Education Reform, DC Style

By March 7, 2005General

Get a group of manufacturers together and you will hear about the issues of legal reform and health care. As manufacturers, major taxpayers, citizens and the biggest end user of the US education system, you will also hear every manufacturer become quite passionate about the need for education reform.

So we all cheered a few years back when the dismal DC Public School system undertook education reform in earnest. Not to be outdone by run of the mill reformers, DC tabbed their effort as “transformation”. Nosirree, nothing as tepid as plain ol’ reform for the mighty DC Public Schools. This would be nothing less than transformation.

And their plan was pretty good. They set performance targets for each school. Those schools that missed their targets two years in a row were then “transformed”. This meant extra funding (they just can’t help themselves) and a new principal and assistant principal. All teachers in the school had to re-apply for their jobs and the new principal could hire a minimum of 10% of them but in no event could they re-hire more than 50% of the existing teachers. The rest were tossed out on their ears, weeding out the chaff, thereby making the transformation complete. Good riddance. Now that’s what we call transformation!

[OK, those of you who still believe in education reform — and better still, transformation — stop here and go back to your “Welcome Back, Kotter” re-runs.]

Alright, the rest of you still with us? Good. Here’s the punch line: The teachers who were fired — the 50% – 90% of the chaff, the bottom of the barrel of the non-performing schools in a non-performing system — know what happened to them? They were given first right of hire for any openings at other DC Public Schools. In other words, turning the concept of karma on its ear, those who were the worst in a prior life were first in line for a better life in the schools that were actually hitting their performance targets. Over time, of course, if you follow the logic, those schools that kept absorbing the worst teachers would themselves eventually miss their performance targets no doubt.

Somewhere, even the ever-ebullient Vinnie Barbarino is crying.