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Questions for the Next Schools Chancellor

Today, presumptive-next-mayor Vincent Gray will meet with presumptive-ex- chancellor Michelle Rhee to discuss the future of DC public schools.

In a way, this is a lose-lose meeting for both. As Rhee has made clear in her typically tin-eared style, she is skeptical Gray shares her commitment to a particular set of reforms. Meanwhile, Gray’s ultimate decision about Rhee is guaranteed to disappoint a significant percentage of his electorate – either those who voted for him to register their disapproval of Fenty’s and Rhee’s style of leadership, or those who voted against him to see her reign continue.

This puts Mr. Gray in a bit of a pickle, but he might as well use the opportunity to think about the essential questions he would want to ask any potential candidate to be the next Schools Chancellor. Here are five he might want to consider:

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Why Adrian Fenty Lost The City – and How Vincent Gray Can Win It Back

Now that the dust is beginning to settle from the DC mayoral race, it’s worth examining what outgoing mayor Adrian Fenty failed to understand about leadership and systems change, and what Vincent Gray will need to understand – and do – if he wants a different result.

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The (DC) Odyssey

A decade ago this month, I taught The Odyssey to a 9th grade classroom for the last time. Today, I’m reminded of Homer’s central lessons – now nearly 3,000 years old – as I watch Adrian Fenty’s tenure as DC mayor speed towards a potentially spectacular, and tragic, end.

I mean ‘tragic’ the ways the Greeks did – as a form of art based on human suffering in which some people find pleasure, but all people find wisdom and insight. And although the election is still a week away, no doubt political scientists are already scrambling to understand why a young leader who, just four years ago, began a presumptively-lengthy reign of the nation’s capitol by winning every single precinct, may now soon be out of work.

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The Science of School Renewal

There’s a revolution underway in the scientific community, and it’s changing the way we understand both the structure and the inner workings of the universe. These insights have far-reaching implications for all of us – and none of them are being heeded by the leading voices of our current efforts of transform America’s antediluvian public education system.

This is a serious problem. Here are three examples of what I mean:

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The Good, Bad & Ugly of Value-Added Analysis

I’m on the road all week — from DC to Oregon to Philadelphia to Oklahoma City — and everywhere I go people seem to be talking about the L.A. Times’ recent expose into the city’s school teachers, and the extent to which individual teachers are either helping students learn — or holding them back.

The conversations are based on the Times’ decision to use value-added analysis, which rates teachers based on their students’ progress on standardized tests from year to year. Thickening the plot, the Times produced this report using seven years of data the school district had — but had never analyzed. As the paper explains: “Value-added analysis offers a rigorous approach. In essence, a student’s past performance on tests is used to project his or her future results. The difference between the prediction and the student’s actual performance after a year is the ‘value’ that the teacher has added or subtracted.”

Because the idea of value-added analysis, or VAA, seems to be everywhere in K-12 education discussions (it has been embraced by the Obama administration, and many of the field’s leading philanthropic entities, from Gates to Walton to Broad, are intrigued by the approach), I want to offer what I see as the good, the bad and the ugly of VAA — and of the Times’ decision to use VAA as the foundation of its landmark report:

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