- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Kwame Brown has made an about-face and announced that the D.C. Council will indeed hear public testimony during confirmation hearings on the schools chancellorship of Kaya Henderson.

Granted, the council chairman broke the news Friday following outcries from parents, teachers and other stakeholders (including yours truly), but at least lawmakers acquiesced.

Now comes the grilling of Ms. Henderson.

Is she a political hack, a clone or her own woman?

What, for example, are her views on the South Capitol Street Tragedy Memorial Act of 2011, legislation proposed and supported by a majority of lawmakers that would turn teachers and child-care providers into government shrinks?

How much would it cost to implement such a measure, and from where will the money come?

And speaking of money, what’s the status of the 2010 game-changing teacher union contract that includes a merit-pay program, the controversial teacher-evaluation program and the timeline on curbing expenses by closing schools?

More than three dozen schools are considered under-enrolled at unsustainable costs, and Ms. Henderson has said closing some next year is “absolutely an option.”

School closing and consolidation proposals always draw nasty and emotional racial and class commentary. Better to air the issue now, then roll the dice. (In other words, the Gray administration and council members should learn from their own ethical lapses.)

Moreover, the more information parents receive this year, the more time they have to exercise their options next year, including utilizing vouchers and charter schools.

Lawmakers must think like parents. Which will come first — the February deadline for parents’ out-of-boundary applications or a definitive school closings/consolidations list?

Other key questions center on truants and dropouts.

Police officers picked up more than 3,700 school children for truancy during the first semester of the 2010-11 school year. But while the city is seemingly pushing against the tide with a sense of urgency, what precisely is the plan and how much is it costing taxpayers?

Mr. Gray announced a month ago that his truancy-prevention test-run is being conducted in three high schools, with an underlying premise that there must be something wrong at home if kids skip school or dropout.

Theres no doubt some parents dont know or dont care that their kids are regularly skipping school. However, what lawmakers and the Gray administration fail to acknowledge is that schools carry out counterproductive policies and practices that routinely kick kids out the schoolhouse door if theyre tardy, fail to don their school uniform or cannot produce their school ID — but allow bureaucrats to keep local and federal dollars for those kids.

The Henderson confirmation hearings, which begin Thursday, will provide lawmakers an opportunity to air the dirty laundry behind schoolhouse doors and the sinister politics under way at City Hall.

Would council members Michael Brown, Jack Evans, Vincent Orange, Harry Thomas Jr. really and truly want D.C. public school teachers prowling around inside the psyches of their own children?

Has Kwame Brown, a Christian whose children attend public schools, thought through the South Capitol Street measure, which requires teachers “to universally screen K-8 students for behavioral health disorders?”

If council members David Catania, Jim Graham and Tommy Wells had children in D.C. public schools, would they think differently about the legislation and its un-Godly premise that suspects all children of having behavioral issues?

Ms. Henderson has said she is not a clone of her friend and predecessor Michelle Rhee, but will the council unveil any proof?

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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