Dec 14, 2011
Nov 8, 2011
Nov 3, 2011
Empower DC, a well respected community grassroots organization hosted a gathering on Thursday evening, November 3 at the Dorothy Height Library to discuss DC's plans to close more traditional public schools. People assembled from all walks of life including Ward 7 residents, parents, teachers, former principals, nurses, representatives of Teamsters-local 639, community activists, ANC representatives and yours truly. Some familiar faces that I saw included: Mary Levy, former DCPS parent and DCPS budget analyst, Mary Melchior, DCPS parent from Capitol Hill Montessori and Richard Patterson, former principal of River Terrace Elementary school.
Daniel del Pielago, organizer and facilitator of the Thursday meeting reminded attendees that Chancellor Kaya Henderson told parents during the spring that the city could not afford to continue to operate more than 40 schools with enrollment figures lower than 300 students. This summer, a decision was made by Deputy Mayor of Education, De'Shawn Wright to commission an Illinois based firm known as the Illinois Facilities Fund (IFF) to conduct a foundational study which will help determine which schools will be proposed for closure. While IFF has done similar studies in Chicago, Denver, Milwaukee and St Louis, it is interesting that funding for this project was provided by the Walton Family Foundation who owns Wal-Mart. No competitive bidding process occurred. It is expected that the study will be completed by the end of November.
This study will be looking at schools test scores to determine if a school is “performing” or not. They will not take into consideration other ways that a school is excelling for its students, parents and community. In similar studies, schools were determined to either be performing or not performing based on whether they meet or exceed 75% of the state standard in both reading and math. In DC, that standard would equate to 55% or more proficiency rates on the DC CAS. The numbers below reflect the number of “under performing DCPS schools” by wards: Ward 1 = 8 schools, Ward 2 = 3 schools, Ward 3 = 0 schools, Ward 4 = 11 schools, Ward 5 = 11 schools, Ward 6 = 11 schools, Ward 7 = 20 schools, and Ward 8 = 20 schools. We could potentially face high closure rates in some of our poorest wards.
After closing 23 schools during the Michelle Rhee administration in 2008, DCPS saw a 17 percent drop off rate in enrollment according to Washington Examiner Reporter Michael Neibauer's September 8, 2008 article: "DC Public Schools Enrollment shows 17 percent drop off." Mary Levy who was quoted in Neibauer's 2008 article stated: "parents want some certainty, and closing schools is pretty much guaranteed to lead to loss of enrollment because we have so many other options." Those at the Empower DC meeting echoed these same concerns that were voiced earlier in 2008.
Many at the meeting saw the goal of another round of school closures as part of an ongoing reform model to privatize public education by closing traditional public schools with plans of replacing them with charter schools. Participants chimed in that DC Public Schools had not been transparent during this process and that the study had no plans to include focus groups of critical stakeholders. While Deputy Mayor De'Shawn Wright has been quoted as saying there will be public input, it seems that community input will not be considered until after the preliminary analysis.
The meeting concluded with a brainstorming of ideas on next steps to fight school closures of our traditional public schools. Plans are being made for additional meetings to be held throughout the city. Participants were encouraged to spread the word and get members from their school communities actively involved. If you want to become involved in saving our public schools, contact Daniel by email @ firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-234-9119 ext. 104.
Stay tuned as more details emerge on upcoming meetings.
Oct 31, 2011
for an Empowerment Circle to:
When – Thursday November 3, 2011
Where – Benning Road/Dorothy Height Library
3935 Benning Road, NE – Walking distance from Minnesota Ave. Metro (Orange line)
Time – 6:30pm to 8:30pm
Please RSVP to Daniel del Pielago – 202-234-9119 ext. 104 or
Oct 22, 2011
Sep 20, 2011
It's official, I have been ousted from my elected position within the Washington Teachers' Union, AFL-CIO, Local 6 on September 19, 2011 by WTU President Nathan Saunders. Get this, the revocation of my leave of absence from DCPS, was authored by none other than Nathan Saunders and co-signed by Jason Kamras, Deputy Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. Some might argue that this is graphic evidence that Nathan is now in bed with the Office of the Chancellor, none other than Rhee's nemesis who I like to refer as Kaya and company. Sound familiar?
Monday was one exhausting day for me. The real sordid details will have to be left for another day and another time and place. First, I must ask you to not to cast judgment on me, at least not at this time. That's what Saunders and the WTU Executive Board did to me- when they denied me my inalienable right to due process. I was never afforded a hearing, the board never heard my side of the story, never informed me that I would be the subject of discipline in an executive board meeting, never afforded me the opportunity to face my accusers or prepare a defense before severely disciplining me by stripping me of my WTU constitutional vice presidential duties, my WTU pay and my free speech rights to even discuss myself or my own case with anyone, etc. The only thing I kept was my title. Imagine that? My lawsuit speaks to these facts. Despite these atrocities, I continued to come to work at the WTU until my leave of absence was revoked.
While you will hear that I am erratic and unprofessional, I just ask you to think back to the very person that you have known me to be and the person who has written this blog for the past three years. A lot of things describe me, but those adjectives do not reflect reality. Just some hyped up public relations smear campaign.
Once I was elected, my goal was to continue to help teachers and school personnel. This very blog was instrumental and effective in standing up for teachers as well as pointing out the flaws of Rhee's slash and burn administration. Afterall this blog is what our members asked the WTU leadership to continue, once elected. Don't think for every minute, that I didn't try my best. I took the same passion evidenced right here and continued advocating on behalf of our members to the K Street union office. My only regret is that I wasn't able to complete the job that members elected me to do. I worked well with Nathan Saunders and he didn't have complaints about me until I went to the media about my suspension of pay by him unilaterally. When I filed my lawsuit to restore my rights as an elected leader, things simply deteriorated and Saunders retaliated. In one day, I received four letters of reprimand from him. Saunders' fury was like a lover scorned.
I hope you will return to The Washington Teacher blog for more, as details emerge. For now, I hope you will peruse Bill Turque, (AKA Washington Post writer) rendition of the WTU story as told on his DC Schools Insider blog. I'd like you to ponder this question: What type of internal remedies and/or changes to the WTU Constitution do we need to make so being ousted as a labor leader doesn't ever happen again in our union history? By the way, WTU has no internal appeal processes when there is a disagreement between the union president and the general vice president. I'm listening ?
Teachers’ union vice president ousted in dispute with president Saunders
Aug 24, 2011
WASHINGTON — Why won’t Michelle Rhee talk to USA Today?
"Ms. Rhee, the chancellor of the Washington public schools from 2007 to 2010, is the national symbol of the data-driven, take-no-prisoners education reform movement.
It’s hard to find a media outlet, big or small, that she hasn’t talked to. She’s been interviewed by Katie Couric, Tom Brokaw and Oprah Winfrey. She’s been featured on a Time magazine cover holding a broom (to sweep away bad teachers). She was one of the stars of the documentary “Waiting for Superman.”
These days, as director of an advocacy group she founded, StudentsFirst, she crisscrosses the country pushing her education politics: she’s for vouchers and charter schools, against tenure, for teachers, but against their unions.
Always, she preens for the cameras. Early in her chancellorship, she was trailed for a story by the education correspondent of “PBS NewsHour,” John Merrow.
At one point, Ms. Rhee asked if his crew wanted to watch her fire a principal. “We were totally stunned,” Mr. Merrow said.
She let them set up the camera behind the principal and videotape the entire firing. “The principal seemed dazed,” said Mr. Merrow. “I’ve been reporting 35 years and never seen anything like it.”
And yet, as voracious as she is for the media spotlight, Ms. Rhee will not talk to USA Today.
At the end of March, three of the paper’s reporters — Marisol Bello, Jack Gillum and Greg Toppo — broke a story about the high rate of erasures and suspiciously high test-score gains at 41 Washington schools while Ms. Rhee was chancellor.
At some schools, they found the odds that so many answers had been changed from wrong to right randomly were 1 in 100 billion. In a fourth-grade class at Stanton Elementary, 97 percent of the erasures were from wrong to right. Districtwide, the average number of erasures for seventh graders was fewer than one per child, but for a seventh-grade class at Noyes Elementary, it was 12.7 per student. At Noyes Elementary in 2008, 84 percent of fourth graders were proficient in math, up from 22 percent in 2007.
Ms. Rhee’s reputation has rested on her schools’ test scores. Suddenly, a USA Today headline was asking, “were the gains real?” In this era of high-pressure testing, Washington has become another in a growing list of cheating scandals that has included Atlanta, Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas.
It took the USA Today reporters a year to finish their three-part series. So many people were afraid to speak that Ms. Bello had to interview dozens to find one willing to be quoted. She knocked on teachers’ doors at 9:30 at night and hunted parents at PTA meetings. She met people in coffee shops where they would not be recognized, and never called or e-mailed sources at their schools.
Hari Sevugan, a spokesman for Ms. Rhee, said the reporters were “provided unprecedented time and access to report out their story,” including many meetings with senior staff members and the chief of data accountability. By last fall, Mr. Sevugan said, district officials’ patience was wearing thin. The deputy press secretary, Satiya Simmons, complained in an e-mail to a colleague, “Jack Gillum isn’t going away quietly, Uggh.”
“Just stop answering his e-mails,” advised Anita Dunn, a consultant who had been the communications director for President Obama.
The reporters made a dozen attempts to interview Ms. Rhee, directly and through her public relations representatives. Ms. Bello called Ms. Rhee’s cellphone daily, and finally got her on a Sunday.
“She said she wasn’t going to talk with us,” Ms. Bello recalled. “Her understanding was we were writing about” district schools “and she is no longer chancellor.”
On March 29, the day after the story came out, Ms. Rhee appeared on the PBS program “Tavis Smiley” and attacked USA Today.
“Are you suggesting this story is much ado about nothing, that this is lacking integrity, this story in USA Today?” Mr. Smiley asked.
“Absolutely,” Ms. Rhee said. “It absolutely lacks credibility.”
Mr. Smiley asked if she was concerned that she had put too much pressure on teachers and principals to raise scores. “We want educators to feel that pressure,” she answered.
Ms. Rhee emphasized that the district had hired a top security company, Caveon, to investigate in 2009, and was given a clean bill of health. The district released a statement from John Fremer, Caveon’s owner, saying, “The company did not find evidence of cheating at any of the schools.”
However, in subsequent interviews with USA Today and this reporter, Mr. Fremer made it clear that the scope of his inquiry was limited, and that the district had not requested that he do more. Indeed, Caveon’s report, posted on USA Today’s Web site, was full of sentences like, “Redacted was interviewed at redacted.”
Teachers described security as “excellent” and “very vigilant,” and investigators, for the most part, took their comments at face value.
It did not take Ms. Rhee long to realize she had miscalculated. Three days later, she told Bloomberg Radio she was “100 percent supportive” of a broader inquiry.
Still, she would not talk to USA Today. Mr. Sevugan gave no explanation, but pointed out that she had spoken with several other news outlets.
The reporters did not give up. On April 26, Emily Lenzner, a spokeswoman, wrote Mr. Gillum, “Michelle is willing to do an interview, but we’d like to do this in person.” She asked if they could hold their story, and arranged for a meeting on May 3 at the StudentsFirst office in Washington.
On May 2, another Rhee spokeswoman e-mailed to say the reporters were too interested in cheating and not enough in StudentsFirst. She said they could submit a list of questions.
There were 21 questions; Ms. Rhee did not answer 10 of the 11 about cheating.
Mr. Gillum, who recently took a job at The Associated Press, said he was surprised by how unresponsive Ms. Rhee has been. “She talks about how important data is, and our story is data driven,” he said.
So that people could make their own judgments, Linda Mathews, the project editor, posted the relevant public documents on the USA Today Web site.
Shortly after the follow-up story appeared, the district’s inspector general began what was supposed to be an inquiry, but in July The Washington Post reported that just one investigator had been assigned. “Basically it was one guy in a room who made 10 phone calls,” Mr. Toppo said.
Officials with the federal Department of Education have indicated that they are assisting with the investigation.
In Washington, two investigators spent five days at eight schools. In Atlanta, the state deployed 60 investigators who worked for 10 months at 56 schools. They produced a report that named all 178 people found cheating, including 82 who confessed. There was not a single case of “redacted and redacted doctoring redacted grade answer sheets at redacted.”
People in Atlanta could go to prison. Last week, a grand jury issued subpoenas seeking the names of school employees who had received bonuses for test scores. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that there were subpoenas for “signed copies” of “any and all oaths of office” taken by Beverly Hall, the former superintendent.
The three reporters still hope to interview Ms. Rhee. “Absolutely,” said Mr. Toppo.
Which brings things full circle: Why won’t Ms. Rhee talk to USA Today? "