Washington Post: D.C. voters should elect a mayor willing to run the schools

Image without a caption

By the Editorial Board

D.C. public schools were in disrepair. Textbooks took forever to move from warehouses to classrooms. New teachers’ paychecks got lost in the system, and daily student attendance went largely untracked. There was no uniform curriculum and no art or music taught in elementary classes. Student test scores lagged far below the national average, and fewer than 10 percent of students performed at grade level.

Those are some of the facts about D.C. schools in 2007, when then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) persuaded the D.C. Council to transfer control of the public education system from the elected school board to him. Now mayoral control — and the reforms it enabled under three different mayors — are a central issue in D.C.’s upcoming elections for mayor and council.

At a recent Ward 7 forum, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the current structure should stay. Two members of the D.C. Council who are challenging her in the June 21 Democratic primary, At-Large member Robert C. White Jr. and Ward 8 member Trayon White Sr., disagreed, as did fellow mayoral candidate James Butler.

Why on Earth would anyone want a return to a dysfunctional school board, after mayoral control helped transform D.C. schools into some of the country’s fastest-improving schools? Robert White told us he did not necessarily want a return to the school board. Talk about opposing mayoral control, he said, is like talk about defunding police, in that the words should not be taken literally. He said he would appoint a study group to examine all options. Yet, in his answer to a questionnaire from the Washington Teachers’ Union, Mr. White was unequivocal in his support for a school board. “Reestablishing a board,” he wrote, “would allow for the city to have a larger focus on education and closer ties to each community we all serve.”

This is obfuscation on an issue that requires clarity. Ending mayoral control and re-empowering an elected school board risks 15 years of improvement. The teachers union, a vociferous opponent of the city’s successful reforms in staffing, curriculum and governance, would regain its outsize influence. Since 2007, there have been increases in student achievement across all student groups, and on the national report card, D.C. has come closer than ever to the national average, with gains in reading and math in the fourth and eighth grades.

The system still faces enormous challenges. Far too many students are still not proficient in reading and math. Black and Latino students lag behind their White peers. Retaining good teachers and principals is a struggle. And the covid-19 pandemic, which separated children from social and academic environments in schools, has set back progress. All the more reason to keep a structure that has worked, instead of returning to the old one that did not. The question should not be whether mayoral control should continue, but who should be the mayor in control of the city’s schools.

Read full story>>>