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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Yo' Adrian, Wrong Way!

The following article was taken from Sam Smith's Progressive News Blog (City Desk)
"Like Wrong Way Corrigan who mistakenly flew from New York to Ireland when he was meant to be going to California, Adrian Fenty has his plane headed in the wrong direction.Even before his inauguration, Fenty made a number of errors that have raised serious apprehensions about what lies ahead. These include a planned takeover of the school system; the questionable appointment of Kathy Lanier as police chief without consulting even with members of his own team; and a suspiciously close involvement with the Federal City Council. The school system takeover is a terrible idea for a number of reasons:- It is a dagger aimed at the heart of home rule. An elected school board was DC's first modern victory in its struggle towards self government. Anthony Williams callously eviscerated it and now Fenty wants to destroy it. This makes him an enemy of home rule.- The excuse that the takeover will create a better school system has no basis in fact. For example, the NYC model has had extremely mixed returns which Fenty clearly doesn't understand as he has primarily listened to its advocates and not to its victims. Furthermore, there is nothing in Fenty's record that indicates sufficient knowledge of education to justify his coup against an elected board.- The concept essentially involves replacing democracy with a corporate system. While democracy is often flawed, it is inherently no more so than the failures of the self-appointed and is inherently a fairer system.- The very attempt displays a gross misunderstanding of education. Education is, at its heart, a personal relationship between teacher and student. The principals, bureaucracies and superstructures are there for support and logistics. Fenty, like so many, is treating education as a corporate organizational problem. This is doomed to failure because it reduces the key players - teachers and students - to the weakest position in a corporate bureaucracy when, in truth, they should be its most important participants.- A far better approach to school reform would be to reverse the course that Fenty proposes. Instead of tyranny at the top, permit the bottom to blossom. For example, you could make every high school and its feeder schools semi-autonomous systems with their own elected boards made of up teachers, parents and community. By having multiple systems at work in the city, you would quickly see which are effective and which are not. Working on the principle of subsidiarity (as used by the European Union, for example) government would function at the lowest practical level, which in a school system, is very close to the class room.- It seems highly likely that a primary reason for the takeover is to make valuable school properties more easily available to developers and/or campaign contributors. There is a name for this in urban politics; it is called corruption.
Finally, it appears almost certain that some sort of covert arrangement - perhaps implicit, perhaps more conscious - has been made between Fenty and the Federal City Council. In any case, the Council - a disingenuous polite front for local corporados - is clearly exercising far more influence in terms of appointments and policy than is good for the city. In DC, one doesn't have to make a pact with the devil; making one with the Federal City Council and its spiritual mentor, the Washington Post, produces much the same results without the theological hassles. It is not too late for Fenty to turn his plane around and head in the right direction. Showboating as Mr. Super Manager isn't going to fool people for long just as it didn't with Anthony Williams. What does work is getting a good team together that loves the city more than it loves campaign contributors, that is willing to stand up for the people of the city as opposed to those who just use the city to make a lot of money.It wouldn't hurt for Fenty to pay attention to the telling silence over the departure of Williams. It's hard to find anyone outside of the Board of Trade and the Washington Post who's really sad to see him go. And it's worth noting that, despite all his faults, Marion Barry was able to maintain a constituency well past his prime. Why? Because he had actually helped a lot of people when he wasn't destroying himself. If Fenty only pays off those who paid for his election, he will end up on the losing end. It he serves those who voted for him, he will turn into a winner.


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