- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 30, 2001

After a couple of years of modest gains, D.C. public school students are sliding again. According to results released Tuesday from SAT exams, scores on both the verbal and math portions fell 12 points. That is indeed discouraging news for the District's college-bound students. But what's truly disappointing is the reaction from the city's top school authorities. Superintendent Paul Vance characterized raising the lagging scores as "challenging." His chief academic aide, Mary Gill, told The Washington Times, "We're certainly concerned about the decrease. We have teams looking school by school, student by student to build a rigorous plan to improve scores students' content knowledge and their ability to demonstrate it." School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz used the word "horrible" and was quoted in The Washington Post as saying, "Our high schools are awful." Meanwhile, The Post's editorial page asked its readers "to keep the SAT scores in perspective" because the tests are optional and because "demographics" are fluid. In other words, like others who oppose school choice, they are making excuses. More social services, they say, instead of more choice and better instruction.

Certainly, the declines in the SAT, as well as declines in standardized test scores from this spring, were hardly surprising news. Indeed, they were precisely what was expected after Superintendent Vance and Board President Cafritz warned us that the District's teaching corps was substandard. After all, garbage into a classroom of students, garbage out. Now the real test is how the city's leadership proposes to rectify the problem. Unfortunately, as you can see by the aforementioned quotes from school authorities, there is nothing new on the horizon. There is no outrage. There is no sense of urgency. There is only the same old rhetorical chatter about plans, panels and politically correct propositions.

No one has mentioned the V-word (vouchers), and no one's mentioned the A-word (accountability) critical components of the ABCs of school reform. Interestingly, accountability is constantly thrown in the faces of charter school authorities by D.C. public school overseers, who insist that charter schools maintain accurate financial records, up-to-date labs and textbooks, adhere to incredible bureaucratic demands and produce brilliant young minds demands that other public schools repeatedly fail to meet by any measure. All the while, Mrs. Cafritz's board either yanks those schools' charters or threatens them with closure, yet traditional public schools stumble along with excuse after excuse.

This latest round of test scores proves that unless school authorities take drastic actions on the school reform front, D.C. students are doomed to more of the same old failures.


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