Fixing D.C. Schools

August 7, 2007

Johnetta Rose Barras nails this.

The facts:

Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee tells a tale about a tour of the central administration of D.C. Public Schools that is revealing evidence of a major problem that confronts her, Mayor Adrian Fenty and other reformers.

“What do you do?” she asked several administrators, who in response offered their job titles.

“I know your title,” she continued. “I mean what do you do?”

Staffers seemed baffled. Absent a prepared script, they were unsure of the answer she sought. Eventually they replied “Whatever [my supervisor] tells me to do.”

Barras’ analysis:

These are windows into the DCPS culture, where people without relevant portfolios are retained simply because they do what they’re told – although what they’re told often has no direct connection to the education of children. And folks, like Millet, are protected by political connections. Relevance, accountability and merit are foreign terms.

Rhee has instituted a hiring freeze. Hopefully that action is an early offensive against a malignant culture that celebrates complacency, mediocrity and incompetence.

The new chancellor admits that she has fired only one individual; a couple of central administration staff have retired. She and the mayor need not wait for others to realize the jig is up. Firing clueless or poor-performing employees is a liberating experience – especially for parents and their children.

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