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August 27, 2008

It’s War

Dear Warriors:

The Washington Post has published two more of its long series of embarrassingly sycophantic “Fenty is right about everything” editorials back-to-back. Today (, it praises Fenty’s and Rhee’s transparently patronizing “Capital Gains” or “School Is Money” plan to pay students to attend school, and dismisses as “hysterical” critics of the plan, such as Post columnist Marc Fisher, who called it a “deeply cynical effort,” “unproven and depressingly classist, bordering on racially condescending” ( The editorial, by the way, fails to reveal a huge conflict of interest; the Post’s own Kaplan Educational Foundation is a major funder and backer of the man who designed and who will administer the program, Roland G. Fryer.

Yesterday’s even worse editorial trashed the Washington Teachers Union and “teachers who don’t want to participate in a new pay arrangement that lets them trade tenure for big money,” and sneers at veteran teachers: “And we agree with those who wonder why it seems to be the veterans who are most worried about using student outcomes as a yardstick for teacher rewards” (

Let me try to explain to the Washington Post’s editorial board, which seems determined not to understand, why teachers are not eager to trust their professional futures to people who are hostile to and contemptuous of them and their union, like Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee. Yesterday’s editorial expressed its admiration for teachers who support Rhee’s proposed contract: “We were struck by the confidence of second-grade teacher Julia Rosen, 25, who told The Post’s Bill Turque that she has no problem with a system in which her pay, and perhaps her job, are linked to what her students learn.” I propose that the editorial board of the Post accept a similar contract from the newspaper, one that holds them accountable for their work. There’s a simple, objective measure for how well those who write for a newspaper serve their paper’s readers: circulation. If the circulation of the Washington Post rises, members of the editorial board should get handsome raises and bonuses; if the circulation falls, they should be fired. Editorialists should make no excuses about societal changes that have an impact on circulation or any similar nonsense; we all know that it’s the performance of a paper’s writers that determine its success or failure, and it’s editorialists who represent the newspaper most directly. Why should they be afraid of being held accountable? Or do they just want to protect their own jobs at the expense of their readers? As soon as I have heard that the Post’s editorial board members have accepted new contracts with these terms, terms similar to those of the proposed teachers contract, I’ll take their criticism of teachers seriously.

Is it fair to call Fenty and Rhee hostile to teachers and hostile to the teachers union, and to call Fenty hostile to unions in general? Well, that’s what the unions think. In a press release and flyer distributed at the Democratic National Convention today, the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO called Fenty a “budget-shattering, union-busting, promise-breaking political boss whose poor performance and bad management are costing DC taxpayers millions of dollars” ( Fenty has gambled that Washington union locals wouldn’t unite, and that he would be able to pick them off one-by-one, starting with the teachers union. But the flyer links together five of the most prominent antiunion actions taken by Fenty (“Fenty cost the District when he had to rehire union workers fired without proper investigation; Fenty broke his promise to rebuild DC schools using union labor; Fenty is trying to gut seniority rights for unionized DC teachers; Fenty has created a crisis for hardworking rank and file District employees by refusing to appoint qualified people to fill vacancies on the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB); Fenty stooped to reveal his petty, vindictive governing tactics when he unilaterally abolished city jobs held by some union leaders, a retaliatory move to intimidate unions who have pushed for reform through partnership”) and closes with the line, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Just as importantly, the parent unions of the WTU, the American Federation of Teachers, and of the Metropolitan Washington Council, the AFL-CIO, support their locals’ calls for confronting and picketing Fenty whenever and wherever he appears nationwide campaigning for Barack Obama. It’s a war now, and the war is on.

Gary Imhoff


Marilyn Rubin,

Rent Administrator Grayce Wiggins was fired for ruling in favor of Kennedy Warren residents. She was a mayoral appointee, but Fenty did not seem to stand by her, and she is now gone. (So much for ethics in DC or from Fenty.) However, a coalition group of tenants are meeting to try to get her reinstated.

DC Medical Director Dr. Michael Williams was also forced to resign recently, and he was replaced by Fire Chief Dennis Rubin’s crony from Atlanta. The new medical director, Dr. Augustine, is now the sixth medical director in seven years. A great record for the city! Fenty promised that he would separate the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services, but he didn’t.


Inequality of Information
Dorothy Brizill,

Since August 21, when Mayor Fenty and School Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced their “School Is Money” cash incentive program for middle school students in the District, I have tried unsuccessfully to get detailed information on the initiative. At the press conference, it was announced that the District would partner with Dr. Roland Fryer’s American Inequality Lab at Harvard University (, which has a similar pilot program (Sparks) underway in New York City.

Since the press conference, New York City’s Department of Education and Harvard University have repeatedly refused to provide basic information about Dr. Fryer, the Lab, and the Sparks program. The American Inequality Lab and Harvard University have refused to reply to my questions about the budget of the Lab and will not provide the full list of funders with the amount of their donations, and it will not confirm whether or not Dr. Fryer has taken a leave of absence for this academic year. The New York City Department of Education has provided conflicting information, first sending me a press release saying that Dr. Fryer would be on leave from Harvard and working on the NYC DOE’s payroll this year, and then denying that he was on leave or on DOE’s payroll. I asked the NYC DOE repeatedly who was funding its Spark program; it replied only that it was “privately funded . . . through Mayor Bloomberg’s Opportunity initiative.” As Fenty and Rhee prepare to roll out the cash incentive program in DC, which Fryer’s Lab will administer, citizens can expect the wall of secrecy to become even more insurmountable.


A Jack-of-All-Trades
Peter Tucker,

Jack Evans receives $92,500 for his part-time job as Ward 2’s councilmember. In 2006, he voted to raise council salaries, and if reelected he’ll receive over $120,000 a year, plus an annual cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA). While Mr. Evans feels COLAs are okay for him, he hasn’t felt the same way for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). During his seventeen-year tenure on the Council, the District’s TANF benefits have fallen to fourth worst in the nation, down 40 percent, because COLAs don’t apply to them. And at a recent debate, Mr. Evans said he was unsure if he would support COLAs for minimum wage workers. To be clear: Mr. Evans is against COLAs for people struggling to survive, yet for them when it comes to his future six-figure salary.

Speaking of six-figure salaries, Mr. Evans already has one. The elite law firm Patton Boggs is paying the councilmember $240,000 a year! What exactly Mr. Evans does for Patton Boggs to earn $1,000 for each and every working day is unclear (you can try to figure it out at Could it be that this financial arrangement has something to do with Mr. Evans’ consistent support for steering vast amounts of public dollars toward private initiatives — always under the cover of ‘economic development’? Did Patton Boggs benefit in any way from tax dollars going to the Convention Center ($850 million), the Nationals’ Stadium ($800 million and counting), the recent Verizon Center giveaway ($50 million), to name a few? If Mr. Evans is reelected, and continues to chair the Committee on Finance and Revenue, will Patton Boggs benefit?


Movie Remakes
Denise Wiktor,

This weekend I watched the 1960 version of Ocean’s 11, with an all star cast of characters including the entire rat pack. There was Sammy Davis, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Cid Caesar, Peter Lawford and Angie Dickenson, for a start. I was surprised at how young Sammy Davis, Jr., and Frank Sinatra looked. Everyone was of course dressed glamorously, even Mrs. Bergdorff who ran the dog salon while her husband was in prison and son “Timmy” was away at a military academy. It was very much set in the era and in many ways was a slow moving but interesting meander through the eleven characters’ lives. So, not having seen the remake, should I? I am sure it will be more high tech and action packed, but the ending isn’t plausible in today’s world (and barely then) so was it changed?

I am also interested in some remakes that are worth seeing, maybe along with the original. Can you suggest remakes that are better than the originals to round out my summer?


School Is Money
Malcolm Wiseman,

It may be offensive to some, but fortunately school is money. Would that it be wisdom as well. Better to say truthfully that “School Is Money,” and follow up with a commitment to tightly administered biweekly cash awards for good service than to pay lip service to “Excellence.” But “Capital Gains,” the new name of the program, is rather obscure and says nothing about school. I guess they want to use all the senses of the first word at the same time. Maybe we should think of it as a “thank you for staying out of public assistance programs” rebate. We don’t care where they spend it. It’s not a food stamp; it’s an award.

I could come up with a much cheaper program called School Is Status. Same criteria as in Money, except that SIS pays off by conferring upon students a broad and legal favoring system. Mr. Barron has an excellent point about who gets paid and who gets the “slap up side the head.” Still, the performance is ultimately up to the kid, who may be just going along and really intends to be a bum or something else lightweight. This might hook him. The routine where he gets paid at least something after a month of head slaps would give him a regular pat on the back, to merit and to anticipate. What would be the parent’s stinger?

The idea of the government’s paying for school performance is not unheard of (GI bill, etc), but it does seem strange to pay a child to do what is good for him. Someone said it happens all over America, so is this “allowance” to be dispensed only among the students of the rich and well-off? Hmm. Adults already get this with deals like tax incentives for good energy behavior, etc., which goes back to Mr. Barron’s point, parent being the taxpayer. I can see why the program in New York City, similar in concept but narrowly focused, might fail. The measure of success was an annual test score. That sounds like one award per year, payment in the far future. Maybe it was different, I don’t know. It would be better to have a range of comportment qualifiers weigh-in on a biweekly score. Pay into a card account, or give an incentive to save and deposit into a school savings account some portion plus a matching token. Whatever we’re baiting with, it’s better to give a little bit more often.


Talk of Reform
Qawi Robinson,

I agree with you on this one [introduction to themail, August 24]. Newsweek is simply a Washington Post-NBC hack of a periodical. What rubbish, clearly by a pro-Fenty writer. In reading the article, I’m left with imagery of either Rhee as riding on a white horse and black mask saving DCPS or as a platoon leader in an epic battle of good versus evil. The one thing I do agree with Rhee on is her views of the Democratic National Committee. While No Child Left Behind is horrid, Democrats on the national and local levels surely haven’t ponied up with new legislation that would stop the hemorrhaging of the urban public education system.

One of the interesting facets of the article was Rhee’s upbringing, particularly her experience in Baltimore. While the article admits that they could not verify past classroom records, they surely paint Rhee as co-Messiah of the second grade class. Most interesting was her first impression: “Rhee was placed in one of the lowest-performing schools in Baltimore as a second-grade teacher. ‘It was a total culture shock for me,’ she recalls. While she was talking to her students as they lined up for lunch, one of the students fell down on the floor. ‘Each kid, as they were walking by, kicked the kid that was down,’ Rhee says. ‘I was, like, “What are they doing?” But it was like second nature to them. The kid is down. Kick him.’” Isn’t she kicking the WTU and teachers’ while they are down with this anti-seniority contract?

Am I the only one who sees a parallel to what she was trying to stop in Baltimore to what she is effectively doing to the Washington Teachers Union and other teachers? The other articles are just as laughable.



Eric Kulberg’s 1963 March on Washington, August 28
Andre Johnson,

Join the Historical Society of Washington as it presents a unique historical retrospective with the opening of Eric Kulberg’s 1963 March on Washington exhibit this Thursday, August 28, from 6:30-9:00 p.m., at the Historical Society, 801 K Street, NW, across the street from the Washington Convention Center. The evening’s event will also mark the forty-fifth anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous “I have a Dream” speech. The opening reception will also include a special performance of that remarkable speech by Dr. King’s; performed by Jimi Bethel. The Historical Society of Washington, DC, also invites the public to a live interview of Eric Kulberg by C.R. Gibbs, and participate in a public forum to share memories of the March on Washington.

Eric Kulberg: 1963 March on Washington consists of color 35 mm photographs taken by Eric Kulberg as a young freshman at American University in 1963. He shares images of leaders, marchers, the overwhelming mass of participants and the media. He recalls, “It was hot and steamy that day, but no one seemed to mind. There was a great sense of joy in the air. Everyone seemed to know something special was to happen.” All exhibits are free and open to the public, Tuesday-Sunday, 10-5.


Fun Family Films Under the Stars, August 28, 30-31
John A. Stokes,

The District’s Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) will hold “Fun Family Films Under the Stars,” its 2008 Family Movie Night Season, this summer. “Fun Family Films Under the Stars,” which continues until late-September, will afford residents of all ages and families of all sizes the opportunity to enjoy viewing the free, family-oriented films in DPR’s outdoor settings. As in previous years, viewers are invited to bring their own snacks, chairs, and blankets. This year, District residents will have a greater selection of viewing locations. Movies will be shown from 8:45 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Community members who arrive early enough for each screening will have the opportunity to place a vote between two movies that may be shown that evening. The movie that receives the most votes will be shown.

Thursday, August 28, Stead Recreation Center, 1625 P Street, NW
Saturday, August 30, Trinidad Recreation Center, 1310 Childress Street, NE
Sunday, August 31, Brentwood Recreation Center, 2311 14th Street, NE


Public Library Events, August 31, September 2, and following
George Williams,

Sundays, August 31, September 7, 14, 28, 2:00 p.m., various locations. Percy Smith, Jr., noted local drummer, will lead jazz groups featuring local musicians at five neighborhood libraries. Smith studied percussion at The Peabody Conservatory of Music while honing his skills in the Jazz and R&B clubs of Baltimore, MD. After arriving in Washington, DC, to study Pre-Medicine at Howard University, he became the house drummer, for the Howard Theater Orchestra under the direction of Charlie Hampton. During this period he performed and traveled with such acts as The Coasters, Wilson Pickett, Charlie and Inez Fox, and Billy Stewart among others. In later years, he founded the “Percussion Discussion Ensemble”, which entertained many children and young adults throughout the Metropolitan Area. Percy has also performed in numerous venues such as the Apollo Theater, Blues Alley, One Step Down, the East Coast Jazz Festival, Westminster Jazz Series, etc. In the late 80s and early 90s, Percy recorded and traveled with Dakota Staton, Dorothy Donegan, and infamous “Juke Joint Central!” All performances at 2:00 p.m.: August 31, Chevy Chase; September 7, Southeast; September 14, Capitol View; September 28, Shepherd Park.

Tuesday, September 2, 9, 4:30 p.m., Palisades Neighborhood Library, 4901 V Street, NW. Elizabeth Taylor Classic Film Series. September 2, The VIP’s (1963); September 9, Taming of the Shrew (1967).

Tuesdays, September 2, 9, 16, 30, at 6:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, Auditorium A-5. September 2, Redbelt (2008); September 9, The Forbidden Kingdom (2008); September 16, 88 Minutes (2007); September 30, Iron Man (2008).


Digital Bookmobile Download Events, September 3-4
George Williams,

The DC Public Library will host the Digital Bookmobile, an immersive download experience inside a high-tech tractor-trailer, on September 3 and 4 at the Old Convention Center site located at 10th and H Streets, NW. Readers of all ages are invited to engage digital downloading through interactive demonstrations and experience the Library’s audiobook, eBook, music, and video download service at this free event.

The Digital Bookmobile is housed inside an 18-wheel tractor-trailer. This community outreach vehicle is a high-tech version of the traditional bookmobile that has served the District of Columbia for decades. The vehicle is equipped with broadband Internet-connected PCs, high definition monitors, premium sound systems, and a variety of portable media players, all of which help visitors explore the DC Public Library download service. Interactive learning stations give visitors an opportunity to search the digital media collection, use supported mobile devices, and download and enjoy eBooks, audiobooks, music, and video from the library.

DC Public Library users can take advantage of the download service twenty-four hours a day by visiting the library’s web site. From there, they can browse the growing collection of best-selling, new release, and classic titles, and check out a digital title with a valid library card. Once downloaded, digital titles can be enjoyed on a computer or transferred to supported mobile devices. Many audio titles can also be burned to audio CD. At the end of the twenty-one day lending period, titles will automatically expire and are returned to the digital collection. There are never late fees or damaged items. The Digital Bookmobile will be will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The Digital Bookmobile is a service of the DC Public Library and is operated by OverDrive, Inc. To check out and download digital books and more, visit


State Superintendent of Education Events, September 4, 23
Kadida Thiero,

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) is launching a new citywide literacy campaign, Reading: It Takes You Places. The campaign will work to combat the growing problem of illiteracy in the District and will encourage residents to engage in reading as a daily practice. The OSSE will launch the campaign with an event September 4, at 10 a.m., at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library. State Superintendent of Education Deborah A. Gist and DC Public Libraries Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper will introduce the city’s new multilingual literacy campaign by unveiling the campaign materials that include television and radio public service advertisements, outdoor advertising, posters, flyers, and postcards. There also will be testimonials from people who learned to read as adults.

District students are making strides in reading, according to the recently released DC Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS) test scores. Students showed significant improvement in reading at both the elementary and secondary levels for the 2007-2008 school year. In reading, the number of elementary students performing at the proficient level or higher went up 7.3 percent from last year, and secondary students reaching or exceeding proficiency also increased by 7.3 percent. However, 36 percent (170,000) of all District residents are considered functionally illiterate, compared to 21 percent nationally. People who are functionally illiterate have some ability to read and write but may have difficulty with crucial tasks such as filling out job applications, reading maps, understanding bus schedules, and reading newspaper articles.

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education will hold a College Awareness Month Policy Forum on Tuesday, September 23, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at Bell Multicultural High School. The topic will be State-Level Strategies for Supporting a College-Going Culture. For more information, call 727-6436 or E-mail


Coffee, Confusion, and Jim Morrison, September 18
Beth Meyer,

Mark Opsasnick, author of the books Capitol Rock and The Lizard King Was Here, will discuss his recently published article “Coffee, Confusion and Jim Morrison: The Forgotten History of Hip Coffee Houses and Beatnik Poets in the Nation’s Capital.” He will speak at the Kensington Row Bookshop, 3786 Howard Avenue, Kensington, MD, on Thursday, September 18, at 7:30 p.m. The article, which appears in the current issue of Beltway Poetry Quarterly, can be accessed for free by visiting Opsasnick will talk about his research behind the article and his presentation will conclude with a question-and-answer session. Free copies of the article will be distributed to those who attend and a reception will follow his talk. Opsasnick’s last presentation at Kensington Row Bookshop in August 2006 drew a capacity crowd, so please arrive early! For additional information, please visit


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