DC on the School Reform Front Lines, Again

Today’s Washington Post features an editorial that strongly criticizes Congressional Democrats’ rush to kill the District of Columbia’s school voucher program, which enjoys bipartisan support in the heavily Democratic nation’s capital, and is considered a success by those whose opinion should most matter in this debate: schoolchildren and their parents.

We would like Mr. Obey and his colleagues to talk about possible “disruption” with Deborah Parker, mother of two children who attend Sidwell Friends School because of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. “The mere thought of returning to public school frightens me,” Ms. Parker told us as she related the opportunities — such as a trip to China for her son — made possible by the program. Tell her, as critics claim, that vouchers don’t work, and she’ll list her children’s improved test scores, feeling of safety and improved motivation.

The school vouchers main opponents are, of course, the teachers unions that contribute heavily to Democratic politicians. But this should not be a partisan issue. Adrian Fenty, D.C.’s Democratic mayor, has already shows great resolve in taking on the District’s troubled public school systems in his appointment of Michelle Rhee as Schools Chancellor, to whom he has granted considerable authority. As a recent profile of Rhee in The Atlantic noted:

Rhee, responsible not to a school board but only to the mayor, went on a spree almost as soon as she arrived. She gained the right to fire central-office employees and then axed 98 of them. She canned 24 principals, 22 assistant principals, and, at the beginning of this summer, 250 teachers and 500 teaching aides. She announced plans to close 23 underused schools and set about restructuring 26 other schools (together, about a third of the system). And she began negotiating a radical performance-based compensation contract with the teachers union that could revolutionize the way teachers get paid.

Mayor Fenty, to his credit, has stood by his Schools Chancellor’s decisions against an onslaught of criticism from teachers unions. This is precisely the kind of boldness he needs to display now to defend the voucher program. If the program is lost, so will be many of the District’s educational improvements.

For more on teachers unions, see here.