I sat down with Chancellor Kaya Henderson on Monday, the day before her comments to the Education Department symposium on cheating. She expanded on some of the themes that were the basis for her remarks to the conference. They include the contention--also made by her predecessor, Michelle Rhee-- that lurking within allegations of cheating in the District and other urban school systems is the belief that minority children canít make significant gains on test scores without improper intervention from teachers or administrators.
Hereís our conversation, edited for clarity and length.
BT: You told the D.C. Council that the cheating allegations were harmful because they were unfounded. How do you know theyíre unfounded with an investigation still going on?
KH: Based upon what we have to date. All I can say is whatís been turned over to us, which is the Caveon report. Absent something that says otherwise, I have to go with what has been provided to us. If somebody shows me cheating has happened, nobody around here thinks I wonít act swiftly. But what I cannot do is indict my teaching force when I donít have any evidence.
I feel like what happened was two-fold with this whole USA Today thing. First, people said the flagging [of classrooms with high rates of wrong-to-right answer sheet erasures] was wrong, the methodology we used was wrong. Iím held responsible for that when itís not my job to flag. The second thing that happened was a question around the quality of the investigation and the methodology of the investigation. We know for sure that if DCPS went out and investigated its own teachers, people would say you have no incentive to turn over the results or find your people guilty of cheating. So we do what we think is the reasonable thing. We find the best people in the country [Caveon] to do this. And they say we do not find reason to say there is widespread cheating, that there are some things we canít confirm or deny. So in an abundance of caution [Caveon says] move those people out of the testing situations and we did that. But then people said their methodology is not good.
BT: I don't think they said their methodology wasnít good...
KH: That their investigation was not complete...
This is the second part of last weekís Q-and-A with D.C. Chancellor Kaya Henderson. The highlights: why she wants DCPS to be a charter authorizer, possible changes for the IMPACT teacher evaluation system, and her reasons for rebuffing a proposal from food service director Jeff Mills to take all meal preparation in-house--a plan supported by Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), author of the D.C. Healthy Schools Act.
The interview was edited for clarity and length.
BT: When you raised the idea of D.C. regaining chartering authority, it reminded people of the so-so record the District had the last time. What makes you think that it would be better?
KH: When the Board of Education had chartering authority, it was in the beginning of the charter movement here. I donít think the infrastructure was built out to appropriately support that work. And I donít believe everybody was on board with this really working. Now we have 10 or 15 years of experience in this city. Weíve seen what it takes to be a good authorizer [the D.C. Public Charter School Board is currently the sole authorizer] and what it takes to be a good oversight body. I think we are committed to schools that have a different level of autonomy.
Hereís the thing. A charter operator is not the key difference. But itís the conditions under which you do your business. If some of my principals sitting right here in DCPS buildings had those same kinds of autonomies, they would do just as well.
Why is it that we believe the only place smart, good school leaders can do the work is outside of the school district? I want to turn that notion on its head. I donít believe in a one-size-fits-all model around managing schools. Hire good people and trust them to meet the expectations you set. You have to allow them to do their thing. If the only place they can do their thing is outside the system, then the system is going to continue to produce....
BT: Sounds like you have specific principals in mind...
KH: I just know I need every tool in my tool kit to produce a district that is going to be successful. If one of them is providing leaders with autonomy, then I need that. If one of them is attracting high-performing [charter] schools and leaders back into the district, then I need that. I don't know what itís going to look like just yet. But I believe Iíve got to have the flexibility the same way that principals have the flexibility to determine who is on their staff.