- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In the beginning of the D.C. education-reform era in the 1990s, officials created charter schools and uniform per-pupil costs, and it was good. Later, school authorities established curriculum standards, reconstituted the elected school board, forged a groundbreaking merit-pay plan and began saving public dollars by closing unsafe and under-enrolled schoolhouses that unnecessarily drained coffers.

The march was noble: Improve the academic lot of D.C. youths.

Officials now, however, are turning reform on its head by wrongheadedly inserting themselves deeper and deeper into the classroom.

The latest missteps occurred Wednesday when D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown offered up two poorly contrived pieces of legislation aimed at preparing students for college.

The worst of the two [-] and trust me both measures are really bad [-] is the College Preparation Plan Act of 2012. It establishes three mandates: 1) Taking the SAT and ACT would become high-school requirements; 2) students must attend workshops on the college application process; and 3) applying to a post-secondary institution would become a graduation requirement.

Mr. Brown’s efforts toward helping students prepare for college, the military, trades or any aspect of the workforce could be considered worthy but for the fact that students would be filling out a form for the sake of filling out a form.

And before I grow furious, let me point out but one reason. Several years ago, D.C. officials mandated that students prove they have performed at least 100 hours of community service as a graduation requirement. Interestingly, school officials changed that requirement after learning high-school seniors all around the city during the 2010-11 school year had failed to fulfill that requirement and, consequently, would not have qualified for graduation.

The other measure introduced by Mr. Brown, the Early Warning and Intervention System Act, is simply bad public policy.

This bill would establish a pilot project that would track student performance in grades four through nine. And if a student is struggling for any reason, government intervention methods would kick in by any means necessary.

Now, you need not have ever filled out a college application or financial aid form to know this is a derailment waiting to happen since effective teaching and learning is a two-track system.

If students are tracked but their teachers are not, what, pray tell, is the point?

Filling out any type of application, be it for employment, Social Security card, driver’s license or schooling, is part of the normal, how-to flow of life.

But mandating that academically troubled students do anything that clearly falls outside the realm of a public education system’s basic mission [-] teaching and learning [-] is surely the height of hypocrisy when you factor in the point that every and any measuring stick proves that it is failing at both.

Mr. Brown, who mentioned those failures in a briefing Tuesday and repeated them on the dais Wednesday, and the administration of D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray need to fill in their own school-reform blanks before piling on mandates that force students to go through meaningless motions.

Ditto tracking students while their teachers remain outside the realm of accountability.

Speaking of piling on: D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh, she of the government-overreach healthy-schools law, now wants residents and businesses to shovel sidewalks within eight daylight hours of a snowstorm or risk being fined.

Fortunately, one of her colleagues, Muriel Bowser, raised a pertinent flag during discussions Wednesday by using the word “their” to refer to the ownership of sidewalks outside residential and commercial properties.

Indeed, Miss Bowser’s choice of pronouns raises a critical legal ramification that must be settled before any further consideration of the Winter Sidewalk Safety Amendment Act.

The question is: Who actually owns sidewalks in the District of Columbia?

Or put it this way: Does the city own the land, or does the homeowner or business owner?

And another thing: Why aren’t charter schools, which educate 41 percent of the city’s public school students, being allotted their share of the $21.4 million that Mr. Gray plans to hand over to traditional schools in his upcoming supplemental budget?

Taxpayers deserve answers from the mayor and all 13 council members before school-choice advocates open the floodgates of criticism.

Deborah Simmons can be reached dsimmons@washingtontimes.com

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