Accountability District of Columbia Education Reform Testing

John Merrow Asks: Why is Washington Celebrating Kaya Henderson’s Five-Year Anniversary?

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John Merrow says that the celebration of Kaya Henderson’s five years as chancellor of the D.C. public schools is premature.


In a scathing article, he reviews what has happened in the District of Columbia under the nine-year rule of Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson.


Last month Kaya Henderson celebrated her fifth anniversary as Chancellor of the public schools in Washington, DC. Five years at the helm of an urban district is a milestone that few big city superintendents achieve, and she has been praised for hanging in and for calming down the storm created by Michelle Rhee, whose 3+ year reign was marked by numerous controversies, included the massive scandal sometimes called “Erasergate,” when USA Today investigative reporters found that thousands of student answers were changed–and almost always from ‘wrong’ to ‘right.’


The Washington Post, a consistent cheerleader for Henderson and her controversial predecessor, celebrated Henderson’s anniversary with a largely laudatory article that included praise from two members of Washington’s education establishment, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the long time Executive Director of the Great City Schools, Michael Casserly. The latter called Henderson “one of the most effective and popular school leaders any place in the country.” As the Post put it, “Unlike her predecessor, whose turbulent style and top-down approach made enemies of many teachers and politicians, Henderson is credited with taking a more collaborative approach.” That’s another way of saying that Henderson is a “kinder, gentler version of Rhee,” a familiar observation over the years.


But a closer look at what Henderson has achieved reveals that there’s little reason to celebrate.


Looking at the huge score gaps on NAEP and the dismal performance of D.C. students on the Common Core tests (which he calls a “catastrophic failure”), Merrow wonders why the applause for Henderson.


It seems to me that the District’s academic performance–the NAEP gaps, the PAARC scores, the exodus of veteran teachers and principals–are prima facie evidence of the bankruptcy of the Rhee/Henderson ‘test and punish’ approach. Henderson may in fact be a ‘kinder, gentler version’ of Michelle Rhee, but she’s still an acolyte and enthusiast for policies that damage learning opportunities for children….


Nationally, many in education people are waking up to the failures of ‘test and punish,’ and the new ESEA pulls back on testing. Of course we need ways of assessing teachers, but teachers themselves have to be part of the process. Every other country uses tests to assess students, not to play gotcha with teachers.


The approach to ‘education reform’ begun by Michelle Rhee in 2007 and continuing under Kaya Henderson to this day is a failure and a fraud. Washington’s students and teachers deserve better……

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