Ever since I began going to demonstrations in Washington to protest federally coordinated attacks on public schools and public school teachers, a Washington teacher named Jeff Canady has been buttonholing me and other protesters to say that to understand the attacks on public education nationally, you have to focus attention on what was happening in the Washington DC public schools. Jeff insisted all the most damaging features of federal education policy- test based school and teacher evaluation, school closings and teacher firings, promotion of charter schools and alternative teacher certification programs- were being implemented in the DC Public Schools with devastating consequences, no oversight and no critical press coverage. While the leaders of the DC Public Schools were being hailed by everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Arne Duncan as leaders of an education revolution destined to sweep the nation, they were crushing the DC Black community by firing hundreds of black teachers, closing neighborhood schools that had served Black communities for generations, and bringing in young teachers from programs like Teach for America who had no understanding of the history and culture of DC Black communities and little ability to mentor or guide Black students. What was taking place in DC, Jeff insisted, was a new form of the Eugenic policies that had always been key elements in the nation’s approach to Black communities, as well as the logic underpinning the development of intelligence testing, and college entrance exams.
Like many others exposed to Jeff’s arguments, I was rendered speechless by what he said. Even if he was right, how could we get the evidence to back up his claims when no one in the DC press or DC teacher union leadership was doing the research to prove how corrupt the DC School system was, or how CD school policies were promoting gentrification and ethnic cleansing of the DC professional class? I told Jeff many times that I didn’t have the time or energy to do research on the DC school system, or lobby Congress to expose the corruption. I had enough to do fighting off destructive policies in New York City and New York State
However, in the last three or four years, information has finally come out that has proved that EVERYTHING Jeff Canady was telling us in 2011 and 2012 was right. Recently exposed graduation scandals in DC high schools where principals and DCPS officials were “cooking the books” to make troubled schools seem successful were forcing reporters, education policy makers and politicians to look backward skeptically on all of the data used in shaping DCPS policy and conclude that the entire portrait of district success was a sham and that many of the teachers and principals forced out of the system had been unjustly terminated. The portrait of the DC Public Schools as a great American success story was not only being undermined, it was being replaced by a narrative of which suggested that real DCPS story was one of ambition, profiteering, and careerism run amok at the expense of the city’s Black community. Which not only tainted the engineers of school closings, teacher terminations and charter promotions in DC, but every foundation head, federal official and local business leader who insisted these policies be extended to other cities
To reaffirm his portrait of a “cover up” of corruption, inefficiency and malfeasance in the DCPC leadership, Jeff just sent me a 2009 report on the DC Public Schools by the Government Accountability Office which was produced for the Committee on Government Affairs and Homeland Security of the US Senate. Those who produced this report were not critical of the most devastating consequences of the DC School Reform- the closing or reorganization of nearly 50 schools and the removal of nearly 900 teachers, the majority of whom were Black. What they were critical of was the absence of reliable data systems for evaluating teachers, a complete lack of accountability on the part of staff members in the DCPS, and the almost complete absence of input of teachers, parents and community members into any policies relating to closing or transformation of schools. What came across in this report- produced nearly 9 years ago- was that extremely serious measures that affected the lives and careers of thousands of people and the education of tens of thousands of children were almost impossible to track systematically because there was little transparency or accountability in the manner in which they were implemented.
Reading this report, not only for what it said, but for what could be read between the lines, it is utterly reprehensible that no serious investigation by local reporters or the US Department of Education was launched in response. Clearly, federal officials, the Washington Press and education policy makers around the country had such a stake in the DCPS measures being a great American success story that they overlooked problems that were in plain sight.
The lesson here is devastating. To the degree that the policies currently being implemented in cities from LA to Miami to Chicago, Philadelphia and Buffalo were justified by invoking the DCPS model, what has happened in those places is compromised as well. And if you look closely you will see the same ugly dynamics- ethnic cleansing of teaching staffs, destabilization of neighborhoods, gentrification and demographic inversion.
Jeff Canady calls these policies Eugenics. Given how much of what Jeff told us ten years ago has turned out to be true, I am not about to say he’s wrong.