Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Education: When everyone is in charge... no one is in charge

A core element of Mayoral Candidate Vince Gray's education platform is to strengthen the position of Deputy Mayor for Education.  As he's described at public forums, Gray envisions the position as coordinating education policy for the District, dealing with such elements as public schools, charter schools, the University of the District of Columbia (which has a law school and new community college), vocational training programs, literacy training, among other areas.

But where was such coordination on the D.C. Council?

Just about every state legislature in the country, as well as Congress and most city governments, has an committee charged with addressing education issues.  Not DC.

For many years, the DC Council had a Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation.  Before running for the Ward 4 seat on the DC Council, now-Mayor Adrian Fenty did a 2-year stint as the lead attorney and counsel for the Committee. 

Immediately after he was elected as Chairman of the Council, Gray eliminated the Committee in 2007.  Instead, deeming education issues too important to be discussed by a five-member committee, Gray placed education in the Committee of the Whole.  The Committee of the Whole is precisely what it is named -- the full council, led by the Chairman of the Council.
"I think it sends the message to the city, for the council, too, that education is the key issue. I had eight council members to ask to be on the education committee," Gray said. "This is an opportunity for everybody to participate. It takes a layer out of the process."

But there's a flip side.  When everyone is in charge... no one is in charge.  That's part of the reason why the District has consolidated much of the power over education reform in a Chancellor rather than in a large school board.

There is a value to smaller committees.  They allow Councilmembers to develop expertise on an issue, which can be helpful in developing legislation and providing effective oversight.  Committee members build relationships with the executive branch officials, organizations, community activists, and those affected (in this case, teachers, administrators, and students).  Committees permit greater dialogue among their members.  Those who serve on the Committee become points of contact for the public as well as people to hold accountable.  And yes, it facilitates coordination of policy.

What are the positions of the candidates for DC Council Chairman, Kwame Brown and Vincent Orange?  Would they bring back an education committee or keep it in the Committee of the Whole? 

Is a Committee on Education (including literacy) and Workforce Development in the works for 2011?

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