- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2001

One of my favorite pieces of art is a painting by Varnette P. Honeywood titled "Double Dare." I have a limited edition print on prominent display in my living room. In it, two youngsters stare down one another while three others await their next move. I am reminded of that metaphor every time Peggy Cooper Cafritz, president of the D.C. Board of Education, is quoted in a news story.
Is she standing on the sidelines, or is she the bully?
She's certainly one or the other, because Mrs. Cafritz is no mere ordinary parent with lots of opinions and a strong personality.
For sure, she is not who the average parent thinks she is but she is a typical D.C. politician one who hesitates not one iota to run for office and talks tough on the campaign trail, only to conjure excuses once it's time to back up the tough talk.
Examples: Mrs. Cafritz said nearly half of the city's teachers are inept. After the union took her to the woodshed, she apologized and modified her remarks by saying she really meant high school teachers. Mrs. Cafritz's comments didn't sit well with high school teachers either, and they spread word that they wanted her to meet them in the playground after school. The huffing and puffing continues.
Not that her initial remarks didn't need to be said, because they did if they are true. What also is true is Mrs. Cafritz is being accused by her school board colleagues of being dictatorial and picking fights. That's not surprising when one considers the board members' strong personalities and political motivations. Moreover, Cafritz & Co. have a lot of nerve considering they adopted a budget without even discussing it with parents or including requests from Local School Restructuring Teams, which include parents, teachers and community supporters. One school that requested a new copier machine, for example, was told to wait for two years when all schools will get new copiers.
Makes you wonder, then, in whose interests the decision-makers are making the decisions and especially, whether the decision-makers are waiting for the 3 o'clock school bell to ring.
Who is leading the discussion on important educational matters, such as building new schools, providing existing and proposed charter schools with the resources and facilities they need for our young people, and reforming schools that are historical under-performers? More importantly, if these discussions are ongoing, is our school board president in the room?
According to the fiscal year 2002 school budget, either Mrs. Cafritz isn't at the table or her colleagues, including Superintendent Paul Vance, pulled a bait-and-switch. I say that because the budget proposes funding more of the same (the same bilingual programs, the same early childhood programs and the same academic programs). Honestly, you could take Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's 2000-2001 school budget, slap 2001-2002 on it and it would be about the same.
There are no initiatives to support school choice or reform academically troubled schools. There are no initiatives to increase bilingual education for English-speaking children. Even the rhetoric is the same "building on existing" this or that, and "enhancing" such and such. Like parents are too dumb to know that means "We don't know what to do so let's just do what we've been doing all along" pouring more money after bad ideas.
I had hoped, for a couple of reasons, this would be an exciting budget. For one, there are fewer children in traditional public schools (one in seven are now enrolled in charter schools), giving Cafritz & Co. the opportunity to at least pilot projects such as independent schools and privatization anything to ratchet-up learning opportunities for children.
Now some of you may be wondering what I mean by "status quo budget." Allow me to explain. Status quo means "existing" state of affairs, right? And that means thousands of D.C. youngsters in scores of classrooms in dozens of schools who cannot read, write or calculate as well as youngsters anywhere else in the Washington metropolitan region. Now, Cafritz & Co. want you to think that is because they don't have enough money, so they recycle the same programs and ratchet-up the dollar amount and call the end result a budget. Technically, it is a status quo budget new money, same programs.
Now, to make sure you don't call their bluff, Cafritz & Co. will tell you things like the poor little black kids can't learn because they don't know who their real daddies are or the poor little Hispanic kids can't learn because their family is from somewhere else. Cafritz & Co., and the people who support them, will employ any excuse from race and ethnicity, to family income and marital status to beg for more money for status quo school budgets.
C'mon. If something doesn't work it doesn't work, and many academic programs haven't produced the desired results that is, smarter youngsters in 10-15 years. What's worse is the fact that, while the names on the school board dais have changed, D.C. students still don't even have textbooks and computers to call their own, and that is simply unconscionable.
Frankly, if Mrs. Cafritz thinks the only folks waiting for the 3 o'clock school bell to ring are teachers and that & Co. are her backup, she might want to rethink her strategy. There are 69,000 students in D.C. Public Schools and all of them have parents, and to many, if not most of those parents, "status quo" are fighting words.
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