- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2002

Another D.C. school year is winding down, and officials are again putting the status quo on notice. In recent weeks, they have sent pink slips to more than 1,000 employees, accepted a proposal to revamp high schools and added six schools to the so-called transformation list. These are probably good moves, because getting rid of dead weight is an essential component of educational reform. Then again, these might turn out to be changes that still forsake children.
Most of the 1,100 pink slips went to employees in central administration, and the facilities, security, transportation and special-education departments, where the wheels of bureaucracy grind slowest. Even this week, at a graduation ceremony for sixth-graders at Moten Elementary in Southeast, a frustrated parent said she will be enrolling her daughter in a private school this fall because the school system has failed her special-needs child. Such concerns come despite the fact that the past three superintendents, school boards and the courts have said that special-education programs are better today than they were years ago. Well, the bureaucrats running the show may be different. But not much else has changed.
The same goes for facilities. Indeed, the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) facilities department has been revamped at least five times in recent years including once when it was run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. DCPS hired new janitors and engineers, installed new boilers and air-conditioning systems, and had new roofs and windows put on dozens of aging schoolhouses. Alas, officials later learned that the "new" janitors and engineers didn't know how to operate the new systems.
As for the troubled school list, suffice it to say that most of the 15 schools on that list are not much different from the average D.C. school with low test scores and low parental involvement. In fact, city leaders were urged by reform advocates to lengthen that list by placing one-third of the District's 146 or so schools on it particularly high schools, since only 29 percent of 11th-graders scored at or above grade in reading. Parents also encouraged privatization of troubled schools. Alas, the status quo prevailed.
So, here again, another school year is winding down and the status quo responds to campaigns for change by doing what hundreds of teen-agers do every day: not showing up. "It's looks like a ghost town," one school employee said the other day, adding that "people are using their sick leave and vacation to hunt for new jobs."
On the other hand, change for the sake of change never helped anybody, and it certainly can't help children who still can't make the academic mark or compete in an urban economy that depends on a well-educated workforce. By the beginning of the next school year, however, the public will certainly be able to tell whether school officials merely reshuffled the deck or instituted the makings of true reform.

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