When I was in grade school, the fundamentals of education were known as the three R's. Now, according to Mayor Marc Morial, they're known as "3T."
Silly us. All this time we thought the keys to better public schools were broader public support, a fairer tax base, more parental involvement, tougher standards for students as well as teachers, greater accountability at every level, computers in the classroom, improved facilities and other "essentials."
As it turns out, all we need is four more years of Marc Morial as mayor!
Thank God we found out before his term expires. And thank God the solution is so easy! Who knows what might have become of our public schools if someone else were allowed on the second floor of City Hall. We might have wasted more decades trying to build a public school constituency among businesses and the middle class.
Well, OK, let's be fair. The substance of Morial's platform for improving public schools has a lot of merit. Really, it does.
Consider the highlights of his "Focus on Education, NOW!":
· Nine-hour school days at low-performing elementary and middle schools (including three square meals).
· A broad-based, but mostly advisory, Mayor's Education Cabinet to serve as a clearinghouse for education reform ideas.
· A larger mayoral role in lobbying and grant-writing for public schools.
· A new city agency to oversee school maintenance and capital improvements.
· Mo' Better Data (my name for it) -- a computerized accountability system for public schools akin to the COMSTAT program that helped improve NOPD.
· A cop in every school.
· More specialized academies, such as NOCCA.
It's hard to argue with those ideas -- except maybe the one that would, potentially, put Morial in charge of school maintenance and construction. Given the fact that we voted for a street improvements bond issue five years ago and much of it hasn't even begun yet, the notion of putting Morial in charge of rebuilding public schools will be a tough sell. At its core, it's nothing more than a patronage grab -- as if he hasn't got enough of that already.
Worse yet, his record on construction projects is spotty. For example, his recent and much-ballyhooed blitz for better streets -- 100 streets improved in 100 days, timed just right for the Oct. 20 "3T" referendum -- got off to a painfully typical start, which is to say no start at all. He announced the blitz, then learned that federal matching funds have been delayed.
While the rest of the mayor's education ideas have merit, they're hardly original. Moreover, they hardly require keeping him as mayor to oversee their implementation. Any one of the hopefuls who can legally run for his job could just as easily see those ideas through.
That's the real fallacy of Morial's argument: that only he can pull this education thing off.
Thus far, the "3T" campaign reminds me of that old children's story, "The Emperor's New Clothes." You know how it ends.
Hizzoner's attempt to cloak his political ambitions in high-minded education reform rang so hollow last week that a chorus of public and private voices immediately shouted back, "He's not wearing any clothes!"
Given the size of this mayor's ego and the single-mindedness with which he is pursuing his goal, I doubt he'll fire any of his political tailors. Instead, he'll likely continue to strut around, naked, until Oct. 20.