- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

Back in 1999, when Democrat Adrian Fenty served as counsel for the D.C. Council education panel and Arlene Ackerman served as superintendent, city leaders developed a 10-year plan that would modernize or close schools by 2009. Flash forward 10 years and city leaders are developing a plan that would modernize or close schools by 2019. Lost in a decade of planning are tens of thousands of youths who have yet to be academically lifted above and beyond the reach of the political planners.

The latest school modernization proposal was announced last week by Superintendent Clifford Janey, and it came amid all the political hubbub around Mr. Fenty’s victory as the Democratic mayoral nominee. Mr. Fenty plans do what Mayor Tony Williams was prohibited from doing, and that is take control of the schools.

Mr. Janey’s plan would cost $2.3 billion. The superintendent, who says it would take 15 years to implement his proposal, and Mr. Fenty, who says reforming schools is his top priority, are scheduled to meet today. Meanwhile, parents, educators and so-called school advocates will be holding public discussions throughout the month on the plan.

What’s always lost in these various ambitious plans, klatches and forums is young people, for whom numeracy and literacy have always taken a back seat any true reform. Consider, for example, what transpired in the late 1990s, when Mr. Fenty, along with then-lawmaker Kevin Chavous, ran the council’s education panel: The council wasted considerable time trying to restructure the school system, reconfigure per-pupil funding and growing the bureaucracy (by signing off on, for example, the State Education Office).

So, where stands school reform today? For starters, it’s worth pointing out that Mr. Fenty refuses to practice what he preaches; he enrolls his twin first-graders in a private school. Besides Mr. Fenty’s personal and professional shortcomings, look at the tiny gains of the youngsters who were kindergartners in the 1998-99 school year (when Mr. Fenty held sway on the council): “In reading at the eighth-grade level,” according to the D.C. school system, “the average score of 238 was slightly higher that the 1998 score of 236.”

Mr. Fenty also succeeded, as Ward 4 council member, in creating yet another huge distraction in the school-reform movement, when he proposed legislation that would finance school improvements with lottery winnings. Mr. Fenty’s move forced other lawmakers to turn their attention from accountability and back to the long-worn issue of school funding. And, interesting enough, Mr. Fenty, the mayoral candidate, is poised to cause another — albeit more important — distraction. Again, the issue is governance; this time Mr. Fenty is pushing for the mayor to control schools (a position we enthusiastically support).

Quality schools are safe environments where teachers understand the importance of such basics as multiplication tables, book reports and the like. Unfortunately, the D.C. system falls way short — with nearly two-thirds of its schools failing to meet the standards of the No Child Left Behind Act. Some families, like Mr. Fenty’s manage to escape. Will Mr. Fenty focus this time around on true reform or will he shape his ideas based on the status quo?

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