Loose Lips

School House Blocked

LL_Catania-1 (1)
Fingers tented under his chin, David Catania is listening. He’s heard about how fingerprinting aimed at detecting sex offenders scares well-meaning parents away from schools, and about classrooms where the Internet is too slow for their new computers. Now, at a meeting on education in Ward 7, he’s hearing a Woodson High School senior read the ways that Catania has offended him.

“I don’t appreciate you calling my school low-quality,” the student says. “I don’t think my school is low-quality.”

“A school where half the kids don’t graduate is a problem,” Catania shoots back.

Catania, under a banner bearing his name and trademark green campaign colors, takes another comment masquerading as a question. That’s OK with Catania—–facing a hostile mayor, the Washington Post editorial board, and a D.C. schools chancellor who’s indifferent to his ideas, he’ll make nice with whoever he can. He’s getting ready for the fall.

Before the D.C. Council took its summer recess, Catania’s colleagues gave him a shove out the door. By a vote of 7 to 6 at the end of June, they rejected the education committee chairman’s effort to weight funding for schools by the number of students that receive free and reduced priced lunches, a formula that would send more money to schools with poorer students.

Catania tried to trade a “yes” vote on an amended Large Retailer Accountability Act (aka the Walmart bill) for support for his plan. That swap would have given the living wage bill enough support to override a potential veto from Mayor Vince Gray.

The promise of trumping Gray, though, couldn’t save Catania’s funding formula. As Catania raged from the dais, councilmembers voted to wait for more research.

Catania says he still wanders around his house trying to figure out how some councilmembers voted against him. He’s especially angry at councilmembers who voted for the living wage bill but against his weighted formula, both of which ostensibly help the poor. “I still can’t figure out a way to put a sentence together that isn’t laced with words that aren’t inappropriate to print,” he says.

The weighted funding formula was a high-profile flop for Catania on the Council’s education committee, which emerged in January after seven years in which the Council’s Committee of the Whole handled schools. It seemed ripe for the aggressive style Catania honed while steering the Council’s health committee. “If you take somebody like David and put him in charge of something,” says Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, “he’s not just going to sit there.”

So far, Catania has found it harder to carve out his own piece of the education agenda, despite proposing a package of seven reform bills that cover everything from social promotion to the creation of a charter lottery. That’s partly a result of education’s higher profile and partly because education was put under mayoral control in 2007. To make matters worse for an ambitious chairman looking for his own policy fiefdom, the mayor has his own proposed education reforms, including some that overlap with Catania’s.

Catania faces a more serious problem than resistance from Gray, DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, and his Council colleagues. That’s the evidence that, six years after then-Mayor Adrian Fenty took control of the schools, they actually are getting better. District students posted an average increase of 4 percent in math and reading proficiency scores this year. The schools aren’t fixed yet, but they’re also not waiting around for Catania to do the job.

Problems persist, as Catania is eager to point out. If there were enough charters for every student who wants to leave a traditional school, he says, DCPS’ population would drop in half. At Dunbar High School, where students started Monday in a new building, reading proficiency dropped by nearly double digits this year. Catania also points to deficiencies in occupational and parental involvement.

Smarting from his weighted formula defeat, Catania spent the recess in a Rocky montage of education wonkery. He read up on public schools around the world (the differences between Singapore and Mumbai, Catania tells LL, are “fascinating”). For the Palisades’ July 4 parade, the traditional summer home of politicians with a campaign to flog, Catania’s entourage wore T-shirts with the names of different D.C. schools on the back.

But Catania’s largest push over the recess has been his education meetings in all eight wards, usually held with fellow At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, a convenient foil for the notoriously abrasive Catania. When Grosso slips up and tells a crowd, incorrectly, that every District charter school outperforms every traditional public school, Catania steps in and mediates, looking reasonable in the process.

The listening tour wasn’t about pushing his reform bills, Catania says, but the banner with his name and the message “We Support Public Education in D.C.” suggests otherwise. The message is clear: If you have a problem with the schools, bring it to the Council.

Catania plans to start to introduce some of his bills for mark-up when the Council returns on Sept. 17, with more to follow later in the year. But not everyone is eager for the Council to take a more active role in education. When Catania unveiled his bills in June, Henderson told LL she didn’t understand how they would help. Mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro, meanwhile, wondered about Catania’s motivations in keeping the bills, developed by law firm Hogan Lovells, secret for so long. (Catania says no legislation in Council history has had as much executive input.)

Catania is also up against the Post editorial board, one of D.C. school reform’s most devoted backers. The paper called his bills a “power grab” in July. “I’m responsible for the Lindbergh kidnapping and the King assassination if you read the Washington Post,” Catania says.

Catania could have one unlikely ally in U.S. Attorney Ron Machen. If Machen’s ongoing investigation into Gray’s 2010 campaign keeps the mayor from running for re-election, the lame-duck uncertainty for DCPS could create an opening for Catania. Whether the mayor runs for re-election or not, of course, he wants people to think he will—witness his balancing act at press conferences, where he says he’s proud of his first term, but won’t say whether he’ll seek another.

The list of opponents to Catania’s reforms could grow even bigger. There’s his three Council colleagues and mayoral hopefuls—–Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, Tommy Wells—–who likely won’t want to hamstring the office they’re seeking. There’s also the regular District resident who, seeing the system’s improvements under Henderson and predecessor Michelle Rhee, don’t want the Council further enmeshed in DCPS.

Catania, at least publicly, isn’t deterred by people who tell him to stay out of the schools. “I suspect there are people who wish I would just vacate the field,” Catania says. “And I’m sorry to disappoint them, but that’s just not going to happen."

Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com. Or call (202) 650-6925.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

Comments

  1. #1

    What everyone on the council knows, but won't say is that the Washington Teachers Union is way to powerful to buck still. The perception is that they unseated Fenty (accurate or not) and that it isn't worth anyone's time for a hard push, when they can hide behind Henderson's incremental reform.

    Unfortunately Kaya Henderson is a lap dog in a purse. She does just enough to keep the headlines flowing in the right direction, but not enough to really make any difference. Kind of like turning on the fountains while the city burns.

  2. #2

    When I read articles like this it makes me think nobody has a freaking clue about education. It was nice to see someone mention parental involvement but otherwise, I don't think David Cantania - or anyone else involved - has a clue. Oh well. We will do what we need to do to make sure our kids get the education they need despite the sad state of even the best schools in DC.

  3. #3

    If nothing else, at the end of the day Catania is helping to keep a needed discussion alive and moving in a productive direction.

  4. #4

    This conversation would be alive with or without David Catania. We have an active school Chancellor who is making slow but sure progress in turning around poor academic performance.

  5. #5

    Catania's bill was crap.That's why it was rejected. But just like a child he throws a temper tantrum and gets his azz on his back and start going around the city with Grasso, weed head stooge, putting on a half-ass listening show. So what? Grow up Catania!

    First of all, has Catania every have to educate a kid? Be a parent? Ok, how about babysitting? Any interaction with kids? What is his experience in dealing with children?
    Probably, zero. But he has the answers to improving education for kids in DC. Get REAL and get LOST! This what happens when your ego out reaches your talent, you start to believe your the "Savior" of all things that are "bad" in DC.

    Would a single person, that has never been married be a good marriage councilor? Maybe, but I wouldn't listen to them. Marriage, like raising kids is an interactive, full contact situation. Having the responsibility of raising and educating a child is an invaluable experience that cannot be simulated by a "listening" tour. Or "talking" to folks from around the world, geez! Catania is in way over his head with education in DC. But that "ego" will saved the day....NOT!

    Because Catania acts like a child on occasions does not make him qualified to educate one!!

    Or better yet, looking like and speaking like "Baby Fenster" does not benefit education in DC.

    And for all you folks out that "love" Catania because he is so "smart" need to pull back the "curtain" and really review his work. You will be surprised, its not that good. Also, stop confusing "sassy" with intelligence, they are not the same!

    Finally, getting into a"tic for tac" spat with a high school kid about his school is...fucked up! You called Woodson a "low quality school".....is it the kid's fault? Does he have another option for school? What if he was a high performer at that school, does HIS confidence in his education matter? Really? How is insulting the students at a "low quality school" helping to improve education? But its Catania, he can say and do whatever he wants to whomever he decides. Wrong, he is a bully and he needs to be dealt with like a bully. Take no crap from him!!

    For REAL!

  6. #6

    POINT OF ORDER WILLY EARL.
    I BELIEVE THERE ISN'T ANY EVIDENCE THAT DCPS IMPROVED UNDER MICHELLE RHEE. IN FACT THINGS GOT SIGNIFICANTLY WORSE WHILE SHE WAS IN CHARGE.

    I HAVE YET TO UNDERSTAND HOW CAN ANYONE WITHOUT CHILDREN IN THEIR EVERYDAY LIFE (ADOPTED OR NATURAL) CAN REALLY UNDERSTAND HOW TO IMPROVE, ADVANCE OR IMPLEMENT A CHILD'S WAY OF LEARNING AND/OR MAKE EDUCATION RELEVANT IN A WORLD WHERE BEING DISTRACTED WITH THE "WOW" OF THE DAY IS BECOMING MUCH MORE IMPORTANT TO YOUNG FOLK THAN HEARING SOME OLDER PERSON DICTATE TO THEM FOR 8 HOURS WHAT THEY NEED TO KNOW TO PASS A TEST IN ORDER TO INCREASE TEST SCORES SO POLITICIANS LIKE GAYTANIA CAN TOUT SOME BULLSHIT ASS ACCOMPLISHMENT.

    THE ONLY THING HE HAS SAID OR DONE IS POINT OUT THAT MORE PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT WOULD HELP. GREAT WORK BITCH BOY ASSIGNING BLAME AS TO ABSOLVE YOURSELF WHEN SHIT GOES SIDEWAYS! THIS BAMMA IS GOOD FOR ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! I’M SICK OF THIS PUNK.THE FACT HE CALLED A DC PUBLIC SCHOOL LOW QUALITY SHOWS THE LACK OF UNDERSTANDING AND COMPASSION THIS ASSHOLE HAVE WHEN IT COMES TO THESE MATTERS.

    THE BOTTOM LINE IN EDUCATION IS LIKEABILITY. IF A CHILD LIKES HIS SCHOOL HE WOULD GO. IF A CHILD LIKES THEIR TEACHER THEY WOULD ACQUIESCE TO THEIR TEACHINGS. IF A CHILD LIKES EDUCATION THEY WOULD BE WILLING TO LEARN. GAYTANIA IS NOT LIKED NOR DOES HE KNOW WHAT CHILDREN LIKES! LAWYERS, TRADING VOTES AND BEGGING BARRY FOR HELP AINT GONNA GET IT. THIS JOKER IS DOOMED AND HE WILL NOT SUCCEED.

    SO OUR CHILDREN WILL END UP SUFFERING IN THE END.

    I CAN’T BELIEVE HE CALLED A DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC SCHOOL LOW QUALITY. SO IN ONE OF THE POOREST NEIGHBORHOODS WHERE THEY NEED THE MOST HELP HE BLURTED OUT THE LAST THING THEY NEED TO HEAR? HE NEED TO ISSUE AN APOLOGY. THAT WAS FOUL. NO MATTER WHAT HE THINKS HE STILL SHOULD NOT HAVE SAID IT.

  7. #7

    no offense to anyone...but Catania is a gay white man with no children so how in the hell is a welfare mom with 4 children in 3 different schools supposed to believe and trust that Catania knows what he is doing?? The city council is a joke nowadays....you have people who run just because they have money behind them to scare others away who really want to do right by the people.
    I will say now it's the same for the mayor's race even Bowsers own team will say "in private" that she lacks having done anything that has made a difference in DC. As a council member that seat was given to her she has never earned it from her campaign colors to her newsletter it's all fenty but the best part for her is his money machine came right along with it. Ward 4 has gone down since she has been the council member I mean hell we are about to have 32 walmarts on each block of ward 4 because she has taken every dollar they have pushed her way under the table and above...believe me she has dirt just like everyone else it just hasn't been printed in the post yet.

  8. #8

    @dcshadyboots
    Whatever else her merits, Henderson has survived by keeping a low profile. Not by getting out front in public. For the public conversation to continue it takes outsiders.

  9. #9

    Catania is no outsider. He is knee deep in DCPS bidness.

  10. #10

    I give him credit for not allowing us to get too comfortable and still question our reform efforts.

    But uhmm...if being heterosexual was the best indicator of a person's academic understanding of educational policies then no straight person should ever be in charge of education. I don't think the kids with gay parents are the ones who are dropping out of school and terrorizing communities and having babies and bullying people to their deaths.

  11. #11

    Outside of the administration, I mean.
    He can do and say things that no one who works within the administration could.
    That is helpful.

  12. #12

    She looks old!

  13. #13

    @Noddlez and RealDC,

    You are right on point. Your views are shared by many. Thanks!

  14. #14

    @SE4ME-I UNDERSTOOD lmao COMMENT TO MEAN THAT FOR A PERSON WHO IS NOT INTERESTED IN REPRODUCING OR RAISING A CHILD HOW WOULD THAT PERSON KNOW WHAT IS BEST FOR A CHILD OR BETTER YET WHY WOULD SAID PERSON CARE WHEN THEY DON'T CARE ABOUT CHILDREN ENOUGH TO HAVE THEM IN THEIR LIFE?

  15. #15

    And this is the point where you all lose credibility with the majority of people and enter your own echo-chamber.
    Hope it at least has a mini-fridge and basic cable.

  16. #16

    Did Catania issue some public statement proclaiming that he doesn't want kids?

    There are teachers who have no kids of their own. Should they be fired? No gay teachers and principals? Since based on your response that is what you would have to believe.

    There is no such immutable characteristic that makes "parents" more capable of formulating education policy than non parents.

    Oprah is childless but u might want to ask the hundreds of Morehouse men who graduated on her dime whether her not being a parent marred their matriculation.

  17. #17

    You put that better than I ever could have.

  18. #18

    LET ME EDJUMICATE BOTH OF YOOSE LOW QUALITY DUM-DUMS.

    @DOWNTOWN-PUT THE GLASS OF VINO DOWN AND WALK AWAY FROM THE BOTTLE. DON'T GET ALL PUNK ASS ON ME! A GAY PARENT IS A "PARENT" SO THAT DOESN'T APPLY TO THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE INVOLVED AND HAVE A INTEREST BEYOND SCORING POLITICAL POINTS OR SOME OTHER SLICK ASS MOTIVE.

    I BET YOU A DOLLAR GAYTANIA IS WELL VERSED ON WHAT EVER TYPE OF DOG HE HAS BECAUSE THAT DOG IS IN HIS EVERYDAY LIFE. READING UP ON DIFFERENT COUNTRIES WAY OF EDUCATING IS COOL BUT HOW WILL THAT TRANSLATE HERE? THIS BAMMA SEEMS LIKE HE IS CRAMMING FOR AN EXAM OR SOME SHIT. THE MERE FACT THAT HE CAN'T COMMUNICATE WITH SOME SORT OF FILTER WITH HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS SHOULD LET YOU BAMMAS KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS.

    @SE4ME-THAT'S NOT THE POINT!

    THE POINT IS HIS DICTATORIAL STYLE IS INDICATIVE OF MY OBSERVATION. WHEN YOU AS AN RESPONSIBLE ADULT ARE INVOLVED WITH CHILDREN YOU WILL UNDERSTAND QUICKLY THE ART OF COMPROMISE WITH CONSEQUENCES AND REPERCUSSIONS.

    SE4ME DON'T BE A DOPE! CHILDLESS TEACHERS ARE INVOLVED IN CHILDREN'S LIVES. OPRAH IS INVOLVED IN CHILDREN'S LIVES BECAUSE SHE CHOSE TO BE IN THEIR LIVES AND SHE IS NOT SHAPING POLICY.

    "There is no such immutable characteristic that makes "parents" more capable of formulating education policy than non parents." DUMBASS EVEN GAYTANIA SAID THAT PARENT INVOLVEMENT IS DEFICIENT. EVER HEARD OF THE P.T.A.? EVER BEEN TO A MEETING? THE 'P' STANDS FOR PARENT NOT PEOPLE.

    I NEVER UNDERSTOOD HOW PEOPLE COULD BE SO SMART BUT YET BE SO FUCKING DUMB.

  19. #19

    It happens all the time on this blog, #8.

    BTW: I like that new handle. Who was it Truth Hurts that noticed I'm on my own out here now without the rest of the m/w gang who grew up and found another blog to haunt and maybe also find other people with whom they love to disagree? Thanks, but don't expect agreement with your politics.

  20. #20

    One way for a person with no kids to know what a child is going through when he/she is being educated is to remember what it was like to be educated as a child. Duh.

    But I understand your point. Still, I don't think it is necessarily a disqualifying factor.

    There are two factors for a kid staying in school. Sure, likeability is one, but so is internal motivation to stay with it through bad classes. That is life, and you gotta learn to persist and simply LEARN THE MATERIAL at some point. It may not be in 2nd grade, but it should be there by the eighth. Granted, if school has been abysmal up to the 8th grade, the chances of persistence happening fall dramatically.

    Now, I would like to refer back to the Diane Rehm show last week with the educator. That is the first and last word on education and everyone should listen to it! The guest says that unless you increase the PRESTIGE of teaching, it's likely education will not improve in the US. The guest also says that in countries with the best ed systems, more money does go to poorer schools. Here, less funds go to poorer schools. So Catania is on the right track and this article did a bad job breaking the issues down. It focused on zap and zazz and flash and drama and strife over in depth breaking down. But that's citypaper for ya.

    And hey - I'm certainly no fan of David Catania's.

    CP, can you re write this? More substance, less personality please.

  21. #21

    His dictatorial style and lack of time in a classroom might not make him the best person to push education reform but that is quite different than being gay as a roadblock to sufficient academic knowledge about it. That is what the dude up top suggested and what you initially you agreed with.

    Parental involvement is deficient yet ya boy here questions whether gay people would be less effective educators. IMO..tthat's about dumb as you can get.

  22. #22

    @AARON-I AM NOT A PROPONENT OF THROWING MORE MONEY AT EDUCATION. WHEN YOU DO YOU EXPECT MORE BECAUSE OF THE VALUE YOU PUT ON EDUCATION FROM THE DOLLARS YOU THREW AT IT. THERE ARE ENOUGH MATERIAL THINGS INVOLVED I.E. COMPUTERS, NEW & UPGRADED FACILITIES.

    WE NEED TO THROW MORE PEOPLE AT IT. WE NEED MORE HEART. WE NEED MORE PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT CHILDREN AND THEIR LIVES AS OPPOSED TO SOME APPOINTMENT (EDUCATION COMMITTEE)TO FURTHER ONES AGENDA.

    I DO AGREE THAT THE TEACHING PROFESSION ON ALL LEVELS SHOULD BE ELEVATED. THAT IS WHY I DETEST MICHELLE RHEE! YOU DON'T THROW THE BABY OUT WITH THE BATH WATER. THE GETTING RID OF ALL THOSE TEACHERS WITHOUT PROVIDING THEM FIRST WITH THE LEADERSHIP NECESSARY WAS BORDERLINE CRIMINAL.

    @SE4ME-SLIM WITHOUT GETTING INTO THE MINUTAE OF GAY V. HOMOSEXUALITY ONE CAN ARGUE lmao POINT IS VALID. BY NOT HAVING ANY CHILDREN IN YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE HOW CAN YOU IDENTIFY WITH THEM? ESPECIALLY AS IT APPLIES TO EDUCATION WHICH IS FOREVER EVOLVING. YOU HAVE TO BE ABLE TO IDENTIFY INSIDE OUT NOT OUTSIDE IN. THAT IS WHAT I WOULD AGREE WITH!

    LOOKY HERE READING UP ON HOW TO EDUCATE(WHICH IS SOMEONE ELSE'S VIEW)WILL NOT PROVIDE ONE WITH THE WHEREWITHALL TO BE ABLE SHAPE POLICY ON A MACRO LEVEL. YOU HAVE TO BE INVOLVED IN A CHILD'S LIFE ON SOME LEVEL TO BE ABLE TO COMMUNICATE WITH THEM IN ORDER TO KNOW HOW TO CREATE NEW AND FRESH IDEAS TO GET THEM TO LEARN. GAYTANIA AND HIS LOW QUALITY REMARK SHOWS HE DOESN'T HAVE A FUCKING CLUE!

  23. #23

    I feel so strongly about that program last week (Diane Rehm) that I nearly don't even want to talk about education to anyone who hasn't heard it. Seriously, it impacted me that much. Just listen to it. Computers - eh. The guest said that she didn't find that a wired classroom made that much of a difference. Really, seriously - listen to that show. It was great and covered the bases. Yes, poor schools should get more than schools located in high income areas. That does not mean you are throwing money at the problem. It translates into sending BETTER TEACHERS to schools in poor neighborhoods.

    That is NOT the same as throwing money at the problem.

    Diane.
    Rehm.
    Last week.

    Listen.

  24. #24

    @NOODLEZ - We need to throw more money at it? Perhaps not throw more money at it, but rather reallocate the money that is already there. Anyone in DCPS will tell that one of Rhee's, and now Henderson's, lasting legacies is a ridiculously bloated central administration. Everyone is running around with a big title and an even bigger salary - yet no one knows who does what or who is accountable to whom. Absolutely wasted money! Fire those fools and reallocate that money to the schools. Get rid of the Teach for America bozos and get experienced, dedicated, career educators for DC's poorest schools. It's no mistake that "good" schools West of Park have far fewer of these pseudo "teachers" and far more experienced career educators. Yet TFA puppets are foisted on poor students in low income areas. Yes, career teachers will cost more, but it's worth every dime. I'm not a fan of Catania, but I would love someone with the balls to throw the reformers and TFA out of DC and put money where it belongs, on experienced, dedicated teachers in DC's poorest schools.

  25. #25

    The DCPS administration is small now than prior to Rhee's start. Rhee cut massive numbers and Henderson has not regrown it to pre-Rhee levels.

  26. #26

    Lets be clear, of course a teacher that has been properly trained and educated can be a good and effective teacher whether they have kids or not.

    But in Catania case he has not been trained to teach or has received an education degree. He has a law degree and has worked for MC Dean, rigging contacts with DC. How does that qualify him to "improve" education in DC? In short, it does NOT!

    So listening to him calling schools "low quality" and all of his other rhetoric is complete waste of time. He will never have work there or send his children there. So being an "ivory tower" A-hole is right up his alley. He does not know "shit from Shinola" when it comes to educating or raising children!!

    For Real!

  27. #27

    There's something really sinister about a white gay man believing that he's better able to direct an educational system predominately populated by black students.

    NOW, THAT'S REAL!

  28. #28

    LOOK ALL I KNOW IS 50 YEARS FROM NOW GAYTANIA,HIS DOG AND HIS POLICIES, DERIVED FROM READING UP ON OTHER SCHOOL SYSTEMS IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD, WILL BE DEAD AS A MUTHA & THE ONLY THING THAT WILL BE STILL AROUND ARE THE STUDENTS WHO NEVER BELIEVED FOR ONE MINUTE THAT THEIR SCHOOLS WERE OF LOW QUALITY!

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