Rothstein on the “Manifesto” of Fenty-Rhee h/t Mike Klonsky

Rothstein on the Fenty-Rhee “Manifesto”

Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City public school system, and Michelle Rhee, who resigned October 13 as Washington, D.C. chancellor, published a “manifesto” in the Washington Post claiming that the diffi culty of removing incompetent teachers “has left our school districts impotent and, worse, has robbed millions of children of a real future.” Th e solution, they say, is to end the “glacial process for removing an incompetent teacher” and give superintendents like themselves the authority to pay higher salaries to teachers whose students do well academically. Otherwise, children will remain “stuck in failing schools” across the country.

Klein, Rhee, and the 14 other school superintendents who co-signed their statement base this call on a claim that, “as President Obama has emphasized, the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher.”
It is true that the president has sometimes said something like this. But in his more careful moments, he properly insists that teacher quality is not the most important factor determining student success; it is the most important in-school factor. Indeed, Mr. Obama has gone further, saying, “I always have to remind people that the biggest ingredient
in school performance is the teacher. That’s the biggest ingredient within a school. But the single biggest ingredient is the parent.”2

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Christina Schools, Discipline and the Office of Civil Rights (U.S. Dept of Ed.),,,,

Although the investigation began in the spring, Christina officials did not publicly confirm its existence until The News Journal called about this story. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan first mentioned districts were being investigated at a conference in late September hosted by the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office and the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division. The school districts under review are in Delaware, New York, North Carolina, Utah and Minnesota.”

This is not true, the U.S. DOE (Duncan) announced the reviews (while not mentioning DE specifically)  in March: HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Generally, one would not comment on a review until completed or asked so I am not sure why today’s article would lead with “although”

That aside. I am very happy we were audited. When I joined the Christina School Board in 2009, I was essentially flooded with mail from Councilman Street at my home in Newark. He was informing me, case by case, of his concern that CSD was engaging in disparate discipline practices. I was new to the board and really had no perspective. Last November (in the immediate aftermath of the Zach Christie national news story), I scheduled a meeting with Councilman Street and we met at his office for a discussion on school climate. I had already taken a stand in the board room and at public meetings with my votes, refusing to expel a kindergartner for a box cutter in July as well as my public displeasure over the handling of the Zach Christie case. I informed Councilman Street at this meeting that I shared his concerns regarding  discipline and moreover that I possess a complete and total opposition to Zero Tolerance policies. Examples of works that informed me are HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

Soon thereafter Christina initiated its annual Code of Conduct review meetings. During these meetings, the parents, teachers and administrators as well as Councilman Street engaged the process to make changes to our code. While I was not pleased with how the process worked at each step, I was pleased at the result: our new Code of Conduct has eliminated a zero tolerance approach. This is a major victory. Removing a policy that yielded a racially disparate result was a critical step in changing the culture of our district.

At the same time as our meetings to change the code last Fall (2009) into the Spring (2010), Dr. Lyles, our Superintendent, implemented a discipline data dashboard, to better track the nature of and frequency of discipline referrals. While I have voiced concern about this dashboard from a causal standpoint (does the dashboard itself drive behavior?), it has been a vital part of CSD understanding what it does with regards to discipline. Whether or not it has a causal relationship, CSD discipline referrals have significantly decreased during its use. In addition there has been a cultural shift towards keeping kids in schools rather than expelling them.

Kicking children out of school simply does not work, the data is clear on this.

While it is convenient to just remove the problem from our schools, the greater public trust demands a better answer as zero tolerance policies just end up sending kids to prison more often than is acceptable.

I have the utmost faith and respect in our educators and administrators, particularly at the building level, to use our new Code of Conduct to protect the learning environment, address root cause of disruptive behaviors, and to make sure each party (student, teacher, parent) gets a result that is in the interest of the student first. We are not a charter school district. We can not skim or cream our student population. We do not choose who attends. We are morally obligated to do our best job for each and every child who comes through our doors regardless of any status whatsoever. It isn’t easy, but our staff knows this and remains committed to excellence and equity and school climate can not be an exception, it must be at the core of any excellence and equity effort(pages 7 and 8).

While the results seem shocking, I want everyone who reads today’s News Journal story to know that the issue was under review by our board last year, and will remain under review forever. I want to thank Councilman Street for all of his efforts on this issue and to offer him a reminder: I haven’t gotten very many letters since March to my home, so I hope he hasn’t either forgotten my address or my stalwart support of his concerns. They continue to be shared, very deeply. In the event that his letter writing has subsided due to the actions of our district, do not be afraid to let the News Journal know that too…here: and Staff reporter Adam Taylor contributed to this story. Contact Nichole Dobo at 324-2281 or

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