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District of Columbia

July 24, 2010

As a new contributor, I have been contemplating what topics I would like to investigate and address for discussion here.  I had been considering examining the pertinent qualifications of heads of school districts.  In my introductory post two days ago, I mentioned my concern about non-educators increasingly calling more of the shots in our field. Before I could do more research in that area, something came up. Yesterday, District of Columbia School Chancellor Michelle Rhee fired 241 teachers.

Hmm.  Right before the 2010-11 school year is to begin? A school spokesperson claims that qualified applicants are standing by to fill those vacancies.

I realize that the story of D.C. schools  is a turbulent one and I really don’t feel adequately informed.  I do know that Michelle Rhee had no apparent background in education prior to her appointment as chancellor of schools and that her grim, unsmiling face has been popping up quite a bit in national news next to stories about school reform.  I did a quick search and found a series of stories from the Washington Post regarding the reform efforts up to 2007. This one, discouragingly entitled Worn Down by Waves of Change, made my head hurt.

It sounds like conflict is the name-of-the-game when it comes to topic of “fixing” the schools in the District of Columbia. (The above story includes a bit about a meeting in which enraged supporters of a fired Superintendent hurled glasses and water pitchers at members of the school board;  one needed stitches after she was hit in the head. ) Maybe D.C. teachers could bring me up to speed as I could not readily find a summary of years 2007 to the present in the Post.  I did, however, find “The Answer Sheet”, a Washington Post-based blog by Valerie Strauss who, in her July 23rd entry details her concerns about the measures that made the firings possible.

Strauss concludes: “Of course, every school system should fire bad teachers. But they need a sophisticated and fair system to do that, and so far, D.C. doesn’t have one.” It sounds oddly familiar.

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