Wednesday, December 11, 2013

D.C.'s Mayor Gray under fire for Rhee-ism without Rhee

Like President Obama, who campaigned as a critic of the war in Iraq but then continued many of George W. Bush’s military policies once in office, Gray ran as a skeptic of the reforms being implemented by Rhee but continued them under Henderson, who also has closed more than a dozen schools and fired hundreds of teachers. -- Melinda Henneberger, Washington Post
D.C. students protest 2010 teacher firings.
Following up on Monday's post which was critical of WaPo's excellent education writer Valerie Strauss. Remember, Strauss was dismissive in her response to D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray's drawing parallels between the conditions black people face today in the nation's capital with those faced under South African apartheid. I defended Gray on that one, but also pointed out that I was also critical of Gray who seems to be following in the path of his horrible predecessors Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee.

It was Fenty who brought in Rhee as his appointed school chancellor. In a matter of months, Rhee, with heavy backing from corporate school reformers and power philanthropists, threw the school system into financial chaos. Her regime was marked by a massive test-cheating scandal along with a successful effort to weaken the teachers union and take away many of the teachers' collective bargaining rights. Rhee fired hundreds of good teachers and regularly debased the entire teaching force, promoted vouchers for Catholic schools, and put many the district's schools into the hands of private charter operators. The list goes on. But while Rhee became the darling of the corporate school reformers,  including Arne Duncan, she drew the ire of parents and of the city's under-served black community.

Henderson and Rhee
Fortunately, both Fenty and Rhee were run out of D.C. in a populist revolt by district voters. Unfortunately, Mayor Gray, who ran as an outspoken critic of Fenty's policies, quickly appointed Rhee's deputy “for human capital” Kaya Henderson as his chancellor. She is now following in Rhee's footsteps. Back in 2010 I called it, Rhee-ism without Rhee. 

Instead of dismantling Fenty's "reforms", Gray has continued them. Henderson, has closed more than a dozen schools and has fired hundreds of more teachers and librarians. D.C. charters now have the third-highest market share in the nation, enrolling a larger proportion of students than in every city except New Orleans and Detroit

Gray is now running for a second term and like Fenty, he's coming under heavy fire from educators, parents and school activists for his Rhee(ism)-without-Rhee approach. At Monday's community meeting, Gray was confronted by a hostile crowd that packed Eastern High School's auditorium to slam his education policies and his appointment of Henderson.

The Post reports:
On Monday, upstart candidates including restaurateur Andy Shallal, the owner of Busboys and Poets, and Reta Jo Lewis, a Democrat and former State Department official, drew the biggest applause, indicting both Gray and members of the council who seek to replace him for alienating parents and teachers amid a forceful push for school reform.
It looks like the mayor is in for tough sledding in the months leading up to the election. But as we have seen, getting rid of a mayor or a corrupt schools chancellor is one thing. Getting rid of the powerful corporate interests behind them is quite another. They don't have to run for office.


On that point -- Now that New Yorkers have elected progressive Bill deBlasio as their mayor along with a slate of councilmen backed by the Working Families Party, all eyes are on that city to see who the new mayor will pick as his chancellor. Rumors abound that Henderson and Chicago school chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett have made the short list.

I hope those rumors are false. I'm also glad to see Valerie Strauss is back on track. Here's her take on a possible Henderson appointment in N.Y.

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