Our time in office and in charge of the school system of Washington, D.C., is quickly drawing to an end. Monday is Michelle’s last day as schools chancellor, and Mayor Fenty failed to win the Democratic primary last month. A new mayor will be elected next week.
During our nearly four years in office we pressed forward an aggressive educational reform agenda. We were determined to turn around D.C.’s public schools and to put children above the political fray, no matter what the ramifications might be for ourselves or other public officials. As both of us embark on the next stages of our careers, we believe it is important to explain what we did in Washington, to share the lessons of our experience, and to offer some thoughts on what the rest of the country might learn from our successes and our mistakes.
Public education in America, particularly in our most troubled urban neighborhoods, has been broken for a long time, and nowhere more so than in our nation’s capital. When we took control of the public schools in 2007, the D.C. system was widely considered the lowest-performing and most dysfunctional in the country. Schools regularly failed to open on time for the new school year, due to leaking roofs and broken plumbing. Textbooks and supplies arrived months after classes began–if at all. In the 10 years before we came into office, the district had gone through six schools chiefs.