D.C. Should Get Exactly What It Voted For
The Washington D.C. public schools district deserves its fate. The announcement from Chancellor Michelle Rhee that she is stepping down at the end of the school year is a submission to all the people who have a vested interest in keeping the status quo that is chock full of failing students and inadequate teachers and ineffective staff.
Never mind the fact that Ms. Rhee was actually improving the schools. Never mind the fact that the national embarrassment that was the nation’s capital’s public school system was actually improving. Never mind the fact that student’s scores were showing significant improvements in the short time span that Ms. Rhee took the helm. Never mind the fact that things were looking better for the children that attended those schools. She stepped on too many toes and made too many enemies. The people at the teacher’s union said that Ms. Rhee simply made too many enemies.
But on the flip side of that coin, there should have been a lot of friends made by Ms. Rhee as well. Every parent who had children attending that school district should have been pulling for Ms. Rhee to be successful. Every voter who knew a student or who cared about education or who showed some kind of interest in the future of D.C. should have been in Ms. Rhee’s corner. Getting rid of the people who stood in the way of quality education is a brilliant idea and a proverbial stroke of genius and guts.
The teachers union is a very powerful unit that can help build or help destroy the careers of some of the most well intentioned politicians and school administrators. While it is true that most teachers had nothing to fear and should have understood that Ms. Rhee was an ally helping them to get the job done, Ms. Rhee was judged to be an opponent that stood in the way of a lot of people keeping their jobs. For the most part, the teachers just weren’t having it. Ms. Rhee was perceived to be arrogant and dismissive. The teachers union felt like she was unwilling to compromise. The teachers union claim they wanted to develop a partnership with Ms. Rhee. She was a thorn in their collective side, firing teachers and reducing the income of the union by firing teachers while simultaneously hitting the group in the wallet by putting so many former teachers on the union’s teat.
Instead of going through the challenge of fighting the teachers with her own collection of allies, the little Korean American woman faced an onslaught of criticism practically alone. She became an issue in the race for mayor. And when her number one supporter, incumbent D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, lost his bid to return to his mayor job for a second term in the Democratic primary to Council Chairman Vincent Gray, the writing was pretty much on the wall. School reform was a central issue in the primary race, and Rhee was a polarizing figure. She made it known that she didn’t feel comfortable working with Mr. Gray. And yesterday, she made good on her hints earlier. She turned in her resignation.
Ms. Rhee was hopeful that the policies and procedures she put in place would continue with her replacement, her deputy Kaya Henderson who helped Ms. Rhee put together the design the D.C. school reforms. We wish her the best. But after watching Ms. Rhee become a proverbial lightening rod in this school reform debate, it’s a fair bet that Ms. Henderson learned a little something about how far she should push and how hard. No point in suffering Ms. Rhee’s fate if it can be helped. And in the meantime the education, and consequently the future, of the children of D.C. hangs in the balance.
The fact that the people of D.C. would sit back and allow this drama to play itself out at the expense of the kids is rather despicable. Ms. Rhee went to bat for the people, assaulted if not destroyed the status quo, and was fired for her hard work. And no she wasn’t exactly fired. The man who supported her was. The result was her resignation. It was a more honorable end to her hard charging style than to have her chain yanked by the new mayor. And if that’s what the people of D.C. wanted then that’s what the people of D.C. will get.
Reform is hard. It requires tough decisions to be made that are bound to ruffle the feathers of those who have an interest in keeping things exactly as they are. But the overwhelming mass of people who are aware of the need of change shouldn’t be so hooked on keeping things the way they are. They know the condition of the schools. They know what’s happening to the quality of children’s education. They see the improvements to the educational system. Why would they be so inclined to vote to boot out the people who are so instrumental in the improvements of the education system?
All I can say is that I hope the people get exactly what they want. Change is happening too fast? Maybe the majority of people believe that it’s better when change doesn’t happen at all. It might be true that the education of students in the public school system is sliding down to the bottom. But that’s not important. Teachers are being fired! Teachers that have been ineffectual at stemming the slide in the quality of the children’s education are being let go. We shouldn’t let that happen. And when we punish the people who fire the ineffectual, what incentive do the replacements have to keep reform going?
I sincerely hope D.C. gets exactly what it’s asking for.