Monday, May 5

DC MONDAY

TEACHING OUR CHILDREN TO BE DYSFUNCTIONAL

WASHINGTON BUSINESS JOURNAL Rhee wants nonprofits to take over a dozen of the city's most failing high schools. A new tax-exempt group, formed by former Fenty bullpen official Sarah Lasner, will receive donations from businesses eager to contribute to school reform. And Rhee wants businesses to pony up their human capital by adopting schools and helping students on Saturdays and in summer school with legions of off-hours tutors and mentors.

Many in the business community wonder why it has taken her so long to ask for their help. Foundations and corporations have complained for months that they can't get meetings with Rhee. In a meeting with members of The Philanthropy Roundtable on April 1, she repeated Fenty's blunt request that they contribute $75 million every year for the next five years - while adding that most of the money would probably go toward teachers' salary incentives. Some business leaders at the meeting bristled: Why should they be asked to pitch in for overhead when the system was wasting so much money? Shouldn't they be contributing like businesses usually do: building playgrounds, buying computers and painting hallways on the weekends?. . .

Rhee explains her approach to business and nonprofit involvement in D.C. schools. Her bottom line: If you're a business and you want to contribute, you will do what the school system needs, not necessarily what you want to do. And however you contribute, your business's role will be evaluated by a single criteria: Did it lead to an improvement in students' standardized test scores

CITY DESK - Rhee's approach to education is deeply anti-educational. To use standardized tests as the sole criteria of someone's achievement ignores matters such as wisdom, judgment, social factors and morality. If you educate kids in such a manner you basically end up with adults - not unlike Rhee and Fenty - able to absorb a large amount of data but often incapable of using it sensibly in a social situation. There is a name for this; it's called Asperger's Syndrome. The last thing we want to do is to train our children to be as socially dysfunctional as some of our leaders.

Let's say we have a standardized test on the city budget. Rhee and Fenty would probably pass it with flying colors. Now let's ask a different sort of question: given the data, what is the best amount of money we should spend on education as opposed to locking up minor drug offenders a thousand miles from home? There's no way you can standardize the answer because it is ultimately a matter of wisdom and morality.

Now let's ask another question. If we are spending too much on prisons, how do we convince people to do otherwise? Again, there is no way to standardize the answers.

Yet the success of our society is based on education young people to be able to answer such questions and thousands of others that won't fit in the blank on the test sheet.

There is nothing wrong with tests when they are used with the sort of wisdom, judgment and conscience that standardized tests can't teach you. If we want our children to have the latter traits, then we must educate them and not reduce learning to the primitive logic of slot machine.

RHEE-ALITY CHECK

CANDI PETERSON On Saturday, May 3, Mr. Jesus Aguirre from the Office of the Chancellor told some local DC public school restructuring teams in a citywide meeting that DCPS elementary school counselor positions will not be funded in DCPS elementary schools that do not have a minimum of six hundred students. . .

As if this weren't enough, DCPS literacy and math coach teachers were advised last Friday that they too will have to reapply for their newly reclassified jobs under new position titles, Literacy Professional Developer and Mathematics Professional Developer, at the DCPS teacher transfer fair next Saturday. . .

Like their mentor, Chancellor Joel Klein of New York public schools, it appears that Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee believe that the way to reform public education is by firing the bottom half of public school employees. As Randi Weingarten, President of United Federation of Teachers, reported about Chancellor Joel Klein's similar tactics, "And if you can't fire them, make their lives miserable." Instead of proposing creative solutions that would reform our public schools, Chancellor Rhee and Mayor Fenty continue down their path of destruction of our educational landscape which is counterproductive, destroys employee morale, wastes valuable talent, tarnishes future teacher recruitment efforts, and lacks a long-term educational strategic plan. After all, what competent, certified and experienced employees will be attracted to work in a system that regularly devalues and disrespects teachers, and fails to retain their existing pool of talented and certified educators?

RHEE BUDDY UPDATE

SACRAMENTO BEE Saturday's Sacramento mayoral debate trotted along cordially enough until the very end, when the hopefuls were asked what question they'd pose to the two candidates who didn't show up. The focus inside the downtown Sacramento debate hall immediately shifted to an empty brown leather chair at the end of the dais.

Kevin Johnson, the former-NBA-star-turned-Oak Park-developer-turned-mayoral-candidate, declined an invitation to the event, the campaign's first televised forum. (Long-shot insurance broker Richard Jones also was a no-show.)

"Whose side is he on?" asked candidate Muriel Strand, referring to Johnson.

"Why isn't he willing to talk to the people?" chimed in incumbent mayor Heather Fargo.

"I don't care if he's out raising more money or at a college reunion . . . " said bounty hunter Leonard Padilla from underneath his trademark cowboy hat. "You show up."

Johnson instead spent Saturday in Washington, D.C., laying out his case for opening a St. HOPE charter school in the nation's capital. He passed on last week's debate at Fremont Presbyterian Church, too, and has pulled out of three other debates at the last moment.

Christy Setzer, a Johnson spokeswoman, issued a brief statement saying Johnson has "found that the most meaningful interactions happen through a two-way conversation with residents." She said Johnson's campaign team has spread his message by knocking on the doors of 10,000 voters and calling another 20,000.

Just short of 84,000 city residents voted in the 2004 mayoral election.. . .

Padilla deemed the transfer of Sacramento High into a charter high school run by Johnson's St. HOPE "a horrendous mistake," especially in light of allegations that Johnson inappropriately touched a student. Sacramento police investigated and found no basis for the allegations.

Padilla called upon City Councilman Rob Fong - a St. HOPE supporter when he served on the Sacramento City Unified school board - to lead a blue-ribbon panel dedicated to revoking the school's charter. "Obviously, something has been wrong (at Sac High) for a very long time," Padilla said.

RECOVERED HISTORY

JENNIFER MEDINA, NY TIMES, NOV 2007 - New York City's eighth graders have made no significant progress in reading and math since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took control of the city schools, according to federal test scores released yesterday, in contrast with the largely steady gains that have been recorded on state tests. The national scores also showed little narrowing of the achievement gap between white students and their black and Hispanic counterparts.

The results for New York and 10 other large urban districts on the federal tests, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, paint a generally stagnant picture for the city, although there are gains in fourth-grade math. On measure after measure, the scores showed "no significant change" between 2005, when the test was previously administered, and 2007. . .

New York City's federal scores showed that while fourth-grade reading results have improved over the past five years, the most significant jump came in 2002, before Mr. Bloomberg took control. . .

In contrast with New York City, federal scores in Atlanta and Washington [before the Fenty coup - Ed] rose significantly across all grade levels and subjects since 2005.

LAUREL ROSENHALL, SACRAMENTO BEE, NOV 12, 2007 - The Sacramento City Unified school board is reviewing one of its most politically charged decisions: whether it made the right call in 2003 in giving the city's namesake high school to a nonprofit group run by a retired basketball star.

Kevin Johnson's St. HOPE Corp. has asked permission to run Sacramento High as a charter school for another five years. The board will decide by the end of December whether to renew the charter, which allows St. HOPE to run the school free from many of the regulations governing traditional public schools.

The charter school's success has become a matter of great debate. Some of the teachers who bought into Johnson's vision of giving disadvantaged kids a private school-style education for free left after a couple of years. They say St. HOPE hasn't lived up to its promise.

Some students who tried the school have pulled out, and Sacramento Charter High School has not attracted the nearly 2,000 students it was intended to serve. But the roughly 1,100 students there now say it's a place where they feel safe, cared for and academically challenged. . .

Over the past four years, as the portion of Sac High graduates going to college has gone up, SAT scores have gone down. On California's standardized tests, Sacramento High students are improving, but so are all students in the state. So even though the percentage of kids proficient in math and English has risen, Sacramento High scores remain in the bottom 20 percent statewide the same ranking the school has had since 2002, when it still was run by Sacramento City Unified.

When Sacramento High reopened in the fall of 2003 as an independent charter school, St. HOPE made many changes intended to improve that shoddy performance. It made the school day longer, hired nonunion teachers who were available to students around the clock, and paid for kids to go on college tours. . .

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given Sac High more than $4 million. While test scores aren't where the foundation would like them to be, spokeswoman Carol Rava Treat said, "we feel confident in their commitment" to getting disadvantaged kids into college. . .

Among Sac High's class of 2007 the first to graduate under four years of St. HOPE leadership the school reported that 70 percent of graduates went on to a four-year college. But a closer look shows that the class of 2007 which started with 505 freshmen, according to state data shrank by 48 percent over four years. Only 262 graduated. . .

Critics say St. HOPE allows only well-behaved students to stay at the charter school, leaving problem kids to fill Sacramento's neighborhood schools.

And some teachers who joined Sac High when it became a charter school have left disillusioned and bitter. They thought they were signing up for a revolution in public education, several former teachers said. Instead they found erratic leadership, classrooms without enough desks or books, and frequent 12-hour work days.

"It was intensely mismanaged from Day One," said Barbara Modlin, who quit after 2 1/2 years teaching English. "I felt like the doors were opened and the teachers were pushed (into the classroom) and the doors were closed. We were given no support."

When enrollment dropped, former teachers said, St. HOPE asked teachers to recruit middle-schoolers as they walked home from school.

"It was demeaning. I'm a professional educator and I'm supposed to stand on a street corner and recruit kids?" said Mara Harvey, who taught history at the charter school for two years.

DC SCENES

RADAR One might expect D.C.'s top players to have cooled their libidos-still roiling from the Larry Craig embarrassment and the release of high-class "D.C. Madam" Deborah Palfrey's little black book-but it turns out that Washington's K Street is randier than ever.

Home to many of the country's top lobbying firms, the fabled PR power corridor is also the hub of a $250 million-a-year sex industry that provides Beltway bigwigs with "rub and tugs" at full-service massage parlors. Feds shuttered five such storefronts in August 2006, but they were soon back in business. On a recent Tuesday, we visited one such establishment-the 14K Spa at 1413 K Street-to scope out the scene.

Located in the basement of a 15-story building, 14K sits beneath the D.C. headquarters of Teach for America and an outpost of the Better Business Bureau. A steady stream of besuited white dudes entered the premises, with a surge during lunch hour. One multitasking lawyer spent 42 minutes inside before proceeding directly to a Cosi.

"It's a mostly professional crowd that comes here during the day," reports Georgette, a secretary who has worked in the building for seven years. Carlos, a lobbyist on a smoke break, told us that a fair share of referrals come from the Washington Post's sports pages, where many of the parlors advertise.

At 2 p.m., we descended a street-level staircase that led to an opaque glass door. We were buzzed into a small reception area with a few chairs and copies of Sports Illustrated, Us Weekly, and the New Republic on hand for waiting customers. An amicable elderly Korean woman named Kim introduced us to Coco, a 23-year-old Korean-Hawaiian with fake C-cups. Coco led us to a private room, collected $60, and asked us to strip and don a towel. "We get many type of guy from around here," Coco told us, administering the worst back rub we've ever received-a good indication that shiatsu isn't her specialty. After 30 minutes, she demanded another hundred clams, using a series of obscene hand gestures to indicate the additional services available.

We thanked Coco and bolted; the look of confusion on her face suggested this does not happen often. Back aboveground, Carlos was enjoying another smoke. "You know, there are enough whores a few blocks away in the White House," he said. "I don't need to see more on my lunch hour."

DC SHORTS

DAVID NAKAMURA AND NIKITA STEWART WASHINGTON POST - Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's $5.7 billion spending proposal sprawls over six thick books that are so heavy they were delivered to the D.C. Council on a cart. But when council members delved into the volumes, they said they were shocked at the little information they contained. Gone were the narrative descriptions that former mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) used to lay out in detail. In their place were tables of numbers showing shifts in spending - with little explanation. "This is the most opaque budget I've ever seen. . . . The information is scant. It's difficult," council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said at a public hearing last week. "I've begun to lose faith in [the administration's] ability to provide us information. . . . Every committee has struggled to make informed decisions.". . . Fenty, several members said, has refused to send administration officials to oversight hearings, has asked the council to approve emergency legislation retroactively to support his actions and has misrepresented key initiatives to win public support. Making matters worse, they said, is the mayor's determination to punish those who criticize or cross him - for example, by not inviting them to news conferences in their wards. More stark was his recent refusal to distribute tickets for a city-controlled luxury suite at Washington Nationals' games to four rivals on the council. . .

GARY IMHOFF, DC WATCH Fenty and Rhee have fired or are in the process of firing public school central office employees, principals, counselors, and teachers, and they are engaged in a concentrated effort to bust the teachers union. What Fenty and Rhee know is that Fenty's core supporters, childless yuppies and new, short-term Washingtonians, don't like public school employees, even classroom teachers. They don't feel any connection to the schools, and they're happy to see school employees and union members hurt, even if school children aren't helped. Fenty has fought taxicab drivers over the meter issue. Meters won't benefit riders, of course; cab rides won't be any cheaper, and riders' fears of being cheated under the zone system were exaggerated. . . Again, what keeps Fenty popular is not the questionable benefits of this "reform," but the fact that cab drivers oppose it and that enough people dislike cab drivers as a group to make it a politically popular move to hurt drivers.

WASH POST The Washington Post Co. reported a 39 percent decline in first-quarter profit yesterday, as the company was hit by a large one-time charge at Newsweek magazine and the continued slump in its newspaper division. . . The troubled newspaper division, led by The Post, reported $1.2 million in operating income for the quarter, down 92 percent from the first quarter last year. The division's revenue was $206.1 million, down 6 percent from $219.2 million last year. Print ad revenue dropped 11 percent, to $111.6 million from $125.1 million, caused largely by the continued decline in classified advertising.

WASH POST They lie awake for hours, squeezing their eyes shut, putting pillows over their heads and trying to close the louvered blinds tighter. They rearrange their rooms - even their homes - and spend hundreds of dollars on room-darkening shades. Some furtively climb ladders to coat the bright streetlights outside their homes with a cloud of black spray paint, hoping to eclipse the glare. One woman said the fancy new street lamps outside her apartment window are so bright that a recent dinner guest donned sunglasses before tucking into his pasta. As neighborhoods across the District get lighting upgrades, residents increasingly are crying foul.. . When giant glass globes and decorative lampposts first graced the cobblestone streets of yesteryear, the light source was a small gas flame. Today, white-hot 150-watt bulbs burn in the similarly styled light fixtures. The high-pressure sodium lights found throughout most of the city are the most energy-efficient, cost-effective and long-lasting product, LeBlanc said. But inside the old-time glass globes, their light spills beyond the sidewalk, up to the sky - and into the bedroom.

RICHARD LAYMAN, URBAN PLACES & SPACES The Washington Business Journal reports that the current chief executive of the Washington Convention Center, Reba Pittman Walker, is stepping down and is likely to be replaced by someone close to Mayor Fenty. According to the WBJ article: "Multiple sources cited friction between Walker and Mayor Adrian Fenty's recent appointees to the authority's board as a reason for her departure. One source close to the matter said Walker 'just didn't seem to click with the board'" Board member and former Fenty aide Gregory O'Dell is considered a likely candidate to replace Walker. O'Dell is CEO of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission and oversaw the completion of the Washington Nationals' stadium for the mayor's office. . . Perry, a government affairs executive at Pepco Holdings Inc., confirmed that O'Dell was a candidate to replace Walker in an acting capacity. She said the board would not conduct a national search and will have an acting replacement in place by May 30." . . . This is a $450 million asset - owned by the District of Columbia and its citizens - We deserve professional management of this facility. A national search is in order.

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