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May 5, 2013

Improving the Schools

Dear Improvers:

Have Superintendent Michelle Rheeís and Superintendent Kaya Hendersonís "reforms" improved or hurt the education of students in DCís public schools? The Economic Policy Instituteís project, A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education ( has published a report on school "reform" efforts in Chicago, New York City, and Washington, DC, "Market-Oriented Education Reformsí Rhetoric Trumps Reality," by Elaine Weiss and Don Long, A quick summary of the studyís DC results, from an article by Weiss reprinted in Valerie Straussí "The Answer Sheet" column, "In Washington, DC, test scores among most student groups had been rising prior to Rhee and Fentyís arrival, some of them rapidly. After 2007, however, test scores largely stagnated or declined, and those that had not been rising fell still more. Moreover, DC schools stand out among the three districts studied for the most disproportionate accrual of gains to high-income, non-minority students." See also Rachel Bayeís article in The Washington Examiner, "Report Claims Rheeís Reforms Harmed DC Schools,"

Gary Imhoff


Fixing Elections in DC
Dorothy Brizill,

As the District prepares to hold local elections in 2014, attention will again focus on improving the administration of DCís election laws. District residents are demanding that effective laws and procedures are put in place to address the campaign finance issues that have been ongoing in the District for the past ten years, issues that have been highlighted by the recent ongoing investigation of Mayor Grayís 2010 campaign (e.g., the existence of an off-the-books shadow campaign, unreported receipts and expenditures, cash donations, and the use of money orders, etc.). Because there are so many election related issues that DC residents and lawmakers will need to address in 2013, it is counterproductive and, indeed, wasteful to manufacture an issue where one doesnít exist.

In a May 3 Local Opinions column in the Washington Post, "Why Canít You Register Online to Vote in DC?,", Mindy Moretti suggested that elections could be improved in the District by cleaning the voter registration rolls by, for example, removing duplicate registrations, typos, old addresses, and maiden names. She then says that "one way to get cleaner rolls would be to allow online voter registrations," but notes that "there is no reason that the DC Board of Elections should not be offering online registration, other than a lack of vision and the funding necessary to bring that vision to fruition." On April 30, Councilmember Tommy Wells introduced Bill 20-2013, the Voter Registration and Modernization Amendment Act of 2013, to "amend the District of Columbia Election Code of 1955 to authorize the Board of Elections to provide and operate an online voter registration system and allow an individual to apply to become a registered voter and update voter registration information through an online voter registration system."

In recent years, the Districtís Board of Elections has had a program that allows individuals to download and print out a voter registration form (, as well as to review and correct their voter registration status ( The only limitation on online registration is the District law that requires the Board to obtain an original signature from a first-time registrant, in order to protect against voter fraud. As a result the registration form, once completed and signed, must be mailed or taken to the BOE to be processed and scanned into the signature database. It should also be noted that an individual can register and update voter information by completing BOE forms that are readily available at most District agencies, checking a box on a form at the DC Department of Motor Vehicles, or, on election day, via same-day voter registration.


Mayor Grayís Drivers License for Undocumented (Illegal) Immigrants
Mary C. Young,

I have a suggestion for the mayor. Instead of giving illegal immigrants drivers licenses, he should give them bicycles. This way we can achieve two things at once: getting more cars off the streets and saving illegal immigrants the expense of car insurance.


Together, We Are Better
Candi Peterson,

Itís official. On April 30 I declared my candidacy for the Washington Teachersí Union (WTU) General Vice President again. This time, I am running on the Elizabeth Davis (known as Liz) slate. Itís an opportunity for a new start, for new beginnings ó a time to take stock of where weíve been, where we stand and how much needs to be done for DC teachers and school personnel.

Nothing is more important to me than advocating for teachers/school personnel, students, and our schools. I have always been in the forefront of education advocacy and public education reform. My running mate, Liz Davis, has always stood for great student-centered teaching, advocating for better teaching and learning conditions, saving our public schools, and representing membersí rights. We both stand firmly against the privatization of public education and support a participatory union membership that is inclusive, not a dictatorship. Our styles are similar in that we both are great leaders, good listeners, and try to build consensus. We offer transparency and ethical leadership, as I have so often demonstrated in my union leadership and my writings on my education blog; The Washington Teacher, which became an online voice for DC teachers and school personnel during the Michelle Rhee regime.

It pains me to say that life as we all know and love in our public schools ó is in danger ó and has been for some time. In DC and throughout the US, teachers have become an endangered species. This revolving door of our teacher and principal workforce under both the Rhee and Henderson administration has harmed students, compromised their ability to achieve, sent our public schools into further decline and led to a diminishing enrollment. Itís an exciting and important journey, offering teachers a change in union leadership and doing what needs to be done for the future, our future. We hope to add to our family of followers and welcome every oneís ideas. We support our younger colleagues and older veterans because we believe that together, we are better. Pitting the old versus the young isnít in any of our best interests, particularly our students. Let me close by saying that when only a few do better ó at the expense of everybody else ó well, all of us pay the price. We want so much more and plan to tell you about our plans in the very near future.


Balance of Power
Tom Grahame,

In "War on Facts" [themail, May 1] Paul Basken asks for more balance in the discussion about bicycles versus. cars. He says, "And how does evening the balance between bike options and car options mean policymakers are failing to plan for the needs of people of all ages and conditions? Isnít that what balancing the options in fact means?" Balance, to me, means a system where people who want to use bicycles, and people who want (or need) to use their own cars, can both be served. That is why on previous comments in themail and elsewhere Iíve stated that I think DC should serve bicyclists, even thought bike lanes are an inconvenience to me personally. Live and let live.

My problem with "balance" is that I donít think it is yet there for those who need to use and park their car on the street. I am one such person. Like many people in Portland, Oregon, who moved into the new multiunit buildings with zero parking spaces, I have a car and need to park on the street. Most of the time, if I need to park after 7:00 p.m., I have to park two or three blocks from my house. I can live with that, although it didnít use to be that way, before new folks moved in from the suburbs (with cars) replacing former, older residents who didnít have cars. Again, live and let live.

The problem is that the Office of Planning, and now in all likelihood the Zoning office, are proposing the now failed Portland, Oregon, scheme: new multiunit residential buildings within a half mile of Metro will not have to have any parking. That proposal will make it extremely hard to park anywhere near my home, I might have to park illegally just to be able to park, with the ticket that comes with illegal parking. This proposal therefore does not represent balance. Existing car owners ó even those who drive only 4500 miles per year, like me ó are going to face significant hardship. We are not being served, while walkers and bicyclists are. I donít object to increased density (in fact, I think it is the right thing to do), and I donít object to bicycle lanes. But I do object to new policies that will make it very hard for me to park anywhere near my home, in particular when we see that Portland has gone back on the policy that DC is about to propose. See the Portland Business Journal, So I agree with Paul that we should have balance. But I donít think we have it, yet. And I hope Paul will agree that Iím not hyperventilating.


What the Hell Does This Have to Do with Fox?
Star Lawrence,

[Re: Paul Basken, "War on Facts," themail, May 1] I gather the writer is a "liberal" and just wishes to render a drive-by slap at Fox, but I stopped reading.


The Cost of the Streetcar System
Don Hawkins,

The three streetcars were ordered when Dan Tangherlini was head of DDOT. They have been in storage for seven years, so the cost of putting them in good working order has to be substantial, and should be added into the cost of the system. What is the life expectancy of a high-tech vehicle? Do any of the council members drive seven-year-old cars?


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