Erich Martel and David Grosso Argue About Fraud at Ballou SHS

You have probably noticed the WAMU-NPR story that showed that the feel-good story about all the students at Ballou SHS graduating and being accepted to college was, in fact, a fraud. Not only that, but the teachers who protested this fraud were fired.

Out of laziness and pressure of events, I have not posted on this. I will attempt to remedy this in part by posting an exchange of public emails between Erich Martel (like me, he is a retired DCPS teacher) and David Grosso, who is on the DC City Council.

Here goes.


Ballou HS Investigation: Expand to all DCPS & charter high schools; Reinstate terminated Ballou HS teachers

FYI: Exchange between DC Council Education Comm. chair David Grosso and me.


1/7: Martel to Grosso: (summary: I request a full investigation of all DCPS & DC charter 2017 hs graduations AND that he request that the mayor reinstate terminated teachers who reported the violations)


1/8: Grosso to Martel: (summary: he says he cannot request reinstatement because of the investigation and “process”; he says he requested that all high schools be investigated)


1/11 (today): Martel to Grosso: (summary: I contest his refusal citing his attached interview where he criticized the media (WAMU-NPR) and others for reporting these violations, because it was “picking on Ballou” and “raining on their parade”; I also point out that he had the data showing the large number of students with over 20 unexcused absences for the last 4 years, which I summarize in a table).


It was cc’d to the mayor, all Council members and staff and separately to DC media and public school advocates (removed from this email).


The attachment is a partial transcript from a radio interview in which Chairman Grosso criticizes the media (NPR-WAMU) for reporting that large numbers of the 2017 Ballou HS graduates had large numbers of unexcused absences.




From: Erich Martel []

Sent: Thursday, January 11, 2018 3:38 PM

To: ‘Grosso, David (Council)’; ‘ ‘

Subject: RE: Ballou HS Investigation: Expand to all DCPS & charter high schools; Reinstate terminated Ballou HS teachers

Dear Mr. Grosso,

Thank you for replying.  I look forward to education agencies’ responses to your more robust oversight questions regarding h.s. graduations. They should include numbers and %s of students at each DCPS & charter high school that needed online credit recovery (CR) to meet graduation requirements as well as absences and numbers of students requiring 1 or  2 or 3 or more CR courses. Here I will address some of your comments.

You wrote, “I will not make requests of the Mayor about … re-instating teachers in what is currently an ongoing investigation [because] …  there is a process that must be used in situations like this ….”

Your reasons, “ongoing investigation” and “process,” are excuses, not obstacles, and are selectively limited to teachers, in fact, teachers terminated after having reported legal and ethical violations by DCPS officials. But you are not applying that same standard to DCPS officials’ failure to follow mandatory rules regarding passing grades, unexcused absences, and eligibility for the DCPS high school diploma. For each one, there is a “process” that a student’s parent can use to challenge a failing grade, a disciplinary referral or diploma denial.  Instead of demanding accountability from the mayor and chancellor, you criticized the messenger.  On the December 8th Kojo Nnamdi Show, you labeled the WAMU-NPR report of these violations (which was a revision of an earlier, uncritical report) as “unfair” and “picking on Ballou” (partial transcript, attached).  Please go back and read the report; it makes no negative generalizations about Ballou H.S.; it reports the facts.

Several times on the Kojo Show you said that these problems “are not just a Ballou H.S. situation.” I agree, but it is unclear to what extent other high schools will be investigated.

You stated, that “It is my understanding that OSSE has broadened the scope to reviewing the Public Charter School Board’s oversight of diplomas being awarded.”

It does not appear that other DCPS high schools will be investigated.  A review is not an investigation.  The PCSB is not independent in any meaningful sense.  It is a charter advocacy body with a vested interest in charter schools. More to the point, each charter high school needs to be investigated by the same criteria as Ballou H.S.

There’s an even more troubling element: You could have prevented the scandal. Had you informed the mayor that the principal’s 100% college application claim and potential graduation numbers were not supported by 4 years of DCPS unexcused absence data (or by PARCC scores) submitted in each year’s oversight report to the Council Education Comm., she would have known that the 100% college application policy was a diversion from dismal facts and needed a closer review.

The following table shows four years of  numbers and %s of students with 21 or more unexcused absences for Ballou HS.

ballou unexcused absences

By failing to inform the mayor and then criticizing the media for its coverage and washing your hands of responsibility for supporting teachers who reported violations of the laws and regulations passed by the Council or by agencies acting under the authority of the mayoral control statute (PERAA), you missed an opportunity to find out why so many students are unable to legitimately earn a high school diploma.

DCPS and the charter schools are now in the 11th year of mayoral control under the Public Education Reform Amendment Act (PERAA) of 2007.  The graduating class of 2017 was in 2nd grade during first year of mayor control and chancellor management of DCPS, yet the graduation rate in 2017 for both charter and DCPS high schools was 73%, a statistic that is meaningless given that over half required credit recovery and/or unearned passing grades.


Erich Martel

Retired DCPS high school teacher

(1969-2011: Cardozo HS; Wilson HS; Phelps ACE HS)


Some documents re previous graduation scandals in DCPS are here:


From: Grosso, David (Council) [mailto:dgrosso@DCCOUNCIL.US]

Sent: Monday, January 08, 2018 10:13 AM

To: Erich Martel;


Subject: Re: Ballou HS Investigation: Expand to all DCPS & charter high schools; Reinstate terminated Ballou HS teachers

Mr. Martel,

Thank you for your engagement on this issue.  I have spoken with the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor for Education, the Chancellor, and the State Superintendent about the importance of the internal DCPS investigation and the OSSE investigation.  At the December 15th Committee on Education hearing, I requested to OSSE that they include high schools other than Ballou and also charter high schools in their audit.  It is my understanding that OSSE has broadened the scope to reviewing the Public Charter School Board’s oversight of diplomas being awarded.

The Committee on Education staff and I are anticipating both DCPS and OSSE reports this month and will thoroughly review them.  My office is also currently working on a report and have our hearing record open in order to reconvene the December 15th hearing.  Over the past month, we have received a lot of testimony that will be included.  Last Friday, the Committee on Education also transmitted the questions for agency performance oversight to DCPS and they include even more robust questions about graduation than in years past.  Those answers are due to the Committee for oversight hearings on February 2nd.

I will not make requests of the Mayor about the particular staffing positions or re-instating teachers in what is currently an ongoing investigation.  The Washington Teacher’s Union represents these teachers and there is a process that must be used in situations like this where a teacher does not feel like she was treated fairly.  Last year, Ms. Brokenborough provided me with packets of information, my staff reviewed them, and gave them to DCPS asking them at the time to respond given the allegation that were being made about Ballou.  She also held a community meeting that my staff attended and reported back to me about the discussions. It is my understanding that Ms. Brokenborough did have a hearing with the WTU and DCPS prior to being excused from Ballou.  And for the record she did not attend my hearing on December 15th and has not submitted testimony for the record either.


David Grosso

Council of the District of Columbia

Chairperson, Committee on Education

1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 402

Washington, D.C. 20004

Phone: (202) 724-8105



From: Erich Martel <>

Date: Sunday, January 7, 2018 at 6:01 PM

To: “Grosso, David (Council)” <dgrosso@DCCOUNCIL.US>, “” <>

Cc: “Strange, Ashley (Council)” <astrange@DCCOUNCIL.US>, “Bonds, Anita (

Subject: Ballou HS Investigation: Expand to all DCPS & charter high schools; Reinstate terminated Ballou HS teachers

Council Member David Grosso

Chairman, Committee on Education, Council of the District of Columbia


Dear Chairman Grosso,

Today’s Washington Post article on the investigation into the Ballou H.S. graduation scandal reports that “a group of [Ballou H.S.] teachers met with D.C. Public School officials” the day after the June 2017 graduation to report that “students who missed dozens of classes had been able to earn passing grades and graduate.”

A month later, music teacher Monica Brokenborough wrote to Chancellor Antwan Wilson requesting a “thorough investigation … inclusive of pertinent stakeholders,” but never heard back from him.  The Washington Post has evidence that Ms. Brokenborough, the WTU representative “tried time and again to reach district officials about her concerns” resulting in the principal cutting her position from the school budget this year.

Chancellor Antwan Wilson conceded at your December 15th Education Committee hearing that effort “he and other officials did not look into it until the November airing of a WAMU and NPR news report.”  His words of acknowledgement were chilling:

“‘We know that there was a Ballou teacher who in August complained through the grievance procedure about concerns along with 30 other concerns,’ Wilson said at the hearing.  ‘Our team, prioritizing impact [IMPACT???], had not gotten to it.'”


Will you request that Mayor Bowser immediately instruct Chancellor Wilson to reinstate whole all Ballou teachers who reported  these violations and were subsequently terminated/excessed by the principal?

On the December 8th Kojo Nnambi show, you stated,

“I think it is unfair to focus only on Ballou H.S. in this situation.  Ballou HS has some wonderful things going on there that we need to celebrate.”

“I’m saying it just frustrates me that this is always going to come down on Ballou.”

“To pick on Ballou alone is unfair. … But let me tell you, that’s not the only place where students are leaving high school not ready for college in the District of Columbia .”

The current investigation appears to be focused solely on Ballou H.S., but I haven’t heard of you requesting that it include all DCPS and charter high schools.


Will you request that Mayor Bowser expand the investigation to all DCPS AND all DC charter high schools?

I look forward to your response.


Erich Martel

Ward 3, Retired DCPS high school teacher (Cardozo HS, Wilson HS, Phelps ACE HS)


Kojo Show Grosso on Ballou Transcript 17 1208 .doc

Published in: on January 12, 2018 at 9:56 am  Comments (1)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Any updates on the exchange between Martel and Grosso? Grosso, the mayor and the DCPS suits surely are afraid of expanding investigations to other DC High Schools because troubling results will be revealed at most if not all of those schools…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: