Where Fenty Should Lead the Schools
Over the past 24 years, the D.C. Public Schools have gone through 10 superintendents. Based on the historical pattern of 2.4 years per incumbent, Clifford Janey had better beware. His turn is about up.
The District's archaic central public school system, once one of the nation's best, has been "reformed" into a national embarrassment and a luxury the District can no longer afford. Attempts at further reform should stop now. Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will reform the reformers?)
As George Orwell observed, "We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men." So, what is obvious?
The problem is not Janey. He is a fine educator and a decent man. But if he continues his tepid attempts at reform, he, too, will soon need to go.
The problem is not a lack of funding. The D.C. Public Schools spend $16,548 per student each year, more than any other urban system in the United States. Indeed, DCPS is among the most expensive school systems in the world -- and the cost is rising. While DCPS was losing 25 percent of its students over the past decade, its costs increased at an average annual rate of 6 percent per year.
The problem is not a shortage of qualified teachers. D.C. public schools boast a student-teacher ratio of 13.5 to 1 -- the lowest in the nation. Never in the history of American public education have so many educators with so much money served so few students.
So why can't a system led by a competent superintendent who is armed with a legion of talented teachers and tons of cash "reform" itself? Because the problem is the system.
The system doesn't need to be reformed. It needs to be replaced. Like central systems in many other cities, DCPS is an anachronism. It is time to bury the antediluvian central-system approach to urban public education, and the District is the place to start.
Adrian Fenty swept to the Democratic mayoral nomination by making education his signature issue. Uniting a city divided by race, culture and earning power, he prevailed in every ward, every precinct and every neighborhood. To succeed as mayor, he must keep his promise to fix the schools. He can start by restating the obvious:
DCPS is dead. It's time to bury it.
As mayor, Fenty should parlay his mandate and follow the mayors of Chicago and New York in gaining the authority to replace the D.C. Board of Education with a new Department of Education -- one that is accountable solely to him and, by extension, to the voters who elect him.
With control of the system, Fenty could take decisive steps that would provide a model for the nation. He could dismantle the monstrous bureaucracy at 825 North Capitol St., transferring more than $200 million per year and real decision-making authority to on-site school leaders. Under the current formula, only 51.2 percent of the system's billion-dollar budget ever makes it to the classroom.