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September 21, 2008


Dear Solvers:

What are your ideas for improving the education provided by DC Public Schools? Lucy Labson, below, issues a challenge to me. What recommendations do I have to improve DC Public Schools that are better and, more importantly, would act faster than Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s plans? It’s a good question, but there are a few flaws with the way she poses it. First, Lucy assumes that Rhee’s plans are working, and there’s little evidence to support that assumption. In fact, there seems to be continued or even growing public dissatisfaction with schools, as “DC public school enrollment has dropped more than 8 percent since last year, the steepest annual decline since the District first hired an outside auditor to verify the student population in 1999” ( Students and parents are voting with their feet, and walking away from DCPS. (Ironically, Rhee may regard falling enrollment in public schools as a positive thing, because it will enable her to fire more teachers and principals and therefore weaken the teachers union and principals association.)

Second, Lucy assumes that Chancellor Rhee’s program, if it works, will produce a quick improvement in students’ education. As I’ve written many times, Mayor Fenty sold his school takeover with the promise that it would produce rapid and dramatic improvement in education, but that promise of a quick fix has long since been abandoned. Rhee herself has said that it will take seven years to produce results. Third, Lucy seems to think it is somehow dishonorable to criticize Rhee’s plans without offering a detailed alternative plan. It isn’t. It’s Rhee’s job to propose a program to improve public schools, and it is the public’s job to judge that program by its stated goals, its execution, and its results. We, the public, aren’t supposed to be experts in all the fields in which government experts work, but we are expert in judging whether government programs are working for us. Few of us know how to do street paving, but we all know if the pavements are well maintained. Fourth, how can anyone propose an alternative to a plan that doesn’t exist? Can Lucy articulate Rhee’s actual plan to improve education, aside from accumulating all power to herself and disempowering teachers, students, and parents?

Finally, Lucy asks in defense of Rhee, “do you think Ms. Rhee would behave ‘dictatorially’ in any way if she hadn’t been met with enormous resistance within the school system itself?” Of course. Do you think a spoiled child would ever throw a fit if she always got her way without throwing fits? Is a dictator any less dictatorial if the people don’t see any hope or possibility of resisting her will?

Nevertheless, regardless of my quarrels with how Lucy has asked her question, I think it’s a good question, because I have faith in themail’s correspondents to come up with answers. In fact, Candi Peterson has anticipated Lucy’s question in her message in this issue of themail. How would you improve education in DC’s public schools without using Chancellor Rhee’s dictatorial methods, without declaring war on teachers, and without her contempt for cooperation, collaboration, and consensus building?

Gary Imhoff


A Major League Ballpark and a Minor League Team
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

Long ago I protested that the move from RFK of the old Montreal Expos, now called the Nationals, would never be a big enough draw in DC to justify spending taxpayers’ monies on a new stadium to be owned by the team’s owners. My alternate proposal was to bring in a triple A minor league team and to build a good ten-thousand-seat stadium. Just look how well the minor league teams in the area draw. At a game last Tuesday that I attended there were fewer than 24,000 fans. In my section of about four hundred seats, right in front of the big scoreboard, there were about eighty fans. Almost all of them were rooting for the Mets. I got it half right. We did get a minor league team.

As for the revenue, which will be about 20 percent below expectations, there’s not much good news on the horizon. A reduction in ticket prices might inspire more season and partial season tickets but there will have to be about a 2 percent increase in ticket sales just to make up for the reduced prices. Thank goodness for the influx of fans from Virginia.

The owners claim the stadium is not finished. As a regular user of the facilities of the stadium I can see nothing missing from a really fine ballpark from the fans standpoint. I’m doing my part to add revenue to the Nationals’ coffers, though I don’t drink any $7.50 beer and really don’t eat very often at the park. I root for the home team but rarely (save for last Tuesday’s 1 to 0 win over the Mets) get much enjoyment that comes with a win. The Nationals are one of the three worst in both Major Leagues’ teams. It does not bode well for next season.


They Can’t Count
Dorothy Brizill,

When all is said and done, District residents look to the DC Board of Elections and Ethics to conduct elections and count the votes. Given the myriad of problems that occurred in February, during the presidential primary, and on September 9, serious concerns have been raised about whether the BOEE has the ability to oversee District elections. Events last week raised renewed concerns that BOEE can’t even count votes.

Last week, BOEE’s interim executive director, Sylvia Goldsberry-Adams, with the approval of the elections board, conducted what was billed as an “audit” of the September election returns. For two days, starting on Thursday, Adams and BOEE staffers manually counted the paper ballots from four preselected precincts (Precincts 13, 21, 22, and 44 were selected from among the District’s 144 precincts), and compared the manually tabulated vote with the totals reported on election night by the cartridges from the optical scan machines from those precincts. The audit did not go smoothly. In one precinct, Precinct 21, there were nineteen races (out of seventy total races) in which the manual count of the votes cast did not match the machine tabulations for those races, for a discrepancy rate of 27 percent. For all four sample precincts, the BOEE staff had to repeatedly recount the paper ballots (in the case of Precinct 13, more than ten recounts were done) in an effort to get manual results that approximated the machine count. By the time I left BOEE’s offices on Friday afternoon, votes were still being recounted manually.

As we approach the November general election, all DC voters should truly be troubled by the operations of BOEE, and its ability to conduct fair, honest elections with an accurate vote count.


Lucy Labson,

I’m new to [themail], but in the time I’ve been receiving it, I haven’t seen any plan from you on how you would jolt the DC Public Schools into delivering the excellent education our kids deserve. The system as it was when Ms. Rhee took over was criminal in its bloated administrative positions, particularly in the central office, and absence of help for its teachers’ continuing education. I won’t even get into the third-world condition system-wide of materials, supplies, books, and buildings.

Every year, kids get a year older. Every year that this city fails to provide the kind of education these youngsters need to graduate with true skills and meet the world, with or without college, is a major blow to that effort and shames our responsibility as adults.

Anyone can stoke the flames against anything that is new in any public sphere. That seems to be a favorite DC activity, in fact — anger and no solutions offered that hold up to close scrutiny. What exactly do you propose instead of what Ms. Rhee has been doing that would bring our schools up to excellent standards and accountability? The major hitch in that question to you is this: what do you propose that will not require the patience that means as another generation of kids will go through a failed system? By the way, do you think Ms. Rhee would behave “dictatorially” in any way if she hadn’t been met with enormous resistance within the school system itself?


Decrees of a Benevolent Dictator
Qawi Robinson,

Based on Gary’s latest intro [themail, September 17], it is amazing how such arrogance, smugness, and overall “ignorance for all things good” can be passed off as educational reform and beneficial for the city. Granted, DC Public Schools needed some overhauls, but Rhee and company, in their effort to fix the things that are broken, have broken things that didn’t need fixing. The latest example of this (and there are many examples) is the school naming convention. Once upon a time in DCPS there were Elementary Schools, a Middle School (Hardy), Junior High Schools, and High Schools. As part of the consolidation, the Junior High Schools were completely eliminated, creating more Middle Schools and Hybrid K-8 schools. The resulting name of the hybrids: “EleMiddle Schools.” This concatenation of Elementary and Middle isn’t even an accepted word in the English Language, yet we are naming educational campuses (nee schools) with this name. This concept is so “new” that one of the newly branded schools has several permutations for the spelling.

When the name was debuted at a “Back to School Night” last week, several parents were more than befuddled by the name, from which even the principal sought distance. The principal clearly said, “We didn’t think this up. This came from the Chancellor’s Office.” Whether or not the name is state-sponsored Ebonics remains to be seen. It was also said that the naming and grouping is based on a “national trend,” which also caught the ire of some parents. It is yet another of many national trends forced upon citizens that does not take into account the uniqueness of DC (see the OUC-FEMS 911 merger and taxi meters for other bad examples.)

After receiving a brochure about the “Capital Gains” program, I was interested not only in the funding but also in the math surrounding the awards. I read and was told that students can get up to $50 every two weeks, or $100 a month. With school being roughly nine months, that totals at most $900 or $950, including a leap day and regular calendar shifts. On the brochure, it also said that students can earn up to $1500 in a school year, for which there is no explanation. If school were held for twelve consecutive months, even at the biweekly maximum payout of $50, $1300 would be the limit. Even without the $200 differential, it seems a bit much to pay fifth to eight grade students to get good grades, wear their uniform, have perfect attendance, etc. While I know this is a pilot program, it remains to be seen if funding levels of this type seems sustainable for the foreseeable future, especially when DCPS is still over budget and yet schools are still lacking materials like paper and buildings are steadily crumbling.


The Three R’s to the DC Teacher Shortage Problem: Retain, Respect, and Resources
Candi Peterson,

The research supports that teacher attrition rates are higher in teaching than other professions. The National Center on Education estimates that one third of all teachers in the US leave education during their first three years of teaching and almost half leave after five years. In poorer communities, it is even worse. For those who choose teaching through alternative certification programs, it isn’t uncommon for as many as 60 percent to exit education. Little wonder that DC Public Schools is facing a teacher shortage citywide. Of course other factors contribute to teacher shortages. For instance when Chancellor Rhee offered the Teacher Transition Award program last school year it encouraged certified teachers from closing and restructuring schools to leave in exchange for monetary awards. Not to mention the 78 probationary DC teachers who were fired in June without regard to their work performance while another 269 teachers were terminated, even though some of them were certified and some had agreed upon action plans. Then there are teachers like Denise Hamilton, the blind teacher (certified) featured on channel 9 news that was fired by DCPS due to a glitch created by the DC Central office. Go figure. Let’s not forget about the teachers who just got up and left for greener pastures.

The Washington Post recently reported that there is a teacher shortage at Thurgood Marshall, Ferebee Hope, and Garfield schools in the district. Many other schools complain of teacher shortages, including Ballou, Davis, Hamilton-Moten Academy, and the Shadd Center amongst a host of unreported others. A listserv parent weighs in on the impact of the DC teacher shortage at Thurgood Marshall: “Both Rhee and Fenty would never subject their kids to be placed in a class of forty students. You would think school principals should be the first voices we hear when school conditions are unacceptable. But instead they hide out in their offices, hoping parents will not complain. They are so afraid of drawing attention to their school to even ask for help or assistance from DCPS, for fear of loosing their positions, that they are placing our children in overcrowded classrooms.”

I wish I had a crystal ball, because if I did I would love to predict how our mayor and Chancellor will deliver the hard and quick solutions to our teacher shortage problem. After all, they are revolutionizing education, aren’t they ? Could teacher retention be one of the solutions? Randi Weingarten, now President of American Federation of Teachers, offers her perspective: “If we can’t keep the teachers who are hired, building a cadre of experienced, well-prepared teachers becomes like trying to fill a bucket that has a hole in its bottom. It’s costly and counterproductive to hire thousands of well-qualified people every year, invest millions of dollars in incentives, orientation, and professional development — only to see one of every four leave within a year and more than one of every three by the end of the third year. Worse, it’s bad for kids. Experienced teachers are more confident and more competent than brand-new teachers.” The key to retaining certified teachers depends on the three R’s which, by the way, have been discussed in many UFT publications: “You need to respect your professional staff, you need to retain (not fire) qualified teachers, and you need to provide adequate and appropriate resources.”


Why Did Carol Schwartz Lose?
Paul D. Craney, DC Republican Committee,

In regard to your posts in themail about why Councilmember Carol Schwartz lost her bid in the Republican Primary, I think I have some insight. First of all, this election wasn’t about Carol’s popularity. Almost all of DC’s Republicans know Carol Schwartz. Patrick Mara ran a very aggressive door to door, direct mail, and phone campaign. He used campaign techniques that are tried and true in order to win. He spoke to Republican voters by going door to door. Many of the people who voted for him, knew him because he frequently spoke with them. In essence, he did what any good insurgent candidate should do.

Patrick raised $50,000 in his first two weeks of running for office. That is a healthy sign for any candidate. I think all voters should take notice that Patrick has the most organization and resources behind him.


Single Sales Bans Continued
Jack McKay,

Matt Forman argues (themail, September 17) that, as an ANC commissioner, I should support the single sales ban in Mount Pleasant, even if the ban merely pushes our street alcoholics into adjacent neighborhoods, because I “was elected to the ANC by his Mt. Pleasant constituents to represent their interests, not those of neighboring areas.” Not quite so. I am sworn, by the ANC oath of office, to “consider each matter before me from the viewpoint of the best interest of the District of Columbia, as a whole.” Any commissioner who decides matters without considering the effects on neighboring communities is violating that sworn oath of office.

But more to the point, the single-sales ban is futile as public policy. Ban advocates say nothing about the mechanism by which a single sales ban improves conditions in any neighborhood, implying that the ban just magically cures street drinkers of their bad behavior. In fact, they surely know that not one street drinker will cease his bad behavior as a result of the cutoff of singles. The drinkers just go somewhere else, and continue their bad behavior. If the total number of indigent drinkers in our parks and on our streets remains unchanged by the single sales ban, how is that a solution to the public-drinker problem? Plainly it is not, and the District must, and can, do better.

It is remarkable that not one of the four Ward One ANCs endorses single sales bans for their districts. The commissioners should be commended for putting their public responsibility, and oaths of office, first, ahead of narrow, my-neighborhood-uber-alles, interests.



Ward 5 Democrats, September 22
Hazel Thomas,

The Ward 5 Democrats will meet on Monday, September, 22, 7:00-9:00 p.m., at Michigan Park Christian Church, Taylor Street at South Dakota Avenue, NE. There will be a business meeting and report from the office of Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr., followed by a forum of Ward 5 candidates for the State Board of Education, Angel Alston, Robert Brannum, Mark Jones, and Terrance McMichael. Each candidate will be given two minutes to present his or her platform. There will also be a straw poll of candidates for Councilmember-at-Large. Invited guest candidates are Michael A. Brown, Dee Hunter, Mark H. Long, and Carol Schwartz. For more information, contact Tim Thomas, 390-2299.


Office of the State Superintendent of Education Meetings, September 22, 23
Kadidia Thiero,

Monday, September 22, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Sumner School, 1201 17th Street, NW ( Farragut North Metro Station, Red Line). In 2006, the New Commission on the Skill of the American Workforce released its report, “Tough Times, Tough Choices,” proposing a radical overhaul of the American public education system, which would help American workers better compete in the global economy that exists today. Join us in a discussion of these ideas with Marc Tucker, President of the National Center on Education and the Economy, as we consider the skills, knowledge, and expertise our residents need in order to be successful in college, job training, and the workplace in the 21st century. This will be an opportunity for the OSSE to gather community stakeholder insights for ensuring that our learning standards and other state policies support that success.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Bell Multicultural Senior High School Auditorium, 3101 16th Street, NW (Columbia Heights Metro Station, Green and Yellow Lines). College Awareness Month Policy Forum: State-Level Strategies for Supporting a College-Going Culture. The 2006 Double the Numbers report painted a stark picture: 43 percent of District of Columbia public school students who started ninth grade in 2001 graduated from high school, and only an estimated 9 percent are on track to complete college in five years — a rate far below the national average and unreasonable in a society where an estimated two-thirds of new jobs will require some level of education beyond high school. Join the OSSE, the College Awareness Month Coalition, and special guests as we discuss the policies and strategies that states across the country are implementing to increase college awareness, college-going, and college success among their students. Speakers include Laura Slover, Vice President of Content and Policy Research at Achieve; Michelle A. Cooper, President of the Institute for Higher Education Policy; and Melanie Corrigan, Director of National Initiatives at the American Council on Education and Project Director of KnowHow2Go.


Board of Education Meetings, September 24
Kadidia Thiero,

The District of Columbia State Board of Education will hold a public hearing Wednesday, September 24, 2008. At the meeting, the State Board will receive input from the public on the learning standards for modern world languages. The meeting will begin at 5:00 p.m. at 441 4th Street, NW, in the District of Columbia State Board of Education Chambers, located on the lobby level of the building.

Constituents who wish to comment at the meeting are required to notify the State Board of Education in advance by contacting the Executive Director, Beverley Wheeler, by phone at 741-0888 or by E-mail at before the close of business Monday, September 22. Those planning to comment should provide in advance one electronic copy and bring to the hearing fifteen hard copies of their testimonies. The meeting will air live on DSTV Comcast Channel 99 and RCN Channel 18.


Youth, Aids and Media, September 24
Dorinda White,

Join Cable Positive, the cable and telecommunications AIDS action organization and the Congressional Entertainment Industries Caucus at a breakfast panel on Youth, AIDS, and Media:Multi-Platform Advocacy in a New Era of Prevention. Breakfast will be served. Wednesday, September 24, in Rayburn House office building, room B339. 8:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m., breakfast reception; 9:00-10:00 a.m., panel discussion.

The panel will discuss Cable Positive’s newest initiative, the Youth, AIDS Media Institute University (YAMI-U), which focuses on empowering youth to become HIV/AIDS peer educators, advocates, and activists, through the use of new and existing media platforms. YAMI-U is an extensive, week-long training which challenges youth to come up with an integrated HIV/AIDS cause-marketing campaign aimed at their peers — a public education campaign designed by youth for youth. Students go through HIV/AIDS education training, learn the fundamentals of creating cause-marketing messaging while creating a multi-platform media campaign that leverages the notions of advocacy and freedom of expression as modes of engagement. Moderator, Jennifer Medina, Director, Programs, Cable Positive; special guest: Congresswoman Diane E. Watson, Chair, Congressional Entertainment Industries Caucus; keynote speaker, Dan Brenner, SVP Law and Regulatory Policy, NCTA.

RSVP by Monday, September 22 to Dana Levittt at or call 212-459-1547.


Historical Society of Washington Events, September 24-25
Ed Bruske,

Wednesday, September 24, 12:00 p.m., Noon Film Series. Under the Same Moon, 1 hour, 49 minutes, Spanish with English subtitles, director, Patricia Riggen. Historical Society of Washington, DC, 801 K Street, NW, at Mt. Vernon Square. Free admission. Nine-year-old Carlos aka Carlitos is one of the countless children left behind by parents who come to the US seeking a way to provide for their families. His mother, Rosario, has worked illegally as a domestic in Los Angeles for four years, sending money home to her son and mother to give them a chance at a better life. When the death of his grandmother leaves young Carlitos alone, he takes his fate into his own hands and heads north across the border to find his mother. As he journeys from his rural Mexican village to the LA barrio, Carlitos faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles with a steely determination and unfettered optimism that earn him the grudging respect and affection of a reluctant protector, a middle-aged migrant worker named Enrique. (A program collaboration of the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs (OLA) and The Historical Society of Washington, DC.) For the entire family. or 383-1828.

Wednesday, September 24, 6:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m., The Business of Go-Go panel discussion, Historical Society of Washington, DC, 801 K Street, NW, at Mt. Vernon Square. Free admission. Go-go is a sub-genre of funk that originated in Washington, DC, during the mid- to late-1970s. A handful of bands contributed to the early evolution of the genre, but singer-guitarist Chuck Brown is credited with having developed most of the hallmarks of the style. An important attribute in go-go is call-and-response with the crowd in concert. With few exceptions, Go-Go bands have seen little success outside of the Washington, DC. metro area (Northern Virginia and Suburban Maryland), yet the style lives on. Are artists and promoters limiting their business opportunities by not venturing outside of DC, to cities like New York City and Los Angeles, which are known to be the hub of the music industry? Some members of the Go-Go community who are frustrated with the current state of “Go-Go” are of the opinion that local radio stations, record labels, and the “movers and shakers” in the world of Go-Go music do not promote the music with the vigor it deserves. The “The Business of Go-Go” panel discussion will foster critical analysis of the problem and be an open forum to discuss new ideas and approaches to promote Go-Go music beyond Washington, DC. The panel includes: Moe Shorter, former manager for Junk Yard; John Mercer, entertainment lawyer and former manager for EU; Michelle Blackwell vocalist for What? Band; and Dr. Kip Lornell as moderator. Funding for this program is provided, by The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. The panel discussion will be videotaped and aired on DCTV. (16 to Adults) or 383-1828.

Thursday, September 25, 12:00 p.m. High Noon Film, Calle 54, 105 minutes, 2000, Spain. Historical Society of Washington, DC, 801 K Street, NW, at Mt. Vernon Square. Free admission. “Calle 54,” named after New York’s 54th Street where most of the studio filming was done, is a gift from director Fernando Trueba (“Belle Epoque”) to lovers of Latin Jazz everywhere. The film features ninety minutes of music by some of the idiom’s finest artists with bonus material including a director’s voice over offering brief commentary and bios on the featured artists and interviews which trace the origins of Latin jazz in general and Afro-Cuban jazz specifically. Artistry includes la musica picante of Tito Puente in his final weeks to the haunting sax of Gato Barbieri. However, such notables as Arturo Sandoval, Poncho Sanchez, etc., and more were not included, leaving plenty of room and yearning for another installment. A must see/hear for Latin jazz lovers. For the entire family. or 383-1828.


DC Public Library Events, September 25
George Williams,

Thursday, September 25, 7:00 p.m. Southeast Neighborhood Library, 403 Seventh Street, SE. Southeast Library Fiction Book Club. Discussion of new and classic novels.


Call for Justice in The Workplace Prayer Service, September 26
Candi Peterson,

On Friday, September 26, at 6:30 p.m., a “Call for Justice in the Workplace” and prayer service will be held in honor of the DCPS blind teacher, Denise Hamilton, who was fired unjustly by Chancellor Rhee’s office this past June 2008. This story originally aired on Channel 9 one month ago. This service will feature Denise Hamilton it will also facilitate a Call To Action to the DC labor community to assist us in this fight. The event will be held at the Covenant Baptist Church, 3845 South Capitol Street, SW. Contact phone number, 321-9071.


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