Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Elect the DC State Superintendent of Education?

I am torn about "statehood" for DC.  People mostly make the argument that statehood is a right.  The fact is that historically, statehood wasn't a right, territories had to meet certain conditions in order to be able to become states.  One of the conditions was financial sustainability.  Likely petitions from places with a lot of corrupt practices weren't seen as strong candidates for statehood, etc.

My point about "statehood" is that if DC wants to become a state, it needs to set higher aspirations, and act like a state, proving the case, rather than just whining about how we deserve it.

One of the ways to do this would be to be a shining example of democracy in "state-level" governance.

In the past I have proposed that:

1.  the number of wards and number of City Councilmembers should be expanded, in part to reposition the Council more like a Legislature (but unicameral), but also to make it harder to pass legislation and to reduce the caudillo-like control that Councilmembers have within wards*;

2.  the Attorney General should become elected, as it is in most states ("The DC elections and the referendum on the Attorney General")--voters approved this in 2010, the Executive Branch opposes this and the City Council abruptly delayed the creation of the independent office a couple months ago;

3.  the Inspector General position in the Executive Branch and the Auditor position in the Legislative Branch should be eliminated in favor of an elected "Public Advocate" (which is what the position is called in New York City) but with stronger, and independent, powers*;

4.  We should elect the CFO maybe, too (equivalent to a Comptroller in other cities), see "The DC Chief Financial Officer position: what is to be done? Make it elected!," although there is no question that such positions, depending on the level of control over awarding contracts, can be abused (see "As Pension Chief, Thompson Gave Work to Donors" from the New York Times);

5.  we should return to having a school board that oversees the public schools, instead of rolling all those functions into the Mayor's Office, with spotty oversight from the City Council* (* = discussed in this blog entry, "Continued musing on restructuring DC's City Council (mostly).")

Earlier this week it was announced that Mayor Gray wishes to appoint Jesus Aguirre, currently director of the Parks and Recreation Department, as State Superintendent of Education.  See "Jesús Aguirre to be DC's new state superintendent for education" from the Washington Post.  The appointment must be approved by City Council.

DC is treated as a state by the federal government for administrative purposes, so like the "real" states, we have a State Department of Education providing oversight of various school functions--except that unlike in every other "state", the oversight functions for K-12 public schools has been for the most part taken away.

In most states and in DC, the "State Board of Education" is popularly elected.  

In the majority of states, the chief officer of the Department of Education, typically called a Superintendent, is not appointed by the Executive, but by the State Board of Education.  In a handful of states, but including California, the State Superintendent of Education is popularly elected. 

(In Michigan, public universities are treated as a fourth branch of government, and the boards of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University are popularly elected; note that three other states elect the boards of public universities in a similar fashion.)

In order to have separation of powers and proper oversight, DC's State Board of Education should get back the authority to oversee K-12 public education.

And either the Superintendent should be appointed by the State Board of Education or elected.  The Superintendent of the public school system should be chosen in a different fashion.

This would be another plank in the argument that DC should "earn" statehood, because it is behaving as states should and do.

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At 12:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that DC should "earn" its statehood.

However, we all know that education in the US is not in good shape, as is easily shown by comparing it to that in other countries. The argument for DC statehood is hindered by DC emulating dysfunctional education bureaucracies. On the other hand, the case for DC statehood is bolstered if it demonstrates how to make failing schools succeed and make its students shine.

Given the improvements of late, we are doing all right.

At 12:48 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

what, substantively, has been improved, especially in terms of low income students? (Although I could admit that it might be, if things are really working, that in the next two years we will see significant raises in test scores--if we think that is the best result we can get from schooling, which I don't.)

At 1:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard: test scores are up.

The scores are up for economically disadvantaged, too.

You can quibble over chages in the testing, which may affect results from one year to the next. Nevertheless the upward trend since 2008 is undeniable.

At 1:04 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

interestingly, none of the links I tried, for access to data, worked.

I still don't think those numbers are all that significant. But that's me.

At 1:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Click on this link.

At 1:24 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Thanks. I now owe it to you to go through the document.

At 10:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A different Anonymous writes...

When looking at the latest test scores you need to know that this is a new test now (supposedly) aligned with the Common Core curriculum. Because it is a new test, it needed to be re-baselined to prior years. Setting a new baseline allows scores to move either up (DC) or way down (NY state).
I am not saying that the students couldn't have all improved this last year in DC. But it is more likely that the score improvements come from the new baseline rather than students learning more and better.


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