By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has rewritten his school improvement plan, expunging language lifted verbatim from a North Carolina district as he seeks to move beyond the controversy and bolster his political support.
The latest version of the mayor's education strategy maintains most of the core initiatives included in the first draft but eliminates the word-for-word copying from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system's strategic plan.
The rewrite also includes a nod to D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, whose Master Education Plan is listed as the starting point for Fenty's reform efforts.
Fenty (D) is seeking to reduce the authority of the Board of Education and take direct control of the 55,000-student D.C. school system. But the revisions of his education plan did little to satisfy administration critics who have asserted that Fenty does not have the expertise to run the schools.
"I'm a little surprised they've rushed to rewrite it," said D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), one of two members to vote against Fenty's takeover legislation. "It seems more in response to bad press than it is about developing the best plan. . . . They copy, and when they get caught, they stay up all night and rewrite."
The updated version contains a new vision statement that pledges to transform the school system into "the premier urban public education system among world capitals and ensure that all graduates are prepared to excel in college and in a competitive regional and global economy."
The document states that core strategies have been agreed upon by educators across the country as critical to boosting student performance, including improving middle school reading and math, beefing up early literacy programs and eliminating truancy.
On Page 2, the administration notes that Janey has developed a master plan for education and facility improvements. The Fenty team is "committed to them as the starting point for our reform efforts," according to the updated document.
Victor Reinoso, the deputy mayor for education who took responsibility for the copying, described the rewrite as a way to present the administration's strategy in a new context.
Fenty has never said he wants to do away with ongoing reform efforts by Janey, Reinoso said, but rather has sought to buttress them with successful programs developed elsewhere. The rewrite includes a new introduction that lists 19 sources that Fenty and his aides used to develop their plan. And mayoral aides used two pages to explain that education improvement strategies are similar across the country.
"Most of the ideas are not new; they've just never been implemented here," Reinoso said. "The key is following through. What we need to be held accountable on is not the amount of creative ideas or the language but our persistence on implementation and the degree of our outcomes."
The D.C. Council approved Fenty's school takeover legislation last month, and the House of Representatives ratified it last week. The bill is moving forward in the Senate, after Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) removed a hold he had placed on the legislation last week related to concerns over the District's rebuilding of a youth detention center in Anne Arundel County.
Fenty presented his school improvement strategy to the council in late February, after council members and activists complained that his takeover legislation lacked specific education initiatives.
The 31-page document contained no sourcing or footnotes, and about one-third of it was copied verbatim from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg plan, including the opening sentence describing the administration's vision.
The mention of Janey in the revised document is notable because his future under Fenty has been in doubt. The mayor said he has not made a decision about whether to keep the superintendent.
"Dr. Janey continues to believe that the master education plan that his administration created is a good one for the D.C. schools," Janey's spokesman, John C. White, said in a statement yesterday.
Wendy Sefsaf, a parent who supported Fenty's takeover, said the copying controversy was overblown. She added that she hopes that the updated education plan will allow Fenty to move forward.
"It's a diversion from what is totally important, which is letting them get to work," Sefsaf said. "They've been asked to do a lot in a short amount of time."
But Cherita Whiting, a parent who opposed the takeover, said she remained unimpressed by the new draft of the plan.
"The new version just moves words from one sentence to another, twisting them around so they can say they are not copying and pasting," she said.
"Victor and his staff have not sat down and put together a plan for D.C. When is that going to take place? And if it has not, why are you trying to take over the schools?"
Staff writer Theola Labbé contributed to this report.