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June 12, 2013

The Beat Goes On

Dear Beaters:

Council Chairman Kwame Brown. Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. Former Councilmember Michael A. Brown. And now the US Attorney’s Office announces that its investigation of Councilmember Vincent Orange has entered a new stage. And when you mention to anyone the drumbeat of corruption cases, the reaction is no longer shock or surprise. It’s no longer even disappointment or disgruntlement. The reaction is a list of three or four other public officials who should also be indicted. As a start.

"It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress," Mark Twain wrote in Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar. Marx wrote that, "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce." If we take Twain’s characterization of Congress as the original, and our city council as the repetition, we could say instead that our history appears on the national stage the first time as farce, and for the second time on the local stage in miniature as nothing but a travesty.

Gary Imhoff


DC Statehood Bill Receives Fiftieth Cosponsor
Joshua Matfess,

House Resolution 292, the New Columbia Admission Act, has reached a legislative milestone. The statehood bill, which was introduced in January by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, has officially received fifty cosponsors within the House. This resulted directly from the collaborative efforts of passionate local advocates and dedicated elected officials. Achieving fifty cosponsors for HR 292 is a significant step in the over two-hundred-year struggle for statehood. By comparison, the previous statehood bill, which was introduced in the previous Congress, only received twenty-eight cosponsors. Showing strong and uniform support for DC statehood is especially important these days, considering the current political context. The House is currently controlled by a Republican Party that unilaterally opposes DC statehood, and so rallying more and more official support for our legislation is paramount to demonstrating the necessity and strength of our mission for statehood.

On June 5, a dozen Representatives added their names to the list of cosponsors in a wave of new support for DC statehood. Among them was Representative Jim Clyburn, the third ranking member of the House Democratic Party leadership. That party leaders are proud to show their support for DC statehood is promising for our mission’s prospects. This milestone will be a source of momentum to secure even more support in the House as we continue to fight for the bill throughout the summer. District residents should rest assured that their elected officials are fighting for their rights to meaningful equality and full democratic voting rights and representation. Plus, residents should feel empowered to contribute towards our legislative efforts. Continuing optimism and support from District residents is essential to advance our goal of statehood. Representative Nate Bennett-Fleming and his staff regularly visit the Hill to explain the necessity of DC statehood to legislators from around the country, and anyone interested in assisting with these advocacy efforts should feel free reach out to our office. We’ve only gotten this far through the persistence of community activists and, with your help, the District of Columbia will soon enjoy the statehood it deserves.


And What About Mr. Barry?
Greg DuRoss,

Seems that with the focus on Michael Brown there is a resurrection of talk about investigation of Mayor Gray. Well, what about Councilmember Barry? I am not hearing anyone talk about the several thousands he has received of late from people and companies doing business with the District government. Perhaps the law says the it has to hit a threshold of $25,000 or perhaps $50,000 to warrant action? If we are going to clean house, we need to clean house, and I would suggest that needs to include Councilmember Barry and Graham, and Mayor Gray. It is time for some new folks.


Funny Story
Sharon Wise,

I don't understand something, Marion Barry did the same thing; how come he was not indicted? Is he working for the feds?

Also Hakim Sutton was Barry's campaign consultant and fundraiser and wrote checks from Marion's campaign account to numerous people.

This shit is crazy, one law for one set of folks and another for the others, that's what makes DC politics corrupt.


More Money, More Problems
Jason Lee Bakke,

A representative of a company seeking assistance with the CBE process seeks to bribe a councilmember for help with cash. Clearly wrong, but is it really that different from hiring Patton Boggs (aside from maybe being cheaper)?

Oh, of course there are the ethics lawyers are bound by, and I’m sure clear firewalls in place, but has no one at Patton Boggs ever told a prospect, "And Jack Evans is of counsel here"?


Why Was Michael Brown’s Indictment Delayed?
Tom Sherwood,

[Re: Dorothy Brizill, themail, June 9] A possibly less sinister and simple answer is that maybe Brown was engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise and Feds were collecting who knows what data and evidence. At this point it is reasonable to think the whole city political system is suspect.


Taking Exception
Randy Alan Weiss,

I must take exception to Dorothy’s posting [themail, June 9] titled "Corruption and Michael A. Brown" as to the timing of the proceedings against former Councilmember Michael Brown. The US Attorney’s Office cannot let — and certainly does not allow — political issues to affect its judgment. This includes, but is not limited to, petition collection, primaries, general elections, special elections, etc. We have to allow the professionals at the US Attorney’s Office handle their own caseload with the professionalism which they embrace and pursue. To criticize the timing of prosecutions because political motivations were not taken into account disparages that office and only evidences one’s own lack of understanding of the professionalism of that office.


City-wide Health and Wellness Planning and United Medical Center
Richard Layman,

In response to Samuel Jordan's recent post [themail, June 9]: 1) in contracting, the contracting body (in this case, DC government) has all kinds of outs with regard to modifying a contract and its provisions once it has been let, in my experiences — positive and negative in submitting bids — I've learned it's better to submit, even if there are defects in the RFP, because there are chances you can modify the final contract, but if you don't submit you prevent yourself from ever being able to participate. None of the so called strikes that he lobs at the vendor are really the "fault" of the vendor, but of the contracting body.

2) With regard to the concerns both about the business form that the UMC is supposed to take in an economically sustainable fashion as well as the point made about the provision for a "community health assessment," if you remember back to Howard University's desire to build a new hospital at Reservation 17 as well as the economic failures of the Dimensions Health Care system in Prince George's County, I made the point that the city needs to do a comprehensive health and wellness master plan,

It may be possible to link UMC with the city's system of funded community clinics (which are in fact a national best practice), the upcoming affordable health care act health networks, and other programs for community health and maintenance of chronic conditions. One example is what Denver has done ( by integrating its main hospital and public health functions. I don't know Huron Consulting's background well enough to know whether they are capable of doing a complete health and wellness plan for an entire jurisdiction. They don't list producing such master plans as an element of their health care consulting practice. There is no question that DC needs such a plan (also addressing emergency medical service provision), judging by all that has been going on in the city and suburban Maryland with health care issues over the past fifteen years. But by focusing strictly on the United Medical Center, the broader questions aren't being asked, and the opportunity for innovation is likely lost.


ANC’s and the Machinations of Gentrification
Carolyn Steptoe,

As a three-term elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) in the Brookland neighborhood of Ward 5, I appreciate the May 6 article by Washington Post columnist Clinton Yates ("Squabble over restaurant's license offers close-up on city's constant change," In his piece, Yates spotlights an example of what he called "the internal machinations of gentrification." As he put it: "the struggle for DC urban turf in nondescript rooms across the city with faces that many residents might not recognize. . . . [It's] a slow deliberate process . . . a playground renovation here, a liquor license dispute there. By the time you look up, everything is changing hands, for better or worse. Unless one group fights back."

Yates' piece cites the very contentious liquor license renewal between a black-owned establishment on U Street and a small group of white nearby residents. Ultimately, that Ward 1 ANC voted to support the establishment. Beginning in January 2009 as a newly elected ANC, I saw the machinations of gentrification play out in polarizing (frequently racial) ways within my ANC and single member district (SMD). When the 2009 DC council approved the Brookland Small Area Plan, the die was cast to effectuate large-scale gentrification processes for Brookland: the Office of Planning’s policy to "brand" Brookland began; the Zoning Planned Unit Development application for a behemoth building (901 Monroe) within ten feet of longtime, largely black senior citizens; two alcohol license protests before Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration split primarily along racial lines (Optimism and Brookland's Finest Bar and Kitchen); an incomplete Department of Parks and Recreation park construction (Noyes) in which factions are already vying for control — are but a few examples of matters before our ANC in which the voices of the most directly affected residents are typically minimized, marginalized, or routinely ignored by the city's gentrification agenda, processes, and policies.

While the ANCs attempt to notify, and provide a voice to the most directly affected residents about projects and issues, increasingly, their efforts are met with intense, mob-like anger and hostility from factions that would benefit the gentrification process. In helping constituents stand up and "fight back" against the impact of gentrification, ANCs face insults, verbal attacks, and retaliatory threats. Indeed, neighborhood listservs and blogs abound with recall refrain and salacious attacks directed at ANCs. Recently, my single member district gathering to hear a presentation from an establishment about its liquor license application became so disruptive and unruly that the gathering was adjourned within the first hour. The ensuing electronic attacks and insults directed at the ANCs were base and ugly.

Yes, Yates does note in his piece that the machinations of gentrification are painful to watch. However painful the process, ANCs must remain strong in their commitment to the public trust and their constituents. For such work, thick-skin is a prerequisite. As the governmental entities with the closest ties to the community regarding city policy, legislation, and government agency matters, ANCs cannot be faint-hearted or cowardly. To better serve their communities and constituents, ANCs must be knowledgeable about the ever changing government policy and clear about government processes. They must also be prepared for the backlash resulting from their decisions on behalf of their communities. The sole consolation is that by safeguarding the public trust and protecting the rights of their communities, they are doing the right thing. So, in the face of the varied hostile machinations of gentrification, ANCs . . . be brave and don’t be surprised!


School Report Cards: All Students to Receive Team Grades Based on Their School's Test Averages
Erich Martel, ehmartel at star power dot net

(All of the following is a spoof of the education reformers’ policy of judging the effectiveness of all teachers and support staff in a school by school-wide average scores on two or three standardized tests that have no consequences for students. The quotations come from the description of "School Value Added" in the 2010-11 DCPS IMPACT teacher evaluation, p. 46, which counted for 5 percent of teachers’ evaluation, but since removed from the ever-changing IMPACT formulas. The only words I changed were "school" to "students" and "individual teacher’s" to "individual student’s.")

On June 6, I participated in a focus group on "school report cards" sponsored by DC OSSE This is my report. According to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the offices of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), Chancellor of the DCPS, Deputy Mayor for Education (DME), DC Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB) and the DC mayor, starting in School Year 2013-14, each school’s average DC CAS scores in Reading, Mathematics, and Composition (Writing) will appear on a publicly posted School Report Card or SRC.

In turn, these average school scores will replace teacher assigned grades on students’ report card. In the same manner, in elementary and middle schools, the school’s average score on the DC CAS Science test (in high schools, the DC CAS Biology test) will also appear on the SRC and on each student’s final report card replacing teacher assigned grades. As Common Core State Standards tests are adopted in other subject areas, average scores in those subjects will also replace individual, student grades. The MOU explains that, "we used a sophisticated model to isolate the impact the school has on [individual] student learning" and, by extension, on the school’s average test scores and proficiency percentages, which are then converted into a numerical value-added score that can be expressed as a traditional letter grade on students’ report cards.

The office of the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME) reportedly commissioned an experienced school turnaround firm, funded by a foundation grant, to develop and roll out this new policy (The practice of a foundation’s funding a study to drive public education policy is not without precedent. In 2011, the DME commissioned the Illinois Facilities Fund or IFF, with funding from the Walton Family Foundation, to evaluate and rank DCPS and DC charter schools according to the "demand for performing seats," based on five years of average school math and reading scores).

The MOU cited the following rationale for this new emphasis on collective student accountability: "Average school test scores are value-added measures of students’ overall impact — as opposed to a student’s impact — on student group learning. They are growth measures based on the DC CAS. Every student in the school receives the same score." Or, one enthusiastic staff member put it, on any high caliber team, all players contribute to best of their ability, but the success or failure of the team is recorded as a single team score, whether they’re called runs, goals, points, or baskets.

In anticipation of a parental question, an MOU annex provided the following FAQ: "Why is my child’s grade determined by the school’s average DC CAS test score? Because education is very much a team effort (DC’s public schools emphasize group work and differentiated instruction to enable teachers to teach to multiple learning modalities or multiple intelligences), we feel it is important to hold every student in a building accountable for the overall success of the school. This is the same idea behind the TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) Program, which provides bonuses to all staff members in schools that meet certain performance targets."


The chancellor’s recent "reconstitution" of Cardozo HS and Patterson ES on the basis that they were "low achieving" is an example of judging an entire faculty by average test scores without any attempt to explain why many students were doing poorly or why some, however small in number, were doing well.

On June 6th, I participated in an OSSE focus group on "School Report Cards." I posed a rhetorical question to other participants: "How many parents here think your son or daughter’s report card grades should be the average school score on DC CAS tests, rather than an individual grade assigned by the teacher on the basis of your child’s performance?"

I then explained that the School Report Card is being promoted as a vehicle for parent information, but is intended to collectively evaluate an entire school faculty on the basis of several student test score averages. When the students at a school are doing poorly, without even seeking to know why, it is assumed that some, many or all of the teachers and support staff are at fault and the school can be threatened with closure, turnaround, reconstitution without having to determine the cause. The first question that should be asked is, "Why?"

School report cards are based on the assumption that students’ performance is the result of teacher "inputs," a factor that varies by student population. There is no scientific basis for it. Since school officials frequently make unsound choices of curriculums, textbooks, teaching programs and pedagogical methods without evidence of their effectiveness, it is an abuse of authority to hold an entire school faculty responsible for the results of those unsound choices.


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