Fenty Defeat Means D.C. School Reform Experiment Pretty Much Over

D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has a habit of speaking bluntly. And after D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty was defeated in the Democratic primary on Tuesday by City Councilman Vincent Gray, she said this:

"Yesterday's election results were devastating, devastating. Not for me, because I'll be fine, and not even for Fenty, because he'll be fine, but devastating for the schoolchildren of Washington, D.C."

She later clarified that she actually meant to say...exactly what she said. Except that she realizes she'll have to work with Gray—at least until he give in to the mobs baying for her head and fires her or she quits in fury—so she wanted to be clear that her dismay at his victory was nothing personal. It was really dismay at what his victory likely meant for the future of education reform in America.

And she's right.

In fact, I pretty much wrote a whole feature article about how the D.C. reform experiment is the most important, exciting, high stakes experiment in reforming traditional public education anywhere in the country. If education reform stalls, stutters, and crashes here in Washington—where conditions are near-ideal with mayoral control of schools, a large creative class, a daring chancellor, and a system that has absolutely hit rock bottom—it's unlikely to succeed anywhere.

Rhee and Fenty have been the dynamic duo of education reform in the city (or perhaps two-thirds of a troika?) and Rhee has made a point of saying over and over that her big ideas would have been worthless without Fenty's unconditional support. Rhee is wildly unlikely to enjoy the same deal with Gray, and she knows it. Here's how The Washington Post characterizes their relationship:

Since [the day Fenty introduced Rhee to the City Council], Gray and Rhee have clashed on nearly every major school issue to come before the council, including the budget, projected enrollment and labor relations. Divided by temperament, background, generation (she's 40; he's 67) and theories of how to bring about change, Gray and Rhee were never comfortable with each other, according to those those who know them both.

Basically, the D.C. education reform experiment is over.

Since D.C. is essentially a one party city, his Democratic primary victory means Gray is now being referred to by the awkward moniker "presumptive mayor-elect Gray." But in further evidence that everything has gone topsy turvy, today the news came that Democratic Mayor Fenty was the top write-in selection in the Republican primary, with 822 votes. Because there were no candidate names printed on the ballot, that means Fenty has until 4:45 p.m. this afternoon to file an "Affirmation of Write-In Candidacy"—which would make him the Republican nominee for mayor. A whopping 822 write-ins aside, he can't win back the city this way. But as an avid Rhee watcher, part of me would like to see Fenty stay in the race, just to hammer Gray about education reform for another month.

UPDATE: Fenty has declined the Republican nomination.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    It's for the children public sector union members.

  • Abdul||

    Devestating for DC schoolkids? At least they won't have to live in the post-apocalyptic horror-world that more gentrification would have created. Imagine a city with charming and eclectic resturants and a Gap within walking distance. The living would envy the dead.

  • Yonemoto||

    Nah. Actually I think this is a great result. I never liked Rhee because her authoritarian streak would EVENTUALLY go sour. What is going to happen is that she'll get canned, and the public schools will precipitously, become PERCEPTIVELY worse, and there will be clamor for reform again - except maybe they'll do it with someone a little less distasteful.

    Although I did like her chutzpah.

  • Yonemoto||

    I could be biased, though, the ex-libertarian ex-girlfriend was a TFA shill. Even though she hated it while she was a teacher, and requested to be transferred to administration after the first year (she worked the desk jockey in the org for two years). She was the type who, unlike Rhee, couldn't actually live with the shit that spouted out her mouth, so naturally Rhee made her panties seriously wet.

  • ||

    Yeah. One thing organizations, both privat and public, don't need is for the boss to start exercising authority [shudders].

    It could lead to accomplishments [shudders again].

  • Yonemoto||

    See below.

  • zoltan||

    Has Rhee done anything besides her job that makes her authoritarian?

  • Yonemoto||

    It's just the attitude. You can be a strong leader without being authoritarian.

  • zoltan||

    That's a pathetic reason to dislike the job a person is doing. You sound like a wuss.

  • Yonemoto||

    Did I ever say I disliked the job that Rhee was doing? No. I said I never liked Rhee. I also said that she'll get canned and the situation would get perceptively worse, implying that I felt that she HAD been doing a a good job so far.

  • zoltan||

    You still sound like a pussy whose balls have shrunk into his lower abdomen.

  • ||

    I could do without the sexist insults.

  • mj86||

    You can't negotiate nicely with the beneficiaries of corruption. This authoritarian / no respect bullshit is spin because the status quo supporters can't defend themselves on the merits.

  • ||

    True. When they can't get you on the facts, they get personl.

  • Alice Bowie||

    you haven't been following this on zoltan. Have you?

    For good or for bad, firing teachers and making them accountable for student performance is authoritarian. Not that it's a bad thing. Nonetheless, this is my selfish view. I'm grateful that I'm not a DC Teacher or Barak Obama. They both got a job in a crappy system that was crappy before they got it and have to deal for the political machine.

  • zoltan||

    You're grateful you can get away with a lazy work ethic. How fortunate for you. When a boss does not care for a lazy work ethic, that does not make the boss authoritarian. Yes, I've been following this story ever since Rhee started this position.

  • Alice Bowie||

    What I meant is that I'm grateful that my job has reasonable expectations from me. I work in a cut-throat up-or-out wall st environment. Teachers in the ghetto face a much challenges for a lot less money.

  • DG||

    I work in a cut-throat up-or-out wall st environment where I have time to troll on Reason H&R.

  • Alice Bowie||

    it's lunch time

  • Cyto||

    I can't agree with this sentiment. Reports are that when Rhee showed up only 8% of students were performing at grade level, yet 95% of teachers were getting excellent performance evaluations. Demanding that more than 8% of your students perform at grade level is hardly an unreasonable expectation.

    Based on her public statements lately, it sounds like she fully understands that Rome wasn't built in a day and it will take years to build a culture of success in the schools in DC. You'll note that she didn't fire all that many teachers, even though almost none are meeting the performance expectations set. But she's taken the first steps in making sure those goals are achieved. Thats a good thing.

    She also had a pretty salient comment on Stossel: Some of the people they've let go are very nice people. They weren't very good educators, but they were very nice people. Sometimes it is hard for people to understand that there is a difference between these two things.

  • zoltan||

    She also had a pretty salient comment on Stossel: Some of the people they've let go are very nice people. They weren't very good educators, but they were very nice people. Sometimes it is hard for people to understand that there is a difference between these two things.

    I fucking hate useless but pleasant people.

  • Slut Bunwalla||

    Teachers in the ghetto face a much challenges for a lot less money.

    I've written a new concerto. I'd like to play it for you. All I have with me is the world's smallest violin, though. Is that okay?

  • JD||

    I'm grateful that I'm not a DC Teacher or Barak Obama. They both got a job in a crappy system that was crappy before they got it and have to deal for the political machine.

    Nobody's forcing either of them to stay.

  • Alice Bowie||

    I think Obama should NOT run a second term and actually give a Democrat a chance.

  • ||

    Because Obama is actually a Republican?

  • CatoTheElder||

    American Social-Democrat Labor Party.

  • Xenocles||

    Reckon he means that Obama has no chance, where some other Democrat might.

  • Alice Bowie||

    I was initially against Chancellor Michelle Rhee approach for the following reasons:

    1. Putting the burden on teachers to fix something that was the parents responsibility didn't seem fair. Teachers have to deal with these inner city kids that have many many issues. In addition, the fundamentals where probably not there.

    2. The Up-or-Out attitude for students just leads to drop-out rates going up for those kids that are not motivated and don't have the proper educational foundation.

    Today, I think differently. The drop-out rate is high anyway.

    As far as teachers being held accountable, the experiment is well worth it. Let's see what happens. Hopefully, wealthier teachers that don't really need the job for money (because they are wealthy or married to high paid spouses) will be up for the challenge. The teacher that's living on their salaries ARE DEAD if you ask me.

    I Hope Gray keeps her on and keeps the experiment going.

  • ||

    Putting the burden on teachers to fix something that was the parents responsibility didn't seem fair

    What? WTF are you talking about? The classroom is the fucking responsibility of...wait for it...the people teaching in that classroom. What, now teachers aren't even responsible for their, you know, fucking jobs?

  • Alice Bowie||

    I did say that i initially felt this way and later on changed my mind.

  • ||

    The fact that you were capable of "initially" feeling this way makes you a fucking idiot, but we already knew that.

  • Alice Bowie||

    The name calling is not necessary. I'm from the inner city and know many inner city parents/kids. It's really really tough to maintain order in these classrooms let alone teach. Everyone one, and I mean EVERYONE that I know that went into teach and taught in the BRONX, NY left.

  • ||

    That's a great story, dude. Guess what: while pregnant with me, my mom taught in inner city schools in Paterson, NJ. She got knives pulled on her. Yeah, it's tough to maintain order; but she did it.

    If you can't hack it, you don't deserve your paycheck.

  • Alice Bowie||

    I'm still agreeing with you. I'm just saying that the stakes are mighty high for these teachers that need the money from the salary.

    I'm all for this experiment irregardless of the consequences on the DC teachers.

  • Cyto||

    That's actually an interesting point. In my experience certain people just have a presence about them that commands respect. The best educators are able to maintain order without really putting in any effort on it. Meanwhile, others will yell, scream and discipline like crazy and get nothing but a zoo. Guess who is able to be a more effective teacher?

    It seems that "rough neighborhood" schools particularly demand this kind of intangible talent. I suspect that this is one of those "either you have it or you don't" kind of things, kinda like the charisma needed to be a successful politician. And just like the politician, the other skills needed to be a good educator are not necessarily correlated. So lots of knowledgeable, well educated teachers probably can't teach, particularly in a "tough neighborhood" situation.

  • Alice Bowie||

    !!! YES !!!

  • MWG||

    "That's a great story, dude. Guess what: while pregnant with me, my mom taught in inner city schools in Paterson, NJ. She got knives pulled on her. Yeah, it's tough to maintain order; but she did it."

    Epi, I hate to say it, but if your mom was having knives pulled on her in the classroom, she wasn't doing a very good job of maintaining order.

  • ||

    "It's really, really tough to maintain order in these classrooms let alone teach."

    You know why that is? It's because teachers are no longer able to use corporal punishment like they could when I was a kid. You take a 10-year-old kid who disrupts his class out into the hallway and paddle his ass with a wooden paddle every time he disrupts the class and I can assure you, after the second or third time he'll stop. How do I know this? Because that's what they did to me back in the 60's. News flash - It really works.

    But teachers can't do that anymore.

    I blame the fucking lawyers and Big Social Services.

  • Alice Bowie||

    I agree with this as well. Forget about teachers. Me, as a parent, I'm afraid to punish my child in public.

  • Michael||

    Absolutely nobody that lives in what you refer to as "the inner city" actually calls it "the inner city". Either your a white transplant partaking in a slumming vacation or you're completely full of shit.

  • ||

    Eat shit. I have lived in my house on the North side of Minneapolis for 25 years. I have head people run through my yard shooting each other and just a few months ago, a young man was gunned down in the street just 5 doors down. I have worked at New Vistas, which was a highscool for parenting and pregnant teen moms in the Phillips neighborhood. I have worked at StreetWorks doing street-based outreach to homeless yout. II have worked at Project OffStreets / Minneapolis Youth Diversion / YouthLink, which is a clearing house for services available for homeless youth and I have been a regular here on Hit & Run posting about this shit for years.

    If you don't like my use of the term inner-city, that's just too fucking bad.

    So go assfuck your mother you useless poseur cunt.

    http://www.youthlinkmn.org/

    http://www.myspace.com/streetworkscollaborative

  • Michael||

    Wow, that's quite a diatribe coming from someone at whom my comment wasn't even directed. Bonus points for using the "poseur" spelling, by the way. Nice work.

  • ||

    Thanks. Some of my best.

  • ||

    BTW, just what are we supposed to call it? I wanna get it right next time.

  • Michael||

    But fuck you too.

  • ||

    It's really really tough to maintain order in these classrooms let alone teach. Everyone one, and I mean EVERYONE that I know that went into teach and taught in the BRONX, NY left.

    If everyone wants to leave, then why is it a problem that Rhee was helping them do so?

    I get sick of people who say that since teaching is so difficult people should be paid more, but then complain if incompetents are fired. If you want it to be highly paid, then you have to accept that the job have high standards and be difficult. Seriously tossing out all the worst teachers would force them to pay more. (In reality it's more likely that the reformers would back down and accept cheap mediocrities and incompetents.)

    That is, assuming that there's any skill involved in teaching. If you think that all teachers should be paid basically the same and none should be fired for poor reviews, then you're arguing that it's unskilled labor, one is as good as another, and it shouldn't be highly paid.

  • ||

    Since teachers can't be blamed for the failure of their students it follows they can't be credited for student success either.

    Ergo, teacher quality doesn't matter.

    Leading to the conclusion that we should replace them with squirrels (who work for peanuts).

    The public teacher cartel has been saying for years we need to require all these qualifications for someone to get in front of a class and in the next breath claiming that teacher performance is unmeasurable and the only thing that matters is the home environment.

    You can't have it both ways.

  • ||

    You can't have it both ways.

    Sure we can. Or haven't you been paying attention?

  • Cyto||

    As far as teachers being held accountable, the experiment is well worth it. Let's see what happens. Hopefully, wealthier teachers that don't really need the job for money (because they are wealthy or married to high paid spouses) will be up for the challenge. The teacher that's living on their salaries ARE DEAD if you ask me.

    Actually, teachers who rely on their pay to live would do rather well in her model. From what I've read they cut administration dramatically (like 50%) and moved the money to the classroom (meaning teachers). Since enrollment is down, they could cut bad teachers without needing to hire as many replacements - again freeing more cash for the remaining teachers. Then they offer incentive pay - like on the order of twenty grand - for excellent performance. Sounds like a major win if you are a good teacher. It only sounds terrifying if you are a union hack who believes job security is the primary goal in employment.

  • ||

    It only sounds terrifying if you are a union hack who believes job security is the primary goal in employment.

    Which are exactly the type of people Alice is worried for. Probably because he's a lazy goldbricker himself, and feels their pain.

  • Alice Bowie||

    As I mentioned above, I'm from the inner city and know many inner city parents/kids. It's really really tough to maintain order in these classrooms let alone teach. Everyone one, and I mean EVERYONE that I know that went into teach and taught in the BRONX, NY left.

    I'm all for for what Rhee is doing. This experiment is worth doing. If it is successful, it can be applied throughout the country and this would be a good thing for inner city kids.

    Not all union-ized teachers are useless lazy loads on the system. I'm all for getting rid of the admin staff.

  • ||

    I live in the fucking inner city. People shoot each other dead in the street in front of my house. I have worked for years with at-risk and homeless youth and I stand by what I wrote up thread. You beat the shit out of a kid a few times and they quickly catch on and straighten up.

    But these little fuckers know that will never happen so they continue to disrupt.

  • Alice Bowie||

    And that is the challenge that I keep bringing up.

  • ||

    Why would anyone think that the local population has any idea what a good school looks like?

  • ||

    Everyone one, and I mean EVERYONE that I know that went into teach and taught in the BRONX, NY left.

    If everyone who went to teach left AND they fired those with poor results, then they would have to pay people more to attract good people. But a situation where ALL the good people you know leave BUT the job still has total job security MEANS that the absolute worst type of people will choose to work there.

    Only by getting rid of the really bad teachers would it force schools to pay what's needed to attract good ones. But they're never going to raise salaries if they have to give them to the useless teachers too.

  • ||

    Alice Bowie is the one who apparently prefers a situation where all the good teachers leave, and only the worst incompetents stay because incompetents will always prize total job security with no evaluation.

    An organization that tolerates incompetence and, indeed, rewards it the same as doing well will inevitably become one full of incompetence and generally with the pay to match.

  • ||

    Problem is most parents in DC don't really want school reform. Better public schools would mean more whites and asians moving in, higher property values and the lower income black residents will be driven out of the city. In a perverse way it is completely rational for lower income blacks to want to keep the schools underpeforming and inhospitable to the middle class.

  • Alice Bowie||

    You can always bus in whites/asians into the ghetto. Of course they (white/asian) will move out of the state if they are smart and busing was implemented.

  • Yonemoto||

    Ah, so now we know why DCites are apposed to retrocession to maryland. They're afraid whites and asians will be bussed in.

  • Cyto||

    Either that or they are really holding on to the idea that they'll get statehood and their own 2 senators.

  • adam||

    I think it's more tha Marylanders that are opposed to retrocession.

  • adam||

    How would higher property values drive lower income black residents out of the city?

    If the lower income black residents own their homes, then this is a great windfall for them. If they rent their homes, DC's strict rent control and eviction laws essentially ensure they can never be forced out so long as they pay rent and rent can only increase at the rate of inflation.

  • Alice Bowie||

    Yea, that's what the Indians thought when they sold the white man Manhattan Island. They (the indians) didn't realize that they weren't welcomed to stay.

  • ||

    ...and you just keep. Getting. Dumber.

  • zoltan||

    It's working in that "cutthroat, up-and-out" Wall Street environment.

  • Alice Bowie||

    It sure does

  • alan||

    Hey Epi, that's my Virgin Island sweetie you are talking too! Please keep it up though, after a hard day on H&R she gets nasty in bed. What is that? A tuck? I'm not sure what you mean by that word.

  • alan||

    Disregard that website listed. That was some troll hackery in another thread used to piss someone off.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    How would higher property values drive lower income black residents out of the city?

    It almost always does.

    If they rent their homes, DC's strict rent control and eviction laws essentially ensure they can never be forced out so long as they pay rent and rent can only increase at the rate of inflation.

    Two words: eminent domain.

  • Alice Bowie||

    You know, the supreme court has given their A-OK on using eminent domain to the 'other-side-of-the-track'. If you can kick out the low income people and inject higher value properties that will bring in higher revenues in municipal taxes, it's OK.

  • ||

    So in essence they're short-sighted racists who like poverty and don't want their neighborhoods or schools to improve...?

  • ||

    Yes.

  • ||

    The most racist people in America are inner-city blacks.

  • Alice Bowie||

    They've had good teachers on how to be racist over the years.

  • ||

    Such as...

  • Alice Bowie||

    I don't know...the KKK, slavery, Jim Crow, the police. There are many reasons. Nonetheless, things are much much better for blacks today.

  • ||

    You left off the NBP and the Nation of Islam. And I would bet there are only a handfull (if that) of inner city kids today who have had any contact with the KKK, slavery, or Jim Crow. Plenty with police though, who BTW come in all colors.

  • ||

    The KKK, slavery, Jim Crow: gone for generations. Along with the "racist" police of D.C., all this has "taught" them to prefer poverty and fear the gentrifying effects of whites and Asians living nearby? And somehow years of schooling by the government-run, unionized schools can't overcome this, what, genetic memory of bad things that happened to their ancestors?

    Or could it be you're just making excuses, and something else is going on?

  • cynical||

    I thought a poll showed that parents supported Fenty by a good margin.

  • Kristen||

    Tony Williams won as a write-in candidate. It's not at all out of left field if Fenty decides to do it.

  • Cyto||

    Plus he can take advantage of the "buyer's remorse" that always sets in after an election. And he has lots of national attention because of Rhee, which might give him a huge fundraising advantage.

    The disadvantage of having the public employees unions as a huge enemy is that they make up a majority voting block in DC. Tough to overcome that one.

  • Kolohe||

    He's actually on the ballot as a Republican (he got over 800 write in's for their primary which outnumbered any of the named candidates) -- that is if he accepts (which he won't).

  • ||

    How did Fenty lose the election? H e brought in a Korean woman to run the school district and manage its employees, and they still didn't like him? How is that possible? But wait, she's angaged to an attractive, successful ex-NBA star and mayor of Sacramento. Wouldn't the ward voters, especially the women, LOVE him for bringing her in? What am I missing?

  • Jordan||

    I'm betting the fact that she's Korean is a liability in D.C., given its demographics. Also, firing teachers automatically means you're a heartless bastard who hates teh childrens.

  • ||

    He brought in a Korean woman to run the school district and manage its employees, and they still didn't like him?

    DC voters are mostly black, not Korean. You do the math.

  • ||

    President Obama is being sarcastic.

  • Pip||

    That's a side of him we raely see.

  • Virginia||

    Ah yes, the ol' "dating-out"/korean-girls-get-all-the-good-black-men resentment. It's vicious. Vicious, I tells ya.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I think Gray has been putting his head in the Shine-O Ball-O. He wins debates by deflecting light into his opponents' eyes.

  • Pip||

    Fucking scalpist.

  • T||

    Gray's the one with hair, BP. Fenty's the bald guy. So the blinding powers of an impeccably polished brainpan must be less than spectacular.

  • Kristen||

    Fenty's baldness is one thing about him that's attractive!

  • ||

    In fact, I pretty much wrote a whole feature article about how the D.C. reform experiment is the most important, exciting, high stakes experiment in reforming traditional public education anywhere in the country.

    Forgive her, Father, for she has no fucking clue what she's talking about.

    Listen, Ms. Mangu-Ward, I know you think that Washington DC must, just must, be the most important place in America because, after all, you live there.

    But you don't know shit about education reform. If you want to look at a place where the problems were worse and the reform is better, I suggest you take peak at a little town in Lousiana that rhymes with "Jew Snore-Beans."

  • ||

    You barely beat me to it. But now there can be no doubt where the real reform is going down.

  • cynical||

    You know, the New Orleans school reform has been covered at Reason too.

  • Cytotoxic||

    That's what I thought right off the bat.

  • ||

    My guess is that the DC school system will be the last, not the first, that is comprehensively reformed. Is there a school system where the problems are more structurally entrenched?

  • ||

    Well, at least some inner city parents can still get their kids into charter schools thanks to the voucher program. Oh, wait . . .

  • Alice Bowie||

    Is there a school system where the problems are more structurally entrenched?

    I agree. This is the most Ideal place for this experiment.

  • Virginia||

    This is obviously common knowledge, but we are talking about the same voters that re-elected Marion Barry for mayor and for council.

  • ||

    A whopping 822 write-ins aside, he can't win back the city this way.

    DC primaries are closed, independents aren't allowed to vote in them, and there's a surprising number of those. It's actually sort-of possible for Fenty to win, with his primary supporters plus independents. (Not enough Republicans to matter too too much, but they'd help too.)

  • jeffrey||

    I alice bowie a real person? Or the best performance art EVER on hit and run?

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement