Monday, January 30, 2006

I forgot to post photos from the recent White House holiday party. Here are my mom and I at the White House party. Enjoy!

A great day in history. Take a look at the below article in today's Washington Post.

Grounds For Serious ReflectionAs African American Museum Site Is Weighed, The Mall Looms Large
By Jacqueline TrescottWashington Post Staff WriterMonday, January 30, 2006; C01

In 1863, Philip Reid, a slave, finished supervising the bronze casting of the statue "Freedom" for the U.S. Capitol. When it was hoisted atop the dome, a 35-gun salute rattled across Capitol Hill.

A hundred years later on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. declared that black citizens should be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Hundreds of thousands cheered.

The vast ribbon of grass between the majestic Lincoln and the marble Capitol has been a public stage for all Americans, but African American history especially has played out on and around the Mall in scenes that are symbolic, salutary and shameful.

Everywhere on the Mall are echoes of marching feet, slaves' cries, market peddlers' calls, children's laughter and the singing of black men at the Million Man March.

But there never has been a place there to commemorate the African American story. Today, more than 42 years after King's triumphant moment, that history is expected to find a home. The Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution is scheduled to meet this morning to select a site for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Of the four spots under consideration, two are on the Mall and two are nearby.

Some groups argue that the Mall is too crowded. But others -- including President Bush and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) -- argue that the museum needs to be on the Mall because the place is so central to African American history and because it is impossible to understand American history without understanding the African American experience.

"In the 20th century, the Mall became a magnet for political expression not only for its accommodating space but also the symbolic -- and in the television age -- photogenic backdrop of the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial," says Lonnie G. Bunch, director of the African American museum. "Almost every story you want to tell crosses the Mall, all protests from the right to the left. For African Americans, there's no greater symbol than being in view of the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial and the White House. It reminds people of America's promise. Not only am I protesting, but I am using your symbols of power as a way to mirror and remind us of what America doesn't do."A Cloaked Past

Some of this history is burned into public consciousness, such as the grand Marian Anderson singing "My country, 'tis of thee" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 after the Daughters of the American Revolution shut their doors to her at Constitution Hall. But much of it is hidden.

Few tourists hear of the pens where slaves were kept on the Capitol grounds or learn about Benjamin Banneker, a self-taught astronomer and mathematician working with Pierre L'Enfant, who designed the city of Washington in 1791.

"The country has always been reluctant to come to grips with the slave part of its history. Washington, more than any other city, has that contradiction," says journalist Charles Cobb, who is writing a tour guide to national civil rights landmarks. "People look at the South with the cotton plantations and sugar plantations and say, yes, slavery.

"But the idea of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison as slaveholders is a much more difficult idea. You don't sit in Lafayette Square and think about the slave auction block."

The slave trade was legal in the District until 1850. According to the late historian Frederic Bancroft, Washington merchants conducted a brisk slave trade that, "although far from being the largest, was the most notorious." The city provided slave buyers and purchasers a good location, between two slaveholding states, Maryland and Virginia, and on a major waterway.
Slave labor helped build the city, including the White House. Records show dozens of slaves worked on the Capitol, and slaves worked at the Aquia Creek quarry in Stafford County, Va., cutting sandstone that was used in the Capitol and the Treasury Building. One account says these slaves generally were given a blanket and some clothing. In most cases, the master retained the money earned through these labors, but some slaves were paid under the table.

To house the slaves, the federal government let owners keep them in local jails for 34 cents a day. Slave owners also used a system of privately owned jails called "Georgia pens."
Along Seventh Street, which cut through the heart of the Mall, the slave trade flourished. Slaves frequently were sold in front of Lloyd's Tavern on the southeast corner of Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, and at the nearby Isaac Beer's Tavern on Seventh. The pen and tavern of Washington Robey stood at Seventh Street SW, between B Street and Maryland Avenue. The private jail of William H. Williams stood across the street in a yellow brick house.
"The slaves didn't stay at the Willard Hotel. They were locked up in these jails at night," says John Whittington Franklin, a program manager at the African American museum office. (His father is the noted historian John Hope Franklin.)

From 1802 to 1931, the huge Center Market at the corner of Seventh Street and Constitution Avenue NW -- where the National Archives now stands -- was where slaves and freed blacks could sell products outside the building. Some beat the odds: Alethia Browning Tanner, a vegetable vendor near the Capitol, saved enough money to buy her own freedom and that of several family members, part of the beginnings of a black middle class.

Tensions between the races were very evident, especially when the immigrant white population and freed blacks vied for jobs.

In 1835 a race riot occurred, beginning at the Epicurean Eating Grill on the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue at Sixth Street NW. Beverly Snow, the owner of the restaurant and a free black, allegedly made remarks about the wives and daughters of men working at the Navy Yard. Whites trashed the restaurant, but Snow escaped. The rioters also destroyed black churches, schools and houses.Giving the Mall Meaning

In his 1791 plan, L'Enfant established the positions of the Capitol and the White House and showed an expanse that generally went from Third Street to 14th Street. He envisioned a 400-foot-wide savanna, lined with trees and important buildings, but the Mall initially evolved into a disorganized range.

Work sheds and shacks stood behind the Smithsonian Castle, which was completed in 1855. During the Civil War, the Mall was used for military drilling and to hold grazing pens for bison. The stench of sewage and slaughtered animals from the Washington Canal (covered today by Constitution Avenue) was so bad that President Abraham Lincoln established a summer retreat up North Capitol Street to get fresher air.

Railroad tracks were set down across the south side of the Mall in the 1870s, connected to a depot where the National Gallery of Art now stands. An African American neighborhood sprang up on land where the National Museum of the American Indian stands. Blacks lived in houses facing the Mall and along nearby alleys. All of the structures on that land were razed in the 1930s.

Things began to change in 1901 when Sen. James McMillan of Michigan formed a commission of distinguished planners to bring order to the Mall. The group extended its boundaries over existing waterways to the edge of the Potomac River and filled in the swampy land that would support the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.

The grand buildings of today's vista started to arrive at the turn of the 20th century. By the 1930s, much of the land had been cleared of trees and leveled. When temporary office buildings built during World War II were finally removed in the early 1970s, the area looked much like it does today.

Most chronicles of black Washington detail the night life on U Street, the intellectual oasis of Howard University and the sports events at old Griffith Stadium. What is often overlooked is that black life did exist beyond segregated areas, and the Mall was often a respite from those restrictions.

"The Mall was a green space where you could go and have picnics and just sit out and enjoy the weather. Black residents, even in the context of segregation, were claiming the city," says Marya Annette McQuirter, a historian who has written about leisure and the development of black communities.

But even recreation wasn't always pleasant. Instead of opening the Tidal Basin to all swimmers, Congress closed the beach in the 1920s.
There were other troubling moments.

In 1922 the Lincoln Memorial, later a symbol of unity, was dedicated. The tribute to the man who had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves, was given one of the most prominent locations on the Mall. But the celebration was marred when black participants were roped off in a separate section. Even Robert R. Moton, the president of Tuskegee University, one of the guest speakers, was kept separate from the white crowd.
"He was relegated, along with other distinguished colored people, to an all-Negro section separated by a road from the rest of the audience; and the language of the ill-tempered Marine who herded the 'niggers' into their seats caused well-bred colored people as much indignation as the segregated seating itself," wrote Constance McLaughlin Green in her landmark book, "The Secret City: A History of Race Relations in the Nation's Capital."
Three years later, on Aug. 8, 1925, blacks stood at the corner of Seventh and Pennsylvania NW to watch a Ku Klux Klan march.

But the notion of the Mall as a special place for blacks took root. The following year, on Aug. 6, members of the A.M.E. Zion Church -- 2,000 strong -- stood at the west end of the Mall, holding what many describe as the first civil rights rally. From that time, the Mall and marches became intertwined.

By the next decade, the uses of the Mall became more defined for organizers. "With the building of the Lincoln Memorial, blacks and everyone else began to be focused on the Mall. In the 1930s, when the Mall was cleared, it became more of a national space," says Lucy Barber, a historian at the National Archives. Veterans of World War I, including blacks, camped out on the Capitol grounds and marched down Pennsylvania Avenue demanding back pay during the Bonus Army March in 1932. Their shantytowns were burned by the U.S. Army.

At Anderson's concert in 1939, 75,000 people -- black and white -- showed up dressed in their Sunday best to hear the African American singer. "This was a concert, but it was an early interracial protest against discrimination, and that discrimination was symbolized by the DAR," says Bunch, the museum director.

A. Philip Randolph, the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was one of the first black leaders to understand that the Mall's location and a powerful message could help break down segregation. His union was a powerful organizing force in the black community, and in 1941 he planned a march to demand the government stop employment discrimination.

"The organizers were savvy about how they imagined they could use the Capitol and assemble at the Lincoln Memorial," Barber said. "In a way, African Americans played a crucial role in seeing the Mall's potential and taking a space in the center of the city and making it a place for protest. The 1941 plan was an act of political imagination."

The Randolph march was canceled in June 1941 after President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered an end to discrimination in federal agencies and at defense plants, but the blueprint for a mass rally on the Mall was set. In 1947, a prayer session, as part of an NAACP convention, was held at the Lincoln Memorial, with President Harry S. Truman participating. Ten years later, Randolph organized a prayer pilgrimage, attended by 20,000 people and featuring an address by King.

The 1963 march, capped by King's "I Have a Dream" speech, sealed the Mall's identity as a nexus of political protest.

In the aftermath of King's death, his followers tried to carry on one of his goals -- to mount a Poor People's Campaign on 15 acres in West Potomac Park, southeast of the Lincoln Memorial. In May and June 1968, thousands erected a "Resurrection City" of temporary houses, struggling through the mud and rain to proclaim the need for economic equality. The "city" was dismantled after six weeks, its leaders taking credit for some minor concessions.

The Mall became a destination for other rallies and protests, including the Vietnam War Moratoriums in 1969 and 1971, annual gatherings of advocates for and against legalized abortion, and the 1987 display of the massive quilt made in memory of those who had died from AIDS.

From 1971 to 1975, a musical event called Human Kindness Day was organized to mark racial solidarity. Held near the Washington Monument, Kindness Day attracted 200,000 in 1975, but violence on that day led to its cancellation.

On the 20th anniversary of the 1963 march, about 750,000 people came to the Mall to mark that event and complain that a King holiday was long overdue. Legislation creating the holiday was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan later that year. Now, carved into the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where King stood in 1963 are words commemorating that first March on Washington. Also, a parcel of land near the Mall has been promised for an official King memorial.
And in 1995, a huge television audience saw hundreds of thousands participate in the Million Man March.

The Mall continues to be a place of festivals, concerts and Fourth of July fireworks. But today, in large part because of the civil rights movement, it has become a symbol of free debate, serving as a national megaphone.

"Even people who are critical of America chose the Mall to say we are Americans, too," Bunch

The question now is whether the Smithsonian will make room on the 21st-century Mall for a museum that would unavoidably have to tell the history, hidden and celebrated, of the Mall's 19th and 20th centuries.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Great article!

Help Find the Super High Schools
By Jay MathewsWashington Post Staff WriterTuesday, January 24, 2006; 12:00 PM

During the eight years I have been identifying the most challenging public high schools for The Washington Post and Newsweek magazine, readers have asked one question far more than any other. Why, they say, isn't my school, one of the most selective public magnet high schools in the country, on the list?

My answer has been that although public schools that admit only students with the best grades and test scores, such as Thomas Jefferson in Fairfax County, Virginia, or Stuyvesant in New York City or the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, Ill., or Lowell in San Francisco, are terrific, they are too good for my list.

I designed the Challenge Index, which ranks schools by student participation in college level tests, to show which schools had learned the lesson taught me by some of the nation's best Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate teachers. They let me watch their classes in action and persuaded me that even average kids can handle college-level courses and tests and should be encouraged to do so.

If your school has no, or very few, average students, then there is no way for it to demonstrate how open it would be to letting them take AP or IB courses and tests. Those three- to five-hour exams written and graded by outside experts, if done well, correlate with higher college graduation rates, no matter if you were an A student in high school or not. But most American high schools discourage average students from even attempting to take these courses and tests, and it is that reluctance to challenge students that I wished to explore with the list.

Few of the students, teachers or parents associated with the most selective public high schools seem very satisfied with my answer. They often say something like: But doesn't our school deserve some attention too, since you admit it is so good?

They are, of course, right about that. So with your help I am going to attempt to give them the attention they deserve, and at the same time improve the way I have been deciding which magnet schools should be kept off the Challenge Index list.

The Washington Post has set up a new e-mail address,, for me to receive data and insights you have on this issue. It took me weeks to get through the overload of e-mails after the most recent Newsweek and Washington Post Challenge Index lists, so I thought a separate mailbox was in order. I welcome your input, particularly if you have first-hand information to impart.

I am putting in this column my list of the most selective public high schools in the country. I discussed many of them in my 1998 book, "Class Struggle," which introduced the Challenge Index, but I suspect some new ones have opened since, and I would like to hear about them too.

In each case, I am in search of, from school officials or anyone who knows these schools well: the school's address, fax number, total enrollment, admissions criteria, average SAT and ACT scores for the class of 2005, number of AP or IB grades reported in 2005, number of June graduates in 2005, Equity and Excellence percentage for the class of 2005, percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunch and, most importantly, what you consider the school's strengths and weaknesses. I want to know what you most like about the school, and what you think it adds to public education in your area, and in the country.

So far I cannot think of any sensible way to rank such schools, but I will check the information you send me and try to produce a guide to these schools. I will try to contact magnet schools that do not respond to this appeal and offer them a chance to tell me about themselves.

Here is my current list of selective magnets. The asterisks denote the ones that have NOT been excluded from the Challenge Index list:

Academic Magnet, North Charleston, S.C.
Baltimore Polytechnic Institute
Banneker Academic, Washington, D.C. *
Benjamin Franklin, New Orleans
Boston Latin, Boston
Bronx High School of Science, New York
Brooklyn Technical, New York
City College, Baltimore*
City Honors, Buffalo
Center for Advanced Technologies, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Maggie L. Walker Governor's School for Government and International Studies, Richmond
Hume-Fogg Academic, Nashville
Hunter College, New York
Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, Aurora, Ill.
Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics and Humanities, Muncie, Ind.
Jefferson County International Baccalaureate, Irondale, Ala.*
Lincoln Park, Chicago*
Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts, Natchitoches, La.
Lowell, San Francisco
Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet, Nashville
McNair Academic, Jersey City, N.J.*
Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, Columbus, Miss.
North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Durham, N.C.
Oklahoma School of Science and Math, Oklahoma City, Okla.
Pine View, Osprey, Fla.
Science and Engineering Magnet, Dallas*
South Carolina Governor's School for Science and Math, Hartsville. S.C.
Staten Island Technical, New York
Stuyvesant, New York
Suncoast Community, Riviera Beach, Fla.
Talented and Gifted Magnet, Dallas
Texas Academy of Math and Science, Denton, Tex.
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Fairfax County, Va.
Troy, Fullerton, Calif.*
University, Tucson
Walnut Hills, Cincinnati
Whitney, Cerritos, Calif.
Whitney M. Young Magnet, Chicago

The Newsweek editors and I decided to put some of these schools on the Challenge Index list because they did not appear to violate our rule of admitting no more than half of their students based on competitive grades and test scores. Yet this turned out to be, at least to my mind, a very subjective standard, and I have been looking for a clearer and fairer way to decide which schools have too few average students.

Here is my latest idea, for which I also need your help. I cringe at the idea of rating high schools by their average SAT and ACT scores. Those test results correlate closely with family income, and measure not how good the school is but how good the students are because they have affluent families that have exposed them to books and conversation and the arts and other academic advantages. But in deciding which magnet schools to allow on the Challenge Index list,

I think SAT and ACT averages might be useful.

Any public high school that has no more than half of its students selected by grades and test scores and has at least as many AP or IB tests as it has graduating seniors is placed the Newsweek list of the nation's most challenging schools. Those schools, I think, have enough average students to merit inclusion. But some of them, I have discovered, are in such affluent areas that their average SAT or ACT scores are higher than those of some of the magnet schools
I have kept off the list for being too selective.

Thomas Jefferson is the only public high school I have kept off The Washington Post's local Challenge Index list, and I don't think there is a school in the country, magnet or not, that matches its intimidating average SAT score of 1480. But another magnet school, Banneker in the District, I put on the list because its average SAT score was only 1076, lower than the SAT averages of several non-magnet schools in the Washington suburbs. Lowell in San Francisco, whose alumni have been among the most persistent in questioning its absence from the list, was reported to have an SAT average of 1236 in one Internet posting. That is very good, but below that of at least a few non-magnet schools on the list.

The new rule I am thinking of proposing to my editors at Newsweek is to add to the list any previously excluded magnet schools whose average SAT or ACT scores are no higher than the highest SAT or ACT average for any non-magnet public school in the country. The ACT said its highest average for a non-magnet school with significant numbers of ACT test takers is 26.8 out of 36 points, the rough equivalent of 1200 out of 1600 on the SAT in 2005, the last year before the SAT switched to its new three part test with a top score of 2400.
Getting the top non-magnet school average for the SAT, however, is not going to be so easy. The ACT people said they could honor their agreement not to share individual school data by not telling me which school had that 26.8 average. (I have since found a school, New Trier in Winnetka, Ill., which has that exact ACT average.) But the College Board, which owns the SAT, declined to tell me what their highest non-magnet school average was, much less name the school.

I have begun my own search for the highest regular school SAT in America. I invite you to join me. So far, the highest I have found is 1283, at Saratoga High School in Saratoga, Calif., Steven Spielberg's alma mater. I have visited this fine public school in the heart of Silicon Valley. It has many affluent and education-oriented families, and its high average is not entirely unexpected. The second highest average I have found so far is 1275 at Scarsdale High School in Westchester County, N.Y., where I once lived. It claims Aaron Sorkin, creator of "The West Wing" on NBC, among its famous graduates, and it is sort of like Saratoga, but with snow and lots of Yankee fans.

So far I haven't found many other normal enrollment high schools that come very close to those two. The highest non-magnet school average in the Washington area is 1267, at Whitman High School in Bethesda, part of the Montgomery County school system. Most of the other schools I have looked at around the country are in the low 1200s. (The ranks of the schools just mentioned on the national Challenge Index list are Whitman 108, Saratoga 204, Scarsdale 210 and New Trier 295.)

If you are a school guidance head with the numbers at your finger tips, or find an SAT or ACT report on your local high school's Web site, send any average scores for the class of 2005 that are at least 1250 on the SAT or 28 on the ACT to I will check out what you send me, and try to sort out the status of our nation's most selective public schools, and our highest SAT or ACT scorers, in a future column.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Upcoming event at AEI. Anyone that knows me or has spoken to me understands my commitment and passion for urban issues. The challenge of our nation's public schools is foremost in my heart and political activism. Check out this upcoming event!

Tough Love for Schools:
Essays on Competition, Accountability, and Excellence

Tuesday, January 31, 2006, 9:30–11:00 a.m.
Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, AEI
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036

In K-12 education, it’s difficult to find stakeholders who will declare that poor schools should be closed and ineffective teachers should be fired; that teaching experience is not essential to being a school principal; that schools should be more cost-efficient; or that profit-driven competition might be good for public education. These are the kinds of unconventional ideas that Frederick M. Hess puts forth in his new book, Tough Love for Schools: Essays on Competition, Accountability, and Excellence (AEI Press, January 2006). This volume rejects the notion that loving schools means apologizing for them and argues that “tough love” requires demanding more, not less, of the people and institutions we cherish.

Please join author Frederick Hess as he explores the practical and political challenges of accountability, competition, excellence, and the public good. Joining him in the discussion will be panelists James Donnelly, winner of the 2004 National Principal of the Year award; Jason Kamras, winner of the 2005–2006 National Teacher of the Year award; and Joe Williams, author of Cheating Our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education (Palgrave MacMillan, 2005).

9:15 a.m.
Registration and Breakfast

Presentation: FREDERICK M. HESS, AEI

Discussants: JAMES DONNELLY, 2004 National Principal of the Year
JASON KAMRAS, 2005–2006 National Teacher of the Year
JOE WILLIAMS, author of Cheating Our Kids



Please register online at

Shortly after the event occurs, a video webcast will be available on the AEI website at

For more information, please contact Morgan Goatley at 202.828.6031 or
For media inquiries, please contact Veronique Rodman at

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Kids driven to kill by song?

Popular Song Being Blamed For Teen's Death
Experts: Song Incites Potentially Dangerous Actions
A popular song among teens is being blamed for the recent death of a high school football player.
The song is titled "Knuck If You Buck." It was recorded by a group of Atlanta high school kids who call themselves "Crime Mob."
Most kids just dance to the song, but some claim that others sometimes react to it.
Baron Braswell II was stabbed to death at a teen hotel party in Spotsylvania County. Witnesses said that when the song began playing, the trouble started.
Some young people said what happened at the hotel is not uncommon when the song "Knuck If You Buck" is played.
"Yeah, they get violent. Something breaks out and somebody gets stabbed, shot, something," said a teen who wanted to remain anonymous.
For many, "knuck if you buck" means punch or swing as hard as you can.
Lisa Fager is with a think tank called Industry Ears that follows the music industry.
"When you take that and put it on young people who don't have the skills sometimes of determining what is reality and what is not, you're going to get this type of reaction," said Fager. "It hypes you up, certain music, so this particular song that you're talking about, it gets you all excited. Even in the song lyrics it talks about swinging on people and people get overly excited. And, the song talks about beating and stomping people. So, what do you expect?"
The following is a sample of the lyrics:
"Yeah we knuckin' and buckin' and ready to fight..I betcha I'm a throw dem thangs...So haters best to think twiceSee me I ain't nothin' niceAnd crime mob, it ain't no stoppin'They be like Saddam, Hitler and Osama Bin Laden."
Experts said although, "Knuck If You Buck" is just another song, sometimes it's more than just music.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Forgive me for being away for so long! I took some time off to try and start my business and get it off the ground. I have worked long hours, talked to thousands of people, and made lots of phone calls! Even though I have been working 14 hour days on average for the past eighteen months. I have to admit -- I love being a business owner!