August 27, 2008

Our Views: ; Saving Schools in Washington; A New Head of the Public Schools in D.C. Is Fired Up and Firing

By Dmedit

SPENDING per student in the Washington, D.C., school system is 47 percent above the national average. Results are not. In fact, educational results are among the nation's lowest.

The Associated Press described D.C. schools as "the nation's most dysfunctional school system."

The latest data from the Census Bureau said D.C. schools spent $13,446 a year per student. The national average is $9,138.

There are many reasons for poor academic results, many of them socio-economic. A child who is neither ready for school nor much interested in it will fare worse than the child who is ready and raring to go.

That is no excuse for a bloated bureaucracy, ineffectual principals and schools that are falling apart.

The new chancellor of D.C. schools, Michelle Rhee, has hit the ground running by closing 23 schools, firing 36 principals, and putting hundreds of teachers and administrators on notice.

Rhee wants what the public wants - results.

D.C. public schools are losing the enrollment battle with charter schools, which are taxpayer-funded but independent schools. Given the chance to opt out of D.C. schools, parents are doing so.

Rhee wants to reinvigorate the public schools.

"My goal is to make D.C. the highest-performing urban schools system in the country," Rhee said.

Certainly given that it is one of the most expensive, it should be. Despite all its spending, many schools in D.C. have leaky roofs, broken fire sprinklers and broken toilets. They also have a broken spirit.

Rhee is not all about firing people, although she has sent termination notices to 750 teachers and teacher aides this summer.

She would like to raise teacher pay to as high as $131,000 a year. In exchange, teachers would give up seniority, be placed on probation for one year, and risk being fired.

Her goal is to make equality truly equal. The soft prejudice of low expectations must end, especially in the nation's capital.

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