Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

Rhee-Visiting the District of Columbia Public Schools (IV)

May 31, 2008 2 min read

If the DC City Council wants to signal that it intends to keep Chancellor Rhee accountable, it will reject the nomination of Dr. Hess and Prof. Wong. If it does not seize this moment, the Council is less likely to get the information it needs before the Chancellor acts, and will continue to be confronted with fait accompli. This may seem like a trivial decision. I say it is strategic.
Time for DC’s City Council to Draw the Line.

Hess and Wong should not be rejected because they lack academic fcredentials or respectability, but because the Council honors it. As a matter of professional ethics, asking a researcher who has praised and been praised praised by the Chancellor (Hess) and another who is on record favoring Mayoral takeovers (Wong) (see here and here) (Wong) to review her strategy places them in a difficult situation.

School reform in the District of Columbia is every bit as much a high stakes test of Chancellor Rhree Plans and Mayor Fenty’s judgment as an academic exercise. Surely Hess and Wong realize that the City Council must believe that the reviews are completely free of any taint of bias. DC citizens need to believe that whatever findings the Council uses to make future decisions about the school system, those findings are the result of work by completely independent experts. Moreover, the Public Education Fund’s considerable investment on DC’s behalf should not be jeopardized by a problem that can be avoided easily. Put this way, I’m sure the two researchers would understand the need to step aside.

Ten years ago a shortage of expertise made it almost impossible to find qualified evaluators without conflicts. That time his behind us. Third party evaluation of public education programs is now a significant national market with many credible independent researchers and firms.

It is unfortunate that the Chancellor is months behind schedule in putting this recommendation to the Council. Nevertheless, that shortfall is no excuse for doing the wrong thing. “Haste makes waste,” and the City Council should not permit the Chancellor and Mayor to railroad it into such an important decision. Many firms have the knowledge of DC and urban school systems required to do the job, research infrastructure unavailable to Hess and Wong, and the capacity to begin work on very short notice. Given that independent third party evaluation has been a well-recognized “best practice” since the mid-1990s, I can’t fathom why the grantor, the Mayor and Chancellor, and City Council are only visiting the matter now.

This is one of the few chances the Council will have to do get back in the school reform process without being seen as obstructing change or undermining the Chancellor. No one can argue against the need for evaluators without the least taint of conflicts.

Marc Dean Millot is the editor of School Improvement Industry Week and K-12 Leads and Youth Service Markets Report. His firm provides independent information and advisory services to business, government and research organizations in public education.

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