Greater Greater Washington

Education


DC's mayor can't oversee himself

The recent investigation into cheating in DC schools highlights a little-understood fact in the District: Our mayor has too much power. Every state-level agency charged with overseeing the mayor's activities reports to the mayora level of control that exists nowhere else in the country.


Photo by stallio on Flickr.

The agency that investigates cheating, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), is charged with overseeing our schools. But OSSE also reports to the mayor, the same official who runs most of the schools they are supposed to oversee.

The same conflict exists with the state-level agency charged with overseeing job training in the District. This agency, the Workforce Investment Council (WIC), reports to the same mayor who runs job training and wants voters to see his efforts to train job seekers as successful.

Continue reading Ken's latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son. Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. 

Comments

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I don't agree with your central thesis, Ken. There is also no guarantee that changing the hierachy of reporting and responsibility would solve the problems you note. In fact, going straight to the mayor at least makes a single person responsible, whereas the council etc can point fingers at each others. You don't like DC being run by Congress but want to replicate the dysfunction of Congress at the local level.

As a first step, I'd rather see more transparency by the agencies, and a stronger FOIA-type law so that the press and the council can perform oversight.

Finally, in your WaPo article, you compare DC cheating to Atlanta. Atlanta is larger than DC, and is part of a larger state with cities, farms, etc, and so it will have overlapping jurisdictions and levels of government. There is not the same issue in DC, a very small state (population and area) that is entirely urban.

by SJE on May 11, 2013 3:08 pm • linkreport

In fact, going straight to the mayor at least makes a single person responsible, whereas the council etc can point fingers at each others....As a first step, I'd rather see more transparency by the agencies, and a stronger FOIA-type law so that the press and the council can perform oversight.

The mayor SHOULD be accountable for all executive functions, yes. But should the mayor also be accountable for oversight of his own executive functions, or does that actually reduce accountability?

I'd love to see the Council perform better oversight. The problem is that they aren't set up to provide oversight, and it's all but certain that that won't change. We've known for over a decade that the Council is hobbled by not having permanent committee staff.

All I'm recommending is a governance structure that is more like the other 50 states. Why should our mayor have powers to control oversight of his actions that no other mayor in the country has?

by Ken Archer on May 11, 2013 3:24 pm • linkreport

Permanent committee staff would definitely be a good move, provided that they do not become captured by the targets of their regulation. The Council could do this if they wanted: right?

I disagree that we need to replicate the other fifty states: its expensive, and it doesnt work unless government is substantially contested. DC will be Democratic for the forseeable future.

What I think we need is more enforcable transparency, so we are not reliant on any party, or any person in government, but can force the government to be open. We can then do the analysis.

Exhibit 1, to my mind, is THIS blog. I think it has done more to advance accountability and policy than the politicians.

by SJE on May 11, 2013 4:57 pm • linkreport

You do know that mayoral primacy in k-12 is recent? Before that the dcps had at least a twenty year decline. Under the new system things are improved. Do you want to go back to the bad old days?

by Tom M on May 11, 2013 8:52 pm • linkreport

Tom makes a great point. DCPS had 20 years of decline. Fenty's changes were heralded as a success, but with questions because of the suspicions of cheating. On balance, I think the current system deserves more time. Certainly, most parents support it.

by SJE on May 11, 2013 9:09 pm • linkreport

You do know that mayoral primacy in k-12 is recent? Before that the dcps had at least a twenty year decline. Under the new system things are improved. Do you want to go back to the bad old days?

There is nothing in this proposal about moving DCPS back from the Mayor's office to a school board. The Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 transferred DCPS to the Mayor, away from an independently elected school board.

But OSSE (then the State Education Office) already reported to the Mayor at the time. So, while we supposedly removed politics from the running of DCPS in 2007, we politicized OSSE. That's because before 2007 OSSE and DCPS didn't report to the same boss, so OSSE had some political independence from the school system it was supposed to oversee. Now they do report to the same boss.

If your concern is that one person, the Mayor, be held accountable for DCPS, then wouldn't you want an agency that is supposed to oversee DCPS to not report to the Mayor?

by Ken Archer on May 11, 2013 11:40 pm • linkreport

The people with power to enforce (federal) law against the President work for him too. I'm more worried about that (especially on a foreign policy level, with drones, etc). The DC mayor can be indicted by the US attorney if he/she does anything too egregious. No US Attorney is going to try to indict a sitting President.

by wyliecoyote on May 12, 2013 3:18 am • linkreport

Ken - DC council has overview and now there is a specified committee beyond the committee of the whole. Voters oversee both the council and the mayor. An "independent" oversight will not have any real muscle. See elections and ethics?

by tom m on May 12, 2013 11:58 am • linkreport

Ken, the real bosses DCPS reports to are the parents. What charter schools did was create alternatives for parents when DCPS was not performing. The OSSE and the school board was a hopeless waste of time, basically, if you the parent had an issue and the principal of your kids' school was not responding.

Now with viable and high-performing alternatives, DCPS realizes that they must respond to parents or loose students and become irrelevant. Forget about the alternative oversight; let the customers enforce performance.

by goldfish on May 12, 2013 1:35 pm • linkreport

"No US Attorney is going to try to indict a sitting President." WRONG: see the special prosecutors against Nixon, and Ken Starr's finding that Clinton perjured himself. These all lead to impeachment, which is the Constitutional way to try a President.

by SJE on May 12, 2013 4:43 pm • linkreport

@SJE; technically, Cox was a special prosector. And there were conditions put on his appointment -- that the AG could not fire him, which is why the AG had to resign. As a result we have the independent prosecutor law, which is what Starr ended up as.

And I've much rather have a special prosecutor investigating the current mayor than the US attorney.

by charlie on May 13, 2013 8:14 am • linkreport

While I do think the new AG will be able to exercise some oversight power regarding fraud and abuse, I like an aspect of Ken's central recommendation of rotating terms and independent agencies.

Maybe education and job training are not the agencies, or the only agencies, that should have independent terms. But I find the "act like a state" approach to thinking about DC governance generally appealing.

My concern with shifting education to this sort of regime right away is that we are falling prey to the same phenomenon that happens everywhere with education reform. We have no stick-with-it-ness on policy changes and reform. We blame everything that is wrong on the last person to have been in charge, and then we immediately slap on a new solution at the top. It's manic. Instead, we need to slog through the tough issues without immediately losing hope and assigning all-encompassing blame, or else we'll stay caught in this vicious circle of sweeping reform forever.

by Katherine Mereand-Sinha on May 13, 2013 11:47 am • linkreport

Independence does not guarantee results or accountability: if anything it helps the incompetent and corrupt to continue on.

The Mayor is under investigation, the head of the council and at least one other councilman were forced to resign, and agency heads are under investigation. The current council's longest serving member and former mayor has been convicted of multiple felonies. Tell me who exactly is supposed to be ensuring that things get done competently and cleanly?

Most results have come from someone in the opposition. Fenty/Rhee were opposing the old school and now the old school is digging it up against them. Catania has found a lot of dirt. A GOP candidate uncovered money going to personal accounts that was supposed to go to sports leagues.

I'll go back to my original point: absent serious political competition, the best guarantee has been the media, and especially this blog.

by SJE on May 13, 2013 3:11 pm • linkreport

In states, the state board of education, especially when elected, is more independent. Separately, I've advocated for the elimination of an IG that reports to the Mayor and an Auditor that reports to the Council, in favor of an elected Office of the Public Advocate (like NYC).

The problem generally is that the Home Rule Charter was written in many ways to favor Executive power. Witness how it treats referenda (advisory, e.g., how Council overturned the vote on term limits) and the forbidding of referenda on funding issues (including bonding authority).

by Richard Layman on May 14, 2013 11:19 am • linkreport

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