- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 7, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Washington, D.C., has a new Michelle A. Rhee, and his name is David A. Catania.

As the District’s education czar, Mr. Catania appears to be ushering in a slate of reforms that will bolster student achievement and parental engagement, and close the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

But this emperor, who is mimicking Ms. Rhee, is proposing some of the same reforms as Mayor Vincent C. Gray and they likely will reveal the same limp results as those under former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

To her credit, Ms. Rhee, as Mr. Fenty’s schools chancellor, proved to be a premier game-changer when it came to dismantling policies that automatically handed senior status to teachers, principals and other school employees who could not be fired, and she tethered school accountability to student test scores.

Where she fell incredibly short, however, was in implementing reforms that would push up students from the lower rungs of the academic ladder and tie teacher and principal pay to student performance.

Enter Mr. Catania, at-large independent and the first D.C. Council member to grab the reins of the school system since the new governance system was put in place in 2007.

Mr. Catania is no reformer.

If he were, he would push a tracking system that reflects how teachers perform from grade to grade and school to school.

Proposing to hold an eighth-grader back if he or she doesn’t make the grade is fine, as long as the new policy reflects the fact that academic performance is a two-way street.

The Catania bill puts in place a performance framework with benchmarks for failing schools, but it does not do enough to hold individual teachers and principals accountable.

As things stand now, and under Mr. Catania’s proposal, students — not teachers — will suffer the consequences of poor schooling.

In six short months, since becoming chairman of the council Education Committee, the czar has:

Proposed cutting funds for a top-performing charter school in Southeast because, The Washington Post said in an editorial, the proposal was made at “the behest of council member Marion Barry.”

Proposed other budget cuts, including funds utilized by Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith. “Mr. Catania showed no effort to conceal a disdain for Ms. Smith,” the editorial said.

Personal character flaw, perhaps?

If those tidbits from a liberal outlet leave you lowering the red flags, conservatives and Rhee-lovers take note.

Mr. Catania wants to reinstate a school ombudsman office — under the guise of re-engaging parents and students in school policy. Now, at first blush you might fist-bump someone, but beware. An ombudsman would lead to a disengaged elected school board, a disengaged mayoral administration and a disengaged D.C. Council.

Indeed, the czar would become macro- and micromanager of the already fractured public schooling system.

Parents, school officials and civic groups already have pointed out — and are decrying — Mr. Catania’s educational package for other reasons, as well.

Mr. Catania also is proposing to increase funding to high-poverty students, arguing, as the federal government has for generations, that they need larger handouts if they are ever going to get a leg up.

Well, Ms. Rhee made a similar argument, got oodles of money and students are still falling into the breeches — of education, of race, of employment, of crime, of health and of family values.

Mr. Catania is a wizard with no Oz.

Having parachuted into city hall as a Republican, Mr. Catania spurned the party after national leaders supported a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

An independent since, he often acts more like a prosecutor than a thoughtful lawmaker in search of solutions — much like Ms. Rhee, who at least had a vested interest in the health, education and welfare of D.C. children.

Fortunately, another at-large independent lawmaker, David Grosso, is a member of the education panel, and committee member Tommy Wells of Ward 6, albeit a Democrat, is vested as a mayoral candidate.

Muriel Bowser of Ward 4 and Jack Evans of Ward 2, two other Democrats running for mayor, need to step forward, pull back the curtain and show parents the naked truth.

The council hearings on Monday and Tuesday morning prove to be perfectly timed.

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