The first day of school rolled around and, without much fanfare, everyone made it through alright. My own first few days were uneventful; I had a solid start and I’m ready to work for a new (and old) set of students. But what was particularly interesting about this year was that many extra eyes–from around the city and from around the education reform community nationwide–were closely monitoring how DCPS “opened” its new school year.
People are “watching” DC now, for sure, for a number of good reasons. They want to see the rippling impact of the IMPACT evaluation system as well as how the new union contract changes the education game (if at all). The one thing, however, that I currently see most evidence for these days is related to neither IMPACT nor the collective bargaining agreement…
It’s all about politics; it’s election season.
Everywhere I walk in this city, I see flyers and billboards and canvassers and ads of the various DC Council candidates. Residents prominently stake yard signs to show the public their allegiances. A number of canvassers stealthily dropped signs in our yard. A house on our block is attempting to be ironic by placing Fenty alongside Gray.
Without a doubt, the mayoral race is certainly drawing more attention than the DC Council elections. On the one hand, there is Adrian Fenty, who seems to have lost his popular roots and is now best associated with the “elites” that run this town. An indication of this personal evolution would be the dramatic defeat that Fenty experienced in a straw poll in his home ward, Ward 4. On the other hand, we have Vincent Gray, who is the populist–the people’s choice of sorts. He is running more on a platform that uses pathos to rile the voters of DC. He is juxtaposing his deep ties with the ties that he believes Fenty has cut with his “people” in recent years.
This mayoral election is particularly interesting because, for all intents and purposes, education is the hot-button issue that seems likely to determine the outcome of the election. Ensconced in the center of the sphere of education, of course, is Chancellor Rhee. It’s a tense moment, here in DC.
Because education is the issue of this election, I’ve noticed that journalists and political pundits and commentators are making as many connections as they can between the election and education. Harry Jaffe at the Washington Examiner straight-up says that the election IS all about the schools. One quote that caught my attention more than any other was Bill Turque’s point about day one:
You’d think there was an election coming up.
Each year DCPS takes steps to try to minimize disarray and confusion on opening day. But with the mayor in a tough primary fight, school officials seemed to be going the extra mile in preparation for Monday’s beginning of the 2010-11 academic year.
I think Turque’s comment is a sign of just how intertwined are the upcoming election and the outlook for education in DC. By referencing the “extra mile” that DCPS appears to be traveling, Turque implies that Rhee–who is Fenty’s representative in the trenches–is pulling out all the stops primarily because of the election and not simply because Rhee wants to improve our school system. The insinuation is there. That Turque would blend into the political debate such an “innocent” issue as having an efficient school opening tells loads about the political backdrop to the (surprisingly-unchaotic) start of what is just another year of school for educators here in Washington DC.
Of course, because education is the divisive issue of this cycle, it’s not surprising that the candidates are “using” the issue with full force. Gray is playing smart by being dodgy about whether he would keep Rhee on board his own ship if Fenty’s were to sink. By standing on neutral ground, he is hedging himself in both directions.
On the other hand, Fenty is placing all his eggs in one big Rhee basket. I’d like to try a movie analogy here (I’m not so good with my movie knowledge). Fenty is the quarterback and Rhee is Michael Oher, the guard (or tackle–or whatever that position is called) who protects Fenty’s “blind side.” If Rhee can cover Fenty’s back, he’s going to have enough time to throw a Hail Mary to a receiver going really, really long.
On Monday night, at a packed Meridian Pint, I was able to see Fenty stand by his commitment to supporting Rhee and the current “method” of education reform here in DC. I attended an “Educators 4 Fenty” meet-and-greet. The room was full of optimistic supporters of Fenty and Rhee. Given all the negative press and the anti-Rhee agitation in the blogosphere, I was truly surprised by the incredible turnout. Rhee and Fenty have plenty of supporters. He’s “taken the snap” now. Here he is: