TODAY IS JULY 11, 2011 — DAY 189 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

PREVIOUSLY — D.C. Council set to narrow smoking-ban exemptionWhere you can open a gun store in the District

The test scores are in: For the D.C. Public Schools, they’re not great, but not terrible, either. The Post’s Bill Turque has the top-line findings: “Elementary test scores in the D.C. public schools remained essentially flat this year after falling in 2010 .... raising fresh questions about the pace and direction of a four-year campaign to lift achievement in the long-troubled school system.” Charter schools did better, “register[ing] modest but notable gains in reading and math.” For DCPS, “officials conceded that they have effectively hit a wall in elementary reading, with pass rates flat after declining the previous year.” Chancellor Kaya Henderson gave Bill a “sobering analysis” in an interview: “She said preliminary figures show the achievement gap separating black and white elementary school students widened slightly this year, while it narrowed by a small increment at the secondary level. She acknowledged that at the current rate of growth, it would take about 20 years for all of the city’s public students to reach proficiency in reading and math. ... Henderson said the work of school reform over the next few years is unlikely to produce big headlines about dramatic surges in test scores. ... Instead, she said, the next phase will involve ‘hard, non-sexy work’ such as engaging parents, using technology more effectively and developing a new curriculum to guide teachers and refine professional development.” The scores come against the backdrop on an ongoing cheating investigation, but without the school-level data set to be distributed later in the summer, not many conclusions can be drawn. More on that below.

AFTER THE JUMP — Gray wants IG to hasten cheating probe — Post editorial gives Gray thumbs up on education — meet Irv Nathan, mild-mannered attorney general — Neil Stanley disapproved by council panel — need some Council challengers — Thomas stands up for strip clubs

*** MAIN COURSE ***

ROOTING OUT CHEATERS — On Friday, Gray said he would ask Inspector General Charles Willoughby to speed up his cheating probe: “I didn’t know we only had one staff person assigned to this. ... I’ll be happy to talk to Mr. Willoughby and say, ‘I wish you would assign more staff. I wish you would get this over with quickly, so that the parents and the educators and the others in the city who are concerned about this will be able to have any lingering questions answered.’” Jay Mathews expresses incredulity at the “utter fecklessness and lethargy” of the probe. And Examiner’s Lisa Gartner confirms a DCPS teacher was fired this year for “testing impropriety.”

KEEPING THE FAITH — Saturday Post editorial: “Clearly, there is much to celebrate. But the test results also show how much remains to be accomplished. ... An omen of continued school improvement is the commitment shown by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who was able to see past his differences with [Michelle Rhee] in picking her top deputy to lead the schools. Not only has Mr. Gray given Ms. Henderson the fiscal resources, but also, to date, he’s given her the room and backing to make her own decisions. And, in welcome contrast to his predecessor, Mr. Gray has fully embraced the public charter schools, which serve 40 percent of D.C. students, as a crucial part of school reform, creating healthy competition and generating progress.”

MEET IRV — For Sunday’s Post, I profiled Attorney General Irvin Nathan , who is “for the first time in his distinguished career ... squarely in the rough-and-tumble of city politics.” More: “During the first five months of his tenure, Nathan kept a relatively low profile .... But on June 6, Nathan stepped front and center to unveil allegations that D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) diverted city money and charitable solicitations to groups he controlled, using the funds for a luxury sport-utility vehicle and golf trips. ... Never in city history has its top lawyer sued a sitting elected official. The probe, which had been launched by former attorney general Peter J. Nickles, has hastened an ongoing federal corruption investigation, and it has generated recognition and respect for Nathan in city political circles where he had been little known. And it has thrust him into a leading role dealing with the ethical challenges that have enveloped city government.”

HOW HE GOT THE JOB — “Nathan would not be in his position except for a particular set of circumstances: Last fall, he was out of a job. The House Democrats’ pounding in November’s elections meant he was likely to be replaced as the body’s top lawyer. Meanwhile, Gray, who had criticized Nickles for his close relationship with then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), was in search of a prestigious and fresh face. And Gray and Nathan had a mutual friend in Robert S. Bennett, the Hogan Lovells litigator best known for his representation of President Bill Clinton. After Gray won, Bennett called about the attorney general job. ‘I said, “You’re doing yourself and the city the favor if you talk to Irv Nathan,”’ Bennett said. Gray agreed to meet. The ‘clincher,’ he said, came during an interview with another candidate for the job, a former judge. ‘He said ... “Is it true that Irv Nathan is a candidate for this position?” I said yes,’ Gray recalled. “So the guy said, “If I were you, I’d hire him.”’ Nathan had never met Gray before the election, let alone supported his campaign. He declined to say whether he voted for him. ‘We have a system of secret ballots, and I’m going to keep that to myself,’ said Nathan, who lives in the voting precinct in which Gray received his second-lowest percentage in last year’s primary.”

NEIL NIXED — The Council’s Human Services Committee — well, two-fifths of it — voted Friday to disapprove Neil Stanley as Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services director. The circumstances were fishy, as Nikita Stewart notes in a Post story: “The action surprised aides in the Gray administration and aides to other council members. A vote had not been expected until Monday, at the earliest. Council members received an e-mail at 6:43 p.m. Thursday alerting them to the 3:30 p.m. meeting on Friday. Council rules require 24-hour notice. ‘Regardless, there’s been no objection to the process,’ [Jim Graham] said in an interview. Three of the committee members — Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) — were absent. ... Graham and council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) were the only committee members present. The committee would have lacked a quorum, but Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) sat in as an ex-officio member. Brown abstained from voting.” The vote sets up a decisive Tuesday vote at the Council’s pre-recess legislative meeting. For more on the background, including a new lawsuit filed against Stanley, see Tom Howell Jr.’s WaTimes story.

CHALLENGERS, PLEASE — In his Saturday Post column, Colby King runs through the six D.C. Council members up for re-election next year. Noting that the primary is now set for April, not September, he counsels potential challengers to make haste, lest a “seldom discussed, but serious, problem with D.C. politics” once again emerge: “dopey, unprofessional political campaigns waged by woefully unprepared candidates with no political strategy, no organization and no money. They crowd the ballot and absorb time and attention, thus giving better-known, well-funded incumbents an easy pass. ... These challengers tend to start late, have little detailed knowledge of the area they want to represent or the issues that voters really care about. They show up at forums ignorant of the incumbent’s legislative record, ties to campaign contributors or other areas of potential weakness. ... [I]f there are to be competitive challenges to the reelection bids of Barry, Brown, etc., now’s the time for potential candidates to start organizing and planning and conducting the research and fundraising necessary to get serious campaigns get up and running. You can bet that’s what the six incumbents are doing.”

THE TAXMAN COMETH — If you were one of the many D.C. homeowners who took a big tax deduction for a “facade easement” in the last few years, Uncle Sam might be looking for you, the Post’s Joe Stephens reports: “The federal government is aggressively trying to halt the abuse of an obscure tax break by examining the tax returns of hundreds of Washington area property owners and seeking the identities of hundreds more in an attempt to reclaim hundreds of millions of dollars. The Justice Department also is asking a federal judge to order a local historic preservationist to stop advising homeowners that they can claim huge tax deductions. The department is demanding the names and Social Security numbers of an estimated 800 property owners who used the tax break — known as a facade easement donation — on their homes.” Confused? “Under the donation system, property owners promise they will not change the outward appearance of their historic homes and office buildings without permission. They ‘donate; the promises — in the form of easements — to preservation organizations and deduct an amount estimated to represent the gifts’ cash value from their income taxes as a charitable contribution, just as though they had given an armful of old coats to a neighborhood thrift shop.” Most of the time, though, the practice is bogus.

IMPROVING IMPACT — Susan Headden of think tank Education Sector puts some suggestions for improving the IMPACT teacher evaluation system in a Post op-ed: “Give proven educators a break. ... [W]hen a highly effective teacher has proved herself time and again, being critiqued and ranked can sometimes serve only to make her feel demeaned, annoyed and mistrusted. After a certain point, observations of these proven teachers should become less frequent. ... Give teachers a say in the process. Most good evaluation systems ask employees to provide a written assessment of their own work, offering them a chance to remind supervisors of their accomplishments and of complications — back surgery, say — that might have kept them from doing their best. It seems only fair that teachers also have a chance to add context. ... Protect the ‘value’ in the value-added. ... The district needs a foolproof system — teachers replaced by independent proctors during testing, for starters — to ensure the integrity of the [standardized test] data. Without such assurances, because value-added is a relative measure, the honest teacher risks being compared to one who is fudging the numbers.”

'CFO TO CROUPIER’ — Nat Gandhi, writes Jonetta Rose Barras in her Examiner column, “has gone from chief financial officer to croupier.” This because he worked “in near secrecy” with Michael Brown on “controversial plan to implement Internet gambling in the District — despite his written analysis raising fiscal and legal questions about the proposal.” A May 25, 2010, memo from Gandhi noted that the city “needed to secure an amendment to the federal law banning gambling in the nation’s capital” in order to implement Internet poker and other games. A later fiscal impact statement was markedly different, including Internet gambling revenue, which significantly boosted the revenue. She also takes a whack at Brown for “deceptive maneuvers” on Internet gambling: “Brown waited until December [to introduce legislation], claiming it would help close a 2011 budget gap. But, in fact, the CFO had projected in December that in 2011 ‘marketing costs could exceed revenues to the Lottery Board.’ Neither Brown nor the CFO seemed to care.”

STANDING UP FOR STRIP CLUBS — Ivy City is going to battle against strip clubs in the D.C. Court of Appeals and the court of public opinion, Armando Trull reports at WAMU-FM. And Harry Thomas Jr. steps up to defend them: “[Thomas] has supported the applications of the clubs and says these upscale strip clubs can be good corporate neighbors. He also bristles at suggestions that his support is due to political contributions from some club owners. ‘Now they want to start a group called the Neighborhood Improvement Association and affect people’s lives where they don’t live as opposed to looking at the reality that we work with communities,’ he says. ‘This process has been going on and has been very community driven.’”

*** SMALL PLATES ***

More on D.C.-government-as-gun-dealer proposal (WRC-TV, WJLA-TV, Examiner)

MPD says gun laws haven’t affected street crime (WAMU-FM)

Marcus Ellis officially steps down as DCPS athletic director; Eliot-Hine Middle School principal could replace him (Post, Examiner)

Did DCPS “game the system” by revealing which standards would appear on DC-CAS? (Eye on Education)

Muriel Bowser, Vincent Orange only untainted council members who want to take over economic development committee? (Examiner)

Chinatown hangs on by a thread (Post)

Failure to meet federal sex offender mandate could cost city $250,000 (Examiner)

Sierra Club pressures Gray on power plant (Examiner)

More on Council’s proposed new standards for Pepco (TBD)

Gray administration ISO 855 board-and-commission appointees (Loose Lips)

D.C. officials proud of their federal scrutiny (WaTimes)

Triple shooting a setback for Ward 1’s Parkwood Place (Post)

Bryan Sivak reflects on his time as CTO (Post

GGWers debate: Above-ground or below-ground Dulles Metro station (GGW)

Look who’s in Sun Valley (Bloomberg)

Arrests in three cold cases from the ‘90s (Examiner)

Are the Guardian Angels really making a difference on the Metropolitan Branch Trail? (TBD)

Amount of Capitol parking a big secret (Housing Complex)

Inside Frank Smith’s African American Civil War Museum (Post gallery)

Yes, black women bike, too (Post)

Southeastern University might be dead, but the signs live on (Quick and the Ed)

“PRESS RELEASE: CM Barry Demands an Apology from Mayor Gary for Low Student Test Scores” (sic) (@mikedebonis)

*** ON THE MENU ***

Gray attends Chesapeake Bay Executive Council meeting, 11 a.m. at Maymont Foundation Nature Center, Richmond