- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2000

Not always best to strive for 'Straight A's'

The Feb. 16 Op-Ed column "Straight failure to 'Straight A's,' " by William Bennett and Chester Finn Jr., places 100 percent of the blame for problems in education on the federal government, which only contributes 9 percent of the total education funding. If the authors truly believe the education system is in disarray, they should be asking what states and school districts are doing wrong with the remaining 91 percent. But the article starts with the false premise that the current system has failed when, in fact, schools are having better success in educating children and academic achievement is up. Just look at the facts: Dropout rates have declined sharply, especially among minority students, while core curriculum requirements have become more stringent. Both SAT and ACT scores are up, and students are taking more Advanced Placement courses. Students in the United States also receive more instruction time than European students.

Instead of continuing the recent focus on standards, which have brought about many of these successes, the authors support a bill (the Academic Achievement for All Act) that would complicate the administration of federal education efforts and end the targeting of funds to the most economically disadvantaged schools. Proponents of "Straight A's" say it will give states and schools more flexibility, yet, as the column pointed out, the National Governor's Association (NGA) opposes it, and 70 percent of the governors have not expressed support, either. The NGA and the vast majority of governors must recognize that the bill lacks sufficient accountability. For example, student performance would be measured only after five years, and there is no definition of what would be measured or what academic results would be expected.

National PTA supports efforts to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility of federal education programs. However, "Straight A's" will only harm ongoing state and local reforms to provide quality and equitable education services to all children.

GINNY MARKELL

President

National PTA

Washington

Is 'hate speech' editorial irresponsible or sound analysis?

Your Feb. 15 editorial "Hate speech at Georgetown" is disgustingly frightening. To see an established publication even one with a conservative orientation endorsing hate is unbelievable.

You write, "A few misfits uttering foul slurs under their breath, telling offensive jokes or even producing racist tracts are just that: pathetic misfits. Their 'ideas' are no threat. Until and unless they breach the line into action, they have a right to hold their views, however noxious, without fear of being labeled thought criminals."

Are you kidding me? Of course each of those individuals has a "right" to hold hateful opinions. This is America; we treasure freedom of thought. But this also is Georgetown University, where our primary commitment is to education. Does our institution not have the "right" even the obligation to work toward the elimination of hate and prejudice on its campus?

I applaud my university for following a proactive path toward combating ignorance and prejudice. I wish my country would follow my university's example.

Every display of prejudice, intolerance or hate must be confronted every time, all the time and with no exceptions. That includes the lackadaisical attitude toward hate and intolerance of The Washington Times.

RIP ANDREWS

Washington

Rip Andrews is a senior at Georgetown.

{}

I work for Georgetown University as its prelaw adviser. Your editorial about "hate crimes" incidents on campus is the soundest analysis I have read on this controversy.

I'm going to circulate it to my colleagues at work and to Georgetown's communications office.

BRAD DOBECK

Arlington

Member comments on the latest in D.C. school board reform

Now that the D.C. Council and mayor have unveiled their joint compromise on the reform of the D.C. Board of Education, the entire public can attest to the lack of forethought that has gone into their effort and how obtuse this joint political venture is to real needs of the classroom.

For several weeks the public has witnessed the highest echelon of our government in a complete state of chaos as it has muddled through its own conflicting proposals to reform the dysfunctional school board the blind leading the blind. "Reform" is a word incorrectly used to describe what the D.C. Council is doing to the school board. "Cannibalism" would be more appropriate. The D.C. Council has not informed the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics about how it plans to present its referendum concurrently with the scheduled November election for four open school board seats. How this issue is handled will reveal what the real target of the D.C. Council has been from the start.

On Thursday, with the support of the mayor, the D.C. Council voted to create a combination board, a mixture of four appointed members and five elected members. Yet to be announced is exactly how this concoction will improve any area of public school administration. Fortunately, the public will have to say yes or no to this misalliance, which has all the signs of being nothing but a smoke screen for a back-room deal.

Why has the current elected school board not taken a position on any of the school reform models that have been bandied about? How can the current elected school board meet or exist without a declaration to the public attesting to its own viability as an 11-member body or preference for some other specific form of governance structure? What is behind the absence of a public position by the elected school board?

Several weeks ago, school board members received a memo signed by its recently elected president, Robert G. Childs, and its vice president, William Lockridge. The memo supported the creation of a board of diminished membership with the special feature of the president of the board being elected solely from the "at-large" position. This means individuals representing wards cannot be elected president. At this moment, the elected board's current president is an "at-large member" who also is a member of the appointed board of trustees. From that perspective, it is not hard to understand why the elected board has not resisted being altered by the D.C. Council. The opportunity to be elected to four years as school board president (under the D.C. Council's new combo scheme) is great for the current at-large school board president. That's a solid reason for not publicly defending the current school board structure or declaring a position on any other form of alternative governance structure.

Exactly how will education be improved in the public schools if the issue of school budget funding and sound educational planning is not coordinated by unified leadership? Since this issue is not even on the table for discussion, what are we, the general public, really looking at in the effort to reduce the size of the board and alter the method of its selection of its president?

At present, the school board is nonpartisan. Having the mayor appoint four members obviously is going to be a political arrangement that has nothing to do with education. And what of the mayoral appointees? If they fail to act in a certain way, will the mayor be at liberty to remove them at will? As for the five members who are to be elected from the public, suddenly the public is represented by a sleight of hand. How will this board function? This is an appropriate question to ask in the absence of any bylaws, code of ethics or standards of conduct to set it apart from the previous dysfunctional school board.

The Emergency Transitional Education Board of Trustees was unable to reform the District's public schools from behind closed doors, and it appears that the D.C. Council, following in its footsteps, also has failed.

DON REEVES

Ward 3 member

D.C. Board of Education

Washington

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