Slowly but Not Surely: Education Reform Fails D.C. Schools

By Barras, Jonetta Rose | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 5, 1999 | Go to article overview

Slowly but Not Surely: Education Reform Fails D.C. Schools


Barras, Jonetta Rose, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Finally. The school governance debate in the District is moving past rhetoric to substantive proposals, thanks to D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous, who this week introduced legislation that, if approved, would reduce, by amendment to the Home Rule Charter, the number of members to the Board of Education from 11 to nine. It would force members elected as ward representatives to win citywide approval in a sort of runoff system, provide for an elected chairman of the board, and delineate members' responsibilities.

Mr. Chavous also wants to strip the education board of its congressionally assigned authority over charter schools and is recommending that the financial control board delay by one year - from June 2000 to June 2001 - return of power to the elected body. Nearly three years ago, in the most dramatic action of its tenure, the control board stripped the elected D.C. Board of Education of all of its authority over the schools, appointing its own emergency trustees. It also kicked out the superintendent, naming a retired Army general as chief operating officer (CEO).

Unfortunately, when the going got rough, the control board walked away from its own model and failed to provide aggressive oversight. Consequently, the city's school system still languishes: On recent standardized tests, the majority of students showed little or no progress; the superintendent hasn't sufficiently altered long-standing management and academic woes and the elected education board is mired in fractious internal bickering.

"This is not a panacea," Mr. Chavous says of his proposals. "This is not going to bring instant reform. But reform does not occur by us standing still."

Critics say the Ward 7 representative, into his second term as head of the education committee, has stepped up to the reform plate only because he faces stiff competition in his re-election bid next year. They argue that beyond introduction and a public hearing scheduled for Nov. 29, the proposals are not likely to go very far. To which Mr. Chavous retorts: "I fear no challenger. This has nothing to do with that election."

The question isn't what this will or won't do for Mr. Chavous. But rather, can the proposals arrest the erosion of public education? Do they significantly improve the likely outcome for children? Are they sufficiently comprehensive? And, should elected officials engage in piecemeal amending of the city's governing constitution - the Home Rule Charter?

No, to all of the above. The Chavous bill is too timid. It fiddles and does not fix. Really, what is the difference between 11 and nine? Ward 3 Council member Kathy Patterson thinks five is a better number; the Appleseed Foundation suggested seven. …

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Slowly but Not Surely: Education Reform Fails D.C. Schools
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