Schools Monday: Hope & Expectations in D.C.
A year after their new mayor swept into office with a powerful mandate to attack low achievement and all too much scandal in the city's schools, D.C. residents have markedly divided expectations and judgments about Adrian Fenty and his new chancellor, Michelle Rhee.
A Washington Post poll conducted last week and published Sunday shows that both Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee enjoy remarkably high scores and are still riding a wave of optimism among city residents, even as those same residents say the troubled school system is the District's #1 problem.
It's the classic split between the person and the job they're doing: The poll demonstrates that city residents believe Fenty and Rhee are doing a good job, even as the same survey shows a higher level of dissatisfaction with the public schools than with any other aspect of city government about which the poll inquired. (For example, 71 percent of those polled said the District's schools were doing a "not good" or "poor" job, while only 37 percent made that harsh judgment about the city's police.)
With Rhee and Fenty holding 23 simultaneous hearings this Thursday to let the public vent over the proposed shuttering of that number of schools, it would seem that antipathy toward the dynamic duo's sometimes cavalier approach to criticizing the school system would be at its high. Yet Rhee enjoys support from 59 percent of those polled, better than the D.C. Council, better than Anthony Williams in his last year as mayor, way better than Marion Barry in his final four years as mayor, and way, way better than chief financial officer Nat Gandhi.
Only Fenty himself, with a 72 percent approval rating, tops Rhee in job performance. Yet when the poll asked residents whether Fenty is doing a good job specifically in improving the public schools, the approval numbers drop to 52 percent--still strong, but well under the personal marks that the mayor and chancellor get.
What does all that mean? It means most residents really like Fenty and Rhee and have embraced their energy and their promises of quick and deep change. It means that the outcry from unions and a small group of activists who have opposed the new team's efforts to clean house in the central office and to sweep away the obstacles to improving the physical plants and the teaching corps in the schools may be loud, but does not represent the bulk of city residents.
But it also means that residents have been here before, that they know the depth of the problems facing the schools and that they understand that you can clean up the buildings, add decent sports facilities, restore arts and physical education classes, and hire a better caliber of teachers--and still, you would face very tough problems involving kids from dysfunctional homes and parents who don't get involved in their kids' education.
The most optimistic finding in the survey is the fact that D.C. residents, who for many years ranked education as less--and even sometimes much less--important than curbing crime, now view the schools as the city's #1 problem, "the one you want the mayor to work the hardest to solve," in the words of the poll question. Back in the Barry era, D.C. residents clamored for attention to be paid to basic city services, as well as to creating jobs, improving schools and cutting violence. In the Williams years, marks for services went way up, so the poll results on this question during his two terms in office tended to focus on demands for affordable housing, anti-crime efforts and better schools. Today, it's all about schools, with crime coming in a distant second and no other issue drawing much concern, not even the perennial problems of housing, jobs and poverty.
All this should give Rhee and Fenty a big boost as they move into the implementation of their two big reform initiatives of the coming months--closing underused and expensive schools, and clearing out the incompetents in the system's central office. But the powerfully high numbers of residents who want to see improvements in the schools are also a cause for concern for the mayor and chancellor because if they don't deliver, or if their structural reforms fail to boost achievement and student safety, this time the whole city is watching and expecting something.
How closely are D.C. residents watching? Check out this result from the poll. Asked for their impression of the job that D.C. council chairman Vincent Gray is doing, fully half--52 percent--of those who were asked about Gray without being given his job title offered no opinion. Asked about Rhee, who has bee n in Washington for only six months, only 12 percent of those polled came up with no opinion. That's even far better than Joe Gibbs, the retiring Redskins coach who drew a "no opinion" from 33 percent of those polled. Pressure enough?
By Marc Fisher |
January 14, 2008; 7:06 AM ET
Previous: At Va. Tech, Near Silence For A Student's Anguished Cry | Next: Now Virginia's Parties Really Face Off
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Simon | January 14, 2008 9:32 AM
Posted by: Dr. Doh | January 14, 2008 11:18 AM
Posted by: DCer | January 14, 2008 1:04 PM
Posted by: Anonymous | January 14, 2008 5:08 PM
Posted by: Dennis Moore DCICC | January 14, 2008 8:15 PM
Posted by: Dennis Moore DCICC | January 14, 2008 10:24 PM
Posted by: Anonymous | January 14, 2008 10:45 PM
Posted by: Robert Brannum | January 15, 2008 7:25 AM
Posted by: Simon | January 15, 2008 12:05 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.