Expecting What Never Was And Never Will Be?

In the Wash Post Outlook my take on the Achilles heel of mayoral control and the unavoidable  trade-off between rapid reform and controversy – and what it means in D.C.

21 Responses to “Expecting What Never Was And Never Will Be?”

  1. melody Says:

    Interesting analysis, Rotherham. Unfortunately, the standard “resistance to change” and “ruffled feathers” arguments don’t go very far in explaining the wide racial disparities in Rhee’s polling numbers. She is actually quite popular among white residents. If I were one of your PoliSci profs, I would invite you to take your argument a bit further. Is it, specifically, entrenched black interests that have been inhibiting reform and that Rhee is riling up? Please do take this line of inquiry further.

  2. Chris Smyr Says:

    Melody, you probably could look further into your questions yourself. I would imagine that more black parents are going to be impacted by what happens in DCPS than white parents given the district’s demographics. One wouldn’t then need to argue about “entrenched black interests inhibiting reform” if that were the case, since quick reform is simply hitting closer to home for more black families than white families.

  3. steve f. Says:

    But Chris,

    Wouldn’t “hitting closer to home” be good for the kids of these families? Why would black families be negatively impacted by Rhee’s rapidly improving schools?

    Something is not making sense in your statement: why don’t these families like school reform? Isn’t for them?

  4. Chris Smyr Says:

    If you’re asking me this question, then you obviously either didn’t read Andy’s article or didn’t pick up on his arguments.

    “The turmoil that goes along with transforming a school system as broken as Washington’s is a daunting challenge of leadership. Someone needed to clearly and consistently explain to residents that although the reforms were going to cause short-term pain through closed schools and lost jobs, the longer-term prize was going to be better outcomes for students and a more vibrant city.

    The record on urban education reform makes plain that there is a fundamental choice between harmony among the various adult interests and rapid progress on school improvement. While Fenty certainly could have handled the political side of the reforms more deftly, no one should think that the disruption and tension were avoidable. Rhee would not have accomplished what she has without making the choices so clear and being so, well, polarizing in the process.”

  5. steve f. Says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your response.

    Indeed, that is, I think melody’s critique here and one Andy alludes to without outright stating it. Rhee has failed to convince black families that the “reform” pain is worth anything or is indeed “for them”.

    You can’t just say that it is beneficial for black families and children and it magically becomes so, you have to work at it and “consistently explain” the value of the changes – if there is value there.

    It is, as Andy notes, a test of leadership, and Rhee has undoubtedly failed this test.

    Maybe intentionally or maybe unintentionally (which is it?), Rhee has not taken to the racial politics of the situation.

    It would be interesting to see this reality explored further and not simply dismissed out of hand as unavoidable.

    Is it really unavoidable? Can nothing be done to keep these racially tone-deaf Chancellors in a job for more than a few years?

  6. Chris Smyr Says:

    Steve F.:

    Please don’t retroactively alter arguments. Melody’s critique was that since black residents have a more unfavorable view of Rhee/Fenty, it was evidence for something inherent in her reform as unfavorable to “black interests”. And that’s not at all a straight-forward connection to make. It’s not a surprise that parents found it upsetting that their children’s past teachers– or other teachers at their schools– got fired, or that neighborhood schools were closed because they were underused. There were students that they *were* used by, and those families are not going to be ecstatic about being forced to move their kids to more crowded schools.

    If one wants to make the argument that reform is bad for “black interests”, one perhaps should find some better evidence than “look at all these black people who don’t like Rhee.”

    You should also be more specific at what went wrong. What Rhee failed at (as did Fenty) was convincing the families of DCPS that this reform was necessary, even if it provided upsetting short-term struggles. What she succeeded at was achieving a LOT of the reform measures that she set out to achieve. I don’t know if there’s a better, more measured approach to take to both, A) make change happen, and B) keep people happy, and I doubt that you know either.

  7. Interested Says:

    The issue with Fenty is not limited to Rhee, he also has issues with giving contracts to fraternity brothers and such, and otherwise alienating both working and middle class African Americans in DC. Would that he had not already created an air of suspiciousness around his government, Rhee’s reforms may have been seen as more palatable in those communities. Because he chose to run roughshod over these particular populations who make up the bulk of the likely voters, anything Rhee did was seen as an extension of his behaviors. Additionally, there are a few actions Rhee took that appeared to favor newcomer white families rather helping ALL families. It is rather paternalistic and borderline racist to say that black families don’t want reform or don’t want better public schools. Rhee is not the only person who can bring reform. She is not indispensable. Rhee is as good as gone, because Fenty will not get re-elected. His bad more than outweighs the good.

  8. Chris Smyr Says:

    Interested:

    The argument is not that black families don’t want reform, but that DCPS families in general find it rather disconcerting for the reasons outlined. I find it hard to believe that white families, in contrast, would be happy bearing the short-term changes and turmoil that occurred.

  9. melody Says:

    The main point I was trying to make is that Rotherham’s OpEd is, indeed, borderline racist (or classist) insofar as he writes off the unpopularity of Rhee among black residents to “ruffled feathers” without even bothering to countenance the possibility that there may be substantive reasons for their opposition. It’s really one of the most overused ploys in the deformers’ handbook — saying that people resist their ideas simply because they don’t like change. And it’s just bull. Even Obama used it to discount civil rights groups’ opposition to RttT.

  10. Chris Smyr Says:

    Melody:

    Charges of racism usually deserve some evidence, more so than the passing correlation (reform causes uncomfortable changes to DCPS families; DCPS families are mainly black; reform thus must be offensive to black families) you’ve observed. Please do provide it.

    Was there something about my above argument– that families were to feel the crunch of the changes brought about by reform regardless of their color — that you felt didn’t succinctly address you? And what are the underlying “substantive reasons for [black residents'] opposition” that you presume exist?

  11. A new low even by Says:

    the standards of comments here.

    Racism? Really?

    Evidence?

  12. Chris Smyr Says:

    ^

    You must have missed the KIPP discussion

    (http://www.eduwonk.com/2010/08/kipp-and-catholic-schools.html#comments)

  13. melody Says:

    Chris:

    “Was there something about my above argument– that families were to feel the crunch of the changes brought about by reform regardless of their color — that you felt didn’t succinctly address you? ”

    Yes. The poll numbers show black residents disproportionately opposed to Rhee; whites the reverse. If impacts were equal, why the disparity?

    “And what are the underlying “substantive reasons for [black residents'] opposition” that you presume exist?”

    By “substantive reasons” I mean no real improvement in their children’s schools, despite all the uproar.

  14. Chris Smyr Says:

    Melody:

    You are the one accusing someone of racism; you need to provide better evidence for this accusation.

    ‘But, look at these black people! They don’t approve of Rhee!’ is NOT evidence that the reform Rhee is fighting for in DCPS is impacting black families because they are black, or that there are “substantive reasons for [black residents'] opposition” to reform. It’s direct evidence that these reforms are impacting DCPS families, but you’ve made a leap of logic and inferred racism.

    To be clear, you’re arguing the equivalent of,

    ‘Reform causes uncomfortable changes to DCPS families; DCPS families are mainly black; reform thus must be offensive to black families’,

    and that’s not a pretty argument.

  15. Billy Bob Says:

    Thats not what she is arguing. TFA stupidity strikes again.

  16. Chris Smyr Says:

    That’s exactly what she’s arguing, asshat. She’s assuming an implicit reason for why black families don’t like Rhee, but the data only explicitly shows that black families (which are more heavily correlated with the “DCPS families” group) more often don’t like Rhee than white families (which are NOT correlated with “DCPS families”), rather than providing rationale for the disparity.

    The poll provides a correlation, and Melody is assuming causation.

  17. steve f. Says:

    Chris,

    To be fair here, I think you are dismissing that everyone here is asking to look into the issue a little further and to not just wash away the disparity in poll numbers with the old “change is hard” and “change is affecting more black families than white”.

    Is that the only reason for the poll number disparity? Could be, but there could be some other reasons? Why can’t we look into that? Or ask questions that have racial dimensions?

    Above “Interested” stated that “there are a few actions Rhee took that appeared to favor newcomer white families rather helping ALL families.”

    I don’t know the DC situation well enough to know what these actions were – so, I’d like to know what he was referring to.

  18. Chris Smyr Says:

    I don’t understand why I’m the only one here ever actually willing to use a calculator. Here goes again.

    Here is your proposed alternative hypothesis: “Reform in DCPS specifically offends entrenched black interests.”

    Here is the null hypothesis: “There is no racial component to the impact of reform on DCPS families.”

    Of the 780 registered Democrats that participated in the poll, 68% of white residents said Rhee is a reason to vote FOR Fenty, whereas 54% of black residents said the opposite, that Rhee is a reason to vote AGAINST Fenty.

    To test the null hypothesis, assume that DC residents who *do not* have children in DCPS slightly FAVOR Rhee, 55% of them in total, since they like the idea of education reform but maybe value other election issues more.

    Considering that reform ideally should be good for someone’s kids, assume that DC residents who *do* have children but *do not* put them in DCPS FAVOR Rhee, 75% of them in total, since they more readily value education as an issue to vote for.

    However, considering the short-term impacts mentioned here and prior (teachers being fired, schools closed, etc.), let’s also assume that DC residents who *do* have children and *do* put them in DCPS DISFAVOR Rhee for these reasons, 75% of them in total.

    DCPS demographics suggest that 45,000 students currently attend their schools. This number gives the absolutely upper limit of the number of DCPS families total (1 student for every 1 family), but the average family size of 3.31 suggests the average family is sending more than 1 kid to school, so let’s assume the actual number of DCPS families is 35,000.

    DCPS demographics also show that 80% of their students are black, whereas 7% are white. Assume that these numbers apply to the student families as well. Thus, there are 35,000 * 0.80 = 28,000 black families in DCPS, and 2,500 white families in DCPS.

    The most recent census data for the District of Columbia shows that there are 54,000 households with children. It also shows that about 54.4% of the population there is black, whereas 36.1% is white. A rough estimate made from these numbers would suggest that there are 54,000 * 0.544 = 29,000 black families with children in DC, and 19,500 white families. Assume that every household with a child is going to send that kid to school, either to DCPS or somewhere else.

    Thus, if you were to choose a black family with children at random from DC, there would be a 28,000 / 29,000 = 97% chance that they were a DCPS family. If you were to choose a white family with children at random from DC, there would be a 2,500 / 19,500 = 13% chance they were a DCPS family.

    Assume that the sample of 780 residents that agreed to participate in the poll are a good representation of the demographics of DC. That means that this group comprises 780 * 0.6 = 468 black persons and 234 white persons.

    In total there are about 250,000 households in DC, or 250,000 * 0.544 = 136,000 black households and 90,000 white households. That means that the chances of a randomly chosen black person in DC having a family with children would be 29,000 / 136,000 = 21%, as it is for a white person.

    All of these calculated numbers can now be utilized to draw conclusions from the polling numbers.

    Of the 468 black persons that were polled, 468 * 0.21 = 98 of them have families with kids, while 98 * 0.97 = 95 of them put their kids in DCPS. Of the 234 white persons that were polled, 234 * 0.21 = 49 of them have families with kids, while 49 * 0.13 = 6 of them put their kids in DCPS.

    Going back to the assumptions made with the null hypothesis,

    95 * 0.75 = 71 disfavor
    98 – 95 = 3 not in DCPS
    3 * 0.25 = 1 disfavor
    468 – 98 = 370 * 0.45 = 167 disfavor
    71 + 1 + 167 = 239 disfavor in total
    239 / 468 = 51% black residents polled DISFAVOR Rhee

    and

    6 * 0.25 = 2 favor
    49 – 6 = 43 not in DCPS
    43 * 0.75 = 32 favor
    234 – 49 = 185 * 0.55 = 102 favor
    2 + 32 + 102 = 136 favor in total
    136 / 234 = 58% white residents polled FAVOR Rhee

    None of the assumptions that have brought us to these numbers are fairly difficult to make, and yet there is still a sizable difference between the % of residents that favor and disfavor Rhee along racial lines.

    It should also be noted that, while the assumptions made will contain inherent error, the general disparity between black and white assessment of DCPS reform should still be visible even if you alter the assumptions. The ultimate cause for the disparity can be generally seen from demographics alone.

    The null hypothesis, in this case, is a prosaic explanation for the polling numbers. We don’t in fact know if there are still underlying racial tensions in DCPS reform, HOWEVER:

    1) This poll should NOT be cited as evidence that there are racial implications, as there isn’t enough information to define that causation, AND because demographics themselves can explain the correlation,

    and furthermore,

    2) The onus lies on folks willing to trot out racism charges to provide BOTH the REASONING behind the racial causes argument (WHY does DCPS reform uniquely offend black interests more so than white interests?) and the EVIDENCE for the racial causes argument (what directly suggests causation?).

  19. steve f. Says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your lengthy analysis. Unfortunately, a calculator doesn’t fully examine the issues here. As you state in your post’s conclusion.

    It is not racism to look into the racial dynamic and implications of things, esp. in urban politics and education, where the history is long and complex.

    More here: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/sarameads_policy_notebook/2010/09/shrewd_as_snakes_and_innocent_as_doves.html

    here: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/sarameads_policy_notebook/2010/09/parent_opinion_and_the_dc_mayor_elections.html

    and here: http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/2010/09/dcs-segregated-past/

  20. Chris Smyr Says:

    Steve F.:

    While you mentioned it, you haven’t really responded to my conclusion:

    “We don’t in fact know if there are still underlying racial tensions in DCPS reform, HOWEVER:

    1) This poll should NOT be cited as evidence that there are racial implications, as there isn’t enough information to define that causation, AND because demographics themselves can explain the correlation,

    and furthermore,

    2) The onus lies on folks willing to trot out racism charges to provide BOTH the REASONING behind the racial causes argument (WHY does DCPS reform uniquely offend black interests more so than white interests?) and the EVIDENCE for the racial causes argument (what directly suggests causation?).”

    If you want to talk about the possibility of reform being uniquely biased against black interests, you ought to provide more than, ‘Well, there’s a long and complex history of racial dynamics.’ Sure. That’s not an argument for why current reform itself may be racist.

    Two of the links you provide address underlying racial tensions in DC, but again that’s not a reason to suggest that reform itself is racist as well. Discussion of this topic is important, but it needs to be understood that the prosaic explanation for the polling numbers is demographics, and it’s incumbent on you (since melody stopped responding) to provide the two things I asked for above to suggest otherwise.

    The 2nd link also seems a bit off. I went to Sara’s linked poll and saw the following:

    Of Fenty voters, 13% of them are DCPS families. Of Gray voters, 6% of them are DCPS families. The number of those polled that responded as such? 40 and 24, respectively. Fairly small samples. The margin of error probably prevents much analysis here.

    What about DCPS families, as Sara notes? 62% of them would vote for Fenty, while 36% would choose Gray. The number of people polled saying as much: 39 and 23. I wouldn’t cite 39 people as a good indication that most DCPS families support Fenty.

    The poll cautions: “Please note that the margin of error of combined graphs [,which is 3.5% individually,] may be substantially higher than that of the main questions.” It’d be helpful to see by how much before drawing conclusions.

    Finally, the City Paper poll doesn’t actually ask how voters are voting due to Rhee and reform. Recall that, when the Washington Post did so, the racial disparity was what initially prompted this discussion. If we were to base the discussion solely on this poll, there wouldn’t actually be any indication of a racial gap in voting due to DCPS reform.

  21. Chris Smyr Says:

    And furthermore, the Washington Post poll that we’ve been discussing seemed to have asked the question,

    “Is Rhee a reason to vote for or against Fenty?”

    The City Paper poll’s data (as unreliably minute as it is) suggests that more DCPS families will vote for Fenty than against. Hopefully one can see the difference between a reason to vote for or against the incumbent and actually voting for or against the incumbent. Of those that would vote for Fenty, some may view Rhee as a reason *not* to vote for him, but they do so anyway for other reasons. The same goes for those that will *not* vote for Fenty; some of these folks may see Rhee as a reason to vote for Fenty, but have other reasons to swing the other direction.

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