- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2005

On May 3, Superintendent Clifford Janey released his plan to reform D.C. Public Schools (DCPS). On May 10, an editorial in The Washington Post asked, “Will D.C. Support Mr. Janey?” On May 26, Mr. Janey wrote a brief explanation of his plan in The Post, “Three Ways to Better Schools,” and concluded with these three sentences: We know how to help children learn. We have a plan to do so. Now, we need the people of the District to help us get the job done.” Is Mr. Janey in search of a hallelujah chorus? Does he expect The Post to deliver?

To be fair, we are not on the same page as The Post when it comes to Mr. Janey’s plan. Editorialists at The Post characterized the Janey plan as “ambitious,” when the truth is that it exemplifies the type of offering that satisfies the labor unions — organizations that, by the way, have essentially been running the school system for two decades. How else to explain Mr. Janey’s admission out of one side of his mouth to Congress that both principals and teachers fall way short of expectations, and then out of the other repeating the union demand that educators need more “professional development” and larger salaries. Consider, too, that Mr. Janey provides no timetable for when parents can begin holding his administration accountable. In fact, the superintendent told the news media and the public that his plan to turn around schools would take three to five years, but told The Post in a meeting in April, before the release of his plan, that “it could take as long as seven years.”

Three years? Five years? Seven years? D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) is one of the slowest-churning bureaucracies in the city: Parents know their children don’t receive books and other classroom resources on time; and teachers know they don’t receive their paychecks and classroom resources on time.

Mr. Janey is quite familiar with those problems — and others as well. Indeed, what has been brewing all school year at Jefferson Junior High on Mr. Janey’s watch is a microcosm of the big picture that the superintendent claims he wants to address. Jefferson parents and faculty have been speaking with one voice, railing to DCPS about a teacher shortage, aged facilities and poor leadership since last fall. Yet, now that the school year is essentially over, the Janey administration sends its regrets — via The Post — about the “unsettled” school year. That’s not the hallelujah chorus Mr. Janey expected. For weeks, parents have been protesting outside Jefferson. On Thursday, they united outside DCPS headquarerters on North Capitol Street NE to again blast the superintendent. Those parents and teachers have legitimate concerns that should have been addressed at the beginning of the school year — not toward the end. Unless, of course, Mr. Janey is trying to dismantle Jefferson, one of DCPS’ shiniest stars of academic achievement.

We hardly discredit the superintendent for trying to get the readers of the city’s largest newspaper to join him on his road trip to school reform. (We encourage him to address the readers of this newspaper.) But as we articulated in an earlier editorial, the issue is not who will follow the superintendent’s lead, but where the superintendent is headed.

School reform doesn’t trickle down into classrooms. It entails a process that must engage parents and educators every step of the way. Successive superintendents have preached to well-orchestrated choirs, while underachieving students are shuffled from grade-to-grade. Will Mr. Janey do as his predecessors?

We hope the District’s “new” superintendent appreciates a key lesson from Jefferson and other schools: It’s the parents and teachers — not the editorial writers at The Post — who must buy into a superintendent’s short- and long-term goals and other considerable decisions, lest those proposals become mere words on throwaway paper.

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