Rhee's and Gray's critics fail in D.C. history

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, October 16, 2010

This week, I read most of the 1,200-plus online responses to the Post article by reporters Tim Craig and Bill Turque concerning D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's resignation. ["Michelle Rhee resigns; Gray huddles with her successor," Oct. 13]. The thrust of the criticism directed at Washingtonians opposed to Rhee's leadership was that they were too blind to see what's good for them. Rhee, too, drew her share of knocks. But the verbal whipping applied to her critics was especially nasty and vicious.

Worse still, some of the arguments were based on a false premise: to wit, before Michelle Rhee arrived on the scene three years ago, bad D.C. teachers lived untouched lives, test scores were falling, the problem of excess school buildings was being ignored and school reform was a distant dream. Wrong on all counts.

Wrong, too, was the canard repeated in some of the online comments that presumptive mayor Vincent Gray is the champion of only poor, uneducated, crime-ridden blacks.

Pesky little things called facts speak otherwise.

Rhee's supporters have hailed her firing of 200 teachers as a profile in courage and a first strike in school reform. But her predecessor, Clifford Janey, got there first.

He dismissed 370 uncertified teachers in June 2006 ["Dismissal of Teachers Leaves City Struggling," Metro, July 9, 2006]. About 290 of them, teaching various subjects including special education, sciences and math, had been hired since 2000.

Janey, in fact, wanted to fire hundreds more before incoming Mayor Adrian Fenty pushed him out of the job in June 2007.

Ironically, the person who talked Janey out of dismissing an additional 730 teachers was Kaya Henderson, Rhee's deputy chancellor and now interim schools chancellor ["Picks to Lead D.C. Schools Have Ties to The System," Metro, June 13, 2007].

Henderson, who was working with Janey under contract on teacher hiring and recruitment, argued that the system couldn't replace so many teachers at once. She persuaded him to keep teachers who were within one year of obtaining their certificates.

Janey also took flak for firing principals ["Principals' Firings Called Improper," Extra, July 7, 2005]. He told The Post that 25 to 40 percent of the system's 140-plus principals "aren't the caliber they need to be." Unlike Rhee, Janey had to contend with a micro-managing elected school board.

Janey also moved to close schools. He presented to the board a schedule to remodel more than 100 schools and close or consolidate 19 others ["Janey Proposes Different Closings," Metro, Oct. 25, 2006]. His plan was not formally adopted, but he managed to consolidate nine schools in the summer of 2006 and was poised for another round of closings in 2007 when Fenty lowered the boom.

As for test scores and the contention that reform started with Rhee, consider the following excerpt from a July 10, 2008, Post editorial: "The percentage of elementary school students who are proficient is up eight points in reading and 11 points in math over the past year's measures. The percentage of secondary students scoring proficient was up nine points in both categories. . . . There is no question [Janey's] reforms were a factor, as was Ms. Rhee's wise decision to continue them, instead of starting from scratch."

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