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It’s a miracle anyone in DC can read

December 19, 2007

It took over a year, but Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of the DC public school system, has finally been given the approval to fire ineffective (non-union) workers in the school system’s Central Office. Apparently many before Rhee have tried and failed to get such power.

While to me this seems to be almost a nonevent, the fact that Rhee had to fight this long to get such firing power is very telling of the state of the school system. People against granting Rhee this power gave varying arguments:

I cannot support throwing civil service out the window

Have you undermined the merit system for all city departments?

But I really think this is a good move. Imagine the same situation in your office — No matter how terrible people were at their jobs, top management could not legally fire anyone. NOW imagine your office was in charge of running a school system. If your office is anything like mine, it’s a frightening thought.

The issue, I think, is captured nicely by City council Chairman Vincent Grey:

There are few things more debilitating than to follow a terminating process that is protracted to begin with, only to have your action overturned seemingly arbitrarily.

The schools are broken, and Rhee is trying to fix them by getting rid of the dead weight that is preventing change. She is also rewarding high performing teachers. Teachers at three schools who improved test scores in their classes were rewarded with bonuses of $8,000 each.

In a passing comment that shows how bad the system was, the Post says when the teachers heard the bonus figures, they assumed it was $8,000 for all of them to share. Never in their wildest dreams could they imagine getting a bonus of that size.

Rhee is not guaranteed to succeed, and if she continues to face the type of opposition seen when pursuing her firing powers, her impact may well be limited. But in a school system as bad as the District, drastic measures like hers are needed.

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