Wednesday, May 28, 2008

DC City Council's Buyers Remorse About Michelle Rhee

DC State Superintendet of Education Deborah Gist is largely unknown the the public, but she does have a role in the DC public schools. Gist reports to Mayor Adrian Fenty, but it looks like she doesn't have much in the way of power over the DC Schools Chancellor's plans for school improvement.
Now, some elected State Board of Education members, who serve as advisers to Gist, are seeking to elevate her role in scrutinizing Rhee.

The debate over who has power to approve Rhee's plan reflects a larger tug of war between state and local education officials across the country over implementation of federal No Child Left Behind guidelines. In the District, the state superintendent's office and school board perform many functions of state education departments but generally have less power than their counterparts over local schools.

Board members say they have had preliminary conversations with D.C. Council members about introducing legislation that would allow Gist to sever ties with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), having her report to the council or operate independently of both. Last week, the school board agreed to study the authority state education chiefs have over academically troubled schools.

"I think [Gist] should be more independent," school board President Robert C. Bobb said. "The whole issue of reforming education in the District is not one hand clapping; the state superintendent plays a significant role in that. In my perspective, she has to be an equal partner."

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) agreed. "I've raised [the issue] at more than one oversight hearing. You go next door to Maryland, and their superintendent, Nancy Grasmick, exercises the type of authority Deborah never had. . . . There continues to be a concern among [council] members about whether we got it right with the state component."

Gist declined to comment on the issue of independence.

States "don't have say in a school-level plan. That's not the state's role," Rhee said. "The state's role is to only monitor the plans once they're actually created and they're being implemented."
What is interesting is not the power struggle between Gist and Rhee--that happens everywhere in every state. Yes, it is a little different than in most states because of the uniqueness of DC's system of governance, but power struggles between leaders happen all the time.

What is more interesting is the personalities and the politics surrounding the power struggle. The State Superintendent position was in place before Rhee came into office and was largely without power and no one really cared because the DC Schools Superintendent didn't have the power and authority that Rhee enjoys, nor the sponsorship of the Mayor to the level Fenty affords Rhee. Part of the problem is the the DC City Council gave Fenty and Rhee control of the schools, for the most part abdicating their role of oversight, preferring to have Fenty sink or swim in the morass of the DCPS.

Now, one year into her tenure, Rhee has made significant changes and significant headway for the very fact that she is not beholden to a school bureaucracy and answers only to
Fenty. Now the City Council wants to change that by putting someone into a position of oversight. This is the Council's way to looking to have some sort of credit if Rhee's visions come to pass, and plausible deniability if they don't.

The City Council bought into, relucatantly in some cases, Fenty's proposal to take over the schools. Now they have some remorse and want to disrupt the Fenty/Rhee team's success. They know that if Fenty succeeds in turning around the schools, the City Council will have largely been politically castrated--and the City Council handed over the scalpel.

No comments: