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January 9, 2013

Follow-Ups

Dear Whistleblowers:

Post reporter Emma Brown recounts a press release by DCPS chancellor Kaya Henderson in which she disputes the personal account of former Noyes principal Adell Cothorne that she witnessed potential cheating on standardized tests, http://tinyurl.com/bc5ymn9. Henderson also accuses Cothorne of lying about having reported the cheating and of making the charges in order to profit as a whistleblower. Brown quotes from Hendersonís press release, http://tinyurl.com/auu6w7x: "The fact that she has decided to attempt to personally profit financially through fictitious claims, rather than improve educational opportunities for our students, is extremely disappointing." Henderson has doubled down on her close identification with her predecessor, Michelle Rhee, has denied that any cheating took place at DC Public Schools, and has emulated Rheeís slash-and-burn tactics.

Itís time to take it to another level. Post education columnist Jay Mathews has a practical suggestion, http://tinyurl.com/adtph5g: "Isnít anyone in the DC government curious about what happened at Noyes, and why? Donít they want to know why scores so quickly peaked, then immediately plummeted? Perhaps the DC Council or a congressional committee can find a way to take testimony from all involved, under oath, and get to the truth. . . . Cothorne was trying to protect the students and the system, while it appears the system is just trying to protect itself." Perhaps the mayor and the Post editorial board could encourage the new head of the city councilís Education Committee, David Catania, to make getting to the bottom of this story one of his committeeís first priorities ó if they or Catania want to get at the truth.

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In the December 12, 2012, issue of themail, I tweaked and teased the bicycle industry for the results of the latest DC Department of Transportation report on bicycling: "What hasnít changed is the percentage of male bicyclists; from 2005 to 2012, 77 percent of bicyclists were men. In any other field, that would considered prima facie evidence of sex discrimination, and the DC government would take steps to limit the number of male riders until more women took up bicycling, and there was equality between the sexes." Now Washington Examiner reporter Liz Essley takes up the story, http://tinyurl.com/ahx4bho: t"The Washington Area Bicyclist Association has raised $11,000 so far for a new program aimed at convincing more women to become frequent bikers. . . . Shane Farthing, executive director of the bike association, said thatís why cycling has to reach out to women more. ĎWe have to make sure weíre not leaving folks behind,í he said. ĎSometimes it does take a little more targeted evangelism to certain groups.í"

The article identifies safety as the largest concern that women have about bicycling; Iím waiting for the comments from women who say that the low number of women bikers just shows that women have more common sense than men.

Gary Imhoff
themail@dcwatch.com

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Conflicts of Interest
Dorothy Brizill, dorothy@dcwatch.com

On December 18, at the councilís last legislative session for Council Period 20, Bill 19-1105, the District of Columbia Democratic State Committee Elections Emergency Amendment Act of 2012, was unanimously adopted. The seemingly innocuous bill was introduced by At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange. It would require the DC Board of Elections (BOE) to "schedule the District of Columbia Democratic State Committee elections . . . during the April 23 special election to fill the at-large seat." In short, the legislation seeks to have District taxpayers foot the bill for the Democratic State Committeeís election to fill forty-eight committee seats (two men and two women from each of the eight wards, six men and six women as at-large members of the DSC, and a Democratic national committeeman and committee woman.)

Meanwhile, questions have been raised regarding the cost of holding the partyís election and how it would be funded. The councilís Budget Director, Jennifer Budoff, in a fiscal impact statement prepared for Council Chairman Mendelson and circulated to councilmembers before the December 18 vote on the bill, noted that "funds are not sufficient in the proposed FY2013 through FY2016 budget and financial plan to implement this legislation." The DC Board of Elections has prepared a budget for the April 23 special elections, and estimates that the party elections would raise the cost of the special election by as much as $411,000 (or $8,562 for each person elected to the DSC). There are rumors in the Wilson Building and among Democratic party members that in the coming weeks that Mayor Gray will submit a budget reprogramming bill to the council to fund the party election as well as the special election on April 23.

In addition to the issue raised by the legislationís requiring public funding for the election of party officials for a political party, there is also concern that two councilmembers, Vincent Orange and Anita Bonds, had a conflict of interest but did not recuse themselves during the vote on the bill. Councilmember Vincent Orange, who wrote and submitted the bill, currently serves as a member and officer of the DSC. His chief of staff in his council office, Estelle Lloyd, is the Districtís National Committeewoman and also a member and officer of the DSC. Councilmember Anita Bonds currently serves as the chairman of the DC Democratic State Committee. Section 202, Code of Official Conduct, under the Council Rules of Organization and Procedure, states that "Councilmembers and staff shall maintain a high level of ethical conduct in connection with the performance of their official duties and shall refrain from taking, order, or participating in any official action that would adversely affect the confidence of the public in the integrity of District government. Councilmembers and staff shall strive to act solely in the public interest and not for any personal gain or take an official action on a matter as to which they have a conflict of interest created by a personal, family, client, or business interest, avoiding both actual and perceived conflicts of interest and preferential treatment." Neither Mr. Orange nor Ms. Bonds responded to repeated attempts for comment on whether they saw any conflict of interest between their roles as DSC committee members and their votes to require public funding of a partisan political election.

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Comments on the Proposed Changes in DCís Graduation Requirements, Part II
Erich Martel, ehmartel at starpower dot net

In the January 2 issue of themail, I commented on the State Board of Educationís proposed changes to the Social Studies requirements, specifically reducing US Government from a required to an elective subject.

The significance of graduation requirements is that they describe the minimum high school courses or subjects a student should complete in order to receive a high school diploma, which is expected to signify that the student has achieved the minimum mastery to take freshman college courses or to enter the job market or a career training program. At present, DC has one set of college prep graduation requirements with "career add-ons" that purport to prepare students for both "college and careers" [i.e., trades]. Thus, a student wishing to pursue a trade, e.g. plumbing, must meet the same standards as a student planning to attend college. Although there is considerable community support for an optional career or trade requirements or diploma, that is not being considered.

One reason is the fear of being accused of bias or racial tracking and not having "high expectations" for students; another is a lack of familiarity with relevant research; an almost naÔve belief that whatever they enact, principals and teachers can make happen. The fact that large numbers of students can only meet the present requirements by an extensive use of standards-bypassing loopholes like after-school credit recovery, summer school, and questionable on-line courses is not considered.

On the OSSE/SBOE web site, background information is limited to vague generalities: "The SBOE and OSSE held 9 public meetings to hear feedback from school administrators, parents, students and advocacy groups on the current graduation requirements by subjects and topics." Comment: thatís fine, but why canít the public know what that feedback was? "OSSE and the SBOE researched best practices in other states and considered areas unique to DC students." Comment: again, fine, why canít the public know what those "best practices" are and exactly what areas it considered "unique to DC students"? In the next issue of themail: the illusion of "competency credits" and the so-called "creative knowledge economy."

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Tunnel Vision
Gabe Goldberg, gabe at gabegold dot com

Regarding "tunnel tickets" (themail, January 6) ó another ridiculous aspect of speed enforcement (besides overly sensitive traffic cameras) is absurdly low speed limits. For example, The entrance to westbound E Street tunnel is posted for 30 mph. Itís not a city street: itís a submerged highway. There are no pedestrians, no houses, no stores, no schools, no entrances or exits from one end to the other, no traffic weaving sections, and no safety hazards.

The next speed limit sign after the two 30 mph signs at the tunnel entrance is at the far (Virginia) side of the bridge, 40 mph. The bridge is a four-lane divided highway ó surely itís not meant for 30 mph. Years ago I was cited for speeding in the tunnel ó likely doing 45 or so, keeping up with traffic. Traveling 30 mph would be dangerous and lead to being rear-ended or at least road rage from other drivers.

I showed up in court prepared to argue against the unreasonable speed limit. I assume the officer agreed with me since he didnít show up and the ticket was dismissed. But unreasonable limits like that engender disrespect for traffic rules and make stretches like that "tunnels of revenue" ó how many people simply paid tickets issued by that officer that day?

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