Standing for Children; Proposals to Fix D.C. Schools

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 5, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Standing for Children; Proposals to Fix D.C. Schools


Byline: A. Scott Bolden, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Watching over the last several weeks a stream of education experts, concerned parents and disillusioned youth speak before the D.C. Council about the school-reform act introduced by Mayor Adrian Fenty, I was reminded of the Stand for Children rally a little more than a decade ago. About 200,000 people converged in 1996 on the Mall. There were, as there always are on these kinds of occasions, powerful and inspiring speeches calling us all to fight on behalf youth. All too soon, however, the fervor lost its heat. Far too many parents, civic leaders, government officials and others, including myself, continued to give lip service without investing sweat equity.

This realization smacked me when I listened to young person after young person at a recent public hearing one of more than a half dozen wisely convened by Council Chairman Vincent Gray to receive comments on the mayor's bill. These youth spoke of being abandoned by institutions and individuals on which they depended to support and guide them.

I have been an active father in the lives of my own daughters. My youngest twins attended, for a time a D.C. public school, Key Elementary. But in truth, my focus was never quite beyond them, the status of their school and their educational achievements. While I am not alone in this regard, there is an opportunity for the legislature to correct this atrocity and put this community and its leaders back on course. It can and should pass the mayor's reform bill. This is our moment to Stand for Children.

The council, which also has before it an opposing bill submitted by the D.C. Board of Education, could seek to combine those two proposals. In general, this is what the legislators should do:

1) Give the mayor complete control of the public-education apparatus, including the ability to accredit, monitor and independently evaluate charter schools and the ability to independently evaluate the effectiveness of the federally financed voucher program.

2) Establish, as requested by the mayor, a new Department of Education, which may be headed by a deputy mayor for education or another individual nominated by the mayor but confirmed by the council. (There is some redundancy in the mayor's plan, which calls for a department of education and a state office of education. The latter should be eliminated.)

3) Create a state board of education responsible for the development of education policy, including curricula; teacher and principal qualifications, standards and certification; review and evaluation of school system performance and achievements; and conducting an annual summit on the state of public education, along with regular public hearings around policies and procedures to help the mayor and chancellor better gauge public opinion.

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