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Schools Monday: Burning Down the House

Excluding gatherings of employees whose paychecks were signed by the schools superintendent, the last time I heard audiences cheering for the chief of the D.C. school system was, um, never. But as Chancellor Michelle Rhee made her way around town in meetings large and small ahead of today's opening of the school year, she is being greeted with enthusiastic applause and actual yelps of encouragement. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't heard it with me own ears.

What are folks cheering about? Rhee has been here for about 15 minutes and obviously hasn't had a chance to make any significant difference in what goes on in the classroom or in the outcomes seen in one of America's most dysfunctional school systems. But she has quickly done three crucial and potentially productive things:

1) She's sending the message that the lying and the phony cheer that pervaded this system for decades are finally at an end. For more than two decades, I've gone to one D.C. schools meeting after another at which superintendents and other top administrators said that things really aren't so bad and it's all the fault of the jackals of the media. Rhee is telling it straight: This thing is broken, period. People don't do their jobs. Heck, they don't even know what their jobs are.

Now, there's always the possibility that she's doing this to create a perception of problems that she can later announce have been fixed, and a Post story looking into how dire the purported shortage of textbooks really is found something of a disconnect between Rhee's rhetoric and what school principals are saying.

Still, Rhee won cheers at a town hall meeting at Murch Elementary School in Tenleytown last week when she announced that she has frozen all hiring at the system's central office. And the packed gym was nearly swooning when Rhee told the story of how she has gone through the system headquarters building asking each person what they do, only to hear fancy titles or something like this: "I do whatever Mr. So and So tells me to do."

"That is not a job," Rhee said. "They couldn't tell me what their job is. I'm not going to hire anymore people who don't know what their job is."

2) She's exposing the system's flaws in as public and forthright a manner as she can. Hardly a day went by in the run up to opening day in which Rhee and Mayor Blackberry didn't put on some dog and pony show for the assembled media, showing what a mess the system's personnel records are in, or how lousy the heating and A/C systems are in the old school buildings, or what a shame the textbook warehouse is. Obviously, this is PR designed to impress everyone with how awful things are now and how committed Rhee is to making them better, but for all its show biz aspects, it's also a strategy that makes sense. It buys the new bosses both time and credibility, yes, but it also commits them to showing progress--or else.

And it's working even with the system's teachers, as the Post's Theola Labbe reported.

3) She's getting the concrete stuff done, quickly and efficiently. This is the part I really wouldn't believe if I didn't see if for myself. But get in the car and check it out: There are new artificial turf fields at several D.C. high schools, right now. There are new roofs and new bathrooms and new windows at one school after another. Facilities czar Allen Lew may not be a miracle worker, and he's surely spending like a fleet of drunken sailors, but he is getting stuff done that people in the system have done nothing but whine about for decades.

Here's where it's important to take a deep breath and note that the hardest part in school reform is the soft stuff. You can and should fix the buildings first because it's a concrete task and getting it done shows that you care and that you intend to do the harder part. But I don't really buy the connection between spiffy buildings and better learning. Rhee goes on, as all school leaders do, about how essential it is to have a conducive learning environment, and I'm sure there is a nice morale boost that comes from working in a building that has decent plumbing and maybe some air conditioning. But bottom line: It really doesn't matter when it comes to student achievement. I have seen amazing schools in crapola buildings and pathetic excuses for schools in state of the art buildings. At bottom, schooling is a people-intensive endeavor--an art, not a business.

And that's where Rhee shows the most potential: She is trying to give everyone in the system--administrators, teachers, parents and I don't know about kids (that part remains to be seen)--permission to break the rules and charge ahead.

Here's what she told the audience at Murch:

"I realized four weeks into this job, I keep hearing all these people saying, 'These are the rules.' I realized people are following rules for rules' sake, without stopping to think, Does this make any sense?"

She told of getting an email from a parent about a middle school that's shifting its ninth graders over to the local high school this year as part of the D.C. system's change to middle schools consisting of 6th-to-8th graders. The problem was that the 9th grade textbooks were mistakenly shipped to the middle school rather than the high school. The parents asked if they could box up the books, throw them into their cars, and take them over to the high school. Oh, no, came the reply from central HQ. Those books must be returned to the central warehouse.

Rhee was appalled: "I was like, lady, do NOT send those books to the warehouse. I said, Thank the parents, get the books in the car, and move them over." Whereupon the crowd roared with approval.

This is all rah-rah stuff, of course, and Rhee is already hitting some brick walls, in the form of the insane union regulations that require the system to keep proven bad apples and give them plum jobs rather than hire some energetic, brilliant hotshot from outside. System insiders are saying that some of these barriers to getting rid of really bad employees are so firm that Rhee may seek new laws from the D.C. Council to bust through those walls.

The chancellor's tough talk is winning her friends and support, and if she does this right, she will bank that political capital for the hard fights yet to come. Rhee has put off all plans to close schools for a year, ostensibly because she wants to get to know the system better, but also because she needs a year of action and results under her belt before she takes on the no-win but vital task of downsizing the system.

What does the dynamic duo have in store for the next months? Fenty told me that the housecleaning has just begun. "There is a lot of waste," he said, and heads will roll. I asked Rhee if she can maintain this whirlwind schedule of exposes: "We're going to be uncovering things for a long time to come," she said. "In the next 12 to 18 months, I can see us still finding out things that have been going on for years."

At some point, of course, Fenty and Rhee will need to have allies and soldiers in the system, because right now, a whole lot of public school employees are running scared. But the new chiefs don't seem so worried about morale or having troops who are with the program. Some people will rise to the new expectations, Rhee said, and some will simply have to move on.

"I am going to kick down the barriers," she said. "I will have a direct relationship with the principals."

Gone are the days when principals spoke to regional superintendents, who spoke to associate superintendents, who alone spoke to the holy of holies. Rhee will spend the next three weeks meeting individually with every principal in the city, 140-plus of them. Some of those folks will become allies. Some will be gone. But all will get the message.

I was wandering outside a D.C. elementary school one evening last week at about 8 p.m., and a worker who was trying to get new windows installed scurried past me.

"Working late," I said.

"Clock's ticking, man," he said. "Whole new world now."

By Marc Fisher |  August 27, 2007; 7:48 AM ET
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Comments

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I hope it is a whole new world when that new window needs replacing. DC Schools have not been able to maintain and repair their buildings and plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems. In frustration, unqualified cleaning personnel have done substandard work, endangering children, teachers and staff.

I wonder if the discrepancy about textbook needs is just another example of the disconnect between DCPS Central and the schools. Perhaps Rhee is getting information from DCPS Central records, which do not match the actual situation at the schools themselves. Arguments for dismantling the DCPS central office and rebuilding it from scratch are overwhelming.

Posted by: Mike Licht | August 27, 2007 8:44 AM

Wow! Marc, this sounds too good to be true! Did the doc up the dosage of your medication? What's his name -- I want in.

Posted by: KK | August 27, 2007 9:40 AM

When I saw the picture in The Post of the employees asking for Rhee's autograph and treating her like a rockstar that really hit home with me. How deperate must these employees be for new leadership? No one asks for Jack Dale's autograph in FCPS. I am so rooting for Rhee to succeed-she has a Herculian task before her-I just hope she gets the support that she needs. I am hopeful for a better school system for these kids who have been neglected all these years.

I wish some of the suburban schools would organize something to help this school system. Something like an "adopt a school" program where the wealthier school system does a fundraiser or donates equipment to one of these needier schools. We need to come together as a community to help these kids.

Posted by: FCPS parent | August 27, 2007 9:43 AM

Rhee certainly is getting her picture in the paper a lot. The Post is going to every one of those photo ops.

I hope for everyone's sake that she can deliver.

Posted by: Lindemann | August 27, 2007 10:06 AM

You're missing the obvious subtext to the story. An Asian woman is calling black workers lazy and dishonest. The racism could not be more obvious. Why didn't you report that?

Posted by: ebony rage | August 27, 2007 10:15 AM

Um, ebony rage, the performance of DC students kind of suggests that some people are not doing their jobs, doesn't it? Should people doing some of the most important work in our society--administering and teaching in our schools--be given a pass because they are black?

Would be good if you'd direct your rage to the people who have failed to lead and support the people in the school system who ARE doing good work.

Posted by: absurd charge | August 27, 2007 10:33 AM

ebony rage--

Just a hunch, but I'm thinking you are getting a steady paycheck from DCPS, but that you don't know what your job is. You're part of the problem, not part of the solution. Am I close?

Posted by: KK | August 27, 2007 10:38 AM

Marc, I think you are dead wrong about the construction/repair issue. Not only is it the prime example of an in-your-face problem that inspires the central office, by way of a solution, to avert its eyes. It is something that demoralizes the DCPS population at all levels - students, faculty, staff, administration. It is a continual distraction and a psychological disincentive to the individuals in the system, whether they are inclined to seize the educational opportunities in front of them or not.

Construction and repairs are not a magic bullet, but it's wrong to suggest that they are not crucial to general progress in the schools and deserving of op priority.

Posted by: Oscar | August 27, 2007 10:48 AM

Wow - this sounds fantastic! I really hope she can get things done.

Posted by: h3 | August 27, 2007 11:02 AM

Students cannot learn if they are too hot to concentrate (or too cold in the winter), they can't learn if they are distracted by the drip-drip-drip of leaking ceilings. So, fixing up the physical plant is a good place to start. The next thing to do is convince the principals that when the Chancellor asks for information, you provide it. I was APPALLED to see that most schools simply ignored the questionnaire on textbook needs. None of those schools better claim they don't have enough textbooks now.

Posted by: ep | August 27, 2007 11:03 AM

"My job? Well, I get the specs from the customer, see; and then I take them to the enginers, Bobs."

Posted by: Initech "People Person" | August 27, 2007 11:28 AM

Ebony - pure coincidence, I think. The DCPS's workforce demographics are going to skew towards black because so does the geographic area in which this employer is situated. If everyone cries "RACE!", it will throw up unfortunate and unnecessary barriers to Ms Rhee's success. I live outside of DC and am fascinated to watch how all of this plays out, and I didn't for a moment even consider that there is a racial subtext. Go, Chancellor Rhee - don't let those who would claim racism is at work stand in your way. Soldier forth!

Posted by: Meg | August 27, 2007 11:46 AM

It'd be really great to see Ms. Rhee institute a "one-person away" policy for the school system. If an employee is more than one person away from directly educating a child, that person should not have a job because the job is not necessary.

The DC school system has been a national embarassment for far too long and I'm glad that, at least to this point, someone is taking some real action.

Posted by: Jimmie | August 27, 2007 11:54 AM

I'm confused. Ebony's rage surely must be misplaced, right? I mean after all, wasn't this "Asian woman calling black workers lazy and dishonest" the same that was appointed by the mayor of the allegedly offended race, and confirmed by the city council made up of many members of the same and representing still same?

If such blatant racism were already at play, wouldn't that have come out during the Mayor's vetting process for the appointment, let alone during the city council's confirmation process?

Ebony's charge just smacks of disgruntlement in the face of institutional change. Some folks in this town just worked up about every little thing. It ain't ALL about race here in this town. Just ask David Howard, the gentleman in the Williams administration who had very accurately used an adjective that means "stingy" or "miserly", and is derived from a Norwegian verb. The folks in this town that didn't seek to improve their vocabularies through books on tape during rush hour commutes incorrectly thought that the word had quite a different, unfortunate and offensive meaning. Howard quickly found the door leading out of the Wilson building. Of course, Howard is white and the offended co-worker is black, but those are details that should have remained on the periphery instead of being swept into the front and center.

Sometimes, people actually do know what they're doing in this town to make it better, and folks that want to derail those efforts to improve will throw out any baseless charge, impugn anyone's character to avert the coming change - at great expense to this city and its denizens.

Posted by: Petey | August 27, 2007 12:20 PM

Chancellor Rhee is in a perfect position to get the work done because she doesn't have to deal with the level of bureaucracy that the previous superintendents had to deal with. In addition, she has the finanical backing of the Mayor's office.

The P.R. campaign is great. Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee must obtain buy-in from the community before they start to implement the hard-line policies and decisions that will impact (both postively and negatively) the community, teachers, students and parents. These policies and decisions unfortunately will negatively impact more so the urban poor and working clas families.

Posted by: Khathu | August 27, 2007 12:27 PM

Only someone looking for racism where it doesn't exist could call Michelle Rhee a racist -- she is working like a madwoman to improve education for thousands of AFRICAN AMERICAN children.

Posted by: trace1 | August 27, 2007 12:29 PM

...folks that want to derail those efforts to improve will throw out any baseless charge, impugn anyone's character to avert the coming change...

Posted by: Petey | August 27, 2007 12:20 PM

And, if they're not smart enough to fabricate a baseless charge or to impugn someone's character, they maliciously cry "racism."

Posted by: KK | August 27, 2007 12:30 PM

I may be wrong, but the over-the-top handle makes me suspect that the "ebony rage" comment was intended to be tongue-in-cheek.

Posted by: Paul | August 27, 2007 12:32 PM

I am the parent of a kid starting DC schools and I am disgusted by the way some teachers and parents accept a shoddy system and lap it up just because it's better than the way it used to be- even if anyone with eyes can see it's not as good as Falls Church. There is no reason it can't be as good as Falls Church except that someone let the kids down.

One of the parental powerhouses at our school's PTA works motivating and training homeless people. Great humanitarian, but this person cannot get it through their head that none of the kindergarteners or Pre-K kids are underprivileged. I met the parents: Doctors, lawyers, lobbyists, programmers, electricians and plumbers. Not a single less-than-middle class kid in the whole class! Some lawyer's kid in a Baby Polo shirt like he was starting prep school. So this parental organizer doesn't see dirt, grime, broken windows, chipped paint, tape residue on every surface and non-working lights because they deal with the homeless every day. The homeless start from zero and get janitor jobs. The parents of the kids in my son's class are in graduate school or have finished. I see dirt, grime, dysfunction everywhere because I work in a gleaming office tower. Can you see the disconnect between the baby boomer parents and Gen X? The schools used to deal with the underprivileged until rents went up and the underprivileged left DC. I saw a few frazzled parents this morning with some older kids in smartass t-shirts. But there wasn't one single parent like that in my son's class. The teacher's aide mentioned that none of the kids in the class qualified for "free breakfast" and we all were like, duh! It's Washington, DC, the condos sell for $500k!

Posted by: DCer | August 27, 2007 12:41 PM

Petey, I disagree. I think what Ebony was saying is that it could be viewed as racist especially considering the historical depictions of Black people as being lazy. Ebony did not saying anything about Chancellor Rhee's commitment to the work. And just because one make an observation does not mean that he or she is against change or growth. So why make the assumption?

Unfortunately, here in the U.S. race is a major factor in how people view things and how situations are reported in the media.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 27, 2007 12:43 PM

I think fixing the facilities is very important to educating DC kids. The shameful condition of the school buildings sends a very clear message to these kids that they are not worthy of a clean, repaired building and that sends an implied message that they are not worthy of a decent education.

If I got the message every single day that I was not worthy, I'm pretty sure I'd stop trying after a while.

Posted by: 20008 | August 27, 2007 12:45 PM

Marc, Buildings don't need to have gold plated faucets, but student achievement most definitely is affected in schools without functioning air conditioning and heating. Last year, at my children's DCPS school, teachers gave up teaching on some sweltering afternoons and let the kids have down time because it was over 90 degrees in the classroom -- when the kids were dismissed with faces red as beets, they were exhausted. You can't expect teachers to teach and children to learn under those conditions. What would downtown DC employers do if their AC stopped working? Most likely, give the employees an early dismissal.

And what about schools that have bathroom stalls with no doors? I know DCPS kids who have gone through the day all year without going to the bathroom. That kind of anxiety is not conducive to focusing on learning, either.

Let's separate nice carpeting and fancy paint jobs from the basics that are indeed necessary for children to learn.

Posted by: trace1 | August 27, 2007 12:56 PM

as an aside, Montgomery county removed all the bathroom doors in the 1970s to combat drug use in the schools. We never had doors on bathroom stalls after the third grade. That was considered standard practice back then.

Posted by: DCer | August 27, 2007 1:00 PM

Agreed: "Ebony Rage" certainly sounds like he/she is, personally, part of the problem not the solution.

What he/she does not understand is that this is neither a new, nor race oriented problem. When I was in DCPS (more years ago than I care to remember) the teachers at my high school (Wilson) were basically disasters. Most were over-ripe, because the union rules said that school choice was determined by seniority. Thus, we had a situation where, for instance, a math teacher who was about 2 years from retirement was supposed to teach a student who would receive a PhD in Math in less than 6 years. Somehow, the two didn't compute.

As far as the repairs to the buildings are concerned. Hang in there. What is being done now is all temporary. The stated year will see a set of plans that will, quite probably, completely remake the physical facilities. Wait for the pain. You will hear the screams from here to the other Washington.

Posted by: mikes | August 27, 2007 1:02 PM

PEOPEL. Ebony rage was such a sarcastic commen; it was a dig at Marc's earlier post(s?) about Ms. Rhee's heritage and the city's racial divisions/tensions. Remember a lot of readers thought he was a little overzealous on that one?

Posted by: mrm0to | August 27, 2007 1:02 PM

Anon @ 12:43, presuming your disagreement isn't about whether hints of racism should have been caught during the vetting and confirmation process, you have a point. "ER" said nothing about Rhee's commitment to the work. (Does that include reforming the school system?)

What she said was:
"An Asian woman is calling black workers lazy and dishonest. The racism could not be more obvious."

One needn't make a big leap intellectually to conclude that ER had intended to raise issues other than dedication to education and reform in the system. There are a limited number of impressions that one can be left with after reading "ER's" charge - I'm left believing that ER has called Rhee a racist - a heavy character charge that nowadays carries an unfortunately light burden of proof in DC. But in fairness, ER didn't question Rhee's commitment or even ER's own commitment to improving public education in DC (though, given the apparent racism charge, one may infer she questions Rhee's ability and/or fitness to work with the community).

I think we owe the charge some scrutiny.
Is there something in Rhee's past that lends itself to such a charge? Any documented instances of similar charges levied and investigated in Rhee's past? Any concerns that Fenty's staff and the Council identified that lend credence to the charge? What about Rhee's statements on the public record? All should be examined. I, for one, would like to see the direct quote that spurred ER's charge. If it's there, maybe folks ought to act. If it's not there, maybe folks ought to start asking when we can ALL move beyond this to work *together* for a better future.

ER may use race as a backdrop for what's now happening in DCPS, but there are plenty of other canvasses to choose from. Seems to me that the Teacher's Union - just as an example - has had plenty of excesses and baggage in its own operations that have been co-mingled with DCPS politics. But let's not slay sacred cows in this forum.

Posted by: Petey | August 27, 2007 1:15 PM

I attended DC public schools from Pre-K to high school, lieve in Ward 8 and went on the earn an MBA. Most importantly I am the parent of a three year old and never before has education been more important to me. I applaud Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee for the tough job ahead. I can now look forward to the possibility that my child will attend a DCPS. It still suprises me that there are so many people in denial about how bad the DCPS system is. Wake up Folks!!! This is the Nations Capital, we should set the standard for the country therefore, the world. Mediocrity is not an option!

Posted by: Ward 8 MBA!!! | August 27, 2007 1:17 PM

Oh... this was all sarcasm?? I didn't pick up on the ooze. So if it was totally tongue in cheek, then much ado about nothing. Otherwise, I have a hard time understanding why the fault line exists.

In any case, let's see what Rhee can do.

Posted by: Petey | August 27, 2007 1:31 PM

"...was appointed by the mayor of the allegedly offended race, and confirmed by the city council made up of many members of the same and representing still same?"

[Gasp!] Fenty's Black? You'd better not tell all those Y&W yuppies who are buying those condos in the gentrified areas of DC, or they'll get scared and move to Crystal City.

No, I'm kidding. Half of them would of course move to Bethesda.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 27, 2007 1:34 PM

why do people think that the yuppies moving into these gentrified houses and condos aren't African American professionals? Young surgeon, works at Howard University Hospital, buys house in Shaw. Young African-American lawyer, buys house in Petworth. Ethiopian restaurateur buys a house. This isn't 1982 here where yuppie means the movie Wall Street, 25 years have passed.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 27, 2007 1:49 PM

All of you have been fooled! The cheers are the result of folks seeing that there is a new person in power and that power so far does not have any competition. the cheers are trying to gain position and favor as they can read the situation. Fenty has half of DCPS worrying about their jobs. Previously, ever superintendent introduced already had opposition in the mayor's office, the board of Ed and/or the council before he or she was even hired. This gutless council let this go unquestioned, and the amount of power this lady and mayor have is enormous. The cheers are really fear. IT's ALL BECAUSE OF THE CENTRALIZED POWER! Who are the Murch parents going to b!tch to now? Who is the teacher's union going to b!tch too! Who are the principals going to run to backdoor/sabotage the superintendent now! With the power solely in the mayor's office and the entire council signed on to every move, they all are on the line to make this work. Each and everyone of those groups is still aligning itself for its own political favor.

Posted by: RobGreg | August 27, 2007 2:44 PM

Well, RobGreg, the Murch parents will complain to Mayor Fenty, who actually appears to be listening and acting. That's the whole point of this takeover. Before, complaints went unanswered and the Board of Education pointed fingers at the Council who pointed the finger back at them or to the Mayor. And as for the principals, Rhee is meeting with every single one of them in the next few weeks. I've been a DCPS parent for over 10 years and I can tell you that this Fenty/Rhee duo is a breath of fresh air.

Posted by: trace1 | August 27, 2007 3:00 PM

trace1, its great you feel that way. I only ask you what substance have you received other than a feeling you have been heard. what have you received but promises, and just how will that promise be fufilled. Have you not heard that before? I am not being cynical, but I want to get past this rhetoric phase. The Murch parents already had access. Kathy Patterson was a strong and active voice for them. Half her former staff works for Reinoso now!

However, the real power now rests with Fenty. That's my bigger point. DCPS was full of sabotage, self inflicted and otherwise. I do not believe all this applause is genuine. Folks HAVE to get on the bandwagon and are jockeying for position because they have no choice. many folks are afraid for their jobs too. It's early yet, lets see the teacher union a year from now. folks are already talking no confidence votes on Parker.

Fenty and Rhee are saying the right things for the blame game, but its time for substance. Not more contracts to tell you what many folks already know. No more photo shoots of stacked warehouses, while principals have not placed their orders or one man has to manage the whole process either. don't plan a $75M blitz when you have not scoped and estimated projects, not given yourself time to order the required supplies. Don't talk about the permit and procedural allowances you are allowing for Lew's staff that DCPS was not previously allowed. do not ask how/why Deal was moved up on the construction list and now is slated for a $58 million rehab?

Posted by: RobGreg | August 27, 2007 3:56 PM

trace1, i still think this all goes back to the personality issues folks had with Janey. Granted he wins no awards in that regard. however, it is funny that the guy was literally from the housing projects, but people viewed him to be elitist. However, no one objects to his educational approach.

part of my opposition is also due to knowing how this same council and mayor worked to undermine education in this City while janey was the Superintendent.

Posted by: RobGreg | August 27, 2007 4:08 PM

People of the DCPS SHOULD be worrying about their jobs. They have not been doing there jobs for a very long time. Isn't the graduation rate in DC something like 54%? I could be wrong about that number.

If you went to work and only accomplished 50% of your work ALL THE TIME, wouldn't you be worried about your job too? Or should these terrible, non-caring teachers and administrators just get a free pass because they need the job? Well guess what, these children will grow up to be adults who ALSO NEED JOBS! But they will not be able to find work because their teachers failed them. They were more worried about keeping a job, instead of doing their job!

Posted by: Amanda | August 27, 2007 4:18 PM

Has anyone (hint, hint, WP) looked at the ratio of Board of Ed staff to classroom teachers, relative to other cities the size of DC? And those cities' test score/graduation results?
DCPS seems like ol' DC in the worst of the Barry era, with bloated city payroll and nothing getting done; despite every dozen citizens paying for their own personal DC employee.

Posted by: Taxonomy | August 27, 2007 4:27 PM

The AC and Heat should be turned off at DCPS Central School offices until it is working in all the schools. That may help, too.

Posted by: Idea Man | August 27, 2007 4:40 PM

... or something like this: "I do whatever Mr. So and So tells me to do."

Sounds like Mr. So and So is a take charge kind of guy. Perhaps he should be promoted. Better be careful though, his name sounds Asian!

Posted by: TonyR | August 27, 2007 5:01 PM

RobGreg,

You ask for substance -- look at any number of schools with new AC, heaters, windows, sinks, carpets, paint, and fixed cracks in walls and ceiling -- all things that were done over the past 2-3 weeks that had been sitting unattended to for years until the takeover occured. Sure, you could say that there is so much more to be done, and there is, but somehow even this kind of "easy" stuff was beyond previous leadership. It's the best start to a school year in DCPS that I have seen in the eight years that my kids have been a part of it.

Posted by: Simon | August 27, 2007 5:15 PM

Nice soft solution: Break the damned union. If there's an organization with rules that need to be broken, they're at the top of the list.

Posted by: James Buchanan | August 27, 2007 5:18 PM

Janey was great at writing plans, as in modernization and curriculum standards. But make no mistake; he was a horror show at implementation. Lead in the water? Talk to the principal. And my kids have NOT been taught the new standards. But guess what? That's not grounds for firing. In fact, not much is. That is thanks to the Teachers' Union, which makes it nearly impossible to fire a poor performer. It would take about 20% of a principal's working time to complete all the steps necessary, which can be grieved at ANY point in the process -- and then the incompetent would most likely be sent right back by the hearing examiner. I know for a fact that Janey made NO attempt to negotiate these hideous rules out of the contract. It's not the Union's fault -- Parker is just doing his job. It IS the superintendent's fault for not speaking for the children.

Posted by: trace1 | August 27, 2007 5:40 PM

Had a nice graphic on the process for firing teachers:

http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/special/2007/Bfeature0223.pdf

Posted by: DC City Paper | August 27, 2007 6:28 PM

RobGreg? I read your posts and you can talk really really loud without saying a darn thing. You've mastered that. Now say something that means something or just stop talking.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 27, 2007 9:30 PM

It is interesting that people are jumping on ebony rage about his/her comments. This person is allowed to express his/her opinions without being blasted by a firing squad. Many people don't want to admit that racism exists. The reality is that racism plays a part in every aspect of society. That's the way it is.

I read a comment that suggested that the DC Teacher's Union be dismantled. I am a DCPS teacher. We get little in perks and benefits as teachers. Our union doesn't negotiate bonuses, annual trips to St. Tropez, and high salaries. Sometimes, we don't get raises for years. The little that we get is because of our union. If we didn't have a union, we would not have protection from tyrannical principals and a mismanaged central office.

The reality is many parents have dropped the ball when it comes to their children. They expect teachers to be miracle workers when they have not laid the foundation. Television, computers, and Playstation often serve as surrogate parents to children.

Parents are the first teachers. If a child comes to school at the age of 5 without any reading exposure, then that child is behind. Language development begins at birth. As a teacher, I will not take the blame for students who don't do assigned homework/classwork, disrupt the class, and diplay apathy towards anything dealing with learning. At what point do parents share the responsibility for their underachieving children?

Many distant observers make comments about what they think is best for DCPS. Many of the comments come from misinformed individuals. The only people who truly know the real deal are the ones who actively participate in it each day. The rest of you are just guessing.

Posted by: LMPresley | August 28, 2007 3:37 AM

I've actively participated in the system every school day for over 10 years as a DCPS parent. I'm not guessing, LMPresley, and I know the "real deal." Why should teachers have "protection" from "tyrannical principals" and the central office? If teachers want to be seen as professionals, they need to act like professionals -- last time I checked, the vast majority of people in this country are not civil service, and they can be fired for ANY reason, as long as it is not discriminatory under state and federal laws. Teachers would have those protections without a union.

And by the way, this myth of the "tyrannical principal" needs to be laid to rest. Principals are more accountable than ever under NCLB. If they have a teacher on staff that is producing results, it is HIGHLY unlikely that the teacher will be fired, whether or not they are chummy.

The best teachers I have ever encountered in DCPS were at my son's charter school. No union there. How do they survive without "protections?" They do a damn good job because they CAN be terminated for poor performance, just like anyone else.

What you're talking about ends up as job protection for incompetents. The union ensures that even the worst teacher cannot be fired. Enough already. The union should be out there advocating for MERIT pay and higher wages for the best teachers. That we can all get behind. The rest needs to be sliced from the contract. Why? Because a public educational system, paid for by tax dollars, should be about providing the BEST EDUCATION for kids, not protecting jobs for adults who should have moved on long ago.

Everyone out there should also know that the union contract allows principals to call only ONE staff meeting per month (with the exception of Sept. and June) and if the meeting goes over 1 hour, teachers can get up and leave. Can you imagine running a business, much less engineering a turnaround, while handcuffed by these rules?

Posted by: trace1 | August 28, 2007 6:21 AM

A DCPS teacher I know moonlighted teaching grad school classes at the USDA grad school. I took one of her classes. It was a disorganized mess and she claimed to have been a teacher for 15 years. USDA fired her after three sessions.

I am liberal, really liberal, but I have a job to do and that's get my child educated the best way I know how. DCPS teachers are stuck in the crack war years. Condos sell in DC for $400k. Houses for that and more. I see the elementary school kids getting dropped off at school in new cars and politely kicking the soccer ball around the playground and reading Harry Potter. Please do not think these kids start off with nothing or don't read, it does no one any good to perpetuate a myth about DC students. Some teachers aren't challenging the kids and they aren't challenging themselves.

The one thing I remind teachers is that when I was 28 and working at a dotcom company we put in 11 hour days for a month, worked several saturdays, one sunday and got paid no overtime just to make sure we got a product completed that we could put on our resumes. We did and I got a huge raise when I got a new job. When was the last time you worked 11 hour days in that classroom? I know teachers do class set-up over weekends, but I mean a full 60 hour week away from home... when was that?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 28, 2007 9:55 AM

trace1, I enjoy your blind devotion to "No Child Left Behind". Continual standardized testing will save us!

Teachers do indeed, sometimes, need protection from "tyrannical principals". I have an uncle and many friends who are teachers, and sometimes the bad apple floats to the top and ends up with the principal job. And they are very difficult to work with, and vindictive. Again, not all, but it's good to know that the protection is built in.

Now, there will be many who hide behind union rules to cover their incompetency - but overall, the union exists to ensure the good of the many. Besides, now that your child is in a charter school, how do DCPS procedures affect you?!

Posted by: Maritza | August 28, 2007 11:07 AM

I have two children in traditional DCPS schools, so my family is indeed affected by DCPS procedures. And who is talking about "blind devotion" to NCLB? The indisputable fact is, for all its flaws -- and there are many -- NCLB has increased accountability of principals. Why don't we give job protections -- endless appeals and grievance rights -- to EVERYONE in the country? Lots of us have "vindictive" bosses, or those who are hard to work with. If it's a good idea for teachers, why not expand to the entire workforce in the US? Because the country would grind to a halt, that's why.

Do you have kids enrolled in DCPS, Maritza? Because I can assure you, the union does not exist to "the good of the many" kids in DCPS. In fact, some of the nation's award-winning teachers have recently issued a report calling for overhauling pay scales to incorporate merit pay and doing away with strict seniority-based pay. Now that is something that parents AND union officials should be united on. Pay the best teachers what they're worth; institute a fair yet reasonable process for terminating those who have retired-in-place. And speaking of "bad apples," research shows that 3 bad teachers in a row can permanently damage a child's educational future. How is job protection for adults more important than that?

Posted by: trace1 | August 28, 2007 11:30 AM

Some people tell me I need to shut up about my childhood experiences, but I can name 5 teachers through my childhood who seriously hurt my self-esteem through poor teaching. My next door neighbor's 4th grade teacher had breast cancer and she used to spend three hours every day, from lunch time to the end of school in the library reading because the teacher didn't have the energy to teach a full day. Back then cancer was such a death sentence that everyone pitied and felt sympathy toward the poor teacher. Until the end of the year when her entire class failed the county math test and parents realized she let the teacher's aide teach in the morning and the kids study quietly in the afternoon. after that her name was mud in our neighborhood, cancer or not. How a SAHM back then missed her daughter's lack of math homework is beyond me, but it's family lore.

My question is that 35 years later, these kinds of situations still happen. How can they be permanently stopped?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 28, 2007 12:33 PM

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Posted by: Barbara Brown | August 28, 2007 12:43 PM

trace1, why don't you take the first one-way flight back to West Africa and stay there? I would love to see how long your mouthing-off would last there.

Posted by: Just Keeping It Real | August 28, 2007 9:36 PM

What does Africa have to do with any of this, my family is from Italy.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2007 9:29 AM

Maybe there's no need for a fancy building, but a CLEAN building with working heat, windows, and plumbing makes a difference both practically and in showing respect for the people who learn and teach in the building.

The last straw that drove me out of teaching in DCPS was when a sign showed up on the only functioning teacher bathroom in the building. It said "Do Not Use - Asbestos in door". The door was wrapped in a green plastic garbage bag.

Montgomery isn't paradise, but they have clean buildings and working heat. Even the portables are properly maintained.

Posted by: Jessica | August 29, 2007 12:35 PM

Petey

ER did not call Chancellor Rhee racist. In his/her remarks were referring to the comment made by the Chancellor. Yes it is possible to make a racist remark and not be a racist. Please bear in mind I am not saying that her remarks were racist however I can understand how they could be viewed as such.

In regards to ER's commitment to reforming DCSP neither you nor I are in a position to comment. Just because ER's felt the need to express his/her interpretation of the Chancellor's comment does not means he/she is not commitment to improving public education in the District.

How one interpret the comment will determine ones response. It is interesting that ER's viewed the Chancellor's comment as being racist and that you interpreted ER's comment as calling Chancellor Rhee a racist and challenging her commitment to improving the public educational system here in DC.

But I guess you missed that point!

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