- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Local and national powerbrokers are urging D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp to support their plan to reform the governance and management of D.C. Public Schools toward a single goal: “making improved student achievement the top priority.” We urge the chairman to endorse their plan and to marshal support among her fellow lawmakers.

Citing the lack of leadership and unity, the plan recommends sweeping changes. Of those changes, the most significant is the possibility of hiring a superintendent who neither rose up through the ranks nor has a professional education background. Other important recommendations call for:

1)The Board of Education to voluntarily relinquish its authorities regarding hiring a superintendent and establishing educational policies, and to delegate those authorities to a new Education Reform Oversight Committee. The current school board would play an advisory role, and at least two of its members would sit on the new panel.

2) The superintendent to be granted “the broadest possible authority and maximum control” over the school system.

3) The schools’ chief financial officer to report to the superintendent.

4) The superintendent to reconstitute or close failing schools, as measured by student achievement.

While the proposers touch on the importance of budgetary authority, they did not decree that unfunded mandates stymie school reform (something John Kerry has said repeatedly). Instead, they made no excuses at all and simply cited facts: 90 percent of fourth-graders and eighth-graders scored below proficient in reading on the 2003 National Assessment of Education Progress; and 93 percent of fourth-graders and 94 percent of eighth-graders scored below proficient in math.

The signatories include several members of the nonpartisan Federal City Council (FCC), including its chairman, Terence Golden, and other business leaders, former D.C. officials and school authorities. The FCC has invested much, in terms of resources and human capital, in D.C. educational efforts in its 50 years. Its business leaders, in particular, have seen the products of D.C. schools and the quality of teaching decline as the political rhetoric grew louder and louder. In fact, the letter rightly characterizes recent reform efforts as “piecemeal.”

Addressing their concerns to Mrs. Cropp was a smart tactical matter, since the council chairman is a proven consensus builder, former school board president and former member of the D.C. educational establishment. We agree with most of the recommendations in the road map to hasten school reform and hope this opportunity is not lost on Mrs. Cropp or her 12 colleagues.

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