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DeMorning DeBonis: July 26, 2010


No fewer than 165 D.C. Public Schools teachers were fired last week for poor performance. That's a stunning number -- combined with the 76 pink-slipped for other reasons and the 737 rated "minimally effective" by the new IMPACT evaluation system, it means nearly one in four DCPS teachers has been judged to be not up to par. For the full rundown, start with Bill Turque's Saturday report, which notes that performance-based dismissals "are exceedingly rare in D.C. schools -- and in school systems nationwide" and "mark the beginning of [Chancellor Michelle Rhees'] bid to make student achievement a high-stakes proposition for teachers, establishing job loss as a possible consequence of poor classroom results." And, of course, "The firings also are likely to spark a new round of debate about Rhee's treatment of teachers." Thus far, the bulk of the negative reaction has come from union leaders. Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker attacked IMPACT as a "flawed instrument with many loopholes." American Federation of Teachers head Randi Weingarten in a statement attacked Rhee for embarking on a "destructive cycle of hire, fire, repeat." And WTU Vice President (and Parker foe) Nathan Saunders decried the demographic implications on WAMU-FM's Politics Hour Friday, warning of "a situation where you have a significant group of the African American middle class being disrupted." So where are the politicians? Laying low for now: On Friday, Vincent Gray said only that he "wanted to look further at the basis for the dismissals." Expect that position to sharpen soon.

AFTER THE JUMP -- Full rundown of teacher firing coverage -- Post profiles Kwame Brown -- Things get rowdy at Ward 7 forum -- Gray wins Ward 7, Hispanic straw polls overwhelmingly -- Colby happy with DYRS shakeup -- unions take aim at Wal-Mart -- WIN mayoral "accountability" event tonight


MORE ON FIRINGS -- The firings earned national coverage, with stories from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, AP, Newsweek, MSNBC, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Washington Times. An AOL blogger notes "4 Reasons Why America Should Take Note" of the firings. Leah Fabel notes in the Examiner: "D.C. Public Schools teachers hoping to avoid the fate of their 241 colleagues ousted for ineffective classroom performance would be wise to bear in mind one rule: Be like Rhee. Whether teachers love her or hate her, Chancellor Michelle Rhee has proven a model of the 'highly effective' employee." And Turque and DCist both look at what teachers think of IMPACT.

IN SUPPORT -- The Post's editorial board writes: "A lot of lip service is given to not tolerating bad teachers. Educators, politicians and even union leaders say that there is no place in the classroom for a teacher who can't produce results. But actually doing something about the situation is an entirely different matter. That's why [Rhee] should be supported for taking the difficult but necessary steps to rid the system of ineffective teachers. ... No joy can be taken in knowing the hardship caused to individuals who likely are nice people and good neighbors. But if there is outrage to be felt, it should be directed at a system that has enabled, even rewarded, poor teachers." Jonetta Rose Barras also lauds the firings in her Examiner column, writing: "Rhee and Fenty are not the creators of the city's abysmal public education system. They are the people finally doing something about it. ... Workers are being held to an appropriate standard. When they don't meet it, they are being led to the door with boxes and empty wallets. That's a good thing. Let's shout hallelujah!" Adds The New Republic: "One of country's historically chaotic and underperforming school districts has taken the initiative to dismiss bad teachers. More districts should follow suit."

IN OPPOSITION -- Post education writer Valerie Strauss alights on the "problem with how Rhee fired teachers." And that, she writes, is that IMPACT "isn't designed well enough" to base employment decisions on. The DC-CAS testing regime "wasn't designed to evaluate teachers," and she also raised questions about the classroom evaluation system. "The overall impact of IMPACT is not only unfair but not likely to do the job it is supposed to do: Root out bad teachers. Some great teachers are likely to be tossed out, and others, who know how to play along when the observers come in but don't do much when they aren't, could get a pass. Of course, every school system should fire bad teachers. But they need a sophisticated and fair system to do that, and so far, D.C. doesn't have one." Also see blog reaction from Stephen Suh at Cogitamus.

KWAMEWORLD -- Colleague Ann Marimow profiles Kwame Brown and his run for D.C. Council chairman: "In pickup basketball games at a gym on Capitol Hill, Kwame Rashaan Brown plays point guard, controlling the ball and making sure that it gets to the right players at the right time to score. 'The captain of the team might not be the best shooter,' said Brown, an at-large D.C. Council member from the Hillcrest neighborhood who is running to become council chairman. 'But when the ball is in his arms, his team knows he's going to make the best decision.' ... Council members praise him as likable and collegial, and all but one of his dozen colleagues have endorsed his candidacy. Despite the endorsements, some council members privately question his ability to be the next chairman. Brown acknowledges that he is not the most expert legislator. His detractors express concern that he too often takes a pass instead of a stand, that he is more concerned with popularity than policy. ... Political observers, including some council members, say Brown and [opponent Vincent Orange] lack the depth of experience and maturity that Gray and his predecessor, Linda W. Cropp, brought to the role. 'If you could put the two of them together -- a little of Orange's business acumen and experience, and Kwame's extreme likeability and dedication to the city -- you'd have an ideal candidate,' said former council member Sharon Ambrose, who served with both but has not endorsed anyone in the contest."

MORE -- On Kwame's legislative record: "From the dais, Brown has been an outspoken advocate for job creation and workforce training. He led the charge two years ago to reopen the District's only stand-alone vocational school. ... And as chairman of the economic development committee, Brown has been a populist voice for hiring small businesses for taxpayer-funded projects. He successfully shepherded legislation, for instance, to strengthen oversight of public-private projects by directing the city auditor to monitor requirements for developers to provide affordable housing and local employment. Most publicly, Brown butted heads with the administration of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) over the redevelopment of the Southwest waterfront. After months of negotiations in 2008, Brown held up legislation critical to the deal, saying he needed more information. ... The developers with whom Brown clashed have also come to appreciate him, hosting a fundraiser for him last week at the home of lobbyist David Carmen. 'He insisted on working out the details, and in the end, that's what you want for such a big investment by the city,' said Carmen, who represented the development team led by PN Hoffman."

HOT WEEKEND -- The weekend's main mayoral politicking event was Saturday's Ward 7 Democrats forum and straw poll. Nikita Stewart was there, reporting that the event was "marked by a return to the sort of combativeness displayed" in earlier debates and "grew so raucous the moderator stopped the debate to quiet the roaring crowd." Fenty and Gray, Nikita writes, "assailed each other's record, and their supporters tried to drown each other out. ... When Fenty began to answer a question about homelessness by remarking on Gray's record as director of the Department of Human Services in the 1990s, Gray's supporters began to boo. Fenty looked at his backers, held out his arms and said, 'They don't want to hear the truth.' The moderator, Denise Rolark-Barnes, publisher of the Washington Informer, told those in the crowd that the more time they spent making noise, the less time Fenty had to answer questions." Gray hammered on the fishy firetruck and baseball tickets; Fenty came right back on DHS and the lottery contract. Gray won the straw poll, 226-64 (plus eight for other candidates). City Paper's Alan Suderman notes that Sacramento Mayor and Rhee fiance Kevin Johnson was in the house. WTTG-TV also covered the event. Later in the day, Gray snagged the D.C. Latino Caucus endorsement, 37 to 1. Fenty did not attend a pre-ballot forum.

'OVERDUE' CHANGES AT DYRS -- In his Saturday opinion column, Colby King lauds an "overdue" DYRS shakeup that replaced interim chief Marc Schindler with a deputy attorney general. "Events in the first five months of this year forced Fenty's hand. At least nine youths in DYRS custody were arrested for murder; two others became homicide victims. Fenty correctly ordered a review of DYRS operations. The probe, conducted by D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, produced findings that left Fenty with little choice: Change DYRS's leadership." Colby summarizes the Nickles report, which in part found that in compiling recidivism stats, DYRS used an unduly narrow definition of recidivism. When federal guidelines were applied, King says, the "results were stunning." The report also cites weak policies on tracking down absconded youths and determining where youth offenders will be placed. It also made recommendations, one of which will chill youth advocates: "The most striking one called for more secure facilities for juveniles. The much-heralded $46 million New Beginnings, a 60-bed detention facility in Laurel, is, as predicted, already overcrowded."

ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE -- "Refreshingly local" is what Jurek Martin calls the D.C. mayoral race in his Friday Financial Times column. "It can be fairly described as a contest between local heavyweights, but it is mostly about two other factors -- Mayor Fenty's record and how it relates to the complex attitudes and power structures of Washington's black community. ... [T]he resentment both generated in Washington's black wards now haunts Mayor Fenty. He has not helped himself by a general arrogance and a refusal to observe the social niceties that matter so much to the black establishment. He does not return the phone calls of community leaders, does not attend the most important churches and bickers with the city council over silly things, such as the allocation of baseball tickets. He also seems prone to favour old cronies in awarding city contracts. The amiable Mr. Gray plays this local game better, as he should as a veteran of city government. He is rated as an effective conciliatory council chairman and does not appear to be under the influence of the city's great nemesis, the former mayor, Marion Barry, still practising his dark wiles as a council member. ... If the election, in effect, turns out to be all about [Michelle Rhee], then the determining factor is likely to be the black women of Washington. ... Black men probably feel more comfortable with Mr. Gray. But it is black women who raise families, mostly alone, and they know the importance of better schools, on which Ms. Rhee is beginning to deliver."

QUESTIONS FOR TOGO -- Today at 2 p.m., the D.C. Council will hold a hearing on the nomination of Togo West to chair the Board of Elections and Ethics. The nomination is indeed "blue chip," Dorothy Brizill writes in themail. "Nonetheless, West's nomination does raise some concerns about potential conflicts that should be addressed before the council votes on his nomination: 1) he was a colleague of Attorney General Peter Nickles at Covington and Burling and testified on Nickles' behalf at his confirmation hearing before the council; 2) according to some reports, West is a close personal friend of William Lightfoot, chair of Fenty's 2006 and 2010 campaign committees; 3) West is a member of the Greater Washington Board of Trade's Senior Council and a former chairman of the Board of Trade, which endorsed Fenty in the mayor's race this year; and 4) West has a very active consulting career and is a member of more than half a dozen corporate boards, which may make it difficult for him to attend BOEE meetings and oversee the work of board and its staff." And a good point: "Fenty's ability to come up with this very high-quality nomination in such a short time raises the question of why he wasted a year and a half pushing BOEE nominees who had few or no qualifications, and then blaming the council for not rubber-stamping their nominations."

A BRIEF HISTORY OF VOTING RIGHTS -- Eleanor Holmes Norton, in a Post op-ed, explains the last 20 years of D.C. voting rights efforts to explain why we are where we are -- a period that coincides, of course, with her tenure as the District's congressional delegate. "It is apparent that we need serious, renewed discussion of how best to secure voting rights and freedom from congressional interference. ... The easy part is agreeing on what we want and what we are entitled to. Not so easy is figuring out how to get where we want to go. Our history can be our guide, but only if we understand this history. ... Our struggle for equal citizenship rights has been characterized by setbacks and comebacks, but the progress we have made can point the way forward. Our history shows agreement on two principles: We must never retreat from our full citizenship rights, and we must always seize any part of our rights that we can get." Reacting on his blog, Cary Silverman would like to see some kind of coherent strategy from Norton.

BIG-BOXING -- Labor unions are starting to gear up for a Wal-Mart fight, Jonathan O'Connell reports in today's Capital Business. They've started with a poll: "In a survey commissioned by the retailer's chief opponent, the United Food & Commercial Workers, and released July 21, D.C. voters were asked whether they would support requiring a big-box chain such as Wal-Mart to submit to a list of requirements in order to open a D.C. store. Among them: pay at least $12 per hour for entry-level employees, designate 75 percent of jobs for full-time work, commit to recruiting local residents for jobs and donate any tax breaks it potentially receives to charitable causes." A Wal-Mart spokesperson "said the chain would meet or exceed the wages of competitors when it opened here."

IT'S JOBS, STUPID -- Ahead of tonight's "accountability event," Washington Interfaith Network leaders explain in a Post op-ed what they're hearing: "As an organization, WIN does not endorse candidates, but we do our best to hold those who run for office accountable to the people on the issues that affect their lives. And this fall's election can be summed up in one issue: jobs. WIN leaders have held hundreds of listening sessions throughout the city, in church basements, recreation centers, food pantries and public housing sites. Over and over we have heard from unemployed and underemployed residents who need and want to work. We have heard from people who have applied for job after job and been turned away. We have heard from people who have gone through training program after training program, only to find no job at the end of all the training."

IN MEMORIAM -- The flamboyant, ever-controversial Judge Harry T. Alexander died July 8, and the Post obituary, by Adam Bernstein, ran Saturday: "In the turbulent civil rights era and its aftermath, Judge Alexander was one of the District's most polarizing leaders. He said that he embraced a reputation as a civil and judicial activist and that his approach was important at a time when the legacy of racial segregation was still felt keenly in school districts, courts and police stations. 'People complained that I didn't have tact,' he told The Washington Post in 1977. 'What is tact? What good has tact wrought for the masses of blacks? Only when the system feels pressured does it release some of the people's rights.' ... To the rank and file in some of the city's black neighborhoods, Judge Alexander's outspoken style and upbraiding of police officers and prosecutors shaped his image as 'a folk hero,' The Post reported in 1977."


Mital Gandhi would like his BOEE seat, please (City Desk)

Eleanor to Obama: "The president needs some advisers or friends who have a greater sense of the pulse of the African American community, or who at least have been around the mulberry bush." (NYT)

Marion Barry explains Gage-Eckington Park disapproval: "The mayor in his shenanigans sent it over the council, and I have the responsibility to protect the taxpayers' money" (Housing Complex)

"D.C. Council Campaign Seeks Volunteers/Interns" (Craiglist)

Is bike sharing racist? (NC8 via WashCycle)

Federal appeals court revives reserve cop's free-speech lawsuit (Legal Times)

After a year, inclusionary zoning has yet to produce any affordable housing units in the District (Capital Business)

Family of Erika Peters, slain with her children last year while cops waited outside, files a $60 million suit against city (the Examiner)

DDOT ISO streetcar contractor (WBJ)

Verizon Center: Not the cleanest arena around (ESPN)

NTSB to announce Metro crash findings tomorrow (the Examiner)

*** ON THE MENU ***

Washington Interfaith Network Election "Accountability Night," 7:30 p.m. at Asbury United Methodist Church -- Togo West hearing, 2 p.m. in council chambers.

By Mike DeBonis  |  July 26, 2010; 12:24 PM ET
Categories:  Morning Mike , The District  
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Next: Adrian Fenty, anti-incumbent fervor, and the 'pundit delusion'

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