- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2003

They have been trying to fix the inept D.C. public school system for what seems forever.

They throw money at the system and then they throw more money at it, and then at the end of another incriminating national test result, they vow to study the complexities of it all and implement this or that reform measure before returning to business as usual.

D.C. school officials have been attempting to explain the latest embarrassing results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) with a compelling defense, which is: Our school system is bad, but it is not as bad as everyone thinks.

They see a measure of vindication in the six-city comparison of the NAEP. It seems our fourth-graders read as well as those in Los Angeles.

Break out the champagne and party hats. Let’s celebrate. No?

The feel-good occasion comes with an admonishment to ignore the high number of Hispanic youths in the Los Angeles system whose command of the English language is a work in progress.

The grasping of a flimsy detail beats coming to terms with the racket of the government-issued credit cards or the corruption of the Washington Teachers’ Union.

It is a darn shame, is what it is.

You have public school employees buying luxury items with your tax dollars, and you have union officials accused of embezzling $5 million from their treasury, and poor Johnny is somehow expected to rise above the graft, greed and incompetence.

This is how it works in a city committed to building a better tomorrow for the youth of today.

The 67,000 public school students in the city represent the future, hard as that notion may be to accept if you are an employer with suspicions about the value of a high school diploma from the D.C. system.

Perhaps this explains the increasing number of professional car-watchers on the streets of the city. They may not be able read the words on an employment application all that well, but they sure know how watch your car while it is parked in exchange for a few dollars.

It probably would not hurt the feelings of most motorists if the D.C. public school system did not put out so many professional car-watchers. But what can the system do? Its strength is not in teaching reading and writing to the young. Its strength is in imparting the tenets of professional car-watching.

See the sucker in the vehicle circling the block. Wave to him and point to the parking space in your control. Now walk up to the driver’s side of the vehicle with a smile and an open palm. There you have the basics of this vital public service.

The city’s per-pupil expenditure was $10,107 in the 1990-2000 school year, the second-highest in the nation, according to the U.S. Education Department, which follows a well-documented pattern.

The District is routinely among the biggest spenders in public education. Yet the District’s students are routinely among the lowest achievers in the nation.

School officials do not want to discuss how much money is wasted on those members of the Future Professional Car-Watchers of America club. They do not want to discuss the wonderful perk of a government-issued credit card that fills all the shopping needs of their employees. They do not know anything about those credit cards. They do not really know anything about anything. They are tired. Quiet. They are trying to think.

They have no obligation to answer the hard questions of reporters that might address the concerns of fed-up parents. They are only in charge of an important public institution. They are only living off the taxpayer dime.

Schools Superintendent Paul L. Vance makes only $175,000 a year. What is your point? There are some police detectives in the city who earn higher incomes than the superintendent after working 30-hour days.

It is not fair. None of it is.

It just not fair to compare the students of a state to the students in D.C., because states have suburban kids and the Future Farmers of America and a whole lot of tricky demographics that tend to pull up the overall scores of a locality.

The contention just might have merit if the D.C. public-school system did not spend with the best.

Instead, we are left with this: Our fourth-graders are hanging in there against Los Angeles, and you can’t take that precious finding away from our leading educators.



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