District Copied Schools Strategy

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration copied significant portions of its education strategy verbatim from a plan developed by a North Carolina school system, even as the mayor seeks to show he has the vision and expertise to restructure governance of the District's troubled public schools.

Fenty's 31-page document is a blueprint of his plans to improve students' academic performance. It contains passages that are virtually identical to some in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools' strategic plan -- including the opening statement describing the administration's vision. Fenty's document was submitted to the D.C. Council in late February in support of his proposal to take control of the public schools.

"In 2006, the United States produced six Nobel Prize winners," Fenty's vision statement begins. "All of them were educated in public schools. This is the standard of education that DCPS must strive to deliver." That passage, using "CMS" instead of "DCPS," appears on Page 7 of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg plan.

Victor A. Reinoso, Fenty's deputy mayor for education and a former school board member, issued a statement yesterday taking responsibility for the copying. He said: "In my eagerness to compile a compendium of successful reform initiatives, plans and best practices, I didn't properly attribute educational sources. . . . I am hopeful this oversight doesn't diminish the public's perception of the Administration's intent and ability to successfully manage and reform the District's Public School System."

Fenty knew that his aides were reviewing programs from other jurisdictions, spokeswoman Carrie Brooks said. It was unclear, however, whether the mayor knew that lines were copied verbatim.

Last month, the council passed legislation awaiting congressional approval that would reduce the power of the D.C. Board of Education and put Fenty in control of the 55,000-student system.

Some question the administration's ability to develop strategies for the District, whose system is smaller than the 130,000-student Charlotte-Mecklenburg system.

"I can understand using best practices, but I'd expect that a bit more original thought be put into a document of this importance," said Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), one of two council members who voted against Fenty's takeover.

The administration posted a note Friday on the D.C. government Web site stating that the document contains "language from" several school districts, including those in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, New York City and Denver. Specific language, however, is not attributed to a source or defined by quotation marks.

In Fenty's document, with "DRAFT" stamped on each page, strategies to create reading and math classes for middle school students, recruit teachers and use "secret shoppers" to judge how parents are treated by school employees come directly from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg plan.

The administration's proposal for a "data dashboard" with statistical indicators to enable "the public to see, at a glance, whether current improvement efforts are on track and to respond appropriately when problems arise" is lifted from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg document.

About 32 percent, or 8,000 words, of Fenty's document is borrowed, said John Barrie, spokesman for iThenticate.com, a plagiarism detection system designed to help non-academic institutions identify unauthentic material. The Washington Post requested that the company compare the two documents.

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