Rhee’s Great Disappearing Act


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James Boutin is a talented young teacher. He’s precisely the type of young professional who Mayor Adrian Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee have been so eager to recruit into District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). But after one year at Columbia Heights Educational Campus, Boutin is leaving DCPS to teach in New York City’s public school system.

“I decided that what was going on in D.C. was a big political game. It doesn’t seem to me that any real efforts towards improving education are really going on,” Boutin said. While he does not dispute that reform has taken place throughout DCPS under Fenty and Rhee, Boutin feels that it has done more harm than good. “I think there has been reform. I think things have changed in Washington, D.C. But I think things are changing for the worse,” Boutin said.

Not enough attention has been paid to Rhee’s Great Disappearing Act. In less than four years, Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has rid DCPS of an incredible number of principals, para-professionals, and teachers, like James Boutin. For the hundreds who have been fired, there has been some media attention. But for the many others who have had to quit under Rhee, their departures have been met with silence.

Boutin said, “[Teachers] don’t want to work in an environment where they feel like they have to lie about what they’re doing in the classroom to keep their job. They don’t want to work in an environment where they feel like four or five of their closest colleagues, who they know are excellent teachers, are going to be fired at the end of the year. So they leave. So that doubles the amount of people that are disappearing.”

Boutin said, “At the school that I was at, they lost about half the staff the year before I came in. And, again, over this summer, I’ve been told that they’ve lost – they’ve turned over another half of the staff. And Michelle Rhee has done sort of the same thing with principals. People are being fired without even knowing what the results of the standardized test scores were. They’re disappearing. It’s hard to find a motivator to stay in that environment. At least for me. I didn’t feel like I was being treated as a professional. I felt like I was being treated like a child. And so I was definitely interested in getting out of there and I could see why other people would be as well.”

While Boutin is moving to New York City, he will continue blogging at An Urban Teacher’s Education.

(For those interested in the Washington Post‘s possible conflict of interest regarding its education coverage because of its ownership of the education company Kaplan, please see Boutin’s post “Where’s the Accountability?” This is an issue that will be explored further in the coming weeks.)

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