- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2002

Who is still amused by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams' annual "cannonball" antics? Not me. I dare say not very many D.C. residents, given his poor standing when he's rated on improving students' school performance. Instead of jumping for joy, Teflon Tony should have been diving for dollars to fund the summer school program.

Like the after-school programs the school feeding programs, the day care programs for the poor the District's summer school program was cut because of a lack of money this year. This summer, only about 10,000 students will have the opportunity to improve; last year, 22,000 did.

Of course, the finger-pointing runs amok here. The hybrid school board blames the mayor and the D.C. Council for not fully funding its budget. The mayor blames his handpicked school board president. All are responsible, including parents and the public who fail to demand better.

However, it is Mr. Williams who consistently makes big splashy headlines with pithy promises to do right by the city's youth. Yet, it is the children who bear the brunt of budget cuts. It is also not lost on us that only 5,000 summer jobs compared with 10,000 to 15,000 in years past are being offered by the Department of Employment Services this summer.

D.C. residents are right to expect so much more from this mayor, especially on education. After all, it was Mr. Williams who used all the power he could muster to the point of blatantly violating the law to wrest control of the school system from the voters. And for what? Little reform from the supposed master reformer.

This week's news that test scores have improved slightly is overshadowed by the fact that the majority of D.C. students are still performing at basic or below-basic grade levels. The higher the grade, the worse it gets.

And, we still have no idea how immigrant and special-needs children are performing because they were not tested at all.

Instead of cutting back on summer programs, D.C. officials, top to bottom, should be searching to find the resources to expand students' study opportunities. Many of these poor, minority or otherwise disadvantaged children (some who speak English as a second language) are already so far behind their middle-class counterparts that they may never catch up.

Why we still adhere to a nine-month school year in this country is beyond comprehension.

Year-round schooling is only one of the components necessary to improve student performance, but politicians at every level are willing to talk a good game about adequately funding education only to placate voters.

Unfortunately, parents as well as business owners in desperate need of highly trained, highly skilled workers all too often let these leaders get away with their camera-hogging "cannonball" antics.

During this summer election season, voters should refuse to support any candidate who does not commit to funding full-time school programs, smaller classes, building repairs and training for teachers. It's true that in these belt-tightening budget times, summer school programs are being cut or eliminated all over the country. But in the District, the campaigning mayor still found $6 million (primarily of city funds) to pass out to a politically advantageous "play time" fund that seeds money to the Usual Suspect in the nonprofit sector.

Many residents, however, rightfully question if that money allocated to the Children and Youth Investment Fund would not have been better spent on the school system to bring struggling students up to academic speed.

Deputy Mayor Carolina N. Graham reasoned that the investment fund dollars would stretch further if used to pay for nebulous services that essentially provide recreational outlets for an estimated 15,000 children. Had the summer school classes been fully funded, these fun-filled enrichment programs that provide activities for children during the summer break would be a great plus for city youths. But games, in these serious times, are no substitute for lessons.

Playtime is over for students everywhere. Lest we forget, the federal law requiring expanded standardized testing for all school systems goes into effect next year. Students will be harshly penalized if they don't pass these national and local tests even if they have been afforded little or no extra resources to help them meet the new standards.

So much for another disingenuous government slogan to "leave no child behind." Studies indicate that retention of academic material slips miserably during the summer hiatus, especially for disadvantaged children who can ill afford the loss.

While corporate executives such as sports magnate Abe Pollin should be commended for trying to raise money to feed D.C. children during the summer months (since that government grant was cut), others should have stepped up to the plate and donated generously for the summer classes.

In Fairfax, summer school enrollment reportedly has increased dramatically with that system offering not only remedial classes but also enhancement programs because those students must also pass the state's Standards of Learning exams.

Granted, parents must pay for some of the courses, but others are charged little or nothing depending on their income. Yet D.C. parents were not even offered this option.

In Maryland, from Baltimore to Silver Spring, there are success stories about marked improvements at so-called "at risk" schools where students have been enrolled in summer school programs for the past three years. Their summer curriculum is being intensified, not watered down.

D.C. school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, in a printed missive, said it is not the school system's job to keep children off the streets during the summer break. No, but it is its job to educate them so that when they graduate they are literate, productive, taxpaying citizens as opposed to dropouts on the dole.

This mayor, a virtual shoo-in for re-election, has been at the helm this summer as after-school programs were cut, as feeding programs were cut and as education programs were cut. Yet he profusely claims to be concerned about children.

If so, he should do better than ball himself up in a knot and jump butt-first into a swimming pool as he did Wednesday to kick off a showy but stagnant summer season on their behalf. Instead, he should plunge into providing children with something more lasting: a decent education.


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