CBS on DCPS

The future of urban education?  On this evening’s CBS News, Katie Couric and company threw the spotlight on Washington, DC Public Schools and DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee.  The relative puff piece credited Rhee with shaking things up, getting rid of the dead wood, and taking the steps necessary to change the culture and performance of an urban school system that has been in perpetual decline.

Yes, many would — and have — questioned some of Rhee’s actions.  The local AFT affiliate has had their issues, particularly with the notion of “firing” teachers.  Parents have been frustrated by being cut out of the loop, particularly when it comes to school closings and the elimination of principals they love.  But meaningful reform does not come without criticism.  If everyone agreed with Rhee, then she was likely avoiding hard decisions and just rearranging the educational furniture.

But there was one thing about the CBS segment that bothers Eduflack.  Rhee is shown teaching in an elementary school classroom.  For those of us in the greater DC area, we read about Rhee and DCPS almost daily.  (I personally think the Washington Post goes out of its way to find bad photos of the Chancellor.)  But I have never read or heard anything about her teaching in the classroom.  If she’s doing it, she needs a PR team to better promote it.  If not, the footage just contributes to the larger criticism that many actions are just for “show.”

The larger issue was the classroom Rhee was teaching.  Maybe it was the camera angle, but it appeared she was teaching to an virtually all white elementary class.  Nothing wrong with that, no, but if Rhee is taking a serious stand talking about the change needed to improve DCPS’ performance, she should be showing it in the classrooms that are most affected.  She should be in SE DC, and not Upper NW.

At the end of the day, though, we know this is all just the dress rehearsal.  How much longer will friends and foes alike give Rhee (and Mayor Fenty) until they ask to see the test scores and demand to see improvements in achievement?  Ultimately, it is all about the numbers.

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