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Henderson’s record deserves examination
This Saturday, D.C. Public Schools chancellor and Georgetown alum Kaya Henderson (SFS ’92, G ’07) will receive an honorary degree from Georgetown for her contributions to education reform in the D.C. public school system since she first became chancellor in 2010. Henderson is known for transforming DCPS classrooms and was named one of “World’s 7 Most Powerful Educators” by Forbes in 2011, and her honorary degree from Georgetown is an opportunity to analyze and challenge her education policies.
Often cited as Michelle Rhee’s protégé, Henderson has enacted and developed various programs and policies throughout her educational career, most notably IMPACT, a teacher-assessment system aimed to ensure the effectiveness of teachers in DCPS classrooms. However, its focus on standardized test results leaves out many important factors that comprise good teaching. The system’s reliance on test scores also creates a disparity in the distribution of good teachers throughout the District, since high scores are easier to attain in wealthier school districts.
In addition to a lack of incentives for effective teachers to work in lower-income districts, the system prevents teachers from using interactive teaching methods. Due to the extensive material that needs to be covered in a limited amount of time to prepare students for standardized tests, teachers must implement lecture- and memorization-styled lesson plans coupled with an increase in homework—a style, statistics suggest, that is typically less effective with poorer students. With a system that leaves little room for flexibility, interactive teaching methods that allow for the simulation of student growth are virtually eliminated.
With IMPACT, teachers can be fired if students’ test scores are not up to par. While valuable in theory, it can lead teachers and administrators to inflate test scores, evidenced by recent DCPS cheating allegations. If the these are proven true, Henderson will have to further reevaluate the reform she has been defending. Henderson’s response to the allegations went only as far as concern that people would rather doubt that minority children can make significant improvements on tests than believe in the system.
Although her policies can be considered academic hindrance rather than progress, Henderson’s commitment to raising DCPS to national standards and general educational activism justifies her honorary degree. Even so, Education Week and her visit to campus are prime opportunities to discuss academic inequalities and the need for further policy reform throughout D.C., especially when considering the active involvement of campus groups such as D.C. Reads, D.C. Schools, and the After School Kids program. The Georgetown campus only hurts itself and the Washington community if this discourse does not include an examination of the full effects of Henderson’s policies in D.C., and the possibility for a new direction in educational reform.