Correction to This Article
Articles in the April 17 and 18 Metro sections incorrectly said that D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee plans to hire nonprofit organizations to help run 10 high schools. Rhee said she would hire nonprofits for some but not all of the 10 high schools.

Troubled D.C. Schools May Get Outside Help

Michelle A. Rhee, D.C. schools chancellor, talks with Cesar Espejo during a town hall meeting this week. Rhee provided details of her plans to improve performance at 10 city high schools.
Michelle A. Rhee, D.C. schools chancellor, talks with Cesar Espejo during a town hall meeting this week. Rhee provided details of her plans to improve performance at 10 city high schools. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
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By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 18, 2008

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee updated a small, skeptical group of parents and school activists yesterday on her plans to overhaul 27 schools in academic trouble.

Rhee is under pressure from the U.S. Department of Education to devise a plan to fix 27 schools where students failed for five consecutive years to make adequate progress under the No Child Left Behind law. The law provides five options: Hire an educational group to run the schools; convert them to charter schools; turn them over to the state, or in the District's case the Office of the State Superintendent of Education; replace the staff; or try something else.

At the meeting, held at the central office, Rhee said Education Department officials are seeking dramatic changes that will lead to improved student achievement scores. She said they had discouraged her from experimenting, suggesting that she choose one of the first four options offered in the law.

One controversial initiative under consideration is a move to hire six nonprofit education organizations to run 10 troubled high schools, an idea she outlined in a plan she recently sent to parents.

Rhee said she will seek public input on how to improve the 27 schools, and she expects to decide by next month. She acknowledged that her decision will not meet universal praise.

"There's no way we're going to get through this process and make everybody happy," she told about 25 people. "I'm not going to be thinking about politics -- what rubs people the wrong way."

In her 30-page "Partnership Schools Initiative," Rhee listed the organizations she proposes hiring to run the 10 schools: Bedford Academy High School in New York; Friendship Public Charter Schools in the District; Institute for Student Achievement in Lake Success, N.Y.; Mastery Charter Schools in Philadelphia; St. Hope Public Schools in Sacramento; and Talent Development High School in Baltimore. All the schools they would run are high schools. Rhee has not said how she would address academic troubles at 17 elementary and middle schools.

Rhee's report noted that the contractors would form a partnership with the schools and perform tasks that include training teachers, introducing curricula and changing the organizational structure.

The affected high schools, which have 8,148 students enrolled, are Anacostia, Ballou, Cardozo, Coolidge, Dunbar, Eastern, Roosevelt, Spingarn, Wilson and Woodson.

"I have mixed feeling about the proposal," Leon Braddell, president of the PTA at Dunbar High School in Northwest, said after the meeting. "If they do the things the PTA, administration and teachers want, that will be a great help," he added. "If not, they will be another level of bureaucracy in the way."

Rhee said yesterday that each nonprofit has a track record of turning around troubled schools and boosting achievement scores of low-income students. She said the schools would not be privatized and would remain under her control.

She said she will base her decision on which ones she thinks have "the highest potential of increasing student achievement levels as quickly as possible."

Cathy Reilly, director of the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators, said she was concerned that Rhee was not including enough input from parents and teachers in her plans, a move that could backfire as she attempts to implement programs.

"None of these plans will work without the commitment of families and staff," Reilly said. "If there's too much disgruntlement, no principal alone will be able to overcome that."

Rhee agreed but said that because she started as chancellor less than a year ago, she has had little time to complete a school-improvement plan. She said she hopes to spend more time with parents and teachers in planning for more schools that will face restructuring next year.

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