Related: Civil & Human Rights, DC Public Schools, Education, Politics, Social Issues

Who Will Teach?


Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave a provocative address on the future of teacher education when he appeared at Columbia Teachers College on October 22.   Everyone involved in Trinity’s School of Education — all faculty and students here, our graduates and partners in the field, our colleagues who take continuing education courses — ALL should read Secretary Duncan’s speech and think about how Trinity should respond.   I encourage you to post your comments publicly to this blog, comment link below, or send me an email message with your thoughts if you don’t want to post publicly.

I agree with many of the points Secretary Duncan makes.   I especially agree with him on the point that improving public education is THE civil rights issue of our times.   The future strength of our society and vitality of our economic and social institutions depends on great teaching and learning, starting in the earlierst grades.   The ability of individuals to enjoy economic security and the rights and privileges of this democracy depends heavily on their educational attainment.  All of us who work in higher education need to accept a special responsibility to make excellence in teacher education a top instituitonal priority.   Arthur Levine, the former president of Columbia Teachers College, had an interesting column in the Washington Post about Duncan’s speech.

While agreeing with much that Secretary Duncan has to say, there are certain parts of the current political milieu for improving teacher education that we have to call out from beneath the rocks where serious dysfunctions are lurking — and threatening to wreck any efforts to reform the system.

For starters, teacher-bashing must stop immediately.   Sure, there are problem teachers — but when I hear a politician or corporate CEO bashing teachers (as I often do at the many educational convenings that are my occupational hazard) and then I reflect on the troubles that some politicians and corporate leaders have visited upon our society and economy, I have to call out that particular brand of hubris.  Just as there are great CEOs and some terrible, corrupt businesspeople (and media pundits and lawmakers and school system administrators), so, too there are great teachers and some bad ones — and the bad ones will not become great ones by bashing everyone else.    However, the great and good teachers will (and have) become demoralized and increasingly ineffective when the constant drumbeat is criticism and dismissal of their voices in the discussion of the challenges of educational reform.

Get rid of bad teachers, absolutely; but do not drive out the good ones by scorning all of them.   Do not discourage the rising generation of potential teachers by sending the message that if they choose this profession, criticism and disparagement will be their constant companions.   Who will teach if we keep sending these hopelessly negative messages?

As a corollary, stop dismissing as wholly irrelevant the pupil’s home environment.   I’ve heard so many educational “experts” dismiss as “excuses” legitimate and deeply serious problems that impede the ability of children to learn successfully.   “All research shows” is one of the most tired sentence openings in the educational reform playbook.   That phrase comes up in just about every official talk — high quality teachers will educate students regardless of the child’s environment, they say, but many experienced (and high quality) teachers would beg to differ.  We have all kinds of special care and concern for students with physical and intellectual and emotional disabilities — but if a child is abused or hungry or saw his mother beaten up the previous evening or watched his brother die in a hail of bullets, we are told, “No excuses!”

Excuse me.  Elegant educational reform plans created by educational elites need real world tempering and tailoring, as so many well-intentioned-but-naive urban school reform efforts have proven.   Those of us who have some modest real-world experience with the results of failed urban public schools are not puppets for the teachers unions when we say that the reform plan must also include action plans to counter at least some of the effects of poverty, racism, classism, violence, familial drug abuse, parental illiteracy, teen pregnancy and the hardcore generational skepticism of institutions that diminishes the lifetime ambitions of too many children and youth.    Too many children are raised in households where educational attainment is actively discouraged.   Too many girls (the mothers and principal parents of the next generations) are specifically and sometimes brutally prevented from pursuing their dreams of a college education — so they drop out before finishing high school.

Educational reform must include the education of parents.  This brings me to the situation in D.C.   More than 35% of the adults in D.C. are functionally illiterate — this in the capital of the free world, a city that also has the highest per capita rate of advanced degrees in the nation.   The adults who cannot read are the parents of the children in the public schools where the eyes of an entire nation are focused on the unfolding drama of educational reform.   In the boiling cauldron of argumentation over what works and what doesn’t, who’s at fault and who’s going to fix it, there seems to be no time and no forum for discussion of something as important and useful as upgrading adult education to address the adult illiteracy problem in our nation’s capital.  Yet, “all research shows” (!!) that when Mom can read, the children will learn to read, and the educational level of parents has a direct positive impact on the educational attainment of children.

If I had Secretary Duncan in my office right now (I might even do some dusting for that!), I’d like to ask him to take the lead in convening the D.C. Education Summit that Washington Post Writer Valerie Strauss calls for today in her column on the skirmish this week between D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee and the D.C. Council.  I’d ask him to include the local Schools of Education in that summit, since we have not generally been included in any of the discussion of educational reform in our city.   Standards for D.C. teacher certification have changed considerably, with little input from the universities — we tried to participate, but somehow the notices of the hearings last year often arrived the night before the meetings.   Efforts to get various meetings with public officials have been difficult, as the article this weekend about the UDC situation reveals  — there’s just not a lot of dialogue going on among the educational leadership of the city broadly.

Trinity educates more D.C. residents than any other private university in the nation.  We know a little something about the educational challenges of this city.   We are as concerned as anyone with making public education in the nation’s capital a highly successful venture for students and teachers alike — we are “all about the kids” as fervently as local leaders say they are, but we also know that a healthy educational environment must pay attention to, listen to, respect and learn from ALL of the stakeholders and participants in the total process of education.   We ALL own that process, not just the various discrete parts we play.   The health of the educational environment is everyone’s responsibility — let’s find more productive ways to clean it up.   Secretary Duncan’s call to action is a good place to start.

Read:  Jay Mathews on Summer School

Read:  Robert McCartney on Michelle Rhee

Read:  Marion Brady’s “10 False Assumptions”

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8 Responses to Who Will Teach?

  1. Dr. Eirini Gouleta says:

    It was very interesting to me to read Secretary Duncan’s speech at Columbia Teachers’ College. As a teacher educator, I share several of his concerns for years now, especially in preparing teachers to teach in perhaps the most challenging school system of our nation: the District of Columbia. As Secretary Duncan’s comments give us an opportunity for reflection and a challenge for improvement they also hopefully open the dialogue between the nation’s schools of education, the federal and state governments, and other stakeholders for the advancement of our educational system. I wholeheartedly agree with President McGuire’s response to the Secretary’s speech that we have a responsibility to also educate parents and work with the community to support children’s educational success since we all know that “it takes a village to raise a child.”

    My recommendation to Secretary Duncan is, however, that instead of asking how adequately prepared our teachers are to teach our children, to begin with asking: How do we as a nation celebrate our children? Do we have our priorities straight when it comes to children’s growth, development, well being, and education?

    To be more specific about my concerns, I will just mention a few examples:

    • Despite the well documented fact that the first six months and up to three years of a child’s life is the most crucial period for his or her mental, physical, and emotional development, the United States is perhaps the only one of the developed countries in the world which does not have a federal law to mandate adequate PAID maternity or paternity leave when a child is born (unlike other countries such as the countries of the EU, Canada, and Australia which provide up to one year and in some cases even more than that). And yet, we as a nation spend billions of dollars on weapons to fight wars. As a result, our children grow up with all kinds of mental, social, and emotional problems and die every day in the streets from drugs and in fights with gangs using the very same weapons we taxpayers pay for.
    • In the US we spend on educational research perhaps more than any other world country does. And yet when we develop educational policy we lightheartedly disregard the research findings (i.e. bilingual education research versus bilingual education policy).
    • We know that our children are in need of effective instruction. And yet we force our teachers to teach to the test or else their schools will be closed and they will be jobless (i.e. Dr. Jim Cummins said in one of his speeches that if we want to be accurate, we probably need to rename the No Child Left Behind Act to a “No Child Left Untested Act”).
    • In most US districts, school systems spend enormous amount of money to adapt new textbooks every other year and to “kill trees” on the X-ROX machines. And yet we feed our children “processed trash” in the school cafeteria (i.e. one of my student teachers reported that in his high school’s cafeteria they have posted a chart classifying the various types of food into categories to ensure that children choose a balanced meal; in this very same chart “KETSUP is listed as a VEGETABLE!”)
    • In many urban, poor areas, children are subjected to live in overcrowded apartments where they have no quiet place to study. They rarely go outside to play and to get some sun -the US has an alarming number of children with serious Vitamin D deficiency. Children spend most of their time in front of the TV eating junk and fast food becoming more depressed and more obese every day. And yet in our schools, instead of providing adequate time for recess, play, and physical outdoor activities we keep students long hours in the classroom without breaks – since some school policy makers have the notion that “more is better.” To keep our five and six year olds sitting “still” for so many hours we are medicating them claiming that they suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or emotional imbalances (i.e. as a radio correspondent whose name I cannot recall reported some time ago “our CONGRESS has more recess than our KINDERGARTENERS!”)

    I could probably go on and on if I had to list all the confused priorities we have in this nation when it comes to raising, nurturing, supporting, and educating our children. We must set these priorities straight so that our children lead a happy and balanced life and we all enjoy a more balanced and healthy society.
    I would like to end my response with a few last thoughts. As surprising as it sounds the “confusion of our priorities” when it comes to children, it is even more surprising the fact that our country, the United States of America, is the ONLY developed country in the world and member of the United Nations which has yet to ratify the Children’s Rights UN Convention –which just celebrated its 20th anniversary 1989-2009 in October. Is there a satisfactory excuse for that? USA and Somalia are the only two of the UN countries which have not ratified the Convention on the Rights of Children with its four key provisions: non-discrimination; best interests of the child; right to life, survival, and development; and views of the child.
    Other countries instead based on the Children’s Rights UN Convention have made efforts to improve the education and well being of their children. Starting with 2 of the 42 articles of the Convention: “every child has the right to have his or her voice heard” and “every child has the right to an education which should develop his or her personality and talents to the fullest,” UK has been pioneering since 2004 a project called “the Rights Respecting School Award” to motivate primary and secondary schools to “place the Children’s Rights Convention at the heart of its ethos and curriculum” (Whittaker, M. 2009,
    In closing, as a teacher educator, I embrace the challenge that Secretary Duncan presents us with. Professors, teacher candidates, and schools of education, we all have to work collaboratively and hard to make positive changes for the sake of our children. I call upon him to also take the challenge and help set straight our nation’s confused priorities when it comes to our children’s best interest.

  2. L Riccio says:

    President McGuire

    Thank you for putting the challenge out there to keep us focused on the educational dilemma of how we improve and insure appropriate educational outcomes for children and take teacher education to the next level.

    In responding to your comments I think it is also fitting to note Secretary Duncan’s call to teach speech recently at the University of Virginia. He told students, “…Today’s teachers and aspiring teachers in our colleges of education can help transform the lives of their students by boosting student learning and helping them access higher education and new economic opportunities. We need the next generation to answer the call to teach….”

    Having worked in education for more then 25 years, I think we are ready for a paradigm shift – one that takes everyone back to square 1 and where we all must start over again. As Thomas Kuhn described it, a shift is a change from one way of thinking to another. It is a transformation, a movement away from our present practice. It does not just happen, and is frequently driven by change agents since those insitu are less likely to want or see the need to change the status quo. A shift means that there is a new way to perceive the task at hand and fashion a different plan going forward. It is a radical idea to re-envision the new world order in education but one whose time has come. And it is not unlike the current heath care debate where some want to tweak the system and others want wholesale changes to effect the greatest long-term impact. We need to see the world as it is today—a very different place then it was even just 8 years ago. And with this new view we must see that radical change is required.

    Education no longer can be viewed in the traditional sense as teachers imparting “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic” skills. And educators can’t continue to be purveyors of rote, fill in the blank test forms. In fact if more people from different backgrounds are coming to the profession per the Secretary’s comments, education must change.

    If we are to meet the needs of today’s youth in today’s world (to say nothing about preparing them for their future role in the global community), we must re-affirm education as a process that begins at birth, recognizing that the potential for learning begins even earlier, and encompasses the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development of children. And that education is a process that encourages continual progress through the improvement of one’s abilities, interests, and the growth of one’s character – a sort of value added approach to education.

    And as we see education as a life-long process so too must we see the child’s parent/guardian as the first educator and the first educated… meaning that in general, if the child is to succeed in a world that values academic and social skills (including collaboration and cooperation) the first instructor of those skills is naturally the individual with whom the child has first contact. (On the flip side if there is no significant other in the child’s early years then the chances that the child will see benefit in education or the teaching/learning process may be hindered.) To allow anyone to suggest that teachers can teach without knowledge and/or ability to interact or attempt to hold accountable the out of school environment of the child is only getting half of the child to teach… yet all of the risk for success.

    We know only too well that for those who lack the necessary education, the economic picture shows frequent periods of unemployment or employment in dead-end jobs: those on the outside looking in have no allegiance to what they cannot become a part.

    It is also no accident that there is a link between children and education and the criminal justice system. Almost 75% of all Americans in prison are high school dropouts, and many also have special educational needs. (The American dream, and our civil right, to succeed through one’s own efforts is being denied to too many people who are not prepared adequately to participate in a process that would allow them to achieve that dream.)

    In our own city there are countless children being subjected to testing well beyond their skill level and it is embarrassing that teachers and others have not been able to say enough is enough. Some even think that NCLB will be abolished before the 2014 deadline when all children should be proficient in math, and reading because as States lower their scores for what is considered adequate achievement, the reality of a national push for academic excellence is being watered down.

    Even, Secretary of Education Duncan while he has called for the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind said that the law puts too much emphasis on standardized tests, it unfairly labels many schools as failures (academically), and doesn’t account for students’ academic growth in other areas of importance. “…But the biggest problem with NCLB,” Duncan said, “…is that it doesn’t encourage high learning standards. In fact, it inadvertently encourages states to lower them. The net effect is that we are lying to children and parents by telling kids they are succeeding when they are not…” (

    I agree wholeheartedly about tests not reflecting accurate student ability – kids today are way smarter than we give them credit. We don’t test their ability to survive in their community. Wouldn’t it be interesting to test the adults and see how many of us can navigate the route home after school through competing gang territories, find a safe place to study, or find food or a safe place to sleep or play, or even get clean clothes to dress ourselves in the morning and find breakfast.

    I believe we need to re-consider what teaching and learning is and allow schooling to be a reciprocal arrangement where teachers/administrators learn from students as much as students learn from them. We need to lose the term teacher and embark on a professional definition for “managers of learning”, and learning should have a new meaning within the educational context—one that encompasses both the academics and real-life/real-based situations, where children and adolescents work side-by-side peers, and adults in real world experiences.

    For a long time I have thought that teachers (“managers of learning”) need to be more about managing instruction and experiences, and being for example, a social worker when needed or even a friend if that is the needed skill at the moment for a particular child. And the “manager of learning”, should ask questions that I always pose to my graduate students: “for what child,” “for what purpose,” and “for what time in the child’s life am I teaching you?” These are important questions that need to be asked in order to understand each child’s unique needs and issues at the moment – answers, however, change daily. The 3 questions in more detail follow.

    1. For what child? The answer to this question takes into account a child’s learning characteristics and the unique social setting of which he is a part. Today’s child comes with an inimitable family, cultural, and social background, which has tremendous influence over the child’s life. With the ongoing introduction of new technology, today’s child is not learning by time-honored methods. Giving priority to a child’s identity means using assessment data gained in a continuously educationally relevant manner without interfering with that identity.

    2. For what time in the child’s life? Taking into account the time in a child’s life for which the educational program is being constructed relates the educational program to changes within the child’s immediate environment (home/community, etc). Children with even the most severe difficulties in learning and with horrific environmental influences can be offered a genuine education, if teaching activities match the child’s level of development/circumstances and learning style.

    3. For what purpose? In making the program age-appropriate/culturally appropriate or whatever the controlling variables are in a particular case, it is important for the “learning manager” to continuously analyze whose agenda is being followed – the child’s, the adult’s, the system’s or other’s?

    Finally, it is self-evident that education is important to the individual, to society, and to the nation. The cost of being unprepared and left out not only can be measured in individual and familial suffering, deprivation, and despair that too often gets passed along from parent to child, but also in losses to the general society. If my memory serves me well, every ‘class’ of dropouts earns about $240 billion less than an equivalent class of high school graduates during their lifetime, and that means $80 billion less in taxes paid.

    I believe we are in a “perfect storm” – just waiting to explode. Your comments about Secretary Duncan’s speech and his call to action, and Chancellor Rhee’s position on education (especially who we teach and how) in DC, are worthy of further dialogue, and is a wake up call that the storm is brewing and if we do not change the paradigm soon we will see the separation of have’s and have not’s widening even further.

  3. Patti Hellmuth - Early Childhood says:

    My first year of teaching I taught at the Patrick Gavin Middle School in South Boston in a Substantially Separate Classroom under 766. In this classroom, there were six boys – three black and three white who were all from impoverished backgrounds. The boys were in the sixth grade and they could barely read or write. The schools had failed them, their parents had failed them, and no one knew what to do with them. At this point because they had gotten into so much trouble at school, they were not allowed to attend the regular classes, not allowed to eat in the cafeteria, not allowed to participate in sports, and not allowed to be in the hallways without an escort.
    In this classroom, I worked alongside another teacher and we both agreed that the school obviously did not want the boys there and the current curriculum had failed the boys. Therefore, we went onto devise our own plan for the boys and it worked. Our first job was to get the boys to get along and to trust one another and we did. Our next plan was to get the boys educated so, in the morning we taught the boys in school and for the afternoon we took the boys out of school and we visited museums, parks, libraries, and so on. I am happy to report that at the end of the school year, they were all at grade level and feeling much better about themselves.
    I believe in continuing to teach children based on their ability to do the work because not all of the children of all of the people have the same capacity. The solution is to provide a curriculum that meets the needs of the various learners. All teachers and schools need to support an educational philosophy that supports exposing children to different levels of instruction because the reality is that no two children have the same strengths or learn in the same way.
    Trinity has allowed me to meet some wonderful professors and to continue to believe that I can make a difference in children’s lives. My role as a teacher is to inspire students to do their best and not only motivate them to learn, but also teach them how to learn, and doing so in a manner that is relevant, meaningful, and memorable. As a teacher, I must be a strong and original leader with characteristics of honesty, principle and decency because teachers influence students by example. Dr. Brereton has taught me that a good teacher is about style, humor, listening, questioning, being responsive, and remembering that each student and class is different.

  4. Juliana Labetti - Early Childhood says:

    It has become the norm to point fingers at those around us and place blame on others for mistakes made by many. This approach will solve nothing. I have heard Dr. Brereton say many times that the only person we can change is our self. It is time for everyone involved in education in this country to reflect inward and determine what they can do to better the current system. The professors in the education department at Trinity allow for their graduate students to take time to reflect on the kinds of teachers we want to become and the steps we must complete in order to accomplish our goals. By encouraging us to challenge ourselves and open our eyes to the changing educational climate, these education professors are insuring that a committed, confident, and well prepared group of new teachers join in the task of improving our children’s education.

  5. Makai Kellogg Early Childhood Ed. says:

    Yesterday after leaving my preschool to go to Trinity for class, I came across a bumper sticker that read “It’s too bad that the people who know how to run the country are too busy teaching school.” After reading President McGuire’s blog, this message rang even more true in spite of the ‘teacher bashing’ that has been going on. I agree that good teachers need to be respected and not criticized because of bad teachers. As a former DCPS student, I have personally experienced problems such as unprepared, unmotivated teachers and facilities that were literally falling apart. At the same time I also had the opportunity to be taught by teachers who told me the truth and used their own resources to better convey meaning to their students. Blaming does not solve anything. Solutions addressing all facets of education, from meeting children’s basic needs to properly training teachers, will better evoke change for the better. I am thankful that I have professors here at Trinity dedicated to preparing and producing high quality teachers so that one day the conversation will shift from the failures of our public schools to how our public schools have become the model for others.

  6. Amy Brereton says:

    Secretary Duncan’s speech at Columbia Teacher’s College has provided us (schools of education) with an opportunity to reflect on the work we do. Like President McGuire, I agree with several of the points Secretary Duncan made. The faculty in Trinity’s School of Education have embraced this opportunity to discuss our work and how we can continue to support and train the excellent teacher candidates enrolled in our programs. We have identified a need for collaboration.

    A culture of blame has dominated discussions about education in the United States. Children are blamed. Parents are blamed. President McGuire’s blog describes the unproductive blame that has been heaped on teachers. Secretary Duncan’s address indicates that schools of education are to blame. This culture of blame cultivates division and operates from a deficit perspective.

    It is imperative that we move beyond blame. Parents, teachers, schools of education, and children all have powerful expertise that can inform and transform educational practices. The most innovative and impressive educational approaches and models (i.e. Waldorf, Froeble, Reggio Emilia, Montessori) view children as strong learners, parents as essential partners, and teachers as capable professionals.

    We face incredible challenges. We have some choices. We can continue to face these challenges in isolation, doing all we can to deflect the blame that is flung at us, or we can take collective ownership of our children’s education. We can continue looking to the ‘other’ as the source of ‘school failure’, or we can take heart in knowing that we have vast resources at our disposal in the form of parents, teachers, schools of education, and children…especially children.

    Unfortunately, collaboration is not easy to achieve. It demands parity. Are we ready to listen and consider the opinions of parents and children with the same level of seriousness that we listen to and consider the views of policy makers? As the faculty’s response to President McGuire’s blog indicates, we recognize the need for civil discourse about improving education and we are keen to take our seat at the discussion table. The question is: What must we do to ensure that we are not sitting there alone?

  7. robert redmond says:

    Some Thoughts of Education

    According to Maslow our primary needs are safety and security needs. Studies have indicated that 35% of elementary school students say they do not have a friend in school. The “Study Buddy Program” addresses that need. I believe that we need to introduce the study buddy model to our future teachers and administrators while they are being trained.

    Today students spend less than 15% of their time in school. The school year and the school day should be extended. I recommend a ten- weeks on and three -weeks off year around school calendar.
    Teachers have an eleven on and two off school year. During the one week without students they make home visits.

    We teach students a great many ideas and concepts but I do not think we spend enough time teaching them how to learn and how “they” learn best. Many lessons can be taught by the people who students listen too; for example, Michael Jordan could teach lessons on “How to write sentences’. The lesson could be on a DVD and the teachers decide if and when they will use it.

    Also, principals should invites the religious leaders, police officers and others who interact with; the students during the year to community meetings. The purpose would be to help the other members of the community become involved in the life of the student. “It takes a village to raise a child.”.

    As a School of Education we need to educate our future teachers and administrators to be the facilitators of the learning process.

  8. School of Education says:

    Dear President McGuire,

    We in the School of Education whole-heartedly agree with your position regarding who will teach! Teacher bashing is entirely unproductive, as is the non-inclusive approach that Chancellor Michelle Rhee seems to be taking as she attempts to implement the worthy goal of improving the District of Columbia Public Schools. We also agree that to address the school problem without addressing the context in which many students live is not a realistic approach to school reform. Pretending that good teachers alone can solve the problems in DCPS won’t get the job done. Schools do not exist in a vacuum; historic, socio-economic, and political factors including the legacies of racism and disenfranchisement have contributed to their troubles. School reform should be a part of a comprehensive plan to address poverty, adult illiteracy, and all the related issues.

    Nonetheless, as educators, we must do what we can in the areas in which we have influence. And we can improve the outcomes for many of the students in our school system. Research points to smaller class sizes, extended school day and year, summer enhancement programs, and wrap-around social services as important contributors to student success. Some districts have found success in intra-district integration while others have decreased the achievement gap through developing high-functioning magnet schools. We know how to be more successful in schools. Whether we have the political will and the courage to collaborate with all stakeholders, including students, are the issues that restrain us.

    As you know, faculty members in the School of Education are in the process of re-envisioning our programs to respond to the needs of today’s students and educators. In addition to a more collaborative approach to preparing educators who can work with children holistically and working to better merge theory and practice, we are also talking about what it means to be an advocate for children. On this note, one idea that was floated in a recent meeting was for Trinity to host a forum on what it means to have a child-centered educational system in the District of Columbia. We hear both the City Council and the Chancellor talk about how much they care about the children. They are not alone. In the spirit of true collaboration and inclusivity, we would like to open the discussion on how best to educate our children. Let’s hear from the community, from students and their family members, from teachers and administrators, and other interested parties in the city. Trinity is known for acting locally on its mission of global leadership. We believe a forum that would bring together people with differing views in a civil discussion would benefit the children by galvanizing adults to act more constructively.

    Trinity EDU Faculty

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: