Candidates Face Critical Education Test; Fixing Schools Is Key to Kids' Future Success

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Byline: Thomas Patrick Melady, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Sept. 14 will be an important day in the life of the District of Columbia. The Democratic Party will hold its primary election. Given the electoral demographics, this Democratic nomination for mayor is a de facto election. I am a lifelong Republican and will not participate, but I am very much interested as I want the genuine progress made in the past several years in reforming D.C. schools to continue.

The reputation of our D.C. public schools has been poor. Eighth-grade students would usually test out with either fourth- or fifth-grade math. And, this is the capital of the United States, leader of the Free World.

It is commonly known that the District has excellent private schools. The charter school movement and opportunity vouchers improve the situation.

But the majority of the District's young people attend public schools. Consequently, we have a special obligation to assure that every child in the D.C. Public Schools system has effective teachers in every classroom. This has not been the case. As a retired diplomat, I hear from friends in other countries who are being assigned to their respective embassies in Washington. Most of the calls have the same theme: The reputation of our public schools. Some have governments that underwrite the cost of private education; others do not have that arrangement and, being concerned about the quality of education for their children, they decide to live in nearby communities in Virginia and Maryland. It is a national shame.

At last we have the beginnings of real reform. In many instances in a pluralistic democracy, change is conducted in a smooth, orderly fashion. But, sometimes, change requires dramatic action. D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has been giving the strong, aggressive leadership needed to assure we achieve our public goal that every child has an effective teacher. And, the fact is that major improvements initiated by Ms. Rhee have been fully supported by the mayor. …