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Chris Shott’s “2004: The Year D.C. History Died” (12/24/04) answered a rhetorical question I posted to at least one D.C.-oriented Web site: Why didn’t the City Museum planners have a business plan? Now I know; they did.
Shott writes that the planners hired PFK Consulting, which “estimated” that the museum would have “approximately 450,000 annual visitors.” Now, wouldn’t an “approximate” or ballpark estimate (oops!) be more like “approximately a half million”? “Approximately 450,000” is an “approximation” a bit specific, presumably intended to suggest a study based on data from usually reliable indicators—what one expects in a well-researched business plan.
It sounds a lot like former D.C. School Superintendent Paul L. Vance’s much-touted Business Plan for Strategic Reform (http://www.k12.dc.us/dcps/frontpagepdfs/BusinessPlan-rev%2041403.pdf), draft posted in 2001, revised with minimal changes in 2003. The plan rosily projected a 25 percent rise in the graduation rate and in the number of seniors taking the SAT—along with other dramatic improvements, in reading and mathematics. Since increases in the number of test-takers usually come from lower-achieving groups of students who traditionally applied to colleges that did not require the SAT, their typically lower scores lower systemwide averages. Like the forecasters of “projected” numbers of annual visitors to the City Museum, the perpetrators of the school-system business plan didn’t let such discordant details blur their vision. The plan cheerily projected a rise in the combined annual SAT score average from 822 in 2001 (in 2003 it was 800) to a “five-year expectation” of 1,000 and a “five-year aspiration” of 1,100. Of course, that 200- to 300-point projected rise was linked to no proven academic reforms; rather, it was tied to the usual “we mean business” platitudes (“set high expectations”; “take decisive action when accountable people do not deliver”).
This is all contradicted right on the D.C. Public Schools Web site. The Fall 2003 Facilities Master Plan Update (http://www.k12.dc.us/dcps/OFM/masterplan/Chapter%202.pdf) analyzes the impact of recent student enrollment trends on school-building capacities and projects future trends. Because it’s dealing with the cost and actual use of capital assets on city finances, it could be termed “the real business plan.” It projects a sobering five-year enrollment decline—and equivalent charter-school increase of roughly 6,000 students—not what one expects of such historic SAT increases. Did Board of Education members read these two documents?
In like manner, did any of the Historical Society’s trustees critically examine the source and rationale behind those almost half-million expected visitors?
David Plotz’s criticism of the journal Washington History (“L’Enfant Terrible,” 12/24/04) was ill-tempered and inaccurate. In fact, its articles reflect the real Washington: the national city, which also has neighborhoods where people live. The spring/summer 2004 issue is devoted to topics by no means localist: Walter Washington; Uline Arena (where I first saw James Brown!); the president’s house; the retrocession debate; book reviews of Brown v. Board of
Education, Marching on Washington, and The Lincoln Memorial and American Life (not “…Southwest D.C. Life”!); “Washington in Maps, 1606–2000”; and, yes, one neighborhood piece: “Woodley Park.”
The thoroughly researched monograph “Retrocession Debates, 1801–2004,” by Mark David Richards, meets Plotz’s requirement for an event that “reshaped the landscape of Washington.” And he’ll see that it was part of “the great historical event” (his second requirement) that we know as the intensifying debate over slavery, which would soon end in the Civil War. That “reshaped” “ten miles square” geographical anomaly had led many to ask, “How did that happen?”—a question that is now answered. When you read the piece, you’ll discover another piece of the jigsaw puzzle called American history.