The D.C. Mayor’s Race.

Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who with Cory Booker and Barack Obama formed the triumverate of the “new wave” of black politicians emerging as national leaders, lost his re-election bid to Vince Gray, the D.C. council chair last night. A lot was made of race: polls showed that white voters overwhelming supported Fenty, while black voters supported Gray, which was significant in this rapidly changing city.

A key issue was schools, and Fenty’s controversial chancellor, Michelle Rhee. Fenty appointed and continued to support her, but Gray has been less clear. But it’s not just parents with schoolchildren who are invested in schools, as Dana Goldstein writes. Rhee tagged schools central to middle-class black communities as failing, and fired hundreds of teachers and and school employees, finding them inadequate under a new evaluation system. That’s a good thing for those of us who believe it was too hard to fire incompetent teachers in the past, but it’s a bad thing if that was your job. And a job in public schools, as well as the D.C. government in general, has always been a pathway to the middle class.

As Goldstein writes:

While many in the media champion these policies, school reformers so far have failed to make the case to communities, who see their local schools not only as student achievement factories, but also as storehouses of community history, sources of jobs, and even repositories of racial pride.

  • Firing teachers is only a good thing if you think that it’s been too hard to fire bad teachers *and* if you believe that the teachers who were fired were actually bad ones. If they weren’t–maybe, for instance (like my kid’s school), the schools were only marked as “failing” because they had a lot of students with home situations or learning disabilities or class identities that don’t support the kind of things that we’re testing for, and maybe the “bad” teachers weren’t drilling multiplication tables as much as they “should” because they were focusing on things like interpersonal relationships between the kids (as my son’s excellent 2/3 teacher did)–then that would be a real tragedy.

    The teacher my son had last year was *very* test-focused. He wanted all the kids to practice writing about literature using templates like “The main character has three primary characteristics. He is brave. He is resourceful. He is intelligent. (followed by paragraphs giving examples of each trait.)”

    There was a kid who hated writing but who asked me why so many kids’ stories are about kids who are orphans, or whose parents aren’t around. I asked him what he thought. He considered for a minute and then said, “I suppose it’s because if there are parents in the story then the kid wouldn’t have to solve the problem himself, and then there wouldn’t *be* a story.”

    Now that’s the kind of thesis I used to try to get my college freshmen to write, but they were all stuck on shit like “the main character has three characteristics.”

    The teacher last year was really, really worried about this kid’s test scores. The teacher was wrong.

  • Steve

    As someone who worked in DC Schools, there were alot of godawful teachers who knew they couldn’t be touched. So I honestly have no beef with Rhee in that regard. Problem is, it’s not politically expedient, because the middle class base are the public employees who for years have felt they could never be fired and therefore a decent number of them did little to no actual job performance.

    I don’t really think Rhee’s approach or methods are that ridiculous or unreasonable. I also think in four years the city will wish they never elected Gray.