Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Protecting School Reform in D.C.

A great NYT editorial a week ago, with a warning to Gray and well-deserved props for Kaya Henderson, who hopefully will be made the permanent chancellor:
October 14, 2010
NYT editorial
Protecting School Reform in D.C.

It was inevitable that Michelle Rhee, the District of Columbia's hard-driving schools chancellor, would resign after her boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty, lost last month's Democratic primary. It was no secret that Ms. Rhee had a strained relationship with Vincent Gray, the presumptive mayor and chairman of the City Council.

Still, Ms. Rhee's departure is a loss for the nation's capital. It has unsettled middle-class parents who valued the strong, reform-minded leadership that was setting Washington's schools on the path back from failure. And it sent a tremor through the private foundations that provisionally committed nearly $80 million to support the school reforms that were started during Ms. Rhee's tenure.

After Mr. Gray's clashes with Ms. Rhee, it was good news that he said the right things after her resignation. He pledged to move ahead with the reform agenda, which has strengthened the city's teacher corps, remade a patronage-ridden central bureaucracy and raised math and reading scores. He said he would keep Ms. Rhee's senior staff on for the remainder of the school year and named her deputy and longtime associate, Kaya Henderson, the interim chancellor.

Ms. Henderson has a softer personal touch than Ms. Rhee, but is just as steely when it comes to policy. She has been outspoken about the stunning lack of professionalism and accountability that characterized the district's school system when she first arrived in the city. She was also the point person in the last round of contract negotiations, which gave the city greater leeway to pay, promote and fire people based on performance instead of seniority.

The new contract, which included generous salary increases, is the linchpin of a strategy that is supposed to improve the quality of instruction by helping struggling teachers improve and pushing out those who don't.

But the contract will come to nothing, and the city's children will suffer, if the schools lapse into the Washington tradition of hiring people based on patronage instead of ability — and keeping them on forever no matter how poorly they perform. It is up to Mr. Gray to keep that from happening.

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