Kaya Henderson stepped down Friday as head of D.C. Public Schools, after serving longer than all but one of her predecessors. Prior to her six years as chancellor, Henderson spent three years as top deputy to her close friend, Michelle Rhee.
The Rhee/Henderson era was marked by great fanfare, but limited results. What overall gains were made masked a painful truth: the achievement gap - between higher and lower-income students, and between white, black and Hispanic students - grew.
In 2007, despite no experience running a school system, Rhee was named chancellor. She quickly became known for mass teacher firings and school closings.
Henderson succeeded Rhee, providing DCPS with a friendlier face while continuing to carry out their shared vision.
In their near-decade atop DCPS, Rhee and Henderson oversaw unprecedented instability.
Since 2007 there's been 70 percent teacher turnover at DCPS, according to Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) president Elizabeth Davis. "We are still recruiting 300 to 600 new teachers every year," Davis told In These Times.
But Henderson didn't see this as a problem. "Churn or turnover in and of itself is not a bad thing," she claimed, despite research showing that teacher turnover has significant negative effects on students.
DCPS's high level of teacher churn is the result of IMPACT, a controversial evaluation system Henderson helped Rhee put in place in 2010.
"People sort of say, 'Michelle!' like I wasn't there with her," explained Henderson, claiming her due credit in a 2015 talk at the National Press Club. Laughing, she continued, "We broke a lot of china together."
The Impact of IMPACT
In the 2010 contract negotiations between WTU and DCPS, then-union president George Parker welcomed IMPACT. The contract offered teachers increased pay, as well as significant bonuses tied to student test scores.
In exchange for greater compensation, IMPACT rolled back union protections like tenure and seniority. After signing the deal, Parker lost his reelection bid and went to work for Michelle Rhee.
The weakened teacher protections provided Rhee and Henderson the authority to conduct mass teacher firings.
This created an "atmosphere of fear," which sparked a teacher exodus. Over 4,700 teachers voluntarily exited DCPS since 2007, according to WTU.
IMPACT "is universally detested by teachers," the WTU wrote in January (PDF).