Jun 6, 2012

The Cardozo Experiment: DC Public School Gets Race To The Top Funds

Written by Candi Peterson

So it seems that DC Public Schools will be using Race to The Top (RTTT) Dollars to create more school administrators and educrats which according to the Urban Dictionary is an officer, administrator or other bureaucrats in a school district. Similar stories are taking shape around the country as districts race to the top for funds under President Obama's signature 2009 reform effort for education. 

The last two weeks have been a helluva adjustment for Cardozo Senior High school staff, of which I am a part. We just learned that Cardozo Senior High beloved principal and the administrative team will be dismantled. Principal Grant of Cardozo Senior High in NW Washington, DC announced in our May staff meeting last week that she has not been re-appointed (after 5 years as principal) by DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson. Grant in her 'Swan Song' to staff, chimed "Don't cry for me." Not unlike her predecessor, Henderson is no different than former DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee in terms of firing principals. Lisa Gartner, staff writer for the DC Examiner reported in a June 5, 2012 article : "It's become something of a tradition for DCPS to shed dozens of principals each year.... In fall 2008, the school system replaced 43 principals. That number dropped to 26 in 2009, rose slightly to 30 in 2010, and fell back to 24 last school year." Gartner noted in the article that more than half of the principals being replaced were hired by Rhee.

As is typical in our district, when a principal is not reappointed, plans quickly roll out to hire a new principal. In the interim, an Instructional Superintendent (I.S.) steps in to oversee the 'transition process' and meet with the school staff for a brief question and answer session. A first meeting with our schools, I.S., Dan Shea occurred this week. When I questioned Shea as to why our principal was not reappointed, I wasn't surprised when I got the 'pat response' often provided by our district- "we cannot share that information as it is a personnel matter." Not even with the PTA, I asked? Shea responded no. 

A day later another meeting was held, after school with the I.S. and educrats from downtown. At this second meeting, we learned that in school year 2012-13 we will be gaining a planning principal, in addition to, an experienced principal partner, a planning vice principal and an instructional specialist. As I understand it, this team of administrators will be part of a planning team (not the team who actually runs the school) and some of them will travel the country for upwards of 5-6 months to observe best practices so they can incorporate successful educational models into the turn around of Cardozo Senior High School, which I believe will coincide with the school's planned re-opening in 2013. I don't think it is happenstance that the end of the planning year will coincide with the re-opening of the school's soon to be newly renovated building. Currently, we occupy an archaic elementary school building (known as Meyer Elementary), which has been modified with demountable trailers to accommodate our size.

In our last meeting, we were advised that approximately 6-7 DC Public Schools will receive Race to the Top (RTTT) Funds this school year, as well as, District funds to increase student achievement and attendance. Kramer Middle School in S.E. DC is already a recipient of RTTT funds and has gone through a similar process as outlined on the DCPS website. Additionally, Garfield Elementary School (whose principal, Ms. Tilghman was not re-appointed this year) and Johnson Middle School are slated to also receive funding. Ironically, Cardozo is  one of 38 DC Public Schools recommended by an Illinois Facilities Fund (IFF) study to close Tier 4 schools which are considered by the study to be the lowest performing and replace them with high-performing publicly-funded charter schools. (no final decisions have been made at this time, but according to statements made by DC Mayor Vincent Gray- he is in support of charter school expansion). This recommendation from the Illinois Facilities Fund study parallels the tenets of Race to the Top (allow or encourage public charter schools). It also would not surprise me for a minute, if plans are underway to reconstitute Cardozo's existing staff at the end of school year 2013, all the while using current staff to run the school while the planning principal and company are traveling and/or observing the instructional delivery of teachers and staff to implement in the turn around school model. When asked whether we could use any of our newly acquired funds to re-hire teachers we lost through excessing, we were informed by Shea that we would need to recruit more students, to get more teachers.

Race to the Top is defined as a 4.35 billion dollar contest, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), that is designed to spur reforms in state and local districts in kindergarten-12th grade education. "Districts in their plans to improve education must pledge to install a new system to evaluate teachers, use data to measure how well students are learning, pump resources into troubled schools and allow or encourage public charter schools" as reported by Lyndsey Layton, Washington Post writer in her January 10, 2011 article titled: "D.C. behind schedule in meeting Race to the Top promises."

Don't get me wrong about my analysis of Race to The Top. I am not saying that we don't need to reform our under performing schools. We do. However, if the Department of Education has 4.35 billion dollars laying around, why do we need a contest ? Why not share the wealth so that as many of our struggling schools, as possible, in the country have a chance to succeed and get the resources at long last that are needed? What's up with firing all the principals in exchange for a revolving door approach of newly hired principals that Michelle Rhee proved didn't work? Why not give the resources like Race to the Top funds to existing principals ?  After all, isn't it logical to conclude that had Cardozo Senior High School been given resources galore in the first place, sufficient staff, and a full planning year that we would have had a greater likelihood for success ? 

In the words of fellow teacher blogger, NYC Educator: "It's amazing that we jump through hoops to get race to the top money, agree to all sorts of reforms, and make such a big deal out of it when it turns out kids are the last to actually benefit from it. The money was never to reduce class size, to promote innovation, to improve instruction, but rather a chance to utilize a wishing well of Bill Gates Foundation/Eli Broad ideas hoisted upon the country. Here's a country that adores innovation in education, and no one cares whether or not it works as long as teachers and administrators can be held accountable for whatever ends up happening.... The Race is not about how well children do. It is, rather, about making clueless billionaires appear to be taking positive action on education. "

© Candi Peterson 2013


Anonymous said...

They are FULL of . . . . “ a personnel matter”; please they need to find a new song. And when Gray is taken down and he will be; then what? They are dropping like flies.

Anonymous said...

Such truth! Profound article!

Itsalltrue said...

Only one problem with your post. You called Cardozo's principal “beloved.” Not sure where you got that from. You should have polled a wider audience, including students and staff (beyond a small coterie that benefited from her tenure.) If a principal can't make substantial change in 5 years and galvanize the staff, it is time to go. There are plenty of unjust “excessings” going on among DCPS employess but in this case somebody made the right call.

Candi Peterson said...

In DC Principals aren't excessed they are given letters of non reappointment. Removing principals is a tradition under Rhee and now Henderson. If your logic is accurate, then of course we should also get rid of Chancellor Kaya Henderson and company since student achievement has stalled under her administration, not to mention to the coverup of the cheating scandal.

Itsalltrue said...

Well, KH has really only been in charge for 2+ years while this principal had a 5 year run but yes, if KH cannot produce results of some kind she should go too. Usually they leave DCPS before being asked to leave though.