Fenty, Gray, Rhee and DC's schools

Way off topic, but a personal interest of mine, which makes it on topic:

It looks like Gray has beat out incumbent Fenty in the DC mayoral primary, which, in DC, is all that matters.   Everyone said that Fenty's reelection prospects came down to the schools, schools and schools.  And there were lots of reports about how everyone loved Rhee (the new hard-headed chancellor of public schools that Fenty appointed) and that the schools were doing a lot better.

The strange thing is that over 80 percent of the whites in DC voted for Fenty and over 80 percent of the blacks in DC voted for Gray (both Fenty and Gray are themselves black).  Also, some 80 percent of the public school kids are black.  So, if the election was about the schools, and the schools are doing so much better, why aren't black parents happy about it?

Obviously the blacks aren't happy about Fenty.  That could be for reasons besides the schools.  It could also be that people are less happy than reported about the job Rhee is doing with the schools.  I lean toward the latter explanation.  I'm not particularly impressed with the statistics that have been reported showing improvement.  A lot of the apparent improvement, I fear, is coming from changes in the composition in students, particularly a reduction in the number of special needs students and an increase in the percent of white students (see here).  What we need are "value added" statistics, like the infamous stats reported in the LA Times, preferably broken out by Ward.  I think those statistics, if they were available, might tell us a lot about why the DC mayoral election went down the way it did.

Update:  Matthew Yglesias has interesting things to say about the DC election and school reform.  And the statistic (which seems to contradict my own supposition) that 62 percent of parents with kids in the public schools supported Fenty, surprises me.  My impression has been that Rhee has catered a lot more to the few public schools with white kids but that black parents were unimpressed.  I think the broader lesson is less about the big-picture approach that Fenty and Rhee took with school reform--accountability, good performance measures, incentive pay and all that.  It's more about the lousy way they implemented the new policies.  Clarity and transparency were lacking.  The details of implementation seemed rushed and poorly thought out.  Rhee seemed far more dedicated to selling herself to the national media than to actually managing the school system.


  1. Michael, I put some statistics on education in D.C. at http://dcfactsplease.tumblr.com

    There are a number of critical issues.

    Yes test scores went up, but the city did not achieve its targets for the test scores, particularly for black, latino, second language, disabled, and economically disadvantaged children.

    We still have about 50-60 percent of 4th and 8th graders who can't read or do basic math.



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