The education election?

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As many people slip into holiday routines, mayoral hopefuls in Washington, DC are just beginning the long list of debates, forums and open houses designed to line up supporters come voting day.  A familiar pattern is emerging: much like his predecessor, DC Mayor Vincent Gray finds himself on the defensive when talking education policy.

Three years ago, while running against then Mayor Adrian Fenty, Gray was hailed by the Washington Teachers' Union for questioning Fenty's approach to improving education. The tides have since turned. During a recent event sponsored by the Washington Teachers' Union, incumbent Gray was greeted by boos and groans in an auditorium packed with teachers, union leaders and activists as he referred to DC Public School's rising scores on standardized tests as evidence of his seriousness on education reform.

Other highlights from the debate include:

  • Loud applauses for Andy Shallal, owner of the Busboys and Poets restaurants, who accused Gray (and members of council running for office) of alienating parents and teachers amid a forceful push for school reform. He also found fault with the city's approach to school choice.
  • Hoots of support for Reta Jo Lewis when she declared that, since the D.C. Council granted then Mayor Fenty power over the ailing school system, too many "secrets" have been kept about the school management.
  • Dramatic stare down from long-shot candidate Christian Carter to Gray as she gave the city's schools (which have seen progress in enrollment rates, graduation rates, and test scores) a failing grade --an F.  
  • Boos for Council member Jack Evans when he showed support for mayoral control as a way to increase accountability.

Time will tell if this audience is indicitive of the larger voting public or if there are loud voices on the other side of the debate, as well. Poverty seemed to eclipse education as the issue of focus for New Yorkers. We'll be watching to see if DC follows in the Big Apple's footsteps or keeps it's eyes on schools as it heads to the voting booth.