Several measures have been proposed by council members that would undermine the school governance reform implemented in 2007, when control of the public school system was shifted from the elected school board to the mayor. Two bills, The Post’s Perry Stein reported, would remove the Office of the State Superintendent of Education from the mayor’s control. One would allow the mayor to appoint the superintendent, with council confirmation, but the office would become an independent agency; the other is even more misguided, with its requirement that the office report to the school board.
Most concerning, though, was the proposal by council member Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) to create a special committee to explore the effectiveness of the school governance structure. Mr. White said he simply hoped to spark needed discussion on what is and isn’t working with the schools. But the move was widely seen as an effort to end mayoral control, returning to the days when a dysfunctional school board helped make D.C. one of the worst school systems in the country.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) staved off Mr. White’s efforts, for the moment, ruling the proposal out of order. No one, though, should be under any illusion that that will stop those who are committed to getting rid of mayoral control, an effort that seems to be a top priority of the teachers union. Mr. White, endorsed by the Washington Teachers’ Union, unabashedly campaigned on a promise of repealing mayoral authority. And last year’s elections resulted in a shift to the left on the council that sadly has made mayoral control a live issue.
Here is what is important: There has been undeniable progress in the city’s schools since mayoral control was instituted. A school system that was once unable to pay its teachers and ensure that buildings were ready for the first day of school has been completely transformed. There have been increases in student achievement across all student groups, and the national report card, the gold standard of testing, has shown D.C. to be one of the fastest improving systems in the country. Additionally, there is a flourishing public charter school sector that offers worthy choices to parents. There is no question that there is still much more to be done. Far too many children can’t read or do math, and the achievement gap between students of color and their White peers persists; new urgency is needed in addressing these challenges.
Council members who complain about the lack of oversight should do their jobs and press school officials and the mayor about their plans to raise student achievement. By all means, hold their feet to the fire. But talk about school governance is a distraction from the serious work that needs to be done.