Rock Creek Park celebrates its 125th anniversary next year. We speak with two local experts with books about the history, flora, and fauna that abound in Washington's "backyard."
Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates lock horns in a pivotal debate. D.C.’s mayor taps a new chief financial officer for the city. And Maryland’s attorney general finally makes his gubernatorial campaign official. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- David Catania Member, D.C. Council (I-At Large), Chairman, Committee on Education
D.C. Council Member David Catania discusses his thoughts on the 2014 mayoral race, including whether he’ll throw his hat in the ring. “This is not a town where the meek get things done,” Catania said.
Play The Politics Hour Quiz
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University, in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
MR. KOJO NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. I'm always tempted to say, he's our current analyst and a resident columnist or some -- for the resident newspapers. Tom Sherwood, how's it going?
MR. TOM SHERWOODIt's all good. Just don't call me late for the lunch.
NNAMDIWe will not call you late for lunch, ever. Let's start on the Commonwealth of Virginia. I should say that later in the broadcast, joining us will be at-large D.C. Councilmember David Catania, who chairs the council's committee on education. So there's a lot to talk about there, but there's a lot to talk about before that. Let's start in the Commonwealth of Virginia, where the two candidates, Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, met in a debate this past Wednesday night that was preceded by a debate Tuesday night between the candidates for lieutenant governor, E.W. Jackson, the Republican, and Democrat Ralph Northam.
NNAMDIBut let's start with Cuccinelli and McAuliffe on Wednesday night. In that debate McAuliffe went after Cuccinelli on a whole lot of ethical issues and seemed to escape a whole lot of criticism about his own sometimes questionable ethical past.
SHERWOODThat's true. I think it's -- I checked around the state to see what people thought about this and it was clear that Cuccinelli in Northern Virginia was trying to show that he's not the wild man, conservative who would trample women's rights and all that. He tried to be measured, calm and stick to public policy issues like the economy and things like that. And to a successful extent, I think he did that.
SHERWOODAnd Mr. McAuliffe was trying to point up the scary things about Cuccinelli in Northern Virginia that he thought people needed to know about his strong positions on abortion and other matters. And McAuliffe himself managed to be pretty even-steeled on how he behaved himself. So I think we are in the let's-all-appear-to-be-moderate phase, no matter who you are, as we head into the last week. Because we're all looking at independent, tend to be moderate voters who will be making their minds up between now and November 5th.
NNAMDIAnd the polls, as they are, how Cuccinelli with a bit of a lead -- I mean show McAuliffe with a bit a lead over Cuccinelli. And McAuliffe, who managed somehow not to get the endorsement of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, nevertheless, was able to get the endorsement of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, and being a businessman, that's got to be a big deal for you.
SHERWOODYeah, well, for the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, it is good. The Tech Council is a pretty heavily Republican organization, but, you know, its endorsement counts. And Fairfax, you know, where the debate was -- and NBC 4 was cosponsor of the debate -- 14 percent of the voters in the state are in Fairfax County. So this is a vote rich part of the state and that's why it's important what the Fairfax County Chamber does and all the other groups up here.
NNAMDIIn the debate that preceded it the night before, the debate between the candidates for lieutenant governor, Republican E.W. Jackson and Democrat Ralph Northam. E.W. Jackson, in a way, had to do the same thing that Cuccinelli had to do on the following night. And that is to try to place himself more towards the center than towards the far right where he, even more than Ken Cuccinelli, is perceived as being, in a way, embedded.
SHERWOODWell, yes. E.W. Jackson, a pastor from the Hampton Roads area, makes no excuses about being a very conservative Christian. He gets into trouble when he says things, but again, on this debate, at this time, he tried to be much more moderate, to talk more about jobs and try to stay away from the things -- the hot-button issues that his opponents had hoped he would attack. And undermine him here again in Northern Virginia, where there are a lot of independent voters.
NNAMDII suspect he's going to have a harder time doing that than Ken Cuccinelli, even though he says, "I understand the distinction between when I am in my church or with a religious crowd and if I am elected," or in his view when I am elected, "that I have to serve all the residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia." But I suspect a lot of voters still don't perceive him that way.
SHERWOODWell, if you have very strong views that there virtually should be no abortions, and then you're the presiding officer of the Virginia Senate General Assembly and your vote counts, then you could have a big public policy position on abortion. So I think your personal views do matter. Mr. Northam was saying, you know, I have strong views, but I try to represent the people when I go to Richmond. And of course all people, no matter what their religious views and liberal or conservative views are, should do that, what's good for the population.
SHERWOODBut, again, if you are a very strong and proud of being a right-wing conservative, it's kind of hard to leave that at the door, if in fact you walk into the public office.
NNAMDIOnto the State of Maryland, where Attorney General Doug Gansler is finally in a race that he's been in for quite some time now. However, he made…
SHERWOODLongest striptease in history.
NNAMDI…he made the formal announcement that he is in fact a candidate for governor of Maryland this past week. Of course Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown had long announced he has even chosen his running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and delegate Heather Mizeur has been in the race for awhile. But everybody's been, in a way, waiting for Doug Gansler.
SHERWOODWell, and truly he is. And he launched it in Rockville and then he's off on a 17-stop tour of the state. I think he's in Frederick in Carroll County today. But, you know, he's going around the state saying, look, Anthony Brown has captured all of the establishment Democratic endorsements, from Gov. O'Malley to most recently Barbara Mikulski. But he, Doug Gansler, is not looking to have a repeat of the eight years of O'Malley that he says Brown would do, but to go off in new directions. And so he's cast himself, either by late getting into the race or because he wants to, as the outsider in the campaign, although he's a veteran political person in the state.
NNAMDIAnd he's been raising quite a bit of money for some time now. But even as he has been doing that, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown has been running around collecting beaucoup endorsements. Of course he's going to get Gov. Martin O'Malley, but he's got Sen. Barbary Mikulski, who apparently doesn't generally take sides on primaries.
SHERWOODShe generally doesn't. And she made her announcement just a few days before Gansler got in. So it looked like it was time to take some of the glow off of Doug Gansler. But I don't think that came as a surprise to him. You know, he's out around the state. He's talking about, you know, getting Metro down to National Harbor. And he said that in Hyattsville. He's talking about maybe having Bowie State have a law school, high-speed rail between Baltimore and the Washington area.
SHERWOODI mean, he's talking about things where he thinks that will appeal to the general voters and who won't necessarily be swayed by all this sterling cast of endorsement that Anthony Brown is racking up.
NNAMDIAnd in the State of Maryland, in the county of Montgomery County in particular, enquiring minds want to know, and among those enquiring minds are probably hundreds of property owners along the proposed route of the Purple Line, they would all like to know how it is that the Columbia Country Club managed to get Maryland officials to sign a legal agreement saying that the Purple Line will not be encroaching on your golf course. Those four holes that you thought might be cut off as a result of it, it won’t be happening. Once you agree not to file any lawsuits against us about this at all, we guarantee you that the Purple Line won't be coming through your way.
NNAMDIA lot of other people are either jealous or angry and saying because we don't have the money to afford large numbers of lawyers we get to get run over by the Purple Line.
SHERWOODWell, you can like or not like this agreement that was signed by the transportation, Maryland transportation officials. And let me say, I have played golf at this country club and so I'm aware of the -- not lately.
NNAMDILet us just say he has been at the country club with golf clubs and golf balls.
SHERWOODI attempted to play.
SHERWOODBut, no, I think as a reporter, what bugged me when I saw the story -- I think the Post did it first, the Washington Post -- is that this agreement was signed last June. And the state officials and the country club people made part of the agreement that they wouldn't discuss it. That doesn't sound like public policy to me. That sounds like backroom deal. Now, I'm not saying -- I don't know if the deal was good or not. They moved the line about 12 feet. This imaginary Purple Line. You know even if it gets built, it probably won't be open until 2020, so it's still a long way off.
SHERWOODBut the country club, which has been one of the most vociferous opponents of the Purple Line because it would disrupt its golf course, has reached this agreement now that it won't file suit, campaign against, say disparaging things about -- since they've got their way. Now, it leaves a lot of homeowners in the neighborhoods -- what is this, 1,600 homes or something like that, might be affected? They're saying we don’t have any agreement.
NNAMDIAnd that's going…
SHERWOODBut, again, the fact that this was done in June and the Post got it, I think, through a Freedom of Information Request, that's not public policy. That kind of agreement should have been made public when it was done.
NNAMDIAnd the more that Speaker of the House John Boehner seems to try to encourage the conservative right of House members to strike a deal to avoid a government shutdown, the more he seems to be being rebuffed. And if that happens it would appear that Mayor Vincent Gray and others say we will not let the District of Columbia be a victim of this shutdown. We are going to declare all of the employees of the District of Columbia government as emergency workers. And because this is our taxpayer dollars that we're using to keep this city running, we're going to keep it going.
NNAMDIThe attorney general has said, Mr. Mayor, that may not be a good idea. You could face some punishment from Congress as a result of this. I don't know what that punishment might be, but you may not want that to happen.
SHERWOODWell, it is kind of unique. The mayor has just -- it can't be kind of unique. It either is or isn't. It is unique. But the mayor did this one-sentence letter to the Office of Management and Budget and said that he is determined -- as he is supposed to do, determine -- that all city employees -- you know, like 33,000 of them -- are essential in order to run the nation's Capitol. So therefore, he would not shut down the government.
SHERWOODNow, that flies in the face of what the city's always done in the past. The Office of Management and Budget, as of this moment -- I'm not sure -- hasn't responded yet. The House, Darrell Issa, the chairman of the committee overseeing the city, has kind of given a soft response. He said, well, you know…
NNAMDIHe said, yeah, I don't think that's -- I don’t think you guys are going to be punished. We've got other things to do.
SHERWOODWell, yeah, he says, you know, it's okay. But it is a bold move, particularly when the attorney general of the city says…
SHERWOOD…it is illegal, that you could face fines of $5,000 for every act of spending money that you may commit, and there'll be hundreds if not thousands of those such acts. He says it is a real thumbing of the nose at the federal government. And what I'd like to know -- I haven't heard a clear answer yet -- is that if the mayor decides to keep the government open, will the CFO Nat Gandhi, authorize expenditures of money for something that he, too, believe is illegal or he says attorney general says it's illegal. We cannot spend this money so we're not going to spend it. So I haven't heard the last of this. Maybe we'll hear more about it later in the show.
NNAMDILater in the show we'll also be discussing that there's soon likely to be a new CFO in the District of Columbia. But joining us now in studio is David Catania. He is an at-large member of the D.C. council. He's an independent who chairs the council's Committee on Education. David Catania thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID CATANIAKojo, thank you for having me.
NNAMDICare to weigh in on the mayor's proposal to declare D.C. government employee's emergency workers and avoid a shutdown of D.C. government? What's your view?
CATANIAWell, I think we've found a third way. And the third way is to acknowledge that the city already has a contingency reserve fund of approximately $300 million that has already been appropriated. And therefore we can spend down those funds without violating the Anti-deficiency Act. These funds have been appropriate and therefore we can pay our workers and we'll move an emergency next Tuesday -- I believe the chairman has already circulated it -- next Tuesday, before the council, that directs him to spend the funds from these already appropriated dollars.
CATANIAAnd then we don’t kind of have to have this Vulcan death-grip battle and discussions about who may or may not go to jail. There's a third way to do it and one that I think accomplishes what I think we all care about, which is keeping our government open and making sure that our employees are on the job and serving citizens of the city.
SHERWOODOkay. Some suggest that it costs more for the time it takes to plan for and then shut down and then restart the government, then it would be to just go forward, as you say, and just keep the government open.
CATANIAThat's right. Well, and it's just the psychic energy and time and effort spent by the attorney general and others, trying to figure out all of this. And, I mean, when there's an honest easy, you know, way that is not a dispute I think that's the path we should take.
SHERWOODBut it goes -- if there's a horrific shutdown and it goes into, you know, a few days or a week or longer, we could get into some real expenditures of money. I think the chairman of the council, Phil Mendelson, said it costs about $17, $19 million to run the government each work day.
CATANIAAnd, you know, to that fact we have a reserve in excess of $300 million. And if we were to expend all of that, if there were longer than anticipated federal shutdown we'd cross that bridge when we come to it. My view is that, you know, I appreciate the attorney general's point of view, but there is an exception to the Anti-deficiency Act that says, you know, you aren't allowed to have authorized expenditures, except in cases of emergency involving the safety of human life or the protection thereof. And that's where I think the mayor was going, by defining us all as, you know, as important or as needed, you know, that he would try to use that exemption to avoid violating the law.
CATANIAAnd then you'd be in a position -- and it's a position I happen to favor. I disagree with the attorney general's hard line here. There is an exception. I believe the mayor can make the case for the exception. And then it really -- if and when -- and again, there's never been a single prosecution under the Anti-deficiency Act. So the notion that any of us are going to jail is a bit far-fetched. And that any jury in the District…
SHERWOODWell, not for that reason.
CATANIAWell, not for that reason, thank you.
SHERWOODSorry. I couldn't resist that.
CATANIAOr that any jury in the District would convict one of its public officials for keeping the government open is also far-fetched. But nonetheless, and exemption exists and I believe the mayor has put forward the reason he believes all employees fall under that exemption. And then the final arbiter would be a court. And there's huge precedent for agency deference in these decisions. And so this enormous burden would rest with the government to prove their case versus the reasonable decision of the executive of the city. It's just unlikely…
SHERWOODWhat if the CFO of the city, Nat Gandhi, what if he said, we can't spend this money, I agree with the attorney general?
CATANIAWell, we ask very pointed questions Tuesday to the CFO on the subject and ultimately, you know, his first point of view was, well, I'm not going to jail. And then he kind of relented when I suggested that his responsibility is to execute, as directed by the council and the mayor. And that we wouldn't sit by for a CFO coup, right. We wouldn't have it. And ultimately by the end of discussion he relented and said he would do what the mayor and the council suggested was the appropriate course of action.
NNAMDIOnto another issue, you know, when the turbulence known as Michelle Rhee passed through the District of Columbia it resulted in school reform, but lots of infighting. Then the turbulence passed and there seemed to be calm. Mayor, school chancellors, teachers union off the front pages; test scores apparently going up. I say apparently because, well, you are chair of the committee on education and you say they're goosing the test scores. And just like that it would appear we have new turbulence. David Catania, your critics accuse you of seeking turbulence. Could this dispute over test scores have been handled less loudly?
CATANIAWell, the fact of the matter is it could have been handled better by the executive, but I think they acknowledged that, and acknowledged it yesterday in my hearing. Last July when they announced the 4 percentage increase in test scores on both math and reading, it was done to great acclaim and there was a lot to be made of it.
SHERWOODI think they did everything but fireworks.
CATANIARight. What didn't necessarily resonate with me is that we -- this was the first year in which we have used our Common Core D.C. CAS, which is a harder test than the test we've offered in the previous six years. It was the first year with tougher curriculum. Others states, like New York and Maryland, and others that have gone forward with their tougher tests have not seen increases. The various superintendents of those states have been honest with people and said, look, this is a tougher test, tougher standards, expect results to go down.
CATANIASo when our results went up -- and as the mayor projected or stated an historic increase -- something didn't quite seem right. Especially when many of the questions we use come from the same vendor that offers the questions for New York, for instance. So something wasn't right. And so we began inquiring about, you know, help us understand these numbers more. And we got a little bit of resistance, to put it mildly, from OSSE. There was some cooperation…
NNAMDIThe Office of the State…
CATANIAOffice of State Superintendent, thank you. So, you know, by and large they were cooperative, but they really weren't giving us the information we were seeking. And so we had to go outside of it. And we had to spend six weeks becoming experts in the subject, and interviewed scores of people to try and understand this better. And what we found out was, that the state superintendent and the mayor -- no one ever told us that they had changed the way in which they graded these tests.
CATANIASo by way of background, two years ago our testing expert recommended that we change the cut score, change the way we grade the test to correspond with the tougher test. And so for two years we've spent hundreds of thousands, in fact, millions of dollars preparing this new tougher test. And hundreds of thousands of dollars determining the new way to grade this test.
NNAMDIAnd then we didn't use it.
CATANIAAnd we didn't. And what I found really suspicious was everything internally in OSSE for two years, the state superintendent's office, was that we were going to have the tougher test and a tougher grading scale that's specifically tailored for it. The day they found out, on June 17th, that the scores would plummet, was the day they decided, wait a minute, we're not sure we want to do this. We want to use the old cut scores. Now, it is a little bit of an apples and oranges comparison. And it gets very deep and I don't want to…
NNAMDIYeah, we don't want to get too deep.
CATANIAI don't want to spend a lot of time here because it's very dense stuff, but, you know, one thing is clear. Our students took a Common Core CAS. We developed a specific grading scale and model for that. And we disbanded it without telling anyone. And what we did is a disservice to the students. And that's what really angers me.
NNAMDIAnd it would appear that they admitted that they could have, as you said, "handled it better," that they could have been more transparent about it.
NNAMDIThat they could have told us about it. But why did you feel that their intention, their apparently hidden intention was to derail the education reform legislation that you introduced earlier this summer?
CATANIAI think people…
NNAMDIThat sounds a little paranoid.
CATANIAPeople have a -- well, you know, even paranoids can be right from time to time, Kojo. The point is, you know, on the 17th of June when these -- the middle of June, between the 17th and the 20th, when these decisions were being made, to ultimately abandon what we had spent two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars developing, was the very time I was going around telling people how long it would take us to reach our stated proficiency of 75 percent. Right?
CATANIAWe're now around 50. And so, you know, it is no secret that the powers that be within the executive do not like the council engaged in this subject. They would rather engage in a form of, trust us. I believe we have a role here. And that's what I'm trying to engage in. And if I could just say one thing about the test scores, they continue to say, well, these scores that we released are comparable. But if you ask OSSE, as I did the state superintendent yesterday, do you know what the margin of error is in this sophisticated linkage where you try to say that this is what you would have gotten had we taken the old test.
CATANIADo you know what the margin of error is? And they don't. And the margin of error is dependent on how much the tests are similar. And so when the content, not the questions, but when the content varies by more than 50, 60 percent, the tests become so similar, the ability to compare diminishes. There was a chance to be honest, and that is to give the results, pursuant to the standards we established, and be honest with people and say, look, we have great news.
NNAMDILet me give out the telephone number in case you'd like to join the conversation because Tom Sherwood has threatened to strangle both David Catania and me if we go too deeply into the weeds.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number. You can also send email to email@example.com. Help us, stop us from being strangled.
SHERWOODWe had a new test, they used the old way to score it. They got better results than they should have -- the state superintendent's office. But the one good thing, as I understand it out of your hearing this week, is after this is now pointed out -- because no one would have ever said this had you not brought it up…
SHERWOOD…is that the state superintendent's office is now going to rescore the tests and put out the results as they should have been…
SHERWOOD…at the start? And when is that happening?
CATANIAAnd by the way, they always had what the scores would have been under the new standards. They simply didn't release them.
SHERWOODThey didn't disclose them.
CATANIAAnd didn't disclose them. And now they're saying, well, you know -- and the editorials are trying to defend what they did as reasonable. You know, that cannot be our standard for student achievement. Our standard isn't what is reasonable. It is what is best for the students. And what would have been best for them is to know exactly where they are in terms of performance in math and reading.
SHERWOODOn good thing about this I think people should know, because people hear about this, the reform of the schools, and they get nervous that oh, nothing's working, when in fact, things are working. I think you've been to every school now as chairman. But as I understand it, we've mainly been talking here about the scores in math that were worse, but reading has actually improved no matter how you score it.
CATANIAWell, in fact…
SHERWOODLet's just say some really good news for a moment.
CATANIABut let's dwell on that because there really was…
SHERWOODWell, we can't dwell on anything on radio.
CATANIAThere really was good news. And if had they tested and graded it properly, our reading scores were higher than they actually reported. And, of course, reading is harder. We could have had a great new story about this. This is a tougher test, tougher standards, and our children are doing really well in reading. But here they're not doing so well in math. So we could have had, had we had an honest discussion, every parent and every administrator could have known, the city could have allocated resources and interventions to do this, but that wasn't something they decided to do.
NNAMDICan I go to the telephones? Because we have callers who would like to address this issue specifically. Let me go to -- please don your headphones Tom Sherwood. Here is Ken in Washington, D.C. Ken, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
KENYeah, this is Ken Archer. I first of all want to say that Councilmember Catania deserves an enormous amount of credit for a couple of things. One for using his committee to really develop expertise in the agency's under his oversight. And in his legislation that he's put forward. Everything that he's put forward in his legislation relation to OSSE is right on track.
NNAMDIYou sound as if you are in a very windy tunnel, Ken. So try to make your remarks as brief as possible.
KENSure, sure, sure. What I'm concerned about is that Councilmember Catania spent a good amount of the hearing yesterday attacking the integrity and confidence of our director of data management, instead of exploring what is the crux of the issue, with the crux of the disagreement between Councilmember Catania and OSSE. Can you compare the scores between this year and last year using the new grading model, the new test scores that were discarded?
KENThe couple times that Jeff Noel tried to address that issue, Councilmember Catania interrupted him and accused him of dancing with technical jargon and basking in expertise. I really thought that was unfair. And what I'd love to hear from Councilmember Catania is what his argument is for why we can't compare the scores between this year and last year using the new test scores and what he understands Jeff Noel's counter argument to that to be? Because I think that's the crux of the issue and that's what we should explore.
NNAMDIOkay. Ken, you're going to have to listen off the air because the sound of that, whatever wind it is is making it difficult to hear you, but thank you very much for your call. David Catania?
CATANIAWell, thank you, Ken, for that question. You know, the issue is one of integrity. And I appreciate the question. The fact of the matter is we could compare the new test scores with last year's results. We could do it. And our testing company told us that the issue of cut scores is separate from comparability. So whether or not we use the old test scores or the new test scores, we could compare them with past. Now, we can't equate them, but we can link them and there can be comparability. The comparability depends very much on how similar the tests are by grade and by subject matter. And there can be a plus or minus.
CATANIAYou know the reason I was pretty disappointed in Mr. Noel's remarks is because I thought -- and he has made it known internally -- that he can use language to spin. And I appreciate that he's well thought of and I think he's a good professional. I certainly don't…
NNAMDIWhat do you mean he has made it known internally that he can use language to spin? Because that is precisely what the Washington Post is accusing you of doing.
CATANIARight. Because he knows the jargon and the subject matter so well that he can dance. And when I saw him do that and avoid the truth it concerned me. I've had conversations directly with our testing company who said that is it possible to compare this year to last, again, whether we use the old or the new standard. But, you know, what is lost is what is in the best interest of the children. He told the committee that he made the decision in the best interest of the children. And I pressed him about that.
CATANIAI said, well, do you have a standard of error, you know, with this linkage process? Can you tell us how close these results actually are to what they would have been? And he said no. I said, did you ask that question, and he said no. I made it clear that right now today we don't have definitions of advanced, proficiency, basic or below basic in the way in which they've configured these scores.
SHERWOODCan we test our way to -- I worry that the whole education establishment recreates itself every few years. It's back to basics, it's, you now, no child left behind. It's this, it's that. There's this new test, there's that new test. It seems to me the whole country has gotten mired and we've got to test everybody on everything.
SHERWOODAnd then we just spend all our time preparing for tests rather than instructing. Am I missing something here?
NNAMDIBefore you respond to that, I think that is exactly what our caller Edward in Fairfax, Va. wants to underscore. Edward, did Tom Sherwood accurately reflect your sentiments?
EDWARDI think it's an absolutely accurate reflection of my sentiment. I'm a law-school graduate, but it seems to me that education in this country, to include higher education, has become nothing but successfully passing a series of tests. So there's very little concern for whether or not one can inductively or deductively reason or make inference, but rather it's all about performing to a standard, which is standardized testing. And I want to know whether or not the gentleman would support moving away from this testing culture (unintelligible)…
NNAMDIOkay. Allow me to have David Catania respond. David?
CATANIALet me say that I believe testing and when properly reported can be used as an auditing function, to tell us what we believe is working and is not working. And so, for instance, had the results been properly reported we would have seen that our interventions and our efforts in third grade math -- or third grade reading are working really well, but they're not working in others. And so I believe in putting it into perspective, but not abandoning.
CATANIABut, Tom, I want to go back to Mr. Archer's question. Because he said, you know, he doesn't understand why we just didn't use the old scores and what the problem is. I want to make something very clear, we did -- and Mr. Noel did use the new cut scores with respect to composition. All right. So we used the old cut scores for reading and math, but he decided to use the new cut scores for composition and then portrayed them as comparable. And so, you know, you can't kind of have it both ways. And when I pressed him on that he said, oh, yes, that was a mistake.
CATANIAAnd so here's my problem, no one has yet to explain to me why it took my committee six weeks and a lot of effort to get to the truth about how these children are really performing. And let me give you one example of the implications. Two days ago I was at Eagle Academy on Wheeler Road and I sat down with six professionals from the school. It's a fantastic charter school in Southeast. And the professionals were telling me about how they did on their test scores. And I asked them if they'd like to know their real test scores, because it reflected a composite score of 60.
CATANIAAnd they said yes. And I said, well, I'll call my office. And so we actually had some of this data. And while we were waiting for it, they started talking about how they didn't believe the data that was presented because their internal diagnostics, (unintelligible) and so on, showed them doing much better in reading than the ultimate result. It turns out their composite wasn't 60, it was 65. Their composite reading wasn't 52, it was 59. And so, you know, we're cheating these kids out of knowing exactly how well they're doing and the professionals in these schools about how well they're doing.
SHERWOODIt just sounds like the sad old cliche, lies, damn lies and statistics or whatever it is.
NNAMDIOnto Mary, in Washington, D.C. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARYHi. Thanks for having Councilmember Catania on. I was at part of the hearing and watched the rest of it on TV and I thank him for it. But I'm concerned an assumption of this process has been that the tests this past year and the new year are complete Common Core, but on DCPS website, they said for this year and the past year, in aligning to the Common Core, they dropped any standards that were not in the Common Core that were in old standard. And we're not going to add any new standards until we go to PARCC.
MARYAnd so actually it's an easier test. It's not the harder test that people keep talking about. It's not until we go to PARCC that the complete Common Core will be tested.
CATANIAThat's correct. And that will be in two years, but this test does have much tougher standards than the -- it's kind of an in-between. Between the D.C. CAS as it was and what it will be. But, Mary, you're absolutely right. PARCC will be much harder. And if I could, one other point, Kojo, if we had had the date released properly and analyzed it, we would see that because we have merged to a Common Core curriculum, we would see just how well our younger students are doing having been taught the Common Core curriculum and now how they are working and how they're excelling on these standardized tests.
SHERWOODI think -- I just got a tweet about this, that the state superintendent's office, Emily Durso disputes your characterization that they kind of did this to make themselves look better. She said the professional staff made honest, hard-working decisions to do this, and disagrees with your characterization. But the state superintendent's office does agree that the other style of scoring will be made public. And you say that may be today?
CATANIAListen -- that's right. And by the way on Tuesday, I made an offer to the executive to the mayor --
SHERWOODTo the mayor's office.
CATANIATo the mayor's office. That I would have cancelled yesterday's hearing had they simply released the results appropriately and acknowledged that a mistake was made in how they were constructed, how they were released, and we would not have had that hearing. And so, you know, the characterizations about what we're trying to do and way -- you know what I want -- I want the truth. And we've already had past testing scandals in the city that have diminished people's confidence and trust in the system. You know, we can take the truth.
CATANIAAnd parents deserve it, our students deserve it and our principals and administrators deserve it.
NNAMDIOur guest is David Catania. He's an at-large member of the D.C. council. He's an independent who chairs the council's Committee on Education. And so far our discussion has been confined to education, but we will be going into other areas. So if you have questions or comments about other aspects of city government for Mr. Catania, call us at 800-433-8850. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or shoot us a tweet, @kojoshow.
SHERWOODI want to change the subject. You look like you have one more thing that's on education. I'll time you.
CATANIAI do. I do. All right. You know, I don't -- I want to be very clear that my tours of the schools, both charter and traditional public, show me...
NNAMDIHave you really been to all the schools?
CATANIAI've not been to all -- I've been...
SHERWOODBut virtually a lot of them.
CATANIAYes. We're trying to see as we can...
CATANIAAnd what I see is very promising and very exciting. And so there's no reason for us to play games. We just need to be straight and honest with folks. I see incredible progress. And I know our schools are getting stronger and stronger. So there's no reason for us to try to attempt to play games. We have to double down, and we have to have a common culture in the city where it is -- how do we make it possible for every student to be prepared for college, their careers, and their lives?
CATANIAAnd that means every school has to succeed for every student without exception, every school, every student, no exceptions.
SHERWOODNow, we haven't mentioned...
NNAMDIWhen you took this job as chair of the committee on education, your critics were concerned that, while you have the ability to focus very intensely on issues and understand the detail, that you also have a tendency to speak and speak loudly when you are critical and that that would distract attention from the progress in the school system and make the discussion more about David Catania than it is about the children or the schools.
CATANIAWell, I think that's a fair characterization. I think people who don't want any council oversight are happy to parrot that. But I want to be clear about one thing. I was elected nearly 16 years ago, and I've been fortunately reelected four times since. I've always been very forthright with the people about what they're getting. It's a what you see is what you get proposition.
CATANIAAnd what I see, in 16 years of my career here, is that income inequality in our country, in our city, continues to grow. The only anecdote, the only way we're really going to have a city of opportunity is if we bring educational opportunity to every corner of the city. Now, the fact that we are celebrating test results when we still have schools have proficiency rates in the teens, where opportunity is not possible, there should be an unacceptability attached to that.
SHERWOODThen I want to go on to other subjects now.
SHERWOODBut in all this discussion today, Kaya Henderson's name has not been mentioned. The Office of State School superintendent it does -- he's testing this, it's not her direct responsibility.
CATANIAThat's a good point. That's a great point.
SHERWOODSo I want to make sure that's it's not about Kaya. But as the chairman of the education committee, you've met and you meet regularly with her.
CATANIAI was with her this morning.
SHERWOODAnd so are you -- is she doing what you think she should be doing? Are you guys working well together? Some people thought that you might be -- might make her job more difficult by separating -- getting her separated from the state superintendent's office. Just what's your assessment of Kaya Henderson?
CATANIAWell, I had the good fortune to be with her this morning as we're talking about a new application middle of high school for wards 7 and 8. We've got a number of very talented kids from seven and eight who go to application high schools throughout the city. We're trying to bring opportunities closer to them. You know, look, this is -- I think Kaya's a very talented leader, and I support her. But there is also at the same time a role for the council to ask questions, and that is what we do.
SHERWOODOkay. That's good. I think that's fair, and I think that's great. I want to move on because Nat Gandhi, the outgoing chairman -- I mean, the CFO of the city, is someone you had clashed with any number of times. Have you had a chance even to take a quick look at Jeff DeWitt, the Phoenix...
NNAMDIBefore you respond, I think you have echoed the question of Jerry...
SHERWOODI'm pretty good at this.
NNAMDI...Jerry in Bethesda, Md. So we can get two with one blow, Jerry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JERRYThanks so much. I'd like to ask the councilmember, yeah, what his thoughts are on the new CFO pick. And what would be his advice on style to the council in terms of how to work with the CFO? And given that -- as we've heard on this call -- there are many who really don't respect your style and find it childish and immature.
CATANIAWell, thank you. And you're calling from where?
JERRYChevy Chase, Md.
CATANIAAll right. And your name is -- I'm sorry?
CATANIAJerry. Thank you, Jerry, for your call. So I actually didn't have a chance to meet the CFO because they decided to have the introduction at the same time as the hearing that I had yesterday. So the CFO -- our current CFO tried to bring the new CFO up to see me, but we had already adjourned and gaveled the hearing to a close. And with respect to our new CFO, I certainly look forward to working with him.
SHERWOODOkay. So all right. Well...
NNAMDIWe're running out of time. The councilmember has another appointment a little later. We hoped we could keep him here for the entire hour, but we're made to understand that he has to go.
CATANIAI'm happy to...
SHERWOODI will do...
CATANIAI'm happy to stay. No, I'm happy.
SHERWOODWell, one thing I want to talk about is the soccer stadium deal. You know, this is a big land swap, big...
SHERWOOD...lot of money shifting around and...
NNAMDIThat's where I was going.
SHERWOOD...it's on the -- it's three times today I've anticipated the next question. A lot of land swapping to do. Allen Lew, the city administrator, needs -- or is trying to get done by the first of the year valuable land, the city's Reeves Center at 14th and U being swapped out for property with the Ackridge Corp. Very quickly, if you can, you've expressed some concerns. Can you just summarize what those concerns are?
CATANIAWell, so -- and, again, they kind of link with where I clashed with our CFO. When we were working on our last baseball stadium, we were told that, to acquire the land, due to the environmental remediation and transportation costs, it would cost somewhere around 143, 147 million. It wound up costing three times as much. And so, you know, I feel like we're at a rodeo, and it's a déjà vu moment again where -- what I want to make sure is the deal that we entered into, we know what the exposure is from the beginning.
CATANIAAnd so when we say, well, it's going to be a similar figure of $150 million to acquire the land, et cetera, I want to make sure that those are hard and fast numbers. And when we're told, for instance, that we're going to be able to share in the profits, I want to make sure I understand the accounting because if I can drive up my expenses through inflated salaries, et cetera, et cetera, there will also be no profits. And so you've got to give with one hand and take with the other.
SHERWOODWho on the council is overseeing all these things?
CATANIAWell, that's -- you know, that remains to be seen because the legislation hasn't been referred to the council, and it hasn't been sent to a particular committee. But there are other issues that are being a way, too, and that is with respect to the land acquisition and to the swap between, you know, land in southeast -- southwest, rather, with the Reeves Center.
CATANIAYou know, I suggested that, you know, if the mayor's going to use eminent domain on some of the parcels to acquire for D.C. United, well, why not use eminent domain for the Ackridge parcel, too? Let's just, you know, go through that process, and then we can have on -- for the Reeves Center, we can have a good old-fashioned market where we put it out to bid, and we accept the highest offer as opposed to going through this notion of I'll have this appraisal, you'll have this appraisal. I would -- I just have more confidence in the market.
SHERWOODThe -- well, let's talk politics -- not that we haven't for the last 30 minutes. On November the 8th, the...
NNAMDIWe have 13 minutes left.
SHERWOODGreat. The -- well, my question won't last that long. All right. The Democrat -- the primary for April 1, which may be moved to June. I don't know if it will be or not. You can -- if it doesn't get moved, we can -- candidates for mayor will start picking up petitions on November the 8th and will have to turn them in on June the 2nd. That's to be in the primary primaries. You have a -- said you are considering running for mayor as an independent in the fall of next year, I believe. Where are you on that, this thinking about it?
CATANIAWell, I think...
SHERWOODSounds like you have several issues here you could bring up.
CATANIAYou know, it's just too early to speculate for sure. I mean, you know, I think candidates often -- or politicians often spend too much time planning on their next job and not enough time doing the current job. And so this, fortunately for me as an independent, it's a decision I don't have to make for some time. You know, I really do like the work I'm doing on the committee of education. And, you know, if later in this...
SHERWOODThat's the best way to become mayor if you decide that, right?
CATANIABut the later -- later on in this year and early next year, you know, I appreciate I might not have Jerry's support form Bethesda. But, you know, I'm really going to do my best to persuade a majority of District residents to take a look if I decide, look at the totality of my career and what we've been able to do...
SHERWOODI heard that later this year.
NNAMDIYou may have answered Bobby's question. Bobby in Baltimore, Md., Tom Sherwood is anticipating every question today. But, Bobby, your question is in a slightly different nature. Bobby, go ahead, please.
BOBBYYeah. Well, I was trying to beat Tom to it, but it's hard to beat Tom to anything.
NNAMDIYes, this is true. He knows all.
BOBBYI'm a Baltimore newbie but a D.C. native, and I like what you said about the stadium deals. You know, we make all these deals, and we give some givebacks, you know, when these things don't handle -- come out the way that were promised. But on the eminent domain, I'd say let's reserve that and use that as infrequently as possible, and let's try other ways where we can make those kinds of changes.
NNAMDIAnd, Bobby, you always wanted to know what -- also wanted to know whether the councilmember was going to run for another term, didn't you? Is that something you would favor?
BOBBYYeah. It -- well, I'd like to see him run for mayor. But, you know, that and $6 will buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks (unintelligible).
CATANIABobby, I'll see you at Starbucks after.
NNAMDIBobby, thank you very much for your call. Councilmember Catania, care to respond?
CATANIAThank you for the call, Bobby. You know, look, a lot of speculation is made on whether or not the mayor will run, who else will get in the race. These things will take care of themselves. One thing I can make news today by saying I will not be a candidate in the Democratic primary for mayor of the District of Columbia. That I can tell you.
CATANIAWhether or not next year I decide to run as an independent, perhaps I'll break that news here. But when I look at, you know, 15 years of service that includes many tough fights -- and, you know, people can differ with me on style. I differ with myself at times. But this is not a town where the meek get things done necessarily.
CATANIAAnd so I look at totality of things I'm very proud of. I'm proud of things like Smoke-free D.C. and medical marijuana and marriage equality, 40,000 people with insurance, decreased HIV/AIDS rates, and an honest earnest effort to make sure our schools are better. And I think, you know, if I decide to run, I'll have a record to run on. And I hope people appreciate that, you know, getting things done in the city is not always easy or pretty.
SHERWOODWhat do you think about -- you've asked earlier had called on Mayor Gray, I think, to resign because of all the scandal stuff. But Councilmember Tommy Wells of Ward 6, who is a candidate for mayor in the Democratic primary, said this week that -- how can the mayor run -- start up a reelection campaign if he hasn't explained his role in his own campaign of 2010? Do you agree with Mr. Wells on that?
CATANIAWell, I do. But I think, one step further, I think, you know, while we're speculating that the mayor is going to run, it's clear to me that he isn't. This is a very small town, and if he were going to run, he would have been sending out feelers to community activists and fundraisers and so on. I think what he is doing is his best to look as strong as he can to avoid the lame duck status as long as possible.
SHERWOODI'm getting another tweet saying that the office superintendent came in and explained all these test score numbers to you, and it's wrong that they mislead the public by putting out one number and...
CATANIAThat's absolutely not the case. And...
SHERWOODI better stop reading my tweets.
CATANIAWell, I want to be very clear. You know, what's interesting is, you know, I wish the office of state superintendent would simply release the results and move on. They've never explained why they didn't release them in the first place. They've never explained that, but for our committee, no one would have even known they changed the two-year trajectory. And so, you know, at some point, you have to stop digging.
SHERWOODSo the rest of the tweet, just so we can finish it, says, "Why don't you ask where he was on education 16 years ago when he was first elected when the schools were collapsing in the late '90s and Barry was mayor? Where was he? Ask some real questions."
CATANIAWell, 16 years ago -- I mean, that's a very fair question. Sixteen years ago, we had a state board of education, which by our home rule charter, very strictly limited the role of the council. We had a state board of education. The only thing council could do was to appropriate a lump sum of money and buy our home row charter. Everything else was under the control of the school board.
SHERWOODThus endeth the reading of the Twitter.
NNAMDITechnically, 16 years ago, Mr. Catania was not yet on the council.
NNAMDIHe won election in 1998. I remember because I MCed his induction ceremony.
CATANIARight. But nonetheless, I mean, it's a fair point. We have a legislature of 13 people. We took over schools in 2007. For a number of years, since that happened, I've been pushing for a separate committee on education. I did it two years ago, was successful getting it this year. Excuse me. And for the eight years prior to this, I was very invested in our otherwise dysfunctional mental health and health infrastructure turning that around.
CATANIAThirteen elected councilmembers and a government as sophisticated and diverse as ours doesn't often leave chances for people to go outside of their swim lane in terms of committee assignments. But, you know, obviously it's a different ball game when you're in the middle.
NNAMDIHere is Richard in Springfield, Va. Richard, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RICHARDThank you, sir. I have a question. Since we've been speaking about standards, what about standards for child safety? Since the school buses are on the road during rush hours, why aren't there seat belts on them? And since my car's seatbelt, if it doesn't work properly, I fail state inspection? So that's all I've got. Thank you.
NNAMDISeat belts on school busses, David Catania.
CATANIAWell, we have a slightly different way of transporting children than in the suburbs. Our special needs children are transported on school busses. But, by and large, our general population, the children are left to get to school on their own. So we don't provide transportation. We provide transportation subsidies for our low-income students, but we have a slightly different situation than in Virginia.
NNAMDIOn to Perry in Brunswick, Md. Perry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PERRYThanks for taking my call, Kojo. And thanks, Mr. Catania, for your service to the District and as the nation's capital to the nation. I'm calling because my wife and I were married in 1966, and our first home was in Adams Morgan on Belmont Road. And at that time, Bishop Marie Reed was a powerful voice and force in the community, and I belonged to the Adams Morgan Community Council, as well as the Colorado Citizens Association.
PERRYAnd she was -- so I'm surprised to hear the Reeves Center is going to be disposed of by the city. And I'm just wondering, first of all, if the memorial to such an important voice in the community -- which at that time was -- had more struggle than not, and also if it is going to be disposed of, is it going to be public purpose or not? And on the subject of your personality and your character, I would refer to one of my spiritual mentors, Frederick Douglass, who always felt that struggle was necessary to promote change.
CATANIAThank you, Perry.
PERRYSo be not intimidated.
SHERWOODI think that -- can we just clarify something?
SHERWOODMarie Reed is the school in Adams Morgan.
SHERWOODWe're talking about the Frank Reeves Center at 14th and U.
SHERWOODIt was named for the Howard University law professor.
NNAMDICorrect. Thank you for your call, Perry. But go ahead, please, David Catania.
CATANIASo the Reeves Center, you know, it remains to be seen how we will dispose of it. It looks like, you know, there's general consensus of a higher and better use for that parcel of land, and actually there are taxes that we might be able to generate in economic activity and increase density. So generally speaking, I have no problems with the effort to move the Reeves Center, as opposed to Marie Reed, the route to move the Reeves Center for a higher and better purpose and perhaps use that as an economic development engine in another part of the city.
CATANIAI'm not quarreling with the mayor's plan at all. On that aspect, I think that's a good plan. I just want to make sure that the taxpayers get as much as we possibly can for that property.
NNAMDIAnd going to an issue we discussed earlier, here is Elizabeth in Washington, D.C. Elizabeth, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELIZABETHYes, I am. This has been a great show. And I'm just really pleased to see Mayor Gray and all (unintelligible) and others really assert that the District of Columbia and its residents need to be respected. And if Mayor Gray decides that we are all essential employees -- I'm actually retired -- all the more for him because cutting out...
NNAMDIWell, Councilmember Catania has said that may not be necessary, that he is proposing...
CATANIANo. The chairman, Chairman Mendelson.
NNAMDIOh, the Chairman Mendelson, Phil Mendelson is proposing another way out of this. What do you think? Defiance over (word?) route?
ELIZABETHI think that we need to do whatever we can to assert ourselves as a colony and, you know, let Congress do its craziness but don't hurt all of us, all 600,000 people in the District.
NNAMDIOkay. Elizabeth, thank you very much for your call. Before you go, David Catania, Tom Sherwood, district planners are recommending that downtown buildings could rise as tall as 200 feet, 40 feet higher than current limits. It has not been finally decided as yet, but it looks as if this is what Congressman Darrell Issa wants. What do you want?
CATANIAWell, I think we need a very robust public discussion on this before we depart from the standard practice for many years. I think, you know, we should be able to have open and honest discussions about issues of high density, whether it's within the old city or outside of the old city. And there are a lot of important considerations. And if I could, outside of the old city, for instance, we might look at slightly more density for the following reasons.
CATANIAFrom an environmental perspective, right, the future of mankind cannot continue with sprawl. And to the extent we have higher density, we allow more people live in a certain partial parcels of land...
CATANIAYou build up, and your carbon footprint declines.
NNAMDIThirty seconds, Tom.
CATANIAAt the same time, it's good financially because to the greater density we can have in the city, you can lower the cost of housing.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is one of the tall people. He probably wants to build up.
SHERWOODProject -- the projection is we are going to get another hundred, 200,000 people in this city. We've got to figure out how we're going to handle it.
CATANIAWell, and that's precisely the point. And if we -- and we have to be smart. We don't want 60-story buildings, but we have to be smart. But we have to...
NNAMDIDavid Catania, he's an at-large member of the D.C. Council. He's an independent who chairs the council's committee on education. Thank you for joining us.
CATANIAThank you so much, Tom. Thank you, Kojo.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Always a pleasure, Tom.
SHERWOODHave a good weekend.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
The health benefits — both mental and physical — of friendships are myriad. But as we get older it becomes increasingly difficult to forge lasting bonds with new people. We consider the ways communication, emotions and our phase of life effect our relationships with friends.
We check in with three local soup kitchens on the eve of Thanksgiving to look at who they're serving and how their programs and clients have changed in recent years.
A journalist by training, Meline Toumani shocked friends and family by moving to Turkey and embarking on a journey to understand a people and a country she'd been taught were the enemy. The result is "There Was and There Was Not," part political history, part deeply personal memoir.