Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Can Mayor Gray make the grade on D.C. school reform?

TFA alum Conor Williams with an op ed in the Washington Post, expressing cautious hope that Mayor Gray won't be the disaster for DC schools that we all fear:

I admit it: I'm among those who have had very serious doubts about Vincent Gray as D.C. mayor.

As a former urban teacher, I understand how fragile the District's progress on education reform still is.

Listening to Gray during his campaign, I wasn't confident that he'd be able to lead - and sustain - the District's progress. So far, though, the sky hasn't fallen on District public schools. And Gray's initial appointments offer reason to be optimistic.

Keeping former deputy schools chancellor Kaya Henderson on as the interim chancellor is a good sign. There's no doubt that she has the necessary experience. Before coming to the District, Henderson was a teacher, a vice president at the New Teacher Project and an executive at Teach for America. Her classroom background helps her understand the needs and concerns of teachers, while her experience as an executive helps her balance competing claims from parents and administrators.

Hosanna Mahaley, the new state superintendent, and De Shawn Wright, the new deputy mayor for education, are also highly qualified picks.

So I'm starting to believe that Gray really meant it during his campaign when he stressed that he would continue the best of the Fenty administration's efforts and keep the District on the educational trajectory that new D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown recently called "the envy of this country."

Of course, it's too early to say for sure. Gray's been in office for less than a week. The real fights, where his promises will be most tested, are ahead. Washington Teachers' Union President Nathan Saunders, who was elected on the strength of a campaign promising to roll back the Fenty-Rhee reforms, has vowed to use confrontation whenever necessary. He's said he wants to scrap the current teacher accountability system despite the fact that it's beyond collective bargaining and losing it could cost the District $75 million in Race to the Top funding. It's difficult to collaborate with those who are determined to fight.

Is Gray ready to stand up to the teachers union if Saunders follows through on these threats? Is Gray prepared to keep a firm hand on the reins of progress if (really, when) budget constraints make education cuts and teacher layoffs necessary? Is he prepared to keep putting students first?

If the answer to these questions is "yes," then my wife and I will start house hunting.


Can Mayor Gray make the grade on D.C. school reform?

By Conor Williams
Thursday, January 6, 2011; 8:00 PM


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