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DC Cuts Teachers, Issues Vouchers

Many education watchdogs have been wondering for years when the hammer would fall in the District of Columbia. A glimmer of hope arrived in the form of Chancellor Michelle Rhee in June 2007, only to be run out of town by the establishment in October 2010. This was technically labeled a resignation, much in the same way Soviet general secretaries were “resigned” to their dachas on the Black Sea. The difference was Rhee’s dacha was a non-profit called StudentsFirst and someone else lost their job too: DC Mayor, Adrien Fenty. Fenty, who was Rhee’s biggest fan, lost in a primary – unheard of for an incumbent, right? After he left office he joined the speaking circuit and then a law firm, but the city lost its two biggest education reformers.

This week, Fenty’s replacement, Mayor Vincent Gray, witnessed something peculiar: the firing of 98 D.C. teachers for poor performance.

This shouldn’t be peculiar, but it is. The District has this uncommon bipolarity which runs downhill from the Capitol. D.C. is known for reversing decisions like the Supreme Court (maybe it’s something in the water). For instance, the first thing Gray did (before he was even elected) was publicly state that he was probably going to hire back 266 teachers that Rhee fired for poor performance, physical abuse, inappropriate contact with students, and absence. In the coming months, 75 of those teachers were hired back, a decision pursued by the teachers unions that backed Gray in the first place. With that in mind, for this many D.C. teachers to get canned at once seems a bit odd.

Perfect timing, though. After these teachers got the sack, The D.C. Children & Youth Investment Trust Corp. stepped in and issued 1,788 vouchers for new and returning students. The organization manages the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which has existed since 2004 and which was the target of aforementioned reversalism, was going to issue the vouchers anyway but the timing is just poetic.

So, as a distressed school district sloughs off part of its notoriously underperforming teaching unit, a charter program reaffirms its commitment to school choice. The hammer may not have fallen, but it’s certainly on its way down.

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