WHEN IT COMES to telling D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson how to do her job, it appears that D.C. Council members have only just begun. No sooner did the council approve a series of policy changes than a new proposal surfaced, requiring a study of school boundaries. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) needs to push back against council interference before school officials lose the authority to make student needs, not political interests, their priority.
A package of bills passed last week by the council calls for all high school students to take the SAT or ACT college entrance exams and to apply to college or another post-secondary institution, provides financial incentives to lure highly effective teachers to high-need schools and requires 3- and 4-year-olds to be ready for kindergarten. The goals are admirable: Who’s against preschoolers being ready to learn or twelfth-graders having high expectations? But will programs dictated by the council in a scattershot approach have any chance of success? And should its priorities — no matter how laudable — take precedence over the direction and agenda laid out by the education professionals hired to manage the system?
Such meddling prompted the District to abolish its school board in 2007. Authority for running the public school system was given to the mayor, who would also be held accountable for the results. The days of politicizing education, with ward representatives fighting each other for resources and credit, were supposed to be things of the past.
Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), the most education-savvy member of the council, having served on the old school board for six years, had the good sense to abstain from last week’s vote, and he noted how wrongheaded the council’s action was. “You are opening the floodgates to my curriculum bill against your after-school bill against another’s teacher-quality bill,” he told us.
The District is fortunate to have a qualified and hard-working chancellor with a clear vision of the path of reform. She should not have to spend time jumping from one piece of legislation to another, much of which the council may never fund anyway. Last week’s education package is far less objectionable than its original iteration, due to successful administration efforts to water down many of its provisions. But it should serve as a reminder that the city does not need 13 chancellors — not as the first step down a road to the dreary past.