In my education law classes, I normally say no. Or at least not normally. And Jim Ryan at UVA law school has written that we should be skeptical that these efforts will work. This new report suggests that maybe one has made a difference: Williams v. California, a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of students in California’s lowest-performing schools. The report is produced by the lawyers who brought the lawsuit, so there’s plenty of potential bias. But it is worth keeping an eye on.


The Quick and the Ed has the latest on 2 important new reports. Ed Trust exposes how little states pay attention to graduation rates, and The National Center for Education Statistics has a massive statistical analysis on the background of who goes into teaching and what happens once they get there.

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.

Want to get a sense of what new Chancellor Rhee is up against in D.C.? Turns out at my neighborhood elementary school, Shepherd in NW DC, books are stacked in the basement. More books and supplies are in a warehouse. This is beyond offensive. Some things are hard (e.g., finding high quality teachers willing to teach in schools serving low-income kids, providing training and mentoring for those teachers, etc). Getting books out of the warehouse and into the classrooms is not.

Rhee is pissed, and correctly points out that a lot of teachers “spend their own money” on supplies that the District has wasting away in boxes.

I’m not close enough the ground to have a nuanced view of what’s going in New York schools, but it seems to me when The City Journal, Diane Ravitch, Deborah Meier, Edwize, and my step-father all agree, it is worth paying attention. And they all have huge beef with Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg.

The critiques vary, but they sound similar themes: manipulation of test score data, over-emphasis on PR (press office at DOE has grown 400% says Stern in the City Journal), and disregard for views of parents, teachers, families.

And check this ed-reformers: based on the diversity of opposition, it would be a mistake to dismiss it as “the status quo resisting change.”

I don’t know whether it is too late for Klein to undo the ill will his approach seems to have generated, but Michelle Rhee in DC and other system leaders who seek to make change would do well to pay careful attention to Klein’s mis-steps as well as his successes.

I love that Michelle Rhee is going out and doing community meetings. According to my sources she was a big hit doing a morning reading to the kids at Oak Hill, the juvenile detention center which most DC leaders want to forget, but which Adrian Fenty, Vinnie Schiraldi and David Domenici are turning around. Rhee clearly gets that to make big change she is going to need popular support. And she’s being public about some things which are obvious, but which too few school leaders in D.C. ever admit: 1) the central office is not working well, 2) parents and teachers can no longer be treated as a nuisance by folks downtown (serving them is why the central office exists), and 3) starting now everyone downtown is going to be held accountable for educating kids. More here.