But education was the arena in which Fenty made the biggest difference. He appointed a tough school chancellor, Michelle Rhee, and then stood behind her when the going got rough. Rhee put in place the most sweeping education reform in any major school system in the country. Rhee fired incompetent teachers and those who had abused students, took on the union over tenure, tied pay to merit, and gave big pay increases to teachers whose student test scores rose. As a result, student achievement improved year over year, with 50 percent more students achieving math proficiency.
You'd think the parents whose children attended these schools -- more than 80 percent of whom are black -- would be pleased. But they sure didn't show it on Election Day (in Washington, the Democratic primary is for all intents and purposes the only election that matters). Instead, the Washington Teachers' Union -- whose history of corruption is the worst in the country -- fought Rhee every step of the way, and was a major factor in Fenty's defeat. White parents, most of whom send their kids to private schools, voted for Fenty; but black parents who send theirs to the very public schools that made progress during his tenure turned their backs on him.
Fenty lost despite doing everything he could to improve the lives of African-Americans in the nation's capital, including fixing up parks in run-down neighborhoods, filling potholes, improving social services, not to mention bringing down crime and improving schools. And it's hard to avoid the conclusion that black voters rejected Fenty because they saw him as somehow the candidate of D.C.'s increasingly white minority. It's sure not a signal to other black reform candidates that their constituents will reward real progress.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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