Written by Candi Peterson
DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson issued “You’re fired letters" this past week to 206 DC teachers. Before DC teachers knew of their own fate, the mainstream media had received a lengthy DCPS press packet on Friday, July 15 from the Office of the Chancellor (OOC) lauding teacher terminations and celebrating highly effective teachers eligible for merit pay. Bill Turque, staff writer for the Washington Post reported on the details of the DCPS firings as early as July 15. Turque wrote: “Of the 206 fired, D.C. officials said, 65 were rated ineffective this year and 141 were judged minimally effective for the second consecutive year, triggering dismissal.” An additional twenty-one teachers who were effective and/or highly effective were also terminated by DCPS because they could not find a permanent placement.
Friday's teacher firings are a continuation of Michelle Rhee's educational plan to terminate a significant share of the DC teaching workforce while establishing job loss as a likely consequence of poor classroom test scores on standardized tests. In DC, fifty-five percent of a teacher's performance evaluation is tied to student test scores in the testing grades. Prior to getting elected as DC Mayor in 2010, Vincent C. Gray who was then Chairman of the DC City Council stated that there was controversy over IMPACT teacher evaluations after the announcement of 241 teacher firings. At the time, Gray stated that he wanted to look further into the 2010 teacher dismissals. Fast-forward to 2011, we have heard nary a word from Mayor Gray on this issue now that he has been elected as city mayor. I guess with all of the ethical dilemmas the Gray administration has faced during his short tenure as mayor – teachers’ dismissals aren’t the priority they once were while he was campaigning. If Gray doesn’t take the time to review the IMPACT controversy, then shame on him.
Given that USA Today newspaper broke the story on March 28, 2011 that half of all DC Schools likely corrected students mistakes and cheated on standardized tests, one has to wonder why Chancellor Kaya Henderson is moving forward with the dismissal of teachers based on flawed standardized test score data. Unfortunately, it took Henderson three years to finally support an investigation into allegations of a DCPScheating scandal that was previously made known to the Rhee/Henderson administration by former State Superintendent Deborah Gist in 2008. It begs the question, can we really trust that a comprehensive investigation will be completed by the DC Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby who appears to be a one man operation? Given that USA Today newspaper had an entire investigative team of 12 reporters when looking into cheating on standardized tests and former Governor Sonny Perdue had Georgia law enforcement to take over their investigation into the 2010 Atlanta public schools high erasure scandal after he declared a local investigation as “woefully inadequate”, why should we expect anything less in our nation’s capital?
Now is the time to support the end to the test driven culture in Washington, DC and elsewhere. I concur with teachers and parents for education reform that we must demand a call to action and insist on a thorough federal investigation of the extent of cheating in DC Public Schools over the past three years, the causes and the consequences, and needed corrections in our school system culture. This investigation must address specific allegations of erasure and falsification on answer sheets, as well as any district actions that might have encouraged cheating, or that were taken to cover it up. It is also time to call for a moratorium on the IMPACT evaluation system and teacher terminations until a federal probe has been conducted into the DCPS cheating scandal. Anything less would be a real tragedy.