A District councilman has drafted sweeping legislation that would revolutionize the city's public education system.
D.C. Councilman David A. Catania's seven bills would give more power to principals, increase funding for underprivileged children, change the city's lottery system for schools and end the practice of advancing grades for children performing below grade-level standards.
“If we don’t tackle this issue of the achievement gap, if we continue to relegate this city to a city of haves and have-nots that fall very hard across race lines, we’re never going to be the city we need to be,” Catania said.
Catania said he hopes the bills will also increase parent participation in children’s academics. The proposed legislation would allow city officials to link standardized test scores and students grades, creating an incentive for students to take tests more seriously and perform better.
The mayoral takeover of district public schools occurred in 2007 and Catania's new legislation package “represents the council’s most aggressive attempt to overall the District’s education policy,” according to The Washington Post.
The debate has already begun among council members. Councilmember and former mayor Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) said he looks forward to “massive hearings” on the proposals.
“I agree with a lot of it; however, much of it needs further scrutiny," Barry said.
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s spokesman Pedro Ribeiro responded to a summary of Catania’s proposals provided the Washington Post. Ribeiro said a few of the proposals may duplicate initiatives currently underway.
“There are a lot of things that he has in this proposal that are good ideas, and we know because we’re already working on them,” Ribeiro said.
One bill in Catania’s legislation calls on principals to inform parents mid-year that their child is at risk for not advancing to the next grade. Unless a principal recommends otherwise, third through eighth grade students could be held back if they fail to pass certain classes. These students would be required to attend summer school.
Catania is requesting feedback on the proposals on his website.
“Everything we’re doing here, I might have it completely wrong,” Catania said. “But at least I’m trying.”