Monday, March 17, 2008

Fenty Lauds Schools; GAO says not so fast

In his second State of the District address Mayor Fenty praised Chancellor Rhee for the "dramatic steps" taken to overhaul the system.
My first hire was a Chancellor whose brand of experience, talent, and management acumen was unprecedented in DCPS history. In just 9 months, Michelle Rhee has already taken dramatic steps toward restoring a world-class public schools system.

We hired 425 new teachers and 20 new principals for the new school year. With a new tracking system, 97% of textbooks made it to the right classrooms on the first day. We also scanned and filed nearly 5 million confidential personnel documents that were piled in boxes and strewn across the floor when we found them.

In barely two months’ time, my Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso and my school facilities chief Allen Lew rehabilitated hundreds of classrooms with public and private investment in almost half the schools. We built six new athletic fields and bought new uniforms for every high school sports team. The private companies that donated their resources to this process had sought to do so for years, but couldn’t find a way into the system. Now that they have, we will continue leveraging these public-private partnerships into the future.

We’ve instituted a new culture of accountability at the DCPS central administration. With a new management team at the helm and new personnel rules in place, we will make sure every single DCPS employee is focused on the one thing that matters: educating our children.

To fulfill that main mission, we’re making major changes to help students succeed.
While agreeing with the fact that progress is being made the Federal GAO believes that Chancellor Rhee and DCPS lack a comprehensive plan to guide the efforts of all school-related agencies.
Cornelia Ashby, author of the GAO analysis, repeatedly came back to the necessity of such a plan during a Senate subcommittee hearing called so city leaders could give a progress report on the mayoral takeover of the schools.

"I didn't expect this in six months. But I'm concerned that maybe they don't have any intention of doing it," she said. "One of the reasons is to provide a road map, not for people involved in the system - but to those outside of it."

The response from D.C. officials was that a single working document collectively articulating goals from the offices of Chancellor Michelle Rhee, Deputy Superintendent Victor Reinoso, facilities head Allen Lew and State Superintendent Deborah Gist was no more valuable than the separate reports each division generates.

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