The Answer Sheet: The feuding is getting in the way

Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 2, 2009

I just might scream if I hear one more person invoke what is "best for the kids" in the growing conflict between D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and her critics.

Tension is rising over a seemingly ever-larger gap between what Rhee says in public and what she does -- and while everybody is arguing about who is right and who is wrong and who didn't call whom back, guess who is going to suffer?

(Did I just invoke what is "best for the kids"? Okay, I'm screaming.)

Rhee was criticized by D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray for deciding unilaterally to lay off teachers and staff instead of trimming summer school operations, as the council had ordered, to save $9 million. It was suggested that she broke the law; she said she was on solid legal ground.

My colleague Bill Turque wrote in Friday's Washington Post that the dismissals have brought us to the most turbulent time of Rhee's 28-month tenure as D.C. schools czar. The distance, and enmity, between Rhee and her critics has never been greater. And the public debate gets ever more shrill:

She's right! Research says kids need summer schools!

She's wrong! Kids suffer when teachers are laid off during the year!

She's wrong! She can't ignore the D.C. Council and do whatever she wants!

She's right! The D.C. Council only cares about adults, not kids!

She's right! And people who don't see it that way don't care about the kids!

She's wrong! And we'll never trust her again!

Here's the problem: The toxic atmosphere will make it impossible for real reform to take place. It doesn't matter who is right or wrong.

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