- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 29, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

D.C. Council candidate Kevin B. Chavous made some interesting comments Tuesday morning on his way to another day of campaigning.

“I think we need to consider parent unions, or parent triggers, as part of the D.C. school reform mechanisms,” said Mr. Chavous, who sipped coffee and water at a breakfast meeting as I chowed a short stack and bowl of grits (with cheese, thank you very much.)

He pointed out that several states, including the king of the left-coast leaners, California, and lawmakers and parents in some other states are pushing such game-changing rules of engagement to not only reform schools but to fully engage parents in their children’s education.

California’s first-in-the-nation law grants practical and unparalleled rights to parents who can petition changes in staffing, management and even programs in their children’s low-performing schools. All of those aspects of parental authority were ignored in President Obama’s proposed Elementary and Secondary Education Act and former President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act.

The California law goes still further, encouraging parents of a targeted school and the campuses that feed into them to exercise such options as conversion to a charter school or closure of the school.

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, where post-Katrina public schooling was resurrected by charter schools, endorses parent triggers. And Florida lawmakers are in the throes of approving such a bill this week.

Mr. Chavous - who is trying to recapture a seat formerly held by his father, Kevin Chavous (a lawyer, author and nationally recognized school reform expert) - said parental involvement is perhaps the single most important component missing in the education establishment’s decision-making process, especially when the schools are low performing and their students are low achieving.

“We should be encouraging parental engagement and parental intervention every step of the way and not merely when a school is troubled academically or a child has poor grades or discipline problems,” said Mr. Chavous, a 27-year-old Democrat trying to unseat incumbent Yvette M. Alexander in the Ward 7 council race.

Some parents said D.C. school authorities simply do not want parents in traditional public schools.

“DCPS doesn’t even welcome parents,” a mom affiliated with Burroughs Elementary said Tuesday evening at the Ward 5 Education Council meeting. DCPS doesn’t require parental involvement, encourage parents or entice parents.”

That sounds about right.

Lord knows D.C. officials need to pull the trigger on parents, too many of whom are M.I.A. when it comes to their own children’s schooling - unless something goes terribly awry, like an act of violence or some other traumatic experience.

Indeed, parents who attended the meeting were asked to suggest ways to urge parent attendance for an upcoming meeting of the Gray administration, in which school closings and budgeting will be aired. I suspect even the likable public schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and charter-school friendly De’Shawn Wright, Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s go-to man on education, won’t get a free pass at this meeting.

Saturday’s child

All eyes will again be cast upon Ward 5 on Saturday when a half-hearted attempt at a candidates’ debate is scheduled to be held on the campus of Catholic University.

I say half-hearted because while more than a dozen candidates are officially in the running for the open council seat, voters and other interested parties will hear from only five, the lone Republican and four Democrats, because the League of Women Voters and other movers and shakers sponsoring the debate said they wanted a debate not a forum.

Loud is the reaction of residents, many of whom are planning a boycott of the debate, saying the weeding out of even minor candidates was undemocratic - and how right they are.

Each of the five candidates selected to speak, as well as those who didn’t make the league’s list, has something to offer.

Moreover, WTOP’s Mark Segraves, one of the hardest-working reporters in the Washington region, is an adroit journalist who as moderator could have handled a much larger group with his microphone on mute and his right hand tied behind his back.

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

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