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Vouchers Don’t Make for Good Education

March 8, 2017

There are many good reasons for no state to support providing vouchers for private schools with public money. In the District of Columbia there is one more.


The school voucher program in the District of Columbia has been foisted on us by Congress. It was not voted on by District residents and the DC Council has not voted for this program. It is a prime example of interference in the government of the District by the Congress and an outrageous violation of the principle of home rule. It is frustrating to see Mayor Bowser support this voucher program. Her support undercuts her opposition to other issues in which Congress is interfering in our government such as their opposition to our marijuana laws, gun control laws and the recent ‘right to die’ legislation. The Mayor and others including the Washington Post and former Mayor Anthony Williams who support Congress’s interference on vouchers are hurting the District’s fight for legislative and budget autonomy and in the long run Statehood. There is clear hypocrisy in their positions. Anthony Williams even followed up his support for vouchers with a quid-pro-quo which had him giving support to Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, the most unprepared person ever nominated to the position. 


Then there is the issue of what kind of education vouchers provide to those students using them. There is no legitimate study showing students using vouchers for private education do any better in math and reading than their peers remaining in public education. In fact the opposite is true in some instances. A recent report by Brookings showed “Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools.”  


Then there is the issue of discrimination against LGBT students, parents and teachers in schools who accept vouchers and most of the schools who do are religious schools. In most states including in the District of Columbia these institutions are exempt from laws such as the District’s Human Rights Act Many of these institutions can and do discriminate against LGBT teachers, parents and students. In 2012 the Washington Post reported “more than half of voucher recipients attended Catholic schools, and many attended schools where almost all students were voucher recipients, suggesting that the schools wouldn’t exist without the federally funded program. They added “One of those schools was run out of a soot-stained storefront on Georgia Avenue; another unaccredited school was supported by the Nation of Islam and was run out of a row house in Deanwood where the bathroom had a floor blackened with dirt, a sink coated in grime and a bathtub filled with paint cans and cleaning supplies.”


Our Democracy is based on providing a public education to every child and instead of steering money and children out of the public school system we must use every dollar available to improve public education. 


Any proponent of choice recognizes the District of Columbia has one of the best school choice programs in the nation. While DCPS has been improving over the past few years we also have nearly half of our students attending charter schools which are also public schools and funded with tax dollars. I give credit to Mayor Bowser for continuing to demand improvement in every school for every student. However she should also be demanding of Congress that every dollar allocated to the District of Columbia for education be allocated to public schools and help in her effort to improve schools for children in every Ward in the city. 


While some studies show the graduation rates for children using vouchers is higher no one has shown that those same students wouldn’t be graduating at the same rate from public schools. Clearly they come from homes where parents are focused on their education and that focus could and should be used to improve the public schools when using public money. 


Credit goes to Councilmembers’ Grosso, Allen, Bonds, Evans, Gray, Silverman and Trayon White for fighting to end the congressionally mandated DC Voucher Program. We can't on one hand demand statehood and explain how we are hurt by not having it while on the other hand accepting some programs Congress couldn't and wouldn't foist on their own constituents. We shouldn’t accept being a petri dish for some programs. Doing so makes zero sense for the future of the District. 

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'The Select' ('The Sun Also Rises'): Good but Long

March 1, 2017

The new play at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s (STC) Lansburgh Theater, The Select (The Sun Also Rises) is definitely worth seeing for many reasons; but it’s way too long. With a first act of one hour and fifteen minutes and a second act of one hour and forty-five minutes the production could have easily been shortened by at least thirty minutes and you wouldn’t have felt cheated in any way. In his Director’s Note in the program John Collins talked about how when the Company first set out to take this Hemingway book and turn it into a play they wrestled with the chore of turning a 260 page book into a two and a half hour play using Hemingway’s words. Obviously he decided in the end two and a half hours wasn’t enough; I think it clearly would have been. 

The Shakespeare is hosting this production by the Elevator Repair Service Company which is based in New York City. They create productions with an ongoing ensemble and that ensemble includes some brilliant actors.  Deciding to use Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises as the basis for a production was an interesting choice. It is such a well-known book and because of that many people have the characters and locations already envisioned in their mind. So using Hemingway’s words the company had to also produce a set that was believable to both those who had and those who hadn’t read the book. It meant they had to produce sets to match Hemingway’s descriptive vision of a Paris café, a lazy day of trout fishing, a bullfight, and the excitement of the Pamplona Festival and have people believe it. This they did brilliantly use simply design and incredible sound effects. When you can accept the use of a folding table with horns as a bull; see trout jumping out of a stream behind the main set and laugh but still understand it; you know they succeeded.  

David Zinn is the man who did the superb job of designing the scenery and the costumes. His imagination shines through the entire set and the costumes bring back the time Hemingway spent in Europe. He has joined a wonderful sense of humor and reality combining to complete the vision he has created for the production. Matt Tierney’s sound design is brilliant. In so many ways it enhances the production and you are amazed each time you hear a new sound to represent everything from shaving with a straight razor, pouring a drink, running water to clean the dishes, or the relaxed feeling one gets when Jake sits with his fishing rod along the river. 

Then there are the actors. Mike Iverson as Jake Barnes is incredible. The amount of dialogue he has is mindboggling as Hemingway’s narrator in the story. He is in every scene and his voice and his movement are both so integral to believing what is on the stage. That wonderful use of movement and dialogue from all the actors is worth the price of admission. Nearly all the actors in the Company play more than one role and that includes John Collins who both directs the production and is Robert Cohn.  Stephanie Hayes is the perfect Brett Ashley. She is the beauty everyone loves and conveys both her ability to seduce and the actual blasé woman who has been married and divorced a number of times and just seems bored with it all. She is looking for love and eventually seems to give up and accepts being with another man she knows is wrong, Mike Campbell, played wonderfully by Pete Simpson. You get She knows he is really just a substitute because she can’t come to grips with her love for Jake. 

So yes I recommend seeing The Select (The Sun Also Rises) but go knowing it sometimes can seem like an overly long night in the theater. 

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'Age of Discovery': A Must Read to Understand Today’s World

February 23, 2017

It was in October 2016 I was fortunate to meet Chris Kutarna, co-author of an incredible new book Age of Discovery. Chris wandered into the coffee shop in the District of Columbia where my morning coffee group meets every day. An eclectic group of D.C. denizens including a former Solicitor General in the Clinton Administration, two former congressmen, professors, environmentalists, foreign service officers, non-profit executives, congressional staffers, columnists, local politicos and a sprinkling of students either in law-school or political science and international government majors. We informally debate the news each morning and were all excited to hear Chris’s insights on the political situation around the world. This was about a month before the Presidential election and while we welcomed Chris we vehemently disagreed with his prediction Hillary Clinton would lose the election.


He shared with us a column he had written for Time in August 2016 titled Hillary Clinton Is America’s Machiavelli. Both he and his co-author Ian Goldin were some of the very few to predict correctly both the Brexit vote and the Trump win.


In his Time column he wrote “Though the epic presidential battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton may feel unique, these same personalities have clashed before. More than 500 years ago, the prophet Savonarola enthralled Renaissance Europe while Machiavelli, chief policy wonk of the age, scorned the showman’s demagoguery. Trump and Clinton are replaying those parts—and will leave similar marks on history.” While I don’t agree with his view suggesting “Trump is a prophet” I do agree with the final sentence of his column; “This election cycle has been full of surprises, but how history will remember its chief protagonists is already becoming clear. Trump’s legacy will be how he whipped up the tensions of his time. Clinton’s will be how she spent her life trying to make America stronger.” After November 8, 2016 my respect for Chris’s thoughts and insights increased dramatically. I now urge everyone I meet to read the book.


The Age of Discovery is an important book because it takes us on a tour of history through the lens of political scientists in an effort to explain what is happening in the world today. While not a scholar I can fully appreciate how the authors decided to frame their thoughts as the world facing a ‘new renaissance’ and how we must look at history to determine the risks we face today and determine how we will move forward in this difficult time.


Chris terms himself a political scientist. But what adds to the credibility of the book is both he and his co-author have real world experience. At times when reading the book one thinks of them as philosophers and historians. It is only one of those fields with a definitive realty and that is history. Even with history one can only be pretty certain of what has happened but not be sure of exactly what led to its happening or what direct impact it had on the future.


I am a political scientist who has used my knowledge in the field of public administration which to me includes both government and the non-profit sector. Age of Discovery is one of the few books written by political scientists which I found both enlightening and a compelling read. It manages to keep your interest page after page and leads you to turn everything you were so sure you understood over again in your mind and view it from a new angle. What you were sure you had the answer to doesn’t always seem so definitive after reading the book. While it may not change your mind it surely makes you think and that is more than enough to make this an important read.


Chris Kutarna is “a two-time Governor General’s Medalist, a Sauvé Fellow and Commonwealth Scholar, and a Fellow of the Oxford Martin School with a doctorate in Chinese politics from the University of Oxford. A former consultant with the Boston Consulting Group, then entrepreneur, Chris lived in China for several years, speaks Mandarin, and remains a regular op-ed contributor to one of China’s top-ranked news magazines. (He lived in Australia and New Zealand for several years, and still cannot surf.) Born on the Canadian Prairies, Chris is, rather incongruously, an avid and accomplished rower and rowing coach. He divides his time between Oxford, Beijing and Regina.” Chris is active on twitter @ChrisKutarna.


His co-author Ian Goldin is “Director of the Oxford Martin School and Professor of Globalization and Development at the University of Oxford. He was Vice President of the World Bank and prior to that the Bank’s Director of Development Policy. From 1996 to 2001 he was Chief Executive and Managing Director of the Development Bank of Southern Africa, and also served as an advisor to President Nelson Mandela. He has been knighted by the French government and is an acclaimed author of 20 books.”


Together they have authored a book that every government official at all levels in the United States should read; especially those persons who have any intention of running for office in this ‘new renaissance’. The book is available on Amazon at Age of Discovery.


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