ASTUDENT who copies the work of others should expect to get a failing grade. Cheating is wrong. The same standard must be applied to the administration of D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and its inexcusable plagiarism of another district's education plan. But just as a student would not be kicked out of school for one miscue, neither should this mistake obscure the good reasons for a mayoral takeover of the city's troubled schools.
A 31-page report submitted in February to the D.C. Council in support of the takeover plan borrowed heavily from a strategic plan developed by school officials in Charlotte, N.C. About a third of the report is problematic, with some passages copied verbatim. Victor A. Reinoso, the deputy mayor for education, was responsible for preparing the report, and he has accepted the blame. To his credit, he offers no excuses for what he freely admits was a big mistake. It's mitigating, though, that every page of the report was stamped as a draft, that it's common for schools to borrow practices, that some of the ideas are already being tried in the District and that the report is now being revised.
Although the report was botched, it's encouraging that Mr. Fenty and his education team are actively looking at the experiences of other cities in improving education. Rather than showing a lack of imagination, as critics would have it, we think it's smart for the city to investigate -- and, where appropriate, adopt -- practices that have been tried and proved effective.
The blunder over the report is a stumble that has some questioning whether Mr. Fenty and his team are up to the task of running the schools. The jury is still out, but the other great strength of Mr. Fenty's proposal is his promise of accountability. If the schools don't improve and continue to be found wanting, the responsibility will fall squarely on his shoulders -- which is exactly what happened with the purloined report.