Aug 27, 2009

Rhee's Leadership Drives DC Public Schools Students Out The Door

Education Notes On Line blogger featured an excellent piece on how our DC Public schools student population is shrinking under the helm of Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee- 17% less than last year to be exact. Unfortunately, our mainstream press fails to adequately cover these news worthy details. The Washington Post and local news stations continue to heap tons of praise on Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee instead of asking why DC public schools has such a  decline in enrollment over the last two years of education reform. I can't help but wonder, if education reform under Fenty and Rhee has been so successful- why then are parents voting with their feet and heading to charter schools ? Here are some insights:

Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s leadership continues to drive students away from DC public schools and to shrink the public school system

Since this post on Friday on the disappearing public school students in Washington:

Washington DC: How to Wipe Out a Public School System

and its attendant graphic

there have been some developments that make the situation worse than it seems and we may see these lines cross sooner than we thought. I actually heard another favorable report on Rhee on NPR (funded by Bill Gates) today where the commentator actually said Rhee was struggling to keep kids in the public schools. I had to pull over to the side of the road. They just don't get it. That Rhee - and Klein, et al. - were chosen to preside over the demise of the public school system, not its resurgence. Their goal is to one day have zero schools under their direct management so they can be left to go to press conferences at successful charters, whose $370,000 a year CEOs will bow and scrape in genuflecting thanks.

Gary Imhoff writes in DC-based themail

Leah Fabel’s article in the Examiner is well summarized by its headline writer: “Enrollment in DC Schools Plunges as Students Go Elsewhere”(“By Monday’s first school bell, charters project at least 28,000 students, or about 2,400 more than last year, while DC Public Schools expect about 45,000, or 2,000 fewer than in spring.”

Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s leadership continues to drive students away from DC public schools and to shrink the public school system, and she continues to escape public criticism for it. But she realizes that her Teflon coating can’t last forever, so she also continues to make optimistic predictions that stand little to no chance of coming true: “Rhee said she expects regular public schools’ declines to level off by next year and enrollment to creep up soon afterward.”

One person who understands the importance of keeping an urban school district’s enrollment figures up is Robert Bobb, DC’s former city administrator and school board president, who this year is in Detroit as the emergency financial manager of its schools, trying to persuade and beg parents to keep their children in the public schools (

Gary Imhoff

 Bill Turque in the Washington Post, August 24, 2009

37,000 to Start D.C. Public Schools Today, Well Below Budget Figure

Despite an advertising campaign and an early push to sign up students, the D.C. public school system will begin classes Monday with an enrollment of about 37,000 -- 17 percent below the total at the end of the last academic year, officials said over the weekend.

Enrollment in regular public schools often grows during the year, as students and parents complete paperwork and some transfer from public charter schools. But a spokeswoman for Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee declined to predict whether the system would reach 44,681 -- the audited enrollment figure from last school year and the basis for its $760 million 2010 budget.

Moreover, because the school system moved up the start of its annual enrollment process from July to April, the late surge could be smaller than usual."We anticipate a much smoother start to school with fewer families needing to enroll during the first few days," said Jennifer Calloway, Rhee's spokeswoman. She added that last year at this time, only 15,000 students had completed enrollment. In addition to a radio and bus sign ad campaign ("Go public and get a great free education!" said some spots), principals visited homes, held community barbecues and conducted enrollment fairs in concert with immunization clinics held by the District's health department.

Regular public school enrollment in the District has declined by more than half since 1980, while the public charter community has grown dramatically since the independently operated schools began in the 1990s. More than a third of the city's public students attend charter schools, which project an enrollment of about 28,066 this fall, up more than 10 percent from last school year's 25,363. Some analysts say public charter enrollment could surpass the regular school population by 2014.

The vastly different trends have made enrollment politically contentious. Rhee has said she expects persistent declines to bottom out, with the school system's numbers perhaps starting to edge upward. But the D.C. Council voted May 12 to hold back $27 million of the 2010 budget, because it found implausible her projections for an increase of 373 students, to a total of 45,054.

Council members contended that the charter schools would be drawing more students from regular schools. The council projected regular public school enrollment at 41,541, based on trends from the previous three years. Both sides eventually agreed to use last school year's number -- 44,681 -- as the benchmark.

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said Sunday that the 37,000 total is "probably low," given the school system's history of late enrollment. But he added: "I do question the likelihood of getting 7,681 enrolled between now and the first of October," when the first official count is taken. 

Posted by The Washington Teacher, Story courtesy of Ed Notes On Line, Gary Imhoff-themail & Bill Turque/The WaPo


Glenn Watson said...

Will the last public school teacher in DC please turn out the lights.

Metro Rider said...

That chart is distorted beyond belief. I love the fact that there is no mention of the catholic schools conversion that increased the number of charter schools students.

The truth is that DCPS enrollment was declining long before Michelle Rhee got here, and has nothing to do with her. The city's demographics are changing, with unmarried and childless residents displacing families with children, who end up in PG county. But that's somehow Rhee's fault, too, right?

Kings said...

Heather - Rhee isn't helping, though, is she? She is happy to take responsibility for improvements, even those instigated by her predecessor, but does not mention failures, like the debacle at Shaw - only reported accurately here, as far as I can tell.

So what if closing catholic schools became charters? The kids could have been absorbed by public schools instead.

Sierra said...

Let's be honest: enrollment has been declining since before Rhee was even born.

If someone has been hemorrhaging for a while, do you blame the 8th surgeon who walks in the room? Or do you blame Doctors # 1 through 7, who watched it happen and/or couldn't stop the bleeding? Or do you look for other reasons that are out of anyone's control (e.g. demographic changes, as Heather mentioned)?

I'm beginning to wonder who this blog's readership would be happy with as chancellor or superintendent. Anyone??

Anonymous said...

Let's be realistic. Why would Rhee want DCPS to lose students?? The decline was definitely happening before she entered and, yes, it looks like its continuing. I'm sure she'd rather stop it and get credit for that.

I enjoy the information and dialogue on this site, but the conspiracy theory stuff is crazy....

Anonymous said...

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Response to Sierra said...

Sierra, I am a DCPS parent. There is blame to place on Rhee. Criticism goes with being the chancellor or superintendent. All superintendents get criticized. Rhee has no problem criticizing teachers and holding them accountable. Then as parents and residents we have to hold Rhee accountable. Rhee promised parents input in many of her community meetings and transparency and this didn't happen. Many parents I know are not pleased with how these K through 8 models have turned out. They are a disaster in some of the schools. I know many who have left and more who plan to take their children out because they are not satisfied with the reform. A lot of parents can't get their children into Lafayette like Mayor Fenty so they are hitting the the high road.

Kings said...

"If someone has been hemorrhaging for a while, do you blame the 8th surgeon who walks in the room? "

If they look at the patient, pull out a knife and inflict another wound? Yes.

Anonymous said...

Why would you in your right mind send your kid to a public school when you can get them in a charter? It has nothing to do with Rhee particularly, just the plain fact that most DCPS school SUCK and charters don't.

AVParodi said...

If don't spend your time castigating the previous doctors when you are trying to stop the bleeding, you stop the bleeding.

Heather, you are always willing to argue around the subject so that Rhee comes out blameless or ahead, but you have never really entered the dialogue as to whether what is happening works. Rhee has had two years to convince people to trust her and believe that what she is doing is good for DCPS. A drop in enrollment does not bode well for that trust. You gain the trust of your students by including them in what you are doing, by inspiring them to become involved in what you are doing, not by doing it for them in the name of "this is what is best for you". It actually works the same way with community.

As for who I personally would be happy with as a superintendent it is quite simple - I would prefer that Ms. Rhee find a way to change her management style, and her reliance on people such as Michael Moody, and perhaps start to actually engage the community and teachers that she really does need in order to make whatever changes she wants work. Instead of inviting people to come to her she should go to people. She should investigate and discover where things are working and where they are not, shore up what is working and help to fix what isn't. This throw out everything model is not working (see Shaw for that model). It takes a truly gifted leader and person to realize the mistakes of their course and direction and change the path they are on. Less Blackberry and more human interaction with the people she professes to not like as much as she likes children is necessary.

Aside from that I wouldn't mind Linda Darling Hammond.

Anonymous said...

What critics of this post fail to acknowledge is that although the school population had been declining before Rhee's arrival, she has done NOTHING to reverse the trend. Outsiders continue to heap lavish, unwarranted praise on her without objectively criticizing "her" failures. Surely anyone who can magically raise children's test scores from the 13th to 90th percentiles in one year's time can reverse something as simple as student population decline, right?

Let's face it, astute parents realize they have been sold a bill of goods by Rhee and are protesting her faux, media-developed accomplishments by withdrawing their children in droves. Sad thing is, most of the children in charters are not faring much better.

Let's call a spade a spade: Michelle Rhee is a fraud!

Old School DCPS said...

Increasing enrollment and improving DCPS is like turning around a huge ocean liner on the high seas. Luckily, my school has been able to reverse a declining enrollment trend. But we have a long way to go to get our enrollment up to over 350 or even 400, where we were a few years ago. Look at the schools in PG County: there are so many elementary schools with enrollments of 500 and even 600 students. What DC elementary school has those kind of numbers these days?
As for charters, just in my neighborhood alone, there's a beautiful new charter school with a fancy website. Looking at their teacher profiles makes me green with envy. Their test scores are strong too. What parent wouldn't try hard to get their child in that school instead of the public school around the block that looks terrible, has lousy test scores and don't get me started on the teachers!
Before y'all start jumping on me for looking like I'm defending Rhee, my only point is that declining enrollment has been going on for years. Blame for it can't just be put on Rhee. It's not accurate.

Kings said...

Old School DCPS - The charter in your neighborhood might be a dream, but from a scores perspective oeverall, charters did not do as well as DCPS.

I know scores aren't everything and scores can be tampered with, but charters are not de facto superior to DCPS

Glenn Watson said...

Many posters are saying Rhee should not be blamed for things that happened before she came and that she cannot control

I agree.

But I also think, whats good for the goose is good for the gander.

Anonymous said...

How much has Rhee recieved for technology from EETT ? They closed the deal with Obama at 650 million and need to spend 9.9 for Title 1.

meaningful change said...

I don't think anyone could argue that DCPS enrollment has not been declining for years. The point is that because Rhee is so alienating that process will continue. This is an absolute shame because DC has been pouring millions of dollars in extra funding since the mayoral takeover.

Look at the budget figures over the last several years and you can see that the DC government's spending on DCPS has skyrocketed. Meanwhile Rhee is being celebrated around the country as some kind of heroine/maverick who is working miracles.

I think this is why a lot of people are pissed off. It is a betrayal of the truth.

Anonymous said...

Anyone have a citation for the multi-year enrollment figures? I can't seem to find more than the current year, and the chart appears to be a photo-shop drawing, not an actual plot

Anonymous said...

Good one on leadership and it helps a lot.

Karim - Mind Power