DC’s Gray Faces Pressure On Schools In Re-Election Bid

In a recent debate regarding education, Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray was roundly criticized by a discontented crowd of teachers, union leaders and activists upset with the mayor’s current schools chancellor Kaya Henderson. Despite recording rising scores on standardized tests, some critics feel the mayor has abandoned his skepticism of reform from his 2010 campaign.

Gray chose an event focusing on education to make his re-election campaign debut. Before a packed auditorium at Eastern High School, Gray was immediately put him on the defensive. The city’s long-beleaguered school system was criticized by the hostile crowd as tense negotiations with its teachers union could complicate the incumbent mayor’s reelection narrative that the city’s schools have improved under his watch.

According to Aaron C. Davies and Emma Brown of D.C. Politics, Gray highlighted the District’s public school system’s rising scores on tests as evidence of his seriousness on education reform in the three years he has been in office — a path on which he’d continue if reelected. However, Gray has exposed himself to the charge that he has abandoned his skepticism of reform from his 2010 campaign when he criticized test scores as the barometer of success.

The strongest applause was drawn from upstart candidates including restauranteur Andy Shallal, the owner of Busboys and Poets, and Reta Jo Lewis, a Democrat and former State Department official who indicted both Gray and members of the council who seek to replace him for alienating parents and teachers amid a forceful push for school reform.

Authorized in 2007, mayoral control of the schools was blasted by Andy who said that it has led to untenably high teacher turnover and “changed the way we put the public in public schools — people have become more disenfranchised, disaffected and disrespected.”

Additionally, he aimed a shot at the city’s support for school choice, in which many children face long odds to win admission by lottery to the most sought-after schools.

“I don’t want to play Russian roulette with our kids,” he said. “Every single kid deserves a good education.”

Reta declared that since the D.C. Council granted former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty the power to take over the ailing school system, too many “secrets” have been kept about school management.

“We don’t know when you’re going to close the schools, we don’t know why you’re going to close the schools . . . and then when the planning process takes place they never come to the parents, they never come to the teachers, they never come to the community at large,” she said. “I want you to know that the pledge that I would make to this community. . . is that it’s going to be a city that works for everyone.”