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May 7, 2014

High Expectations

Dear Scholars:

Thomas Sowell wrote a powerful article about Dunbar High School, “The Fate of Dunbar High: Selective Schools Help Those Students Eager to Learn,” that was published in the May 1 issue of National Review, “There has not been much controversy about Dunbar High School for a long time. Since sometime in the late 1950s, it has been just one more ghetto school with an abysmal academic record — and that has been too common to be controversial,” Sowell wrote. “What is different about the history of Dunbar is that, from its founding in 1870 as the first public high school in the country for black students, until the mid 1950s, it was an outstanding academic success.”

What doomed Dunbar’s success was exactly what had created its success. Its selectivity, its high demands on its students and faculty, tainted it with the curse of “elitism,” and it had to be brought down and leveled to make sure that no school and no student was thought to be any better than any other. We have been trying ever since to rediscover the secret that made Dunbar an extraordinary school and made its students so very capable and successful. Perhaps, we have thought, if we spent more and more money on schools, if we made class sizes smaller, if we tested students more frequently with standardized tests, then education for black students in Washington could be improved back to the standard that we achieved back in the first decade after slavery in America was abolished.

We have tried everything except what Dunbar started with — high expectations on students’ behavior and learning, high expectations enforced not just by teachers, but also by parents and by their fellow students.

Gary Imhoff


Halting the Work of Government
Dorothy Brizill,

Back in 2011, when Councilmember Mary Cheh, then chair of the council’s Government Operations Committee — with the acquiescence of a majority of her council colleagues — insisted on moving the District’s municipal primary date from September to April, it was known that that change would result in a lengthy nine-month period, from April to January, in which a defeated incumbent officeholder would remain in office. As a result of the April 1 primary, the District now has three elected officials — Mayor Gray, Ward One Councilmember Jim Graham, and Ward Six Councilmember Tommy Wells — who will continue to hold office until January while serving as lame ducks. At the same time, it is important that the business of government continue, and citizens expect the mayor and councilmembers to continue to discharge the duties and responsibilities of their offices. With regard to Mayor Gray, the DC Code specifies the “powers and duties” of the office of mayor. Under DC Code Section 1-204.22, “the executive power of the District shall be vested in the Mayor who . . . shall administer all laws relating to the appointment . . . of personnel . . . in executive departments of the District, and members of boards, commissions, and other agencies.”

This week, at Tuesday’s legislative meeting of the council, Kenyon McDuffie, now chair of the council’s Government Operations Committee, introduced an emergency bill, the “Inspector General Qualifications Emergency Amendment Act of 2014.” The purpose of the legislation was to change the minimum qualifications for the position of DC Inspector General to more closely follow the federal standard used for the appointment of inspector generals. Prompting the emergency legislation was the fact that on May 19 the term of Charles Willoughby, the District’s current Inspector General, ends. Under current District law, Willoughby cannot serve as IG in a holdover capacity beyond May 19. Moreover, under current law, the IG must be a member of the DC bar for at least seven years and have seven years’ experience in the practice of law, or be a certified public accountant in the District of Columbia with seven years’ experience in the practice of accounting, tax consulting, or financial consulting, prior to being appointed to the position. Concerned that these stringent requirements would hinder efforts to recruit a new IG, Mayor Gray and Councilmember McDuffie drafted the emergency legislation to enlarge the pool of possible candidates for the position. Following a lengthy debate on the dais, it became obvious that there wouldn’t be the nine votes necessary on the council to pass the bill as an emergency, and McDuffie withdrew it. Councilmembers Muriel Bowser, Jim Graham, Vincent Orange, and Marion Barry objected to the fact that Gray, as a lame duck mayor, had the authority to appoint a new IG to a six-year term of office and that, according to Orange, “the position should be held open until a new mayor is in place” in January. Bowser repeatedly asked if Gray had a “nominee in waiting,” and argued that Willoughby’s term should be extended by six months, despite the fact that Willoughby has already announced his retirement and that current District law doesn’t allow an IG to receive an extension of a six-year term or to serve as a holdover. During the heated debate, Bowser, Orange, Graham, and Barry failed to acknowledge the important statutory role the council will play during the confirmation process in reviewing the background and qualifications of any nomination that Gray would make.

Currently, it is unclear what will happen in the coming weeks with respect to the IG position. Will Willoughby leave his position when his term ends on May 19, as the law requires; will he delay his retirement for six or more months, as Bowser seems to demand; will the council enact emergency legislation to allow either for holdover status for the IG or the appointment of an interim IG; or will the mayor nominate and the council confirm a new IG by May 19 or shortly thereafter? It should be noted that there are other important boards and commissions with vacancies, including the DC Board of Elections and Ethics, the Public Service Commission, the DC Library Board of Trustees, the Public Employee Relations Board, and the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (on which Laura Richards’ term ends July 1, 2014). Will the council take a similar stance, demanding that these positions remain vacant until a new mayor takes office in January?


Traffic Enforcement
Edward Cowan,

Jack McKay has a long record of public-spirited posts on themail, but his latest — a self-serving bleat [“Is DC Becoming a Traffic Enforcement Police State,” themail, April 30] is not up to his usual standard. He complains that a police officer, right behind him, ticketed him for not stopping at a stop sign. He wails that the officer was “intent on inflicting punishment.” How does he know the officer’s intent? Because, as he relates, the officer wouldn’t let Jack talk his way out of the ticket.

I was reminded of Jack’s tale a few minutes ago when I saw a motorist roll through a stop sign at about five mph — at a corner with poor visibility. Stop means stop. Too many drivers don’t take it literally — which makes the streets less safe for all of us.

As for Jack’s complaint about the twenty-five mph speed limit on the K Street, NW, underpass, he may have a point. That it is unreasonably low. But until it’s raised, let motorists heed. We’ll all be safer.



Mother’s Day Brunch, May 11
Susana Baranano,

Making Mother’s Day plans? Join us at the Woman’s National Democratic Club, 1526 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, on Sunday, May 11 for a special brunch to toast the exceptional women in our lives. Bring your mother, sister, daughter, best friend, or mentor to enjoy a brunch buffet and mimosas, and to network with some of Washington’s leading women. Sunday, May 11, 11:30 a.m.-2:00 p.m. Adults, $35 with advance registration, $45 at the door; kids (five through twelve years old), $15. For this event, the membership initiation fee will be waived for individuals who submit completed membership applications. Reserve by telephone, 232-7363, ext. 3003, or online at


DC Election Reform Panel, May 28
Joe Libertelli,

Please join the League of Women Voters, DC; DC Appleseed; DC Vote; and the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law for a forum on election reform on Wednesday, May 28, from 6:00-8:00 p.m., with a reception to follow. Panelists will include Rob Ritchie of Fair Vote, DC Councilmember David Grosso, and Peter Rosenstein. (DC Board of Elections Chair Deborah Nichols, invited) Moderator: Kathryn Ray. UDC Clarke School of Law, 5th Floor Moot Court Room, 4340 Connecticut Avenue, NW. Free, but please register at


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