DCPS Chancellor should have threatened to resign over Council interference with Washington Met

DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee last month decided, after conducting a thorough analysis, to close Washington Metropolitan High School, a school serving low-income students who have been unsuccessful learning in traditional classroom settings. Here’s what the editors of the Washington Post wrote recently about Washington Met:

“At Washington Metropolitan High School, an alternative school in the D.C. public school system, just 10 percent of students meet expectations on state assessments in English. None of the school’s 157 students meet expectations in math. Attendance is dismal, with data showing only about 28 percent of students attending class on most days, and enrollment has declined. Internal surveys found that students disliked the campus and felt they weren’t being loved, challenged or prepared.”

This is the first school DCPS will shutter since 2013. However, the move was almost reversed due to a D.C. Council that increasingly believes that it knows more about how to educate students than school leadership. It has already set rules around school disciplinary practices and is about to weigh in on charter school transparency. In this case, D.C. Councilperson Robert C. White, apparently unable to find his spine in the face of pressure from the Washington Teachers’ Union, introduced a bill to circumvent the authority of the Chancellor. Eight other weak members of the Council went along with his idea. The only problem is that nine representatives were needed to approve the legislation. Education Committee Chairman David Grosso and D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson, who both sit on the Education Committee, along with Anita Bonds, Brandon Todd, and Kenyan McDuffie voted against it.

By the skin of our teeth, there was almost an extremely terrible precedent set. Washington D.C. has had Mayoral control over the traditional public schools since 2007. All attempts by the D.C. Council or D.C. Board of Education to insert themselves into actions by the Mayor, Deputy Mayor for Education, or Chancellor need to be vigorously rejected.

Yesterday, the Washington Post announced that former D.C. School Superintendent Clifford Janey passed away. I liked and respected Dr. Janey, and I thought his heart was in the right place in the improvements he tried to make. Here is how reporter Bart Barnes described DCPS when Mr. Janey was in charge beginning in 2004:

“Dr. Janey inherited what he later described as a dysfunctional system of poor classroom performance, unreliable computers, a malfunctioning payroll and schools that chronically lacked supplies. Textbooks were in poor condition and often delivered late. Building repairs were made late or not at all, and school officials were unsure how many students were enrolled.”

These problems generally persisted until Michelle Rhee took over under Mayoral control of the regular schools as established by Adrian Fenty.

We cannot move backwards. Ever again. To demonstrate how serious this situation was regarding D.C. Council interference in DCPS affairs, Mr. Ferebee should have announced his resignation if Mr. White’s bill had become law.

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