Courtland Milloy: No Use in Studying for This Test

By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It's teachable-moment time again for D.C. public school students, so let's get started. Question: Firing 229 teachers six weeks into the school year is:

A) Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's way of showing students how to throw a teacher under the bus.

B) How adults play Halloween tricks on kids.

C) Dumb as chalk.

"What upset us the most was seeing our teachers fired and then escorted from the building by D.C. police," Jessy Beach, 17, a senior at McKinley Technology High School, told me. "The students were saying, 'Shouldn't you guys be out catching criminals?' The police wouldn't even let us hug our teachers or say goodbye. It was horrible."

The correct answer is: all of the above.

Beach was one of several McKinley students who organized classmates for a protest march to D.C. school headquarters and on to city hall last week. The way the students saw it, Rhee had used a relatively small budget shortfall as a ruse to get rid of older teachers and make way for the 900 new ones she had hired over the summer.

The protest continued Saturday at a D.C. Council hearing on youth issues.

"We had a great science teacher who knew how to handle our class and make learning fun," said Dayna Downs, 13, an eighth-grader at Alice Deal Middle School. "Now he's been replaced with a less-experienced teacher, and the class is acting a lot differently. Some students don't listen anymore. Some talk while the new teacher is trying to talk because they want our old teacher back."

It is said that youngsters pay as much attention to what adults do as to what we say and that kids are especially alert to contradictions. On one hand, school officials say students should behave like ladies and gentlemen. On the other hand, Rhee and Mayor Adrian Fenty, who gave her near-dictatorial powers over the schools, have behaved like bullies, callous and inconsiderate.

Question: Can you spell hypocrite?

No one argues about the need to improve D.C. public schools. And Rhee has certainly won her share of accolades over the past two years as a full-speed-ahead, damn-the-torpedoes reformer. Her early attacks on the Washington Teachers' Union suggest that she thinks incompetent teachers are the main reason so many students do poorly.

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