The D.C. Board of Education made a case last night for city leaders to retain the current school governance structure, saying the board is more qualified than Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to revive failing schools.
School board members outlined their Emergency Student Achievement Act of 2007, an ambitious proposal that promises in 18 months to transform the perennially bottom-ranking school system into one that outperforms other large districts across the country.
The board introduced the proposal to dissuade the D.C. Council from approving Fenty's measure seeking authority over schools, legislation that would require a change in the city charter. At a community meeting at Shepherd Elementary School in Shepherd Park last night, board members told about 50 people that their proposal would result in 10 percent more students becoming proficient or advanced on standardized tests by 2009.
"In the board's view, you set low standards and you get low results. You set high standards and you get high results," said President Robert C. Bobb, who was among three of seven board members present. Although a detailed plan has yet to be worked out, Bobb said, the system would meet its goal by offering more tutors, mentoring programs and counselors in the schools.
George Parker, president of the Washington Teachers' Union, said in a phone interview that the board's bold objectives are unrealistic. "I think it's a promise that doesn't have an action plan. It sounds good. But you have to address how you will change the conditions [in the schools] to accomplish that."
Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said in a phone interview last night that council members are considering the board's proposal, although he does not plan to schedule hearings on it. "We'll weigh it along with the other proposal," he said.
Under Fenty's proposal, which council members could vote on as early as April, the mayor would have authority to hire and fire the superintendent. The measure would diminish the school board's authority, making it an advisory panel to the State Education Office, and give the council line-item control over the system's budget. It also would establish an independent construction authority to oversee modernization of schools.
The school board proposal calls for replacing the staff at five chronically failing schools, improving special education programs and boosting salaries so that the system could attract more qualified teachers and administrators. Those ideas were not new, but culled from previously announced initiatives.
The proposal also seeks authority to give Superintendent Clifford B. Janey "flexibility" in collective-bargaining agreements to lengthen school days and the school year and to set student-teacher ratios in classrooms.
"We're very disappointed in the approach the board has taken. They've taken the position, 'Blame the teachers and blame the union,' " Parker said in an interview. "That is a flawed philosophy."
The union, Parker said, plans to take an official position on the proposal after it completes a poll of its members.
The school board "made a strong and persuasive case tonight," said Shepherd Elementary parent Mario Brossard, 41, who attended last night's meeting. "It sounds like it has the potential to work."
Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of large urban school districts, told the audience he favors the school board's proposal over the Fenty measure.
"You send your kids to school to get an education," Casserly said. "You don't send your kids to City Hall to get an education."