Heedless 'Reform' in D.C. Schools

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I was pleased to read Larry Cuban's articulate commentary on D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's efforts to reform the District's failing school system ["Michelle Rhee: Better to Be a Marathoner," Close to Home, Nov. 23].

I, too, am concerned that the urgency of her response has compromised her analysis of what is wrong with the system. Intelligent analysis, though time-consuming, is an essential step in identifying and implementing effective solutions. Ms. Rhee, I am afraid, skipped this step.

Mr. Cuban was also correct to stress how important it is for superintendents to work with teachers unions. Ms. Rhee and the union that represents D.C. public school teachers are equally ardent in their desire to better educate students. Why, then, have they become enemies? As Mr. Cuban noted, once these battle lines have been drawn, you can "kiss reform goodbye."

As a D.C. public school teacher, I would like to add another concern to Mr. Cuban's list.

Ms. Rhee prides herself on having a "data-driven" administration. Has she missed the data on public school test scores vs. charter school scores?

Charter schools in the District of Columbia can fire teachers at will, and yet few of them are outperforming their public school counterparts. If firing teachers lay at the heart of the problem, wouldn't these charter schools be doing better by Ms. Rhee's favorite yardstick, test scores?

A good educational leader needs to carefully analyze the issues before blindly grasping at solutions. Unfortunately, Ms. Rhee, in her impatience, has not adequately analyzed the issues and has made enemies of people who share her goals of bettering the education of our students.



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