Former Mayor of D.C. Adrian Fenty speaks in Lohrfink
Elected in 2006, Fenty is best known for his takeover of the D.C. public school system—bringing it directly under the mayor—and his controversial appointment of Chancellor Michelle Rhee to make the changes.
He focused on two subjects in his address: the difficulty, but necessity, of urban education reform and the role of politicians to make difficult, sometimes unpopular, decisions.
In the address, Fenty said, “School reform is the campaign to knock down any obstacles that impede every child having the opportunity to get an education.”
The former mayor praised the idealized one-room schoolhouse where teachers are both autonomous and accountable for the education of their pupils. This schoolhouse is opposed to school systems whose bureaucracies remove accountability and stifle creativity, according to Fenty.
In his education campaign, Fenty said he ran into two major obstacles. First, he needed to remove school boards as the governing bodies.
“School boards are almost completely ineffective in running a school system,” he said, citing their unwillingness to make tough decisions. By incorporating the school systems into the mayor’s office, he aimed to get rid of the days of finger pointing.
Second, he needed to hire an outsider to run the newly incorporated schools. Enter Michelle Rhee, D.C.’s first chancellor.
The first words out of her mouth when interviewing for the position were, “Mayor, you don’t want to hire me […] I’m the type of person that will make it extremely difficult for you to get reelected.”
Rhee was right; Fenty lost last fall’s election to current Mayor Vincent Gray.
Some of the unpopular actions Fenty and Rhee took to reform education included overhauling the city’s collective bargaining agreement and instituting merit pay.
Although he closed the 20 percent of under-attended District schools and laid off 450 under-performing teachers, he noted that test scores have had double-digit improvements and teachers can now make up to $130,000 with bonuses.
He later admitted that he opposes collective bargaining agreements for teachers on principle because they add another layer of bureaucracy that interferes with fixing the system.
Having school systems report directly to an elected official increases accountability in his opinion.
“There’s noting more accountable than elections, as I have proven,” he said, channeling his new status as a private citizen.