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June 23, 2010

A Bipartisan Consensus Around Bad Ideas

Dear Graders:

Valerie Strauss has conducted a compelling E-mail interview with educational historian Diane Ravitch, Ravitch criticizes the current prevailing educational theories being pushed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama: “Yet everyone — teachers, parents, administrators — feels helpless, not knowing where to turn because they are now up against a bipartisan consensus around bad ideas. . . . The biggest mistake they have made is that they bought into the consensus around high-stakes testing, this NCLB belief that someone must be punished if scores don’t rise every year, especially ‘bad’ teachers. . . . I would urge him [President Obama] to stop using language of failing, punishing, closing, and firing and speak instead of improving, building, supporting, and encouraging.”

The local connection, of course, is that these bad theories are exactly those promoted by Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Mayor Fenty (and, according to his own rhetoric about supporting “school reform,” by Council Chairman Gray). Ravitch says “the emphasis on evaluating teachers will simply produce more teaching to the test, more narrowing the curriculum, more gaming the system,” and that teachers and parents are perfectly aware of that, but that politicians of the left and right have joined to support these faddish bad theories.


Charlie Wellander helpfully pointed out that in the introduction to the last issue of themail I misspelled Kojo Nnamdi’s name twice, although I did get it right once. As I wrote to Charlie, I have so much trouble keeping the n’s and m’s in Kojo’s name straight that it’s impossible for me to keep track of the vowels, too. In any case, I’ve made the corrections online.

Gary Imhoff


Style Is Substance
Tom Sherwood,

I don’t mind taking my lumps for anything I say, write, or do when it comes to city politics, but I don’t think I deserved to be lumped in with any list of apparent pro-Fenty media types [themail, June 20]. themail accurately reports part of what I said about Gray’s angry demeanor at the Ward 3 forum. However, I had begun the column noting that Adrian Fenty “seemed too stern and grumpy out of the box, staring down at his debate notes. What happened to that friendly smile and thumbs-up attitude that enchanted voters four years ago.”

I also agree with themail that personality is substance in politics. I don’t see where my column disagrees with that. In fact, it was a major point of the column. Thank you for linking to the full column so readers can judge for themselves. And as always, I welcome anyone with questions about any of my work to contact me directly at


Searching for Mayoral Candidate Character
Len Sullivan,

I fully support Gary’s homily [themail, June 20] that voters should be searching for the proper character traits in their choice for DC’s next mayor. But I surely do not think that any candidate’s public on-camera personality is a reliable indicator of his inner character. Isn’t that precisely the level of naivete that all the world’s con men are praying for? Why not look more directly at the routine words, actions, and associates these individuals employ in the exercise of their professional activities? What does their day-to-day performance tell you about their instincts for the responsibilities they want you to entrust to them?

I have observed both of these candidates from various vantage points over their periods of public service in DC and conclude that there is one particularly noteworthy difference between them. Chairman Gray acts and talks as though he has an innate respect for the business of governance, from the standpoints of both those being governed and those exercising the tasks of governance. Mayor Fenty and his closest teammates act and talk as if they are a self-sufficient force apart; as if there is no institutional competence within any of DC’s long-standing government entities, from the council to the Department of Education, or among their many varied constituencies. These are not personality quirks, like winking, telling bawdy jokes, or hugging strangers. These are basic indicators of whether the candidate understands the prerequisites of his chosen profession and his place in it, or whether he is just a pretender, using the office for his own devices.


Johnson Middle School Principal Gets the Ax from Rhee
Candi Peterson,

I received an E-mail dated June 21 stating that David Markus, a new principal of Johnson Middle School located at 1400 Bruce Place, SE, received the official ax from Chancellor Michelle Rhee and company on Friday, June 18. Inside sources revealed in a E-mail to me that Markus’ principal contract was not renewed and that he was served notice last week. After printing this story on The Washington Teacher blog, I received a personal E-mail from a person claiming to be David Markus. I requested that Mr. Markus write me from his DCPS E-mail account so that I could verify that he was actually David Markus. Later, Markus wrote me as a private citizen from his DCPS E-mail account to dispute information I received that he was handcuffed and led off Johnson school premises after learning that his contract had not been renewed. Markus wrote in an E-mail, “I was not taken off in handcuffs. I worked all day on Friday and Monday, and Tuesday I was on a field trip with my students. I am home sick today, but will be working until my contract ends.” At Markus’ request, I revised inaccurate statements that had been reported to me. However, based on my reading of Markus’ E-mails, it is apparent that his principal contract, as initially reported by inside informants, will not be renewed, and Johnson Middle School will soon be searching for a new principal.

According to Linkedin, which is a business oriented social networking site, Markus is the principal at J. Hayden Johnson Middle School starting August 2009 and prior to that had been the assistant principal at Cardozo Senior High School from August 2008-2009. Markus was part of the new leaders for new schools program. He noted in his public profile that he was “working to improve teaching and learning at an under performing school that has great potential for success.”

I feel compelled to add that under Chancellor Rhee’s model of reform many have been hired and fired like Principal Markus. In my opinion, employee performance has little to do with the actual reason why principals and other DCPS employees are terminated under this administration. Oftentimes principals report they aren’t even told why their DCPS contract doesn’t get renewed by Rhee. Until we say no to this type of “meat ax” reform under Fenty and Rhee, we can expect the wholesale firings of DC Public Schools personnel to continue. It is the only tool in Rhee’s arsenal. It is most unfortunate that our educational leaders as well as teachers and school personnel are not given the opportunity nor the tools to really reform our urban schools. Certainly not even superman could turn around a troubled school in less than a year’s time. DC residents must stand up to this kind of leadership and employee downsizing by voting no for Adrian Fenty as the next mayor of Washington, DC, in the fall. Another vote for Fenty is an assurance that “at will” terminations without regard to employee performance will continue under the Rhee administration.


An Issue Where Fenty and Gray Differ
Henry Townsend,

Last night I went to the fifth or sixth dinner party where I heard the same thing: people will vote for Fenty because he appointed and unambiguously stands behind Rhee. Gray makes no such unambiguous statement.

For every person I have talked to, the race has one issue, the reappointment of Rhee. For better or for worse, people will swallow frat-boy cronyism because of Rhee.


Agitation in Ward 3: More Thoughts
Natalie Hopkins,

Recently Karl Jeremy was lamenting the “mayor’s management style, his preoccupation with physical training, and his inability to connect with anyone but a fraternity brother” and “. . . last year’s failed summer jobs program, the snow fiasco, the parks and rec contracts, and the former agency heads who didn’t jump fast or high enough.” I’m a Ward 3 resident, and I think the mayor’s preoccupation with physical training sets a great example and should be inspirational for DC government employees. Many times I have seen unhealthy looking (i.e., obese) DC government workers, including police officers, who look miserable on the job. A person’s overall health affects his or her mood and his or her work productivity. And I for one am glad that parks and recreational facilities are getting more attention. Especially since I have three children who love to play at numerous recreation centers throughout the city. Also, although I think the mayor has been uncommunicative at times, I don’t feel he has been any less political regarding favoring people with a fast track to DC contract work than previous mayors. And finally, I’m not sure what is meant by the “snow fiasco.” My Maryland and Virginia friends were jealous regarding my ability to drive our plowed streets after the snowstorms. If Mr. Jeremy is referring to the requirement of government workers to show up for work, then I don’t consider that a fiasco. My 47-year-old husband went to work every single day during the storm using his legs when other modes of transportation did not suffice — a benefit of the aforesaid focus on physical health.


Paying for Fixed Rail
Victor J. Miller,

Let us remember that a large share of the extension of Dulles to Tyson’s Corner is being paid for by property owners in or around Tysons.

At the same time, DC will put in street cars that not only do not require contributions from local property owners but also do require everyone else in the city to finance them. They also will probably be accompanied by additional subsidies — the traditional DC government posture toward the commercial sector — for the economic damage the construction will cause.


The Canary in the Mine
Leo Alexander,

On Tuesday, June 15, there was a role reversal in the Alexander household. I played the part of the supportive spouse as my wife, a US Navy Commander, gave the commencement speech to the eighth graders of a northeast DCPS middle school. Of the 65 students total promoted to the ninth grade, thirty were boys and thirty-five were girls . . . one was an Asian girl, one an Hispanic girl, and the rest of the children were African Americans. I was told that nineteen of the boys and about ten of the girls weren’t allowed to participate in the ceremony because of “behavioral problems.” Two of the African American girls had visible tattoos; about a third of these young ladies were borderline obese, half were wearing heels high enough to make an exotic dancer nervous, and nearly three quarters of them were wearing clothing totally inappropriate for the occasion. Just about every one of the boys was wearing a wrinkled white shirt, but at least their pants were covering their behinds. Some of the parents and friends of these young people were provocatively dressed, and the noise level in the nearly empty auditorium was absolutely raucous. We’re in trouble.

As I watched this scene unfold, I started to think of the canary in the mine, the one that tells miners that they are in danger. If our children are a direct reflection of their families, and if this scene at this graduation is indicative of even a fraction of DCPS students and their families, then Houston we have a problem. What parent in their right mind would allow his or her child to get a tattoo (let alone a visible tattoo), wear stack heels to a graduation ceremony, squeeze into clothes entirely too small, and not even bother to iron their son’s shirt? Here’s the facts, DCPS is the smallest school system in the region, spends more per child than any other system in the region, but every year has the worst test scores — a full hundred points behind Prince George’s County Public Schools system. The problem isn’t our teachers or our children. Our families are in crisis.

As mayor, I will implement a Needs Assessment program. Our primary focus will be twofold, to evaluate the families of the children in DCPS and our homeless population. The Needs Assessment will be mandatory for families receiving government assistance and for any individual sleeping on our streets. This needs evaluation will give our social workers the information they need to place residents of the District with the right agency or service provider to ensure that their needs are being aggressively addressed. With a third of our population over the age of sixteen functionally illiterate, nearly half of DC’s children born into poverty, and 75 percent of DC’s African American men having a criminal record — we’re in trouble.

For far too long, scenes like this have been ignored by our elected officials, but they are just symptomatic of the real problem. The destruction of any civilization begins with the breakdown of the family. A significant number of families in DC have been in trouble for generations, allowed to suffer the highest levels of unemployment, incarceration, illiteracy and health care disparities. Not under my watch. We will finally make a sincere investment in our human capital. We will attack the root causes of generational poverty with an aggressive goal of a 100 percent literate work force, an emphasis on vocational education and adult continuing education, and by protecting our employment opportunities for legal residents of our community only. The last point is where I usually lose most progressives and liberals, who seem to care more about poverty three thousand miles away than the poverty staring them in their faces. As mayor, Washingtonians will come first, because charity begins at home. If we want to increase our tax base, then fix the families. If we want to lower the crime rate, then fix the families. If we want to reduce the need/expense of our social safety nets, then fix the families. And if we want to finally become that beacon of hope to the rest of the free world, then fix the families.

On September 14, you have a choice to either continue down this road of wanton denial with one of the two safe establishment candidates; the past (Gray) or the present (Fenty), or, together, we can take a bold step towards the future (Leo Alexander). Because we’re in trouble.



Shop for the Library, June 24-26
George Williams;

The DC Public Library and Borders have partnered to support the District’s libraries. From June 24 to June 26, a percentage of all sales at Borders stores in DC or online will be donated to the DC Public Library Foundation. Help the Library by having coffee, buying a magazine, picking up a new book, a DVD, or special gift!. Use the coupon at or enter code DCPL6246 at It all helps the library!


DCCA Night Out at the Keegan Theater, June 25
Robin Diener,

The Keegan Theater invites Dupont Circle Community Association members to see Terrance McNally’s A Man of No Importance and attend a post-performance cabaret put on by the cast. There will be an opportunity to meet the cast and director. The play is an unusual combination of dramatic depth and a musical’s lyricism and comedy. Alfie Byrne is a bus driver in 1964 Dublin whose heart holds secrets about the love “that dare not speak its name,” which he can’t share with anyone but his imagined confidante, Oscar Wilde. The lovely tale of love, friendship and coming to terms with who we are was the winner of the 2003 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical.

The Keegan production has gotten marvelous notices, and we need to support this jewel in our community. DCCA members are offered a special ticket price of $30 (and no ticket fee). To buy tickets, go to and select June 25. For coupon, type in DCCA. The Keegan Theater is at 1742 Church Street, NW (between P and Q, 17th and 18th). The performance is at 8:00 p.m.


Department of Parks and Recreation Events, June 26
John Stokes,

June 26, 7:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Friendship Recreation Center, 4500 Van Ness Street, NW. Community Ice Cream Social sponsored by The Friends of Friendship Park for all ages. The community will come together and enjoy a variety of ice cream treats. For more information, call Enrique Leiva at 282-2198.

June 25-26, 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., June 27, 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Museum Shop Warehouse Cash and Carry Sale. Get great deals on designer items, accessories, books, and much more during a special sale in the award-winning National Building Museum Shop. Cash only. Member discounts do not apply to this sale. Prices apply to select items only. All sales are final and all items are sold as is.

June 26, 12:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m., Ridge Road Recreation Center, 800 Ridge Road, SE. Rookie Baseball Program Jamboree. This is the closing ceremony for the Rookies Baseball Program. Participants are encouraged to come in uniform and bring their gloves because there will be T-ball games going throughout the day. Each player will get a chance to play. For more information, call Sonny Hicks at 645-3959.

June 26, 12:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m., Turkey Thicket Recreation Center, 1100 Michigan Avenue, NE. Metro TeenAIDS Basketball Tournament for all ages. Metro TeenAIDS will host a Basketball Tournament as part of “National HIV Testing Day.” In addition to the basketball tournament, a Community Health Fair will take place and youth will be encouraged to get tested for HIV as well as visit other community organization booths. Attendees will be treated to an entire day of entertainment, food, and health and wellness information. For more information, call Lamar Anderson, Youth Center Manager, at 543-9355.


National Building Museum Events, June 28
Johanna Weber,

June 28, 6:30-8:00 p.m., Spotlight on Design: Benedetta Tagliabue Miralles Tagliabue EMBT. The complex work of EMBT creates a strong connection to the landscape. Hear Benedetta Tagliabue, a founding principal of the Barcelona-based firm, discuss the firm’s projects, including the Santa Caterina Marketplace, the Scottish Parliament Building, and the Spanish Pavilion for Expo Shanghai 2010. This program is presented as part of Preview Spain: Arts & Culture ’10. $12 members and students; $20 nonmembers. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at


Evolution and Is There Life on Other Worlds?, July 28
John Umana,

Dr. John Umana is the author of Creation: Towards a Theory of All Things, concerning the evolution debate. This book seeks to reconcile differences between Darwinism and intelligent design theory, where possible, based upon the scientific evidence. What is the meaning of “evolution”? The book argues that Darwinists are correct in concluding that all species descend from common ancestors — biological evolution is real. But the hypothesis that natural selection and random mutations account for the origin of species remains unsubstantiated. What accounts for the emergence of life and origin of species? Has life emerged on Mars or other worlds? John Umana is a lawyer in Washington, DC. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy and a law degree from the University of Michigan, where he also taught philosophy on his way to his doctorate. As a young student, he was a National Science Foundation scholar in physiology. He will present an author talk on Wednesday, July 28, at 7:00 p.m., on Capitol Hill at Northeast Library, 330 7th Street, NE, Meeting Room. For more information, call 698-3320.


The Green Effect, June 29
George Williams;

Libraries, which have promoting sharing books for generations, are even more environmentally friendly in their new buildings. Learn more about how libraries are becoming greener and tour the new Anacostia Library with architect R. David Chambers. The event will begin at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 29. The Anacostia Neighborhood Library is located at 1800 Good Hope Road, SE. For more information, contact Martha Saccocio at 727-1188 or


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