Fred Hiatt did a column on Monday urging Barack Obama to do his utmost to help the school reform efforts in DC being spearheaded by Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee. I’d like to see that, too, but I think Hiatt overlooked one particular concrete way in which the administration will be involved. That’s via the DC Public Charter School Board which authorizes new charter schools (and revokes the charters from schools that are no good) and whose members are appointed by the mayor from a list of candidates drawn up by the Secretary of Education.
The system is a bit odd on a theoretical level, but it’s worked well throughout its lifetime. Several secretaries of education in a row have made responsible nominations, and the system has managed to insulate the board from the vagaries of municipal politics. It’s crucially important that the board not become an extension of patronage politics or be captured by the stakeholders in the status quo rather than preserving the charters as alternatives to DCPS. At the same time, it’s also important that the appointments be made with a real focus on the interests of DC and DC’s school students rather than suffering from total inattention. One assumes the Obama transition team isn’t going to get around to staffing the Department of Education for a while (top priority will rightly be on the White House staff, Treasury, Defense, and State) but this will be critically important to the city’s future when the time comes.