Monday, January 5, 2009

DC Schools moving forward

Yesterday I was going to blog about the outstanding opinion piece by Colbert King in the Washington Post on Saturday appropriately titled “Beyond Publicity, What is Rhee Producing”. King makes a great point that seems to occur with every rock star superintendent of schools – they make changes and are immediately canonized before we even see the results. Education reformers start drinking, and even making, the kool-aid because we are so desperate to see any progress that anyone who actually makes a change must immediately be worshipped. Then, because of the superintendent’s fame for making changes, they leave before anyone can really see results. In theory they could be a disaster, but no one will really know because the results never catch up to them.

However the nasty flipside is also true. King advocates for an independent auditor to see if all these changes provide results but it is difficult to see solid results in a short period in a school system that has been mired in sub-par performance for so long. While I applaud the need to really understand the results of these disruptive innovations, I am fearful that her detractors will see the results and find ways to say that her methods are not working. People will try to reverse what she has done before we have a chance to see what she can achieve. This happened most recently in Philadelphia.

Had I blogged yesterday, I would have been a lot more harsh about the fame thing and the education reformer fawning that occurs at every conference. It is as if every education reformer signed a pact never to have a conference unless Michelle was a keynote speaker with angels singing in the background. I would ask that everyone tone it down and not make a huge deal until the results are in. Our critique of the status quo is they focus too much on inputs and not enough on results – yet every superintendent we worship is because of their inputs, not results. Plus we set the expectation so high that they are doomed to disappoint.

But then I read this and I am drinking the cool-aid again. The key element in true reform is great teaching and Michelle is going to provide a laser focus on improving the District’s teaching corps. She is dumping National Board because it is too costly and does not get results, setting high expectations for students and trying to eliminate bottom performing teachers. She is eliminating teacher training which does not produce results, in favor of a program that is getting results in Montgomery County and she is going to improve mentoring.

This is a huge, much needed step to get DC Schools back on track. If we can combine that with King’s idea of an accountability measure – with very reasonable goals – I think the attention Michelle is getting will be justified in two years when we see DC finally become a place where kids come to learn.

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