The squabbling between Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the D.C. Council about school governance ["Williams Vetoes School Board Bill; Mayor Still Seeks to Take Control of D.C. System," Metro, May 29] and the search for a superintendent ["Funding Was Sabotaged, D.C. Schools Chief Says; Mayor's Office Wanted Bid to Fail, Superintendent Alleges," Metro, May 25] has distracted the city from what ought to be a common goal: building a school system that works for all the city's children.
We know what it takes to have a successful school, one in which all students -- regardless of race, ethnicity, first language or family income -- can learn and achieve. Such schools already are working in cities that have suffered through problems similar to those in Washington, cities such as Oakland and Boston. In places such as Durham, N.C., people also have created a "covenant" for education that makes the community accountable for the school district's improvement.
The District has some schools that are doing it right. But low test scores and high dropout rates show clearly that it doesn't have enough of them. What we need is not just a few smart schools. We need a smart school district. But how can the District build a school system that ensures both equity and results for all students?
To help its public schools out in the short term, the District should think about hiring an interim superintendent to maintain operations while getting the system's fiscal house in order. Then, to make longer-term changes, the school system should:
* Establish clear lines of accountability that include school and District leaders. Success is impossible if everyone seeks to have the final word in school decisions. The buck must stop with the leadership of a board and a superintendent based on the experience and guidance of the city's educational and community leaders.
* Equitable distribution of resources. Schools and students needing the most help should get it. While the school system has taken a first step toward this goal with its student population-based budgeting system, it still lacks a method and the will for equitably distributing its teachers and other resources.
* Make decisions based on solid information about student achievement, not on history, convenience or political expediency. Until all financial, personnel and student performance information is readily available to school managers, D.C. Public Schools will not experience true equity.
From our study of schools in other cities, we know these goals are not achieved by bolstering mayoral control or recruiting a savior superintendent with a high six-figure, privately financed carrot. Transforming the schools requires building and feeding strong, instructionally focused leadership in the classroom, school and central office. It means constructing new and more productive relationships with unions. And it means securing collaboration with municipal leaders, community and faith-based organizations, businesses, city agencies, parents and families.
With new school leadership, greater attention and interest from the citizens and a unified determination to improve, the District can raise the achievement level of its students. We are sure that the city's leaders share our dream of building a school system that works for all the District's children.
-- Warren Simmons
-- Marla Ucelli
are, respectively, executive director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and
director of the institute's district redesign program.