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May 9, 2010

Why Things Can’t Be Fixed

Dear Fixers:

Colbert King has written another column about the criminal ineptitude of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services,, detailing the story of how the three teens accused of murdering DC Public Schools Principal Bryan Betts had all absconded from DYRS custody. “I’ve written nearly forty columns about DYRS. . . . What's new in today's column?” King asks rhetorically. “That's just it; there's nothing new. Today's column will be dismissed by DYRS defenders as just another King anecdote. I contend that it illustrates what's wrong with a juvenile justice system that looks good only on paper. DYRS cries out for investigation. But not by a blue-ribbon commission assembled by the mayor, the DC council, and the court, as some have suggested. Such a venture will be captured by paternalistic, progressive forces who uncritically accept any claim DYRS makes.

“The juvenile justice department needs to be investigated by an agency equipped with subpoena powers, an ability to take sworn testimony, and a clear mandate to examine performance and determine the truth and falsity of the representations that DYRS makes about itself. Don't look for any help from Mayor Adrian Fenty, who thinks DYRS knows all the answers. And Attorney General Peter Nickles? Which is he, the city's lawyer or the mayor's consigliere?

“The council's Human Services Committee chairman, Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who oversees the city's juvenile justice system, is a logical choice to lead such a probe. But he can't bear being perceived as a possible critic of a ‘progressive’ venture. That leaves us with more of the same. That is, until a DYRS escapee cuts down another public celebrity from the ‘good’ part of town.”

DYRS can’t be fixed because no one in DC politics wants to incarcerate dangerous juvenile felons in secure facilities. That’s another reason why this year’s election lineup is such a disappointment. DC’s government needs a moderating force, someone to act as an effective opposition to “progressive” ventures, to raise the questions that a government unified on the left won’t ask. There are no moderates, and certainly no conservatives, on the city council or in the mayor’s office. In the past year, DC has not only refused to bring the juvenile justice system under control; it has legalized medical marijuana, legalized same-sex marriage, expressed its opposition to enforcing immigration laws, made voter fraud easier by instituting same-day voter registration, and chased after a host of faddish liberal causes that put us along with San Francisco on the fringe of American politics. But no politician is running for office on a principled platform of opposition to “progressive” policies. And a government without opposition is unchecked, and runs to extremes.


Cilantro lime sorbet: I mentioned cilantro and lime as two ingredients Dorothy and I were going to incorporate into a sorbet or gelato. We searched for recipes, and settled on a very simple one on “Biscuits and Such: A Southern Food Blog,” run by Elena Brent Rosemond-Hoerr, who lives in Takoma Park, Maryland. From the story that accompanies the recipe,, Elena recreates a sorbet from an unnamed gelato store that is obviously Dolcezza Gelato,, which had a grand opening celebration today for its new branch in Dupont Circle. Here’s the recipe. Make a simple syrup from a cup of sugar, a cup of water, and a tablespoon of lime zest. (Bring the sugar and water to a boil, stir them until the sugar dissolves, and then cool.) Chop a quarter cup of cilantro finely and muddle it into a paste with a tablespoon of sugar. Squeeze a cup of lime juice. Mix all ingredients in an ice cream machine, and after it’s done place it in a freezer to harden. It’s tart. I like it that way, but if you find it too tart, add some more sugar to the simple syrup, or add some cane syrup to the ingredients. Next up: kiwis, probably kiwi and lime sorbet.


I’ve written before that I get too many spam E-mails to scan, up to ten thousand spam E-mails a day. Well, ten thousand is nothing. On Wednesday, I got several hundred thousands spam E-mails, and that was enough to crash my E-mail. If you sent a late submission for themail on Wednesday evening or an early reply to themail on Thursday morning, please resend it, because anything sent to DCWatch then was lost.

Gary Imhoff


Improving Our Schools
William Fox, Professor Emeritus, Department of Management, University of Florida,

Placing almost exclusive emphasis upon test-score improvement as a basis for rewarding teachers is patently unfair and, when coupled with inadequate performance-appraisal systems, drives teachers toward unethical behavior or departure to other pursuits. A primary reason the public has not been more supportive of higher funding for education has been the poor relationship between better funding and higher educational quality, as revealed by a number of studies.

Use of an appraisal system based upon the following guidelines should go a long way toward turning things around. Those associated with schools need to fairly identify true “stars” and “inadequate performers” as one of the bases for: justifying good pay for outstanding teachers, providing for self-guidance on the part of newcomers and present staff, and providing an important basis for terminating those who cannot, or will not, measure up. Research findings show that performance raters achieve much better agreement about who are Stars and Inadequate Performers than they do about who are Average, Above-Average, and Below-Average performers. Yet placing individuals in the middle three categories is a time-consuming, often arbitrary, and resentment-causing activity that most raters dislike having to do. Also, clearly, an average performer in a superior organization deserves much more recognition than an average performer in an inferior one. No wonder that many teachers and their unions oppose conventional merit-rating systems!

To avoid a popularity contest, assure greater fairness, and provide for constructive self-guidance, there should be behavioral documentation for both Star and Inadequate Performer nominations via the Critical Incident Technique. To lay the groundwork for this, students, parents, veteran administrators, and experienced teachers should be polled at to what specific, observable behaviors they associate with outstanding and inadequate performance for each important aspect of a teacher’s job. Then, required behavioral documentation for Star and Inadequate-Performer nominations from fellow teachers, adminstrators, students, and parents should be based upon the most agreed-upon behaviors, and the agreed-to relative weights that should be assigned to these.

The results of this analysis can also constructively guide the initial training and subsequent selection of teachers, as well as provide a much-needed, qualifying context for the currently over-stressed evaluation factor of test-score-improvement. This approach also sets the stage for more productive review sessions between the rater and ratee. Since the ratee has a sound basis for self-rating, the session should start with the rater asking, “How do you rate yourself for this past period through the presentation of relevant, supporting behaviors?” No rater can be all-knowing so, if behaviors are mentioned that she or he is not aware of, the rater can postpone giving his or her evaluation to provide time to check out the validity of the assertions, if this seems necessary. A sound behavioral basis for rating also facilitates the use of motivational goal setting during the review session. For example, if the ratee wants to be a Star, what specific behavioral goals does she or he plan to adopt by such and such a time? If stardom is not the goal, which specific, Inadequate Performer behaviors will he or she need to avoid?

This approach permits a rater to be more of a counselor and coach than one who appears to sit in arbitrary judgment. For discussion of relevant research and related citations, see: “Improving Performance Appraisal Systems” by William M. Fox, National Productivity Review, Winter 1987-88, pages 20-27.


T. Lassoc,

Re: “Sorbets,” themail, May 9: A truly refreshing change from the usual lead article. A simple and timely recipe for the season. Would that we could sometimes consider a “simple recipe” to address some of the issues of the day, many of which are not as complicated as we make them. A simple recipe is sometimes exactly what we need. But, alas — way too many unlearned, unwise cooks in the kitchen.


InTowner Street Crimes Report Updated
P.L. Wolff,

The Selected Street Crimes feature, while not included in the print edition but instead available exclusively on our web site by clicking the Street Crimes button directly below that for Community News, is now updated through April 5th and has been added to the archived reports back to July 3, 2009.



May 11 District of Columbia Citywide Pediatric Health Forum
Eric Rosenthal,

Are you ready to engage in a citywide effort to improve the health and well-being of youth in the District? Are you eager to take a collective stand and make significant change? If you are an action-oriented leader committed to making the District a healthier place for children, then we invite you to participate in the District of Columbia Citywide Pediatric Health Forum. This working forum will develop a collaborative response to the report “Health and Healthcare Among District of Columbia Youth,” released October 2009 (

The forum will be held on Tuesday, May 11, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mt. Vernon Place, NW. To register, please go to For more information, please contact Inga Champ at or 471-4859.


Dracula Is Dead: Romania’s Post-Communist Success, May 13
George Williams,

In December 1989, Romanians overthrew dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, ending more than forty years of Communist totalitarianism. Twenty years later, Romania is a thriving democracy, an economic success, and a member of NATO and the European Union. What’s the story behind the Romanian miracle? Former United States Ambassador to Romania Jim Rosapepe and his wife, award-winning journalist Sheilah Kast, discuss Romania’s growth based on their book Dracula is Dead: How Romanians Survived Communism, Ended it, and Emerged Since 1989 as the New Italy. A book sale and signing will follow the program. Thursday, May 13, 7:00 p.m., at the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library, 3310 Connecticut Avenue, NW. For more information, call 202-282-3080.


National Building Museum Events, May 15
Johanna Weber,

May 15, 2:00 p.m., Investigating Where We Live Traveling Exhibition Opening Reception. The 2009 Investigating Where We Live: Focusing on Change exhibition of student photographs travels to the United Planning Organization’s Shaw Community Service Center. Last summer, students photographed the neighborhoods of Columbia Heights, U Street, and Shaw, and then curated and designed an exhibition featuring their work. Free; registration not required. Refreshments will be served. Held at the UPO Shaw Community Service Center. 1726 Seventh Street, NW.


Goethe-Institut Open House, May 17
Ellie Brown,

I’d like to invite you to a blogger open house at the Goethe-Institut Washington on the evening of May 17 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. We’re about a month away from our summer schedule and I’m reaching out to let the readers of DC Watch know about our events, exhibits, films, and that our summer language sessions start on June 7. The first hour of the open house will be networking, the second a tour, film, and short presentation. There will be refreshments, too. The Goethe-Institut is a global German cultural institute, with a branch here in Washington, DC. I’ve put together this micro-site with schedules of our class dates and levels, and of our cultural events (films, exhibits, discussions, etc.):


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