Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Protecting the Capital’s School Reform

Kudos to the NYT for this editorial:


September 16, 2010

Protecting the Capital's School Reform


After virtually guaranteeing his election as mayor of Washington by winning a bitter Democratic primary fight, Vincent Gray tried to reassure wary middle-class voters by promising not to "turn back the clock" to when the city government was known primarily for corruption, cronyism and inefficiency.

But Mr. Gray needs to do a lot more to reassure the nation's capital that he will not undermine the school reforms started by Michelle Rhee, the schools chancellor under the incumbent mayor, Adrian Fenty. Mr. Gray can start with the private foundations that have provisionally committed nearly $80 million to support those reforms. To do that, he must resist pressure from the teachers' unions that spent heavily on this campaign.

When Mr. Fenty was elected in 2006, the schools were afflicted by patronage and bureaucrats who subverted reform. The mayor and the chancellor dismissed people who were essentially doing nothing and put in place strong teaching reforms.

The city made quick and impressive progress, as measured both by math and reading tests and by the rigorous federally backed test known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Earlier this summer, an impressive school turnaround plan secured the city a grant under the Obama administration's Race to the Top program.

Ms. Rhee, a staunch advocate of merit pay and merit-based promotion for teachers, has long been a favorite target of the unions, which have disliked her even more since earlier this year when she negotiated a groundbreaking contract that gives the city greater leeway to pay, promote and fire teachers based on performance, not seniority.

The contract, which calls for a 20 percent raise over the next five years, is underwritten by private foundations that are particularly interested in backing performance-based evaluation systems. Some donors have reserved the right to renege if the city chooses a weak school leader or one who is inclined to backpedal.

Mr. Gray should keep that in mind if he decides to name his own chancellor. He should also bear in mind that the voters elected him to act in the best interest of their children.

 Subscribe in a reader