I have cancelled my subscription to the Washington Post. I have been saying for some time that I would do this but the habit (really addiction) I have had towards newspapers goes back a long, long time. Not an easy one to break. The clincher for me was today’s editorial on Michelle Rhee, Ms. Rhee on trial. That is not a link, you’ll have to go to the Post’s site yourself to read it.
Here is my problem with the Post’s attitude. There is this one-sided view coming from their editors and Jay Matthews that the only people in this city who care about the school system and are doing anything about it are Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty. That position having been taken, the Post has backed up Fenty and Rhee unambiguously, unreservedly, and without holding either accountable for their actions. Today’s editorial is a good example. That Ms. Rhee shamelessly manipulated the budget, and the city council’s dysfunction, to do what she wanted – that is fire teachers – is obvious to anyone who was at the hearing or has read the transcripts. She hired 900 teachers despite having been warned that she faced a 12-13 million dollar deficit. She ignored the council’s directive – which is law – and did exactly what she wanted. Now, either the council is the lawmaking branch of our city or it isn’t. Isn’t it the same way with our national government? We live by the laws. We may protest the laws, we may commit acts of civil disobedience (and be arrested as a consequence) to protest those laws, but they are the laws and, until changed by the LAWMAKING body of our government, we are subject to them as law-abiding citizens. But it isn’t just a question of whether Michelle Rhee was morally right in disobeying the council. That is her excuse – that she is “acting in the best interests of the children” it is a question of why she disobeyed the council. She did it for Summer School. Summer School?!!!!!!!
You have got to be kidding me? Right? Any teacher in DC who has done time in summer school – and, let’s face it, that is exactly what summer school is, doing time – knows what a waste of people, time and money summer school is. In our system, the way it works is as a kind of palliative – it promises to help a child who is behind catch up and be ready for the grade they will start in the fall. The children arrive around 9 am and leave at 1 pm. The kids you have there are a mixture of kids whose parents cannot afford daycare and the worst case kids in any given classroom. You know the ones I mean – the ones who come into your classroom a year to two years behind, who substitute bad behavior as a form of ability, and who spend most of the day disrupting your lessons by acting out. Put them all together for summer school and what do you get? That is what needed saving?
So as not to sacrifice the high-quality, high-performing summer school program, Ms. Rhee affected cuts of teaching staff DURING the first quarter of school. Again, as any teacher who has spent time in the classroom knows, this means that any teacher who takes over the class of a RIFFED teacher must start at sqauare one with that class – effectively making negligeble whatever progress that teacher made with that class. If a child is already behind in level this isn’t going to help, in fact it could arguably hinder. Ms. Rhee admitted that teachers were fired regardless of their quality so this also means that teachers who were perhaps effective in their classrooms were let go. Their class had to start at sqaure one with a teacher who has to establish trust, bond with the class and learn how to manage that class – oh, but these are intangibles that anyone with a big, red S on their shirt can manage – right?
The argument made by the Post, and many others, is that the Council’s hearing on Ms. Rhee’s actions were tantamount to a witch hunt. Now the council is no paragon of civic responsibility but that does not make the hearings wrong. Ms. Rhee is a public servent whose actions should be held accountable. Her tactics regarding the recent RIF, especially in light of some of the testimony by people who worked with her, are questionable and deserve the scrutiny of a hearing. What does not serve the public interest is to let our officials work as if they are above such scrutiny.
I have read postings by teachers who have questions, good questions, questions that deserve full and comprehensive answers. The Post isn’t asking these questions. Their support is unequivical and blind. Of course they are doing well in this climate of test the students ad infinitum. In today’s paper as well the Post has reported their losses and earnings as a company. Their circulation is down almost 4 percent (as of today they can add me to that percentage, I’ve cancelled my subscription effective Monday), their ad revenue is down 28%, 27% in just the last 9 months, and their online revenue is down 18%. What keeps them afloat? Ta-da, Kaplan Testing Services. The Post’s ownership of Kaplan is the company’s “biggest revenue generator.” According to the Post itself this includes brick-and-mortar campuses “in addition to test prep.” $685 million in third quarter revenue is more than enough justification for them to support a Chancellor who sees teaching to the test as a way of getting the curriculum across.
Good people will leave our schools. They will leave our good schools and, what is even worse, our schools that need such people the most. The mood in our system is terrible, the morale is at its lowest I have ever witnessed, and all the Post can do is recommend more of the same. They are the doctor who amputates in place of trying to heal.