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Adrian Fenty Crowned School Savior by Bill Maher

The outgoing D.C. mayor is positioning himself as an education champion. But not so fast.


This past week, I had the pleasure of being in the studio audience of the show Real Time with Bill Maher. One of the guests on the show was outgoing D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who was taken down in the District's Democratic Primary by challenger and City Council Chairman Vincent Gray. Maher praised the mayor's sweeping education reforms, saying to Fenty that he "tried to do big things—reform for the people—and they kicked you out on your ass."

It's the latest of what seems to be an offensive on the part of Fenty (and his also deposed former Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee) to make sure that their work on D.C.'s public schools remain fresh in people's minds. It follows an op-ed, coauthored by Fenty and Rhee, which appeared in late October's Wall Street Journal. In it, they describe what they accomplished in the nearly three-and-a-half years they spent working together together.

Here's what they want you to remember:

Washington went from being the worst performing school district in the country to leading the nation in gains on the national gold-standard test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It was the only jurisdiction in which every student subgroup raised its performance. Graduation rates have increased, and this fall the D.C. public school system saw its first jump in enrollment in 41 years.
The improved achievement of our secondary students was unprecedented in D.C.'s history and unparalleled anywhere in the country, with an uptick of 14 points in reading and 17 points in math in three short years. SAT scores of District students are also rising: up 27 points this year, on average, with a 40-point jump for African-American students and a 54-point jump for male students.
Valerie Strauss, a veteran education reporter at The Washington Post equates this promotional tour to "myth-making." She says Maher should have done more homework before anointing Fenty a casualty in the war to get things done on behalf of people who don't get it:
Did you know that a lot of people in the city don’t think Fenty and Rhee were the saviors of the school system? That the rising test scores for which they claim credit were in large part a result of reforms put in place before they took over the schools? That Rhee instituted a teacher-evaluation system that doesn't work as advertised?
For those of us who live in New York, we're about to see some revisionist history in our city, now that Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is resigning after eight years in office. Klein is every bit as big of a figure as Rhee was in the reform movement, which it makes it particularly bizarre why he's chosen to leave education altogether and join Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation as its executive vice president.
Perhaps it's because he's toward the end of his career, while the relatively young Rhee and Fenty are positioning themselves to find new work within the pulsing reform movement. Still, it will take time for a proper assessment of reforms like Rhee's IMPACT system for assessing teachers—provided that Gray's administration keeps many of them. But, from some of the praise being heaped on them and the narrative that seems to be developing, you'd think the people in D.C. waited on Superman, didn't like the cut of his jib, and passed on his help.

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