Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Fenty: Educational Reform Necessary

Former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty emphasized the importance of reforming public education in the nation’s capital regardless of the political consequences in Lohrfink Auditorium on Tuesday.

In his speech —  sponsored by the Lecture Fund, College Democrats and NAACP —  Fenty addressed the steps he had taken in his time as mayor.

After assuming office in 2006, Fenty immediately set out to make education reform a hallmark of his administration, eliminating the public school boards, placing the D.C.’s public education system directly under mayoral control and appointing Michelle Rhee as chancellor and his partner in reform.

“School reform is a campaign to knock down any obstacle that impedes the opportunity for every child to get an education,” Fenty said.

When he entered office, the Washington, D.C.,school system was among the worst in the country. The average student scored between 30 and 70 percent below the national average in both reading and writing at the time.

Fenty sought to undermine the assumption that a school’s performance is based on the socioeconomic background of its student body.

“It is not the kids they bring in, but what they do with them when they are there,” he said.

He cited Banneker Senior High School, located in a part of the District that traditionally presented dismal education statistics, as a counterexample. Banneker now graduates nearly 100 percent of its students in a geographic area where the average graduation rate is less than 50 percent. The school also sends the majority of its students to college.

Fenty attributed the struggles in the classroom to a lack of autonomy that restricts teachers’ freedom to experiment with alternative teaching methods and curriculums. He instead idealized the one-room schoolhouse free of bureaucracy, saying that such liberty will allow teachers to get statistical results.

To achieve these goals, Fenty said he appointed Michelle Rhee, a woman who had no school administration experience but possessed a sense of urgency and the conviction that the D.C. school system can work.

According to Fenty, he and Rhee closed neighboring schools to diminish the waste of limited financial resources, reduced central administration employment in order to readdress the student to administrator ratio and engaged the controversial issue of underperforming teachers.

“It was ridiculous to think that you would try to reform the school system without addressing the issue of human capital,” Fenty said.

The renegotiation of the collective bargaining agreement and the institution of merit pay shifted the focus of the tenure system; teachers now must achieve certain standards dictated by a teacher evaluation program based on students’ yearly progress.

This new program resulted in the dismissal of 450 underperforming teachers, a political lightning rod that jeopardized Fenty’s popularity. According to Fenty, however, standardized test scores grew in the double digits, graduation rates annually increased and teachers who did meet the higher standards received significantly increased pay.

Fenty acknowledged the political risks he was taking in making such hard decisions but deliberately refused to scale back changes for political gain.

“Since we don’t know where the line is anyway, let’s just make as many tough decisions as possible and hopefully we won’t cross it,” Fenty said.

Despite the loss of the last mayoral election, Fenty defended his actions based on the tangible effect his changes have had on student and teacher performance within the D.C. school system.

“There is a lot more to public office than getting re-elected,” Fenty said.

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