Peter McPherson wrote this:
Dear Mayor Gray:
It’s been a week since schools chancellor Kaya Henderson announced her proposal to close 20 schools. After two days of council testimony on this issue and seeing her response to those citizen voices, I’ve come to the considered view that Henderson should no longer serve as chancellor. I am asking you to request her resignation and concurrently propose legislation that would end mayoral control of the schools. My request for the former is based on Henderson’s performance. Regarding the later request, I do not think District residents should have to accept a level of disenfranchisement at home comparable to that to which they are subjected by the United State Congress. The District of Columbia Public Schools are run with the same concern for the stakeholders as an 18th-century Russian Czar had for the Serfs. Appealing to the chancellor on any issue has exactly the same quality as making an application to an absolute monarch. I suppose there are some who would tolerate such a form of school governance if it produced an outstanding school system. But by any available measure it has not. The loss of democratic control of a vital public resource such as our schools has not produced a windfall in positive change. It is time to acknowledge that fact and give the schools back to the community they are supposed to serve.
In the five years of mayoral control of the schools the taxpayers of this city have spent billions of dollars on DCPS and taken on substantial public debt to modernize an aging and crumbling inventory of school buildings. What that unprecedented investment in the school system has produced is smaller enrollment, negligible improvement in student performance, astronomically high levels of staff turnover and a cheating scandal for which a satisfactory conclusion has not been provided. Many of these expensively modernized schools are not being fully embraced by the communities they were built to serve. We have a chancellor who was present at the birth of this iteration of DCPS. She is a proud parent of an administrative culture that established itself as judge, operating under the moniker of “accountability.” But that only flows in one direction, namely downward. This is a school system leadership for whom failings entirely rest with others. If student scores don’t rise, it’s because of bad teachers. If schools do not have computers it’s because principals didn’t buy them. If librarians are not performing as expected it’s not because of a dearth of books and other materials. Rather they’re just not giving an adequate return on investment.
Rather than accept responsibility for her inability to articulate plans and strategies that would bolster enrollment at small schools, instead she proposes their closer and make them and communities in which they reside responsible for their failure to thrive.
I think the situation DCPS faces is similar to that of Research in Motion, the Canadian company responsible for the Blackberry phone. Anyone with even a modest awareness of the smartphone industry knows that the Blackberry is in big trouble. RIM is making a play for survival in January by introducing a new generation of their signature device. If DCPS were RIM, it would have chosen to sell the same phone in a different box. And it would have closed the research division responsible for new products. The schools being proposed for closure received $1.7 million in “Proving What’s Possible” grant money. I guess they’ve proved already that nothing for them is possible.
You have asked us to accept a plan from the chancellor of your choice whose only major ideas are both closing schools and the continued pursuit of failed policies. I’m telling you that her plan is a disaster. DCPS is now facing an existential threat, one that is coming from within and without. An organization whose only response to an aggressive, motivated competitor is to retreat is going to fail. You’re on record supporting a competitive model of school choice. That only works if both sides are truly competing. Chancellor Henderson frequently telegraphs the belief that charter schools have the better product. And she is pursuing policies that are guaranteed to produce that result.
The chancellor needs to be replaced and the current governance model abandoned. An new interim chancellor needs to be selected by a broad community group.