DCPS Lacks Justice and Integrity
Published: Thursday, May 17, 2012
Updated: Thursday, May 17, 2012 20:05
To the Editor:
I am a 1965 graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. I recently retired after 42 years as a history teacher in the D.C. Public Schools.
The following is an open letter to University President John J. DeGioia:
I am very disappointed that you conferred an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters on D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and used the following words to describe her: “Her integrity, passion for justice and ability to bring together communities has enabled her to … strengthen the foundation for education in cities across the nation.”
I am one of many DCPS teachers, including several Georgetown graduates, whose successful teaching careers were cut short by Chancellors Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson. Their reform — fire “bad” teachers and reward “excellent” teachers with bonuses — has failed.
As a student at Georgetown, integrity and justice gained meaning for me when I helped organize campus support for the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. In Montgomery, Ala., joining the march from Selma and experiencing the power of justice in the shadow of its denial helped shape my decision to become a teacher.
Kaya Henderson joined DCPS in 2007 when she was appointed deputy chancellor by former Chancellor Michelle Rhee. With the support of foundations, the chancellors developed an unethical, two-part teacher termination policy. The policy involves a new and harsher teacher evaluation system, which uses the same criteria for all teachers regardless of grade level or subject, and an “excessing” policy, which enables the use of budget changes to remove teaching positions and put teachers with effective ratings in an “excess” status with no right to vacant positions in their licensure area. Treated like new hires, if no principal accepts these teachers, the chancellor terminates them. This situation is currently facing 333 recently excessed teachers.
When Henderson and Rhee took over, good standards for most subjects had just been written. Curricula, the bridge between standards and teacher lesson plans and the basis for a fair evaluation process were next. Curricula were not written; their absence created more work and uncertainty for teachers.
In June 2008, Rhee arbitrarily transferred Wilson High School’s respected advanced placement biology teacher, whose 71 percent pass rate over 14 years is unrivaled in DCPS. Over 550 former students and parents petitioned Rhee. She stonewalled, no reason given. Henderson was silent.
A year later, Rhee dissolved the city-wide science department and terminated its director.
According to reports last week from the Nation Assessment of Educational Progress, only 7 percent of D.C. students tested “proficient” in 2011’s eighth-grade-level science test, the lowest in the nation. Rhee and Henderson’s disrespectful treatment of science education shares responsibility for those results.
To me, “integrity” means defending standards of behavior and revising them if they are flawed — not secretly bypassing them. At Wilson High School in 2002 and 2006, I discovered the widespread practice of altered student grades and students awarded diplomas despite missing required courses. Fixed grades are like counterfeit currency: worthless.
In 2010 I reported to Rhee and Henderson that students with hundreds of class cuts were allowed on a Wilson High School senior class trip to the Bahamas, which she, by law, had to approve and should have reviewed. It was also after my principal told me that my anti-cheating precautions, for example, a scrambled test page order, were “creating an expectation that students will cheat, and they will rise to it.”
In August 2010, Rhee involuntarily transferred me to Phelps High School because of “significant educational philosophical differences between you and the Wilson administration.” She and Henderson ignored the timetable for due process hearings. When I was excessed in June 2011, however, Henderson followed the excess timetable.
Rhee and Henderson have fired hundreds of teachers using unethical methods that bear no correlation to student performance. Their ties to foundations have enabled them to escape accountability.
In April 2010, the public learned that Rhee had arranged for a three-year grant of $63.75 million for bonuses, excessing and salary increments. The conditions required that DCPS meet a list of “predicted gains”: 16 items in 2010 and 20 items in 2011. DCPS met none of the items on the 2010 list and only two on the 2011 list, but the grants apparently kept coming.
By now, almost half of DCPS teachers are replacements hired by the chancellors — in 11 Ward 8 schools, over 70 percent. The Rhee-Henderson policy that schools can be improved by firing and rehiring has failed — by their own standards.
As long as they are lionized by prominent city leaders, they will continue to ruin lives and escape accountability. What can you do to restore integrity and justice to DCPS?