Pete Tucker responds re: Wal-Mart, Rhee & DC schools

From Pete Tucker:

I take issue with the anonymous response to my interview with Tabrian Chas Joe, a talented youth organizer in Detroit who works with B.A.M.N. Tabrian discussed Robert Bobb’s performance as the Emergency Financial Manager for Detroit Public Schools and how Bobb has partnered with private corporations like Walmart. My written piece discussed the possible impact of Bobb’s returning to the District of Columbia, where Walmart has been throwing serious money around and is looking to locate four new stores. Below are three areas of disagreement.

1. The anonymous respondent states, “I don’t see how [Tabrian] is an expert on any of this.”

Who is an “expert”? Are the “experts” only those who carry out “school reform,” but not those who are subjected to it? This will certainly lead to a skewed point of view of “school reform,” like that which can be found in both the local and national media, and nowhere more glaringly than in the pages of the Washington Post, which either owns or is an education company.

By defining “expert” so narrowly, it effectively silences any critique coming from those at the target end of these policies. That’s a shame. We all benefit from hearing different points of view. Critical to any meaningful discussion of this subject is hearing from students such as Tabrian who can offer insight into what it’s like to endure “school reform.”

It’s not just students who have been silenced, but parents and teachers as well. In D.C., you can’t be an “expert” on “school reform” unless you toe the party line put forward by the Washington Post and carried out by the mayor (first Adrian Fenty, now Vincent Gray) and schools chancellor (first Michelle Rhee, now her number two, Kaya Henderson).

“School reform” in the District of Columbia – and Tabrian described Detroit similarly – has, in fact, resulted in the disenfranchisement of huge numbers of (black) DCPS students, while benefitting some of the highest achieving (white) public school students in the country. Unfortunately, it seems that anyone who says this is, by definition, not an “expert.”

2. The anonymous respondent states, “Rhee was, according to many DC families (including us)…

quite good for the city’s schools.”

This sentence would be accurate if one word is added: “Rhee was, according to many white DC families, quite good for the city’s schools.” The recent mayoral election bore this out. The white wards went overwhelmingly for Fenty (and Rhee), while the black wards went overwhelmingly for Gray.

Unfortunately, Gray is now carrying out many of the Rhee/Fenty education policies. This is surprising since it was Gray’s opposition to these policies which resonated so strongly with voters and helped him defeat an incumbent mayor who had the backing of the Washington Post and a war chest of more than $4 million.

3. The anonymous respondent states that many teachers felt Rhee was quite good for D.C. schools.

I have found DCPS teachers to be overwhelmingly opposed to Rhee. The latest indication of this can be seen in a recent report showing 40 percent of teachers offered “bonuses” by Rhee turned them down. Why would a teacher turn down a bonus? After dealing with Rhee for three years, many DCPS teachers no longer trusted her and were worried about what rights Rhee would take away in exchange for such generosity.

In turns out, the teachers were correct to be skeptical. Just four days before the election, in her address to the award-winning teachers at an upscale event at Union Station, Rhee made no mention of the fact that teachers would have to give up certain rights in order to receive their “bonuses.” The “bonuses” were partially funded by $64.5 million in private donations, including $25 million from Walmart’s charitable foundation.

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