Practice Makes Imperfect
I’m reluctant to disagree with Jay Mathews, the Washington Post’s
national education reporter, because his years of experience have
given him a deep knowledge of his field. But on Monday he wrote an
article that I have to challenge, “New DC Principal, Hand-Picked Team
Make Early Gains,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/30/AR2008113001929.html.
This article is yet another link in the Post’s chain of
articles prompted by Michelle Rhee’s national public relations
campaign. This public relations blitz explains why Rhee’s school “reform”
remains popular with those who are untouched by it, though it is viewed
with deep skepticism by the teachers, students, and parents whom it
affects. Mathews’ article praises the work of the principal whom Rhee
hand-picked as a shining example for Mathews to interview, Brian Betts
at “Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson,” as the combined schools
are clumsily called.
I’m sure that Betts is as enthusiastic and energetic as Mathews
describes him. In addition, Betts was given the opportunity that Rhee
wants to give all her principals, to replace almost all of the teachers
at his school with new hires. In the most telling paragraphs of the
article, Mathews quotes what Betts thinks was the key question in his
interviews with prospective teachers: “‘Shaw and Garnet-Patterson
have proficiency rates in both math and reading in the low 20 percents.
To what do you attribute this poor performance and what do you plan to
do or do differently next year to improve test scores and student
achievement?’ A young teacher from New Jersey named Meredith Leonard
was hired after saying: ‘Every kid can learn, and we all say that, but
what is missing is the last part of the sentence: every kid can learn
given the motivation, given the supports, given the expectations. I will
be motivating my kids, I will be giving my kids the support and I will
be expecting them to do it.’ Many more applicants, including
experienced teachers, blamed the bad test scores on undereducated
parents and impoverished homes and suggested that those social ailments
would be hard to cure. They weren’t hired.”
In one way, Betts’ and Rhee’s emphasis may be right. Teachers
aren’t social workers who can solve their students’ home and social
problems. That’s not their job. They should concentrate on what they
can accomplish in their classrooms. They also should have the attitude
that teaching their students is not hopeless. In another, more important
way, Betts and Rhee are very wrong. Teachers can make all the difference
for some students, but it is naive and foolish to think that they can be
the most important factor in the education of most of their students.
Meredith Leonard is simply wrong in thinking that the motivation she
provides will be the most important thing determining the performance of
her students; she’s setting herself up for disappointment,
disillusion, and an ultimate fall. Betts rejected the teachers who
correctly recognized that most students are much more influenced by the
attitudes of their parents and peers, and that if their parents and
peers do not value, or are even scornful of, education, that will be
more important to them than any single teacher’s enthusiasm and
energy. Betts chose to hire the teachers who gave the answer politically
and ideologically approved by Rhee, not the right answer.
The Washington Post shares Rhee’s faith that the path to
improvement is to get rid of older, experienced workers in favor of
younger, inexperienced ones, assuming that the new workers will have an
initial burst of energy and enthusiasm that will make up for their lack
of background and knowledge. Malcolm Gladwell, in his new book Outliers,
argues “that excellence at a complex task requires a critical, minimum
level of practice,” and that “researchers have settled on what they
believe is a magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours,” http://tinyurl.com/6jsvo7.
It’s a commonsense notion, long ago distilled into three words: “practice
makes perfect.” Rhee rejects it; she thinks teachers are best at the
beginning of their careers, and that practice at teaching makes them
imperfect. Similarly, over the past few years the Post has used
repeated worker buyouts to rid its newsroom of many of its best writers
and editors, those with years of experience and depth of knowledge in
their fields. As readers of the newspaper, we’ve seen how well that is
working out. As one of the rare survivors, Mathews should know it better
than we do. Now the Post is urging the same road to perdition on
DC’s school system.
BOEE Investigation Update
Dorothy Brizill, email@example.com
On Tuesday, the city council adopted a resolution extending the life
span of the council “Board of Elections and Ethics Special
Investigation Committee” to the end of 2009, http://www.dcwatch.com/council17/17-1203.htm.
The Committee consists of three councilmembers; Mary Cheh as chairman,
Harry Thomas, Jr., and Phil Mendelson. It was supposed to end its work
by December 31 this year, but found that election issues were more
complex than it originally thought.
This week, the Committee recommended to the council, and the council
issued, a subpoena requiring the acting executive director of the Board
of elections, Sylvia Goldsberry-Adams, to appear and answer questions
under oath, http://www.dcwatch.com/govern/boee081124.htm.
At the last committee hearing, Goldsberry-Adams did not appear as
scheduled because of a “medical emergency,” and no member of the
BOEE or its staff appeared to testify on her behalf. Moreover, because
the BOEE’s contractor, Sequoia, has failed to respond to the Committee’s
earlier subpoena that required it to provide a copy of its election
the Committee will meet to recommend that at its next legislative
meeting on December 16 the full council file a suit in DC Superior Court
requiring Sequoia to comply.
The initial work plan for the Special Committee was that it would
issue two reports. The first would be an analysis of the problems that
arose during the September primary. That initial report was issued on
October 1, http://www.dcwatch.com/govern/boee081001.htm.
The second and final report would offer a comprehensive review of BOEE
and recommend policy and legislative remedies; it was going to be issued
by the end of this calendar year. The Committee now plans to issue a
second report in January 2009 on the issues that arose in the November
general election. It will issue its comprehensive review and
recommendations in a third report, close to the end of its life span
City Council = Crazy People
Joan Eisenstodt, firstname.lastname@example.org
[Re: council bill for 5:00 a.m. last call for bars and restaurants
during inauguration week] We didn’t even know this was up for
discussion and it passed? Are they nuts? This is the letter I wrote to
Mr. Evans and copied to Mr. Mendelson and to Mayor Fenty:
“I gather you do not live in a neighborhood with lots of bars and
restaurants nor near the inauguration parade route. I also imagine that
if you are attending the inauguration, you will have special seating and
transport and be away from the massive crowds that day. In addition to
being livid that this bill was passed at all and passed without
community input, I am stunned about what message this sends to the world
about the District! Sure, sustenance is important and I want those who
are here for this wonderful event to be able to have food and shelter.
Alcohol is not a necessity and will contribute to crime and accidents.
In fact, cutting off alcohol earlier would have been a smarter idea —
it is not a necessity to celebrating!
“The Restaurant Association knows not what they are doing.
Remember, they opposed the nonsmoking law and yet business did not get
worse. Who among them lives in a DC neighborhood that might be impacted
on those four days, while some of us still have to live and work around
the additional people and traffic, let alone try to sleep at night? Mr.
Mendelson, thank you for being smarter and saying what you were quoted
as saying and for not passing this bill.
“If this truly goes into law, then we the citizens will hold those
of you who voted for this responsible for any accidents, crime,
vandalism, etc., that results from anyone drinking after 2 a.m.”
Join me in protesting this absurdity.
The Capitol Addition That Takes Too Much Away
Gabe Goldberg, gabe at gabegold dot com -- still the
Philip Kennicott writes in the Washington Post, http://tinyurl.com/5cbx47:
“Over time, the US Capitol has taken on two very different faces. What
was once deemed the back side of the building — facing the Mall —
became a grand, ceremonial front, with the addition of dramatic stairs,
terraces and landscaping that emphasized its prominence on a hill. To
the east, the old “front” of the Capitol became, by contrast, more
modest, accessible, and pastoral. Before ground was broken for the new
Capitol Visitor Center in 2000, you could stand on the east side and
imagine cows and sheep grazing, as if in the foreground of a romantic
“This duality — grandeur and authority versus simplicity and
openness — also expressed an ideal of government. To survive, a
republic must have authority, tradition and ceremonies. But it must also
have its yeoman side, which allows the people to wander the halls of
power as equals with their legislators.
“The ‘truth to power’ side of the Capitol, the East face, has
been demolished by the new Visitor Center, a tragically misconceived and
overscale addition, which opens today. The East face has become
something entirely new, with a false and slick pomposity created by an
impressive promenade over an imposing bridge, which seems to cross a
kind of moat. It is a historical and aesthetic jumble, a nonsensical
place and a gross disfigurement of one of this country’s most
important and iconic buildings.”
Washington Strains for Inauguration
Gabe Goldberg, gabe at gabegold dot com — still just
From the New York Times, “Even for a city practiced at
handling huge protests, marches, and funerals, the inauguration of
President-elect Barack Obama will put an unusual strain on local
Bringing the Inauguration Close to Home
T. Lassoc, email@example.com
[Re: Jack McKay, “Bringing the Inauguration Close to Home,”
themail, November 30] Please forward this idea to the powers-that-be,
including the local DC administration, the transition group (change.gov),
the Inaugural Committee, and the National Park Service. That’s
probably the absolute best idea we’ve heard for inauguration planning
and accommodating all who would like to see and/or participate. Not only
would this serve local citizens and residents, it could also accommodate
many visitors who will be staying with friends and relatives throughout
the area and in hotels not located in the downtown area. Other possible
venues (indoor and outside) away from downtown should also be
considered, such as the various stadiums (universities and other
schools), large auditoriums (universities, entertainment venues, and
concert halls [Kennedy Center, DAR Constitution Hall], even possibly
some churches facilities]). While people can certainly view the
inauguration nationwide and in DC on television, many people do want the
experience and synergy of witnessing this most historical inauguration
in the company of a large group or crowd for that feeling of sharing
together something truly historical and momentous. Brilliant, absolutely
brilliant! The only problem is that the idea makes too much good sense
and, more often than not, the-powers-that-be just don’t seem to
comprehend or receive those ideas. But we’re hoping that perhaps this
time it will be different. There surely is still enough time to plan for
what you suggest. Do we need an E-mail petition?
In fact, private organizations and groups should have permission or
be able to set up their own “big screen” for their members to view
the inauguration together in whatever venue the group or organization
may have. Hopefully, that wouldn’t be a problem ((like when the NFL
stopped churches from broadcasting football games on big screens at
church for collective viewing), since the inauguration is a public event
and will be broadcast worldwide
No one can dispute that Jonathan Rees was a character who generated a
lot of discussion. I know that he was controversial, and of course, he
stepped over the line many times. However, he was willing to ask
questions and to point out that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes
when our politicians were buck naked. Mr. Rees also ran for the Ward 3
councilmember slot, and that takes a fair amount of courage and
commitment and effort.
The Tenleytown listserv had a small discussion about Mr. Rees’
death and his behavior while he was alive, and I found the discussion
(speaking ill of the dead), albeit short, to be quite distasteful. In
fact, I find the “wild West” atmosphere of most listservs and blogs
to be distasteful because people tend to be quite rude and guilty of
making personal attacks that discourage honest dialog.
I appreciate the discussions and forum on themail all the more for
the civility that you demand from contributors. The disagreements among
writers are healthy and necessary in an open and democratic society, and
the civility allows us the freedom to post without fear of the ugliness
found in other forums. Keep up the great work, and thanks again for the
tone and tenor of themail.
Jonathan was many things to many people but thank you for respecting
[There is now an ongoing campaign by anonymous posters to listservs
and commentators on blogs to claim that Jonathan Rees didn’t die and
that reports of his death are a hoax. This claim is a malicious and
false rumor. The church where his funeral service was held and the
cemetery where he was buried have both been identified on these blogs,
so there is no reason for anyone to continue to believe or spread this
story. — Gary Imhoff]
CLASSIFIEDS — EVENTS
Divorce Your Car, December 4
Jazmine Zick, firstname.lastname@example.org
While public transportation use continues to rise in America, the
overall number of people served is fairly small. What will it take to
get Americans out of their cars? What is the role of private business in
public transit? How do you provide a variety of transit options? How can
we design neighborhoods that are more walkable and encourage public
transit? Listen to Robin Chase, cofounder, Zipcar, and founder and CEO,
GoLoco; Bert Gregory, FAIA, President and CEO, Mithun Architects +
Designers + Planners; and Shelley Poticha, President and CEO,
Reconnecting America, discuss how to encourage more energy efficient
travel for the future. Juliet Eilperin, a journalist at The
Washington Post, will moderate the program. At the National Building
Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line.
Register for events at http://www.nbm.org.
Gifts for Good Alternative Gift Fair, December
John Tobe email@example.com
This Saturday, December 6, 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m., at St. Patrick’s
Episcopal Day School, The Great Hall, 4700 Whitehaven Parkway, NW (off
MacArthur Boulevard). Are you tired of ties? No longer tickled by Elmo?
Do you want to give a gift for good and have your presents felt in the
world? Then please join us at the third annual Gifts for Good Fair ( http://www.dcgiftsforgood.org).
How does this work? You are given the opportunity to learn about many
charities and, after making a contribution, take away a token gift to
give to family and friends on your holiday shopping list. Why spend
precious holiday time in crowded malls shopping for gifts that will only
end up in a closet by New Year’s when helping families and communities
here and abroad is an alternative option in the true spirit of giving?
The market offers a variety of tax-deductible gift options that will
benefit those in need in the Washington region and around the world.
Please note, organizations at the market will accept cash or checks.
The market will be staffed by children and parents from St. Patrick’s
Episcopal Day School. All proceeds go directly to the participating
Gray to Speak in Cleveland Park, December 9
George Idelson, firstname.lastname@example.org
DC council chairman Vincent Gray will address the Cleveland Park
Citizens Association at the Cleveland Park Library on Tuesday, December
9, at 6:30 p.m.
The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) is hosting
a job fair on December 9 in the Old Council Chambers located on the 1st
Floor of 441 4th Street, NW. Doors will open at 9:30 a.m.; the fair will
begin at 10:00 a.m. and end at 4:00 p.m. The fair is open to the public;
hiring managers will be on site to make conditional job offers.
Opportunities are available in federal grants management, special
education, and early childhood education. There will be kiosks on site
for job applicants to fill out employment applications online. For more
information, please E-mail email@example.com
or call 727-6436. The job opportunities are accessible at http://www.dchr.dc.gov.
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