak frankly about a colleague and the difficulties she now faces:

The first big move by Mayor Adrian Fenty and Rhee--hiring fancy outside consultants to examine the D.C. system and suggest reforms--is a big mistake. Too many outsiders have studied the system and come up with too many reform plans in the past--and nothing happened. "Plans don't matter if you don't have the horses to execute them," the superintendent said.

Instead, Washington's new schools hierarchy should focus on fixing the backroom operations--the purchasing, maintenance, book delivery, food, hiring and firing processes that give teachers and principals a fighting chance to do some good in the classroom, and that give parents and voters their first impression of how the schools are operating.

How to do that? Two essential steps, this superintendent says: 1) Privatize some of those backroom, non-educational processes. Let the area's best contractors fix the buildings. Hire a management firm to handle procurement. "Create curb appeal" by fixing up existing buildings. 2) "Break the stranglehold of the special education lawyers." Washington's system spends a higher proportion of its dollars on special education than any other large city system in the country--way out of line with other systems. Hundreds of kids have their $50,000-plus annual tuition at fancy private providers of special ed, all on the taxpayers' dime.

Can Rhee do all that? Does she have the knowledge base to connect with her staff and win over teachers who have seen a never-ending parade of superintendents? "I don't think at her experience level she will understand how teachers think," says this veteran superintendent. "Especially the indigenous teachers who have been in the system for a long time. They've been beat up so many times." Rhee's background as head of an outside agency that recruited and trained young new teachers means that her experience has been primarily with teachers from non-traditional backgrounds who may learn quickly how to teach facts, but who are not nearly experienced enough to see how to differentiate between varied learning styles, the superintendent says.

And Rhee will likely suffer from the expectation among many veterans in the system that she is a short-timer looking to score points and shine up her resume for the next position. The District would have been better off looking for an accomplished schools chief who was ready to commit himself to this being his terminal job--for the long haul.

(Rhee, meantime, has been done no favor by being showered with riches and bennies by the Fenty administration. In addition to her staggering $275,000 salary, $41,000 signing bonus--what is she, a ballplayer?--$27,500 annual bonus if she meets certain goals, free car, and free driver, Rhee has been awarded a pension of the kind that hardly anybody in this country gets anymore. D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz wrote to the mayor on Friday demanding to know just how much this bit of largess is going to cost the taxpayers:

(" What exactly is 'the most favorable pension available to any DCPS official' as promised in clause number 12 of the contract?" Schwartz wrote to Fenty. "Please provide me with a detailed description of what this contractual obligation entails."

(No new boss needs to have to dig her way out of that kind of controversy. And nobody who devotes themselves to the public schools for the right reasons is in it to get rich. Sure, the schools chief should make a comfortable income, but there's simply no call for her to be guaranteed such incredible sums that she will walk away from this position financially set for life.)

Can the turnaround be done at all after so many years of failure? Yes, this superintendent says. Look at Chicago, another big city with chronic achievement problems, but one that is undertaking long-term reforms. The federal No Child Left Behind law and public expectations conspire to push school leaders toward quick fixes--how to get scores up pronto. But the real progress comes only if you push aside those pressures as much as possible and focus on systemic improvements: raising the caliber of teachers in the system; creating a much more rigorous curriculum; ending social promotion; creating intimate ties to students at risk of dropping out; involving parents in their children's education; creating high-profile, marquee schools to lure middle class parents back into the system; and extending the school day and calendar.

A tall order, to be sure, but Rhee and Fenty seem committed to a kind of change not seen in the revolving door superintendency of the past few decades. We shall see.

By Marc Fisher |  July 9, 2007; 7:28 AM ET
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Comments

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First

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2007 8:36 AM

I went to a private special-education school alongside D.C. students for a year and a half in high school. I know it cost $30K a year then because my parents were paying for it out of pocket until MCPS got on board with the plan. It was not particularly fancy. The high tuition reflected the cost of having a lot of people around to teach small classes, lead therapy groups, etc. No one was getting rich from it.

I'm sure there are some parts of the special-education spending that can be reasonably cut, but I do object to this offhand characterization of private special-education schools as "fancy." They cost a lot because they are delivering a lot of services, not because they have gilded latrines or anything like that.

Posted by: Lindemann | July 9, 2007 9:31 AM

The signing bonus has puzzled me. It's not as if Washington is competing with other jurisdictions for Ms. Rhee's services, so what's the point? I could see giving her a $41k consolation prize if she doesn't pass muster with the Council...

On Kojo Nnamdi's show last week they pointed out that $41k is about the starting salary for a DC teacher. What a message this sends.

Posted by: Rocco | July 9, 2007 9:35 AM

Couple of notes:

1. Ms. Rhee's bonus may have been necessary to lure her away from a position that was solid, not going away and satisfying her needs.

2. Curb appeal may be necessary, but I'm not sure that fixing up schools is the right way to go. A bulldozer & starting from scratch may be much quicker and cheaper in both the long run and short run. I cite the Rebuild of BCC, where the project took infinitely longer and was much more expensive than had been projected. All to save the facade. New buildings are built better, insulated better, have better infrastructure (including necessary wiring for new technology; new, more efficient boilers; better and cheaper lighting; better communications; etc.). Capital investment is often much more cost effective than ongoing expenses.
3. Because of the above, with his track record (see the new ballpark), Lew may have actually been almost a more important hire than Rhee.

Posted by: mikes | July 9, 2007 9:51 AM

if $275,000 is "staggering" for a single mom then I know several households on my block of townhouses with such "Staggering" joint incomes. Do people know houses in the city cost $600-900k? Do people know that many lawyers and doctors who are no more than average pull down between $125k-175k? Twentysomething MBAs around here regularly do about $125k? Houses in Bethesda go for between $1.5 mill and $2 mill? It's like $275k is staggering, for 1997! In 2007 it's very good, but hardly staggering.

Posted by: DCer | July 9, 2007 10:15 AM

The salary looks high until compared with neighboring districts. It's only slightly higher than Fairfax, for goodness' sake, with infinitely more pressure.

Signing bonus was a poor choice of terms. Transition expenses would have been less offensive and more accurate. The dollar amount is immaterial--it matters not at all if progress is made, nor if it is not.

Now is the time for coming together to make the needed changes for the sake of the children, and of everyone in the District.

Posted by: Timotheus | July 9, 2007 10:16 AM

Thanks for this column. this is what I have been preaching for some time. I want people to make note of some of the comments about how to actually fix the problems, and how she will have a general lack of understanding when it comes to certain issues like teachers. Many principals and academics are not sold on these teach for america teachers. they are not a the solution. they are bodies and schools can always use bodies.

Posted by: OKNOW101 | July 9, 2007 10:26 AM

Thanks for this column. this is what I have been preaching for some time. I want people to make note of some of the comments about how to actually fix the problems, and how she will have a general lack of understanding when it comes to certain issues like teachers. Many principals and academics are not sold on these teach for america teachers. they are not a the solution. they are bodies and schools can always use bodies.

Posted by: OKNOW101 | July 9, 2007 10:26 AM

Thanks for this column. this is what I have been preaching for some time. I want people to make note of some of the comments about how to actually fix the problems, and how she will have a general lack of understanding when it comes to certain issues like teachers. Many principals and academics are not sold on these teach for america teachers. they are not a the solution. they are bodies and schools can always use bodies.

Posted by: OKNOW101 | July 9, 2007 10:26 AM

Um, they couldn't just give her a Metro pass?

Posted by: Diogenes | July 9, 2007 10:28 AM

The Nation is watching the D.C. school district. At present, it is a more extreme version of what is wrong with public schools. If Rhee suceeds, it will be good for America, not just D.C.
The mechanics you mention are very important of course. But, if you get the right people to handle these items, plus vision, there is hope. One warning though, the devil is found in the budgets. So good accountants and grant and revenue analysis people are vital.

Posted by: Peter Roach | July 9, 2007 10:31 AM

Can anyone speak to the unprecedented new rules established for Lew and the Facilites program? I heard they will not have to go through DC procurement to get services. There no way to spend $20 million a month in DC, without that perk. however, if DCPS had that privilege thaey could have manage the funds just as well.

Posted by: RobGreg | July 9, 2007 10:32 AM

Simply put DCPS will not likely turn around in a generation, let alone in a few years. The reasons for this unfortunate reality is that far too many students attending DCPS schools are being raised by poorly educated single mothers who were, themselves, also born to and raised by poorly educated single mothers. Sadly, but not surprisingly, this is the determining
factor that drives most outcomes for children: academic success/failure; future criminal behavior; general quality of life. Sure, there are exceptions, but they are, like all exceptions, few and far between. Mothers fitting this profile are unlikely to place much value on education, to get involved in parent-teacher relationships, and to be able to assist their children with homework, etc. In short, parents much more than policy determine educational outcomes for children and, in DC, effective, responsible and engaged parenting is conspicuously wanting in far too many households. Absent the catalytic effect of concerned and involved parents no educational policy, regardless of its intent or brilliant design will ever produce desired outcomes of raising test scores and preparing children to become productive, contributing adults. DCPS' long history of having more than adequate financial resources while consistently failing to graduate much more than 50% of its high school students speaks volumes not about DCPS (which is surely broken), but about the state and condition of the families whose children attend DCPS schools.

Posted by: Paul20002 | July 9, 2007 10:50 AM

I have to agree with Lindemann that this post's tone regarding DC's special eduation "program" is a bit out of hand. Education lawyers are not the reason DC schools spend so much money sending special needs kids to private schools. It has more to do with the failure of DCPS to provide an appropriate education for special needs kids. The sad part is that so many children spend their early childhood years in inappropriate, hurtful settings and get the extra help they need only after their parents sue the schools. As it is, parents of special needs kids who can move out of the district do so rather than risk exacerbating their children's challenges. As a parent of a special needs kid in DC, I compare my experience with that of friends in other school districts. While our child fell through the cracks between Early Childhood Intervention and DCPS between ages 2 and 3, a friends' child in Arlington County received seemless help in a wonderful setting where he receives individualized care with a low student-teacher ratio. This autism spectrum kid in the 'burbs has made tremendous strides in the two years I have known him. In our son's case, it took nearly a year of constant calling to get him evaluated. He received his IEP with less than two months left before the end of school.

Scapegoating special needs kids is pretty low -- even for you, Marc.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2007 10:54 AM

I am with those who fail to see 275K as a staggering salary in today's world. And who are you kidding to think a "ballplayer" would settle for a mere 275K? I am sure that if Ms. Rhee so chose, she could join some consulting firm and double that salary in the private sector. When Metro elevator mechanics are pulling in over a 100K a year, and we all know how well those elevators run, her salary in comparison does not look so great.

Posted by: Paul | July 9, 2007 11:53 AM

I wish Rhee the best of luck. however, I agree with one of the above posts that states that many of DC school issues are engrained and it take a long, long time to make significant, noticable changes. It's a culture that will be tough to break.

Posted by: keeping fingers crossed | July 9, 2007 11:57 AM

Marc Fisher, after walking the Fenty bandwagon for most of the past election cycle now offers his brave assesment that the new mayor's chief talent is "enormous energy." Where was this description when it might have actually contributed something by sparking discourse BEFORE people voted.

Posted by: CW | July 9, 2007 11:57 AM

To reply to Lindemann, I don't think that Marc's point was so much that the employees of these schools are millionaires, but that millionaires know how to work the system to get the city to pay for individual attention for their kids.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2007 11:57 AM

The President of the United States earns $400,000 a year.
The Vice President's annual salary is $186,300.
D.C. Schools Chancellor's annual salary is $275,000 a year.

Either somebody is being overpaid, somebody is being underpaid, or maybe both.

The bottom line: You get what you pay for.

Posted by: SoMD | July 9, 2007 12:05 PM

It's columns like these that make Rhee's mountain all the steeper to climb. Marc, with your voice you can help her or cut her legs out from under her. And you could sure use a better editor.

The "ongoing" Post series by Dan Keating, April Witt and V. Dion Haynes ended on June 11. This series should continue, hopefully with updates on specific problems and their resolutions, along with new mgmt processes to fix the underlying causes.

You state that "many of Rhee's colleagues in the ranks of school superintendents [are] skeptical that the District system can be turned around in just a few years" and then quote only one, and anonymously at that.

You dismiss the use of "fancy" consultants and then give virtual ink to the quoted superintendent's recommendation to hire a management consultant. Want curb appeal? Lew's your man.

You characterize Rhee's $275K salary as "staggering", but it represents a paltry $1,000 raise over Janney's $274K - with same annual bonus, car, and driver. Care to show me your column lambasting Janney's comp package? And the $41K "signing bonus" is chump change when it comes to bringing in a C-level executive; heck have you seen what moving expenses look like these days?

But worst of all you make the statement "The District would have been better off looking for an accomplished schools chief who was ready to commit himself to this being his terminal job--for the long haul." So a woman in her child-bearing/rearing years strikes you as being nothing more than a temp hire?

Marc, next time please tighten your writing and your fact-checking before you post. And maybe cut Ms. Rhee (and Mayor Fenty) some slack; even give them a hand.

Posted by: Rob Iola | July 9, 2007 12:05 PM

Contrary to the belief of some, "America" is not watching D.C. at all. At least not the D.C. Public School system and it's woes. Urban areas around the country have their own problems to contend with and "unique" ideas and plans to implement. To suggest otherwise is quite pompous.

If America were to 'focus' in on D.C. it would be with puzzling bewilderment. Here we are in a nation that supposedly reinforces the need and, for most, absolute necessity, to acquire mastery and in some respects doctoral credentials to prove ourselves competant to take on the challenges of the next generation. That doctoral bar was placed no better than with the CFO of public education (i.e. Superintendent/Chancellor). The District's divorcement from this standard, at a time when it's public education is in a crisis is, well, 'bewildering'.

Is not the point of education k-12, for the most part, to prepare students to tackle the challenges of post secondary education? It makes only good sense to have someone at the highest echelon of achievement in that diaspora to lead the charge, by example, for those student.

It is not the time for 'novel' and unproven ideas; untested hypothesis belong in a laboratory.

What this superintendent, I guess to be from Fairfax, is saying is right on point. If we recall, when the District acquired Clifford Janey, who WAS sought after nationally and was WORTHY of a "signing bonus", he promised that improvements would be a long term endeavor and pledged himself to that task, for the long haul.

Fairfax has one of the most supurb public education districts in the nation. If the nation is watching anyone it would be THEM. Which is what we should have been doing. Instead of at family, friends, and friends of friends.

Why we weren't with all of these self described 'proponents' of education in this town is phenomenally 'bewildering'.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2007 12:19 PM

To anonymous unidentified individual: This is the quote:

"Hundreds of kids have their $50,000-plus annual tuition at fancy private providers of special ed, all on the taxpayers' dime."

If Marc's objection is to the special-education system, rather than the providers of special education, he needs to state it more clearly. I find it hard to see "fancy" in that sentence as doing anything but implying that the care D.C. special-ed students are receiving is overpriced.

Of course, this is a blog...

Posted by: Lindemann | July 9, 2007 12:43 PM

I drive by the Field School every day. I walk by Eastern High School a couple of times a week. The Field School is fancier.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2007 1:03 PM

Marc, your superintendent has it backwards with regard to special education. If the District only would provide quality special ed programs, then there wouldn't be a need to send kids to expensive private schools. The lawyers didn't invent this problem; the school system created it in the first place.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2007 2:04 PM

It's amazing that more folks are not raising the roof about this issue. I concur with the Superintendent's remarks; to make DCPS better the focus must come from within and curb appeal or just plain being responsible will go along way in improving the school system. We must get away from making outsiders richer than when they came!

Posted by: FTV | July 9, 2007 2:11 PM

It's amazing that more folks are not raising the roof about this issue. I concur with the Superintendent's remarks; to make DCPS better the focus must come from within and curb appeal or just plain being responsible will go along way in improving the school system. We must get away from making outsiders richer than when they came!

Posted by: FTV | July 9, 2007 2:12 PM

Mark:

Do you have a clue what it is like to try and have public schools provide an education for a child with a moderately severe disability? The problem is not special education lawyers, of whom there are too few, but school systems that choose not to ensure that children with disabiltites are provided with an appropriate education.

It is not a question of a "fancy " school but the need to ensure the most vulnerable have an opportunity to have an independent life as possible.

I wish my son were typical and could benefit from a typical education in a neigborhood school, but I live with his autism every day, and it seems you have no understanding of what it is like to have a child with a disability.

Perhaps you could spend some time actually talking to parents of children with special needs before seeking to blame them and their children.

Posted by: David | July 9, 2007 2:16 PM

It must be nice to live in some teeth-whitening-chemical-induced bourgeoisie lala land where $300k a year (including bonuses) with a private car and driver (and a kick-ass pension to boot) is run-of-the-mill chump change.

Let there be no mistake, Rhee is getting PAID. Let's hope she is as dedicated to helping children as she apparently was to negotiation her staggering (yes, staggering) salary and benefits package.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2007 2:17 PM

It must be nice to live in some teeth-whitening-chemical-induced bourgeoisie lala land where $300k a year (including bonuses) with a private car and driver (and a kick-ass pension to boot) is run-of-the-mill chump change.

Let there be no mistake, Rhee is getting PAID. Let's hope she is as dedicated to helping children as she apparently was to negotiation her staggering (yes, staggering) salary and benefits package.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2007 2:17 PM

Staggering yes - but also what Janney was paid - should Rhee be paid less?

Posted by: Rob Iola | July 9, 2007 2:35 PM

David--

What don't you understand about this line from Marc's column: "Washington's system spends a higher proportion of its dollars on special education than any other large city system in the country[...]"?

Nobody is saying that the system should abandon your kid, only that it should do a better job of managing costs.

Posted by: woof | July 9, 2007 2:39 PM

Yes ,Janey should have been paid more as he was hired as a Superintendent - not a SchoolChancellor. In most school systems ,one is paid based the job title, and on a combination of experience and educational level. More education such as a Ph.D. earns one a higher salary than a Masters degree. Rhee was only making $150,000 as a CEO at The New Teacher Project which was initiated and is owned by Wendy Kopp, leader and owner of Teach for America. Typically, Superintendents such as Dr. Clif Janey and others had previously served years as superintendents and deputy superintendents, amongst other roles prior to being hired. Their previous salaries were higher than Rhee's when they were considered for the job and as a result were offered a larger package as would be expected.Please keep in mind that the School Chancellor doesn't have the same duties as our former Superintendent and now the Deputy Mayor of Education and the City Council will assume some of Dr. Janey's former responsibilities and oversight.

The decision to hire a School Chancellor in DC was required by law (new legislation) to have the input of the City council, teachers, parents and great weight from the Washington Teacher's Union. Had the law been adhered to by the Mayor- the discussion about Rhee's salary compensation and bonuses would have been a discussion by a gathering of the minds of the council, teachers and parents and could have come to what would have been a fair and reasonable package to offer the new school chancellor. After all the money offered Rhee is not Mr. Fenty's personal funds to do what he will.

Keep in mind, that we have to pay Dr. Janey out of his contract for the rest of 2007 and all of 2008 plus compensation for possible bonuses, housing, moving expenses,etc. I assure you it will be well over 300,000 and now that we ousted him illegally out of his office, his voice mail and email account, DC will pay for this with additional fees for damages and attorney fees- I am sure.

Just some food for thought.

Posted by: Margo | July 9, 2007 3:29 PM

It must be nice to live in some teeth-whitening-chemical-induced bourgeoisie lala land where $300k a year (including bonuses) with a private car and driver (and a kick-ass pension to boot) is run-of-the-mill chump change.
--------

No one said it's chump changed, but indeed NW Washington, DC is a very nice place to live, you're right.

Posted by: DCer | July 9, 2007 4:52 PM

"Hundreds of kids have their $50,000-plus annual tuition at fancy private providers of special ed, all on the taxpayers' dime."

I think Marc's larger point is that the District should have it's own Special Ed. facilities, which would prevent the need of paying a premium to send out-of-jurisdiction kids to schools in MD and VA.

Posted by: Dave in Chicago, IL | July 9, 2007 5:03 PM

Then he should make that (eminently reasonable) point. But presumably Fisher is reading the comments and is capable of elucidating his intentions for us all with a few keystrokes. Until then, I'm running with what he said and not trying to delve into what he might have said had he thought about it a little longer.

This is definitely a blog.

Posted by: Lindemann | July 9, 2007 5:38 PM

Marc:

I'm normally a fan of both your judgment and your writing. I also realize it's not a reporter's role (or even, necessarily, a blogger's role) to be a cheerleader, but your tone in this article is needlessly negative.

The last sentence, alone, conveys the idea that you are waiting for Rhee and Fenty to screw up rather than hoping they will succeed.

Posted by: THS | July 9, 2007 11:40 PM

We must keep in mind that what is needed to improve DCPS was attempted by the previous superintendents, unfortunately they did not have the support or the backing of the mayor's office. If Rhee succeed in improving DCPS it will not be because she is more committed, is an innovative thinker, or a result of her passion a major part of her success will come from not having to deal with level of bureaucracy faced by Janey and others.

Posted by: Khathu | July 11, 2007 10:23 AM

Please forgive my longhand response on this critically important subject. However, you will understand near the end.

As many longtime Washingtonians, critical observers and newcomers have noticed, District government has affirmed our growing District culture of low expectations. Genuine leadership and certified experience in D.C. is now defined as anyone who is successful at getting elected or appointed to public office. Proven expertise, exceptional credentials and comprehensive plans that are truly open to the public are no longer the standard.

Testimony at the D.C. Council's confirmation hearings for education officers Victor Reinoso, Allen Lew, and Michelle Rhee prove this point. On one hand Mr. Reinoso's relatively minimal credentials for Deputy Mayor for Education are hyped, yet he is excused at this stage and his age for not understanding the lack of professional integrity and competence behind plagiarism. All responsible parents and teachers struggle to hold our children to a higher standard of honesty and accountability.

Education is our most critical tool for socioeconomic development. Mayor Fenty and the Council's minimal standards and practices regarding Mr. Lew indicate another example of low expectations and dubious credentials. Remember, this is the same Allen Lew who's been one of the chefs cooking the books regarding the Washington Nationals baseball stadium development. Our limited and valuable tax dollars are at work, as council member Jack Evans recently acknowledged to Tommy Wells in hearings that the stadium's final cost is a new and larger layer of D.C. debt. Yes, Mr. Lew is the same person that angered the Council and numerous public observers by his tactics of misinformation, disinformation and delayed information to the Council last year on stadium construction financing.

At the very least, Mr. Lew's appointment to be executive director of the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization represents a new low in administrative inbreeding and sole source corruption. I pray that we all as taxpayers vigilantly follow the money after his confirmation.

Then there's Ms. Rhee, a truly likeable and attentive individual whom I had the opportunity to meet and talk with recently. Despite her seemingly fabulous façade of professionalism and overhyped background in education, her bottom line credentials and expertise as a chancellor candidate have major experience holes. We can do better. Yes, WE CAN! You simply cannot fake managing a multibillion-dollar urban school system. The leadership, logistics and long term perspective required to effectively manage any major city system is not like amateur night at the Apollo Theater. Far more talent and technique is demanded, and justifiably expected. Acting like you know just won't cut it over the long term.

The common agreement among most proponents and opponents of Mr. Fenty's appointees is that we need systemic and measurable improvements in our public schools. No doubt, I fully agree. However, unquestionable or certifiable excellence at every level should be our standard. Change for the sake of change is not synonymous with better or best. Giving the appearance of "involvement" and "communicating" with parents is not the same as formulating systemic solutions to assist parents and students with related socioeconomic difficulties beyond the school door. Sacrificing quality at the top, and in the beginning of a long process for systemic improvement, has previously proven to have disastrous results both in D.C., and even in national policy. Did anyone bother to interview or assess the District's numerous 20-year plus star educators consistently ignored or passed over as executive educator candidates?

We can no longer academically or fiscally afford another series of untested and unfulfilled experiments on our children. We suffer from serial superintendents (now chancellor), and the excessive expense to pay them or buyout their contracts when they leave. My wife and I are not willing to gamble our most important investments, our children, on a stage full of clumsy dancing amateurs possessing no rhyme, reason or rhythm. It's show time, and the D.C. Council hasn't got its act together regarding higher standards and genuine best practices.

Nevertheless, it is now official. All of the negative or comical abbreviations I've heard to describe D.C. over the last 25 years simply comes down to the words: dysfunctional and corrupt. No doubt, it deeply hurts that my adopted city is now home to a growing swarm of overpaid political parasites. They promise much, prove very little, provide minimal improvements, and are handsomely paid with our hard earned tax dollars.

This year's crop of so-called "public servants" set a new low in depraved indifference to integrity, provable expertise, measurable results and good governance. Nevertheless, our elected so-called "representatives" on the D.C. Council have yet to fathom the trends and depths of this depravity in public service. We can no longer credibly criticize our city's many street hustlers for their own version of "trying to get paid."

The fix was in for acting D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, and her crew of curiously qualified staff to be confirmed and get paid the six-plus figures they're hustling out of lesser-paid taxpayers. Thanks to our current cast of sleep-and-eat council members, and assorted confirmation supporters, those of us who earn far less will be bamboozled out of more valuable taxpayer revenue. The newly appointed education executives, Rhee, Victor Reinoso and Allen Lew, will find it easier to balance their checkbooks while all District citizens lose the last layer of checks and balances in city government.

Within the small, wide, high and low circles I circulate, there is a growing sense that D.C. is genuinely on track for fiscal and socioeconomic failure. Condos and homes aren't selling, small businesses are suffering, and no one will admit to the District government's yard sale on properties and air rights (schools, libraries, hospitals, alleys, etc.). Increasingly crime, employment, education, affordable housing, and family friendly fiscal policies haven't been the subject of happy headlines. The friends and families I know prefer to remain optimistic, but feel something is just not right and are being forced to be realistic as they entertain crossing our Virginia or Maryland borders for better socioeconomic value. Subtracting the tourists and suburban commuters, has anyone noticed how empty our capital city is after 6 PM and weekends?

The basic proven principles of urban planning, fiscal economics and long term development ignored by D.C. officials make it hard for families to consider staying. Families (low income to upper middle class) are the primary source of exponential economic development and revenue from taxes, shopping and other family expenditures. Families don't stay where families can't live. Like Rhee, Reinoso and Lew, families need to "get paid" too. After a few years or less, with or without a new family member, even the gentry who gentrify discover there's a better or best buy at least 20-minutes outside D.C.

So, now our infinitely wise D.C. council members have pretended to ponder the complexities of assessing, confirming and overpaying minimally qualified public servants possessing unproven skills and dubious plans. Let's all hope this current trend in representative misgovernment, administrative dysfunction and corrupt governance is just a passing nightmare of our imaginations.

In the meantime, tighten to your wallet, make a family friendly fail-safe plan, and stay in touch with friends and family beyond the District's borders.

Dennis Moore
Chairperson
District of Columbia Independents for Citizen Control
http://www.DCIndependents.org

Posted by: Dennis Moore | July 11, 2007 3:51 PM

I'd like to respond to Paul2002's comments about how DC families - particularly families led by single mothers - are primarily responsible for the failures of DC schools. What an exaggeration. I spent 10 years as a student in DCPS (graduated in 2004), and my mother has taught in DCPS for around 20 years. While parents everywhere - including in two-parent households - should be more actively involved in their children's educations, single parenthood isn't single-handedly responsible for DCPS' problems. It's true, as Paul2002 points out, that per-student spending by DCPS is relatively high, compared to regional averages. But most of this money never reaches students or schools; it's tied up by the bureaucratic administration downtown. Promised improvements to school infrastructure are years in the making. New books never come, basic materials (like paper) are in short supply, and asbestos removal is sluggish. In short, a lot of DC schools are decrepit. Further, since the DCPS administrators downtown - the people in charge of crafting hiring and firing processes - don't seem committed to any real "culture of education," the likelihood of remedying these deficiencies and hiring many new, highly qualified teachers seems - at least in the near future - pretty small. What's my point? DC students aren't stupid. Attending a school that's falling apart, where half the teachers only pretend to care about teaching, sends a message to students that their education doesn't matter. Few people in DC schools - aside from some very dedicated teachers - push DC students to be their best, and hence, personal motivation aside, in the face of some very difficult circumstances outside of their control, they don't. Private schools, on average, perform better than public schools because private school teachers and administrators look over their student's shoulders; they hold students accountable for their performance and make students feel like someone cares about their education. Based on my and my mother's experiences, I feel strongly that the real problem with DC schools is that the same phenomenon is not occurring there; single-parenthood isn't solely responsible.

Posted by: ekurtz | July 12, 2007 11:46 AM

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