- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The two least favorite words of the D.C. education establishment — school reform — are rarely heard these days. The educrats and their supporters are too busy making noises about rebuilding schoolhouses and taking over charter schools. The stakeholders who should know better are being distracted. Do they know, for instance, that the superintendent has all but said he is building up his ranks?

Superintendent Clifford Janey made a most threatening policy gesture recently, when he announced his intentions to take control of charter schools. “We will have an approach consistent with what we do with (failing schools) in DCPS as a school system.” The superintendent said he wants to mandate remedial steps to improve test scores. That’s what the superintendent told The Washington Post.

Even if he had spoken with The Washington Times, though, our reaction would be the same: “No, Mr. Superintendent. With 118 of 146 schools under your direct authority already failing, you have enough on your plate.” Indeed, in order to improve those 118 schools and raise or maintain the achievement levels at the other 28, the superintendent is going to ask for more staff at school system headquarters. And that’s not the only initiative that is going to increase the bureaucratic numbers at DCPS headquarters. Thanks to D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty, who helped to re-ignite the school-renovation debate, the superintendent will want to hire still more DCPS employees to help plan and monitor those projects.

It’s worth noting at this particular juncture that we generally support calls to renovate school buildings. However, we want reform to benefit teachers and students; and new school houses don’t guarantee improved teaching or learning.

City officials made some concerted efforts at reform in the past, including school-based management and solid support for school choice. However, the Janey administration seems to be moving in the opposite system — back to the days when the headquarters of DCPS and the Board of Education were brimming with paper pushers, while students, teachers and principals slid down the ladder of priorities.

How much the superintendent’s power grabs will eventually cost is anyone’s guess. Suffice it to say, Mr. Janey is lining up his cheerleaders and pulling those numbers together so he can make what his supporters will likely call a reasonable increase in the school budget. And with a new mayor and several new council members coming on board in January, it will also be anyone’s guess who will stand with the superintendent. That is why it is important to tell the superintendent to slow down and focus on the mission that he was brought here to accomplish — reform DCPS.

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