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Did anybody notice?
(Published June 13, 2005)

For years, politicians have focused much of their attention -- in large part, as a result of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act -- on improving student scores on standardized tests.

But that effort really misses the whole point of why we ask children to attend school for 13 years: to gain the necessary knowledge and skills to earn a diploma. Tests merely measure progress, while diplomas signify achievement.

More than 2,200 of the 65,000 students enrolled in D.C. Public Schools achieved their long-sought goal this month, yet few local officials took notice.

During a six-day period, June 5-10, seniors graduating from the city's public high schools donned the traditional tasseled mortarboards and gowns to participate in 21 commencement ceremonies.

The ceremonies marked one of life's milestones for these students, who will, no doubt, remember their high school graduation for the rest of their lives. The event launched them into adulthood, where their decisions to either participate in community life or sit on the sidelines -- or leave -- will have an enormous impact on the future of the District of Columbia as their hometown.

A handful of school board members, but not all, understood the importance of being there to congratulate graduating seniors and shake their hands. The school board even interrupted, and recessed, its regularly scheduled monthly Committee of the Whole meeting on June 8 to allow members to attend commencement ceremonies that day (though, unfortunately, ALL of them did not). Some folks might wonder why the school board failed to have the foresight to reschedule its meeting to avoid the conflict in the first place.

Most significant in their absence from commencement ceremonies were two of the District's elected officials who have talked ad nauseam about their concern for D.C.'s children and the public schools: Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz.

Both Williams and Cafritz chose foreign travel of questionable importance to their official duties as being more important than their participation in one week of life-crowning celebrations of achievement by the students whom they have often used as political props in discussing the city's future.

Williams, who took great pains to insert himself as the "education mayor" into school affairs that had never before been the mayor's legal responsibility, spent the week discussing global problems at meetings in Beijing of something called the "United Cities and Local Governments' Executive Bureau and World Council." (We have yet to hear a good explanation for why U.S. government officials think that visiting a repressive, undemocratic nation such as China can help resolve America's urban problems.)

Cafritz, we are told, is out of the country on a personally financed trip related to her position on a Smithsonian museum's board of directors. The past, it seems, is more important than the city's future.

When the leaders of this city who profess to care about children and schools cannot devote one week out of their busy lives to showing the kids that their concern is sincere, is there any mystery why many of D.C.'s children don't understand that attending school is important?

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator