Yesterday’s Democratic primary for mayor in Washington not only denies a second term to Mayor Vincent Gray, it also raises major questions about what will become of the city’s school system.
City Councilor Muriel Bowser defeated Gray at the city’s polls (where turnout was dismally low) just three weeks after the mayor was accused by federal prosecutors of knowing about an illegal fundraising scheme that helped propel him into office in 2010 over then-incumbent Adrian Fenty.
That Gray is out and Bowser will now be the Democratic candidate to face off in the general election against fellow councilmember David Catania, an independent, leaves a lot of uncertainty around the future direction of the 46,000-student school system and its chancellor, Kaya Henderson.
Henderson, whom Gray tapped as his schools chief after he was elected in 2010, had been the deputy superintendent under Michelle Rhee, the divisive leader appointed to run the school system when it was first taken over by then-Mayor Fenty. Since becoming schools chief, she has continued with many of the efforts Rhee launched, including a controversial teacher-evaluation system, IMPACT. The system consists of multiple classroom observations and a test-score-based measure of student progress, and has led to the dismissal of several hundred teachers. It has also paid out bonuses for the teachers deemed most effective. Because the system is entirely controlled by the district—it’s not negotiated with the city’s teachers’ union—its continuation hinges on who is sitting in the chancellor’s office.
And whether Henderson will still be chancellor at the end of the year is a big question.
Bowser, throughout the primary campaign, was steadfastly noncommittal about whether she would keep Henderson at the helm if she wins the election. And Catania, who chairs the council’s education committee, has frequently criticized Henderson over a number of issues.
I’d expect the future of the schools to become a much more prominent issue in the general election than it was in the primary.
Assistant Editor Stephen Sawchuk contributed to this report.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.