I can honestly say I’ve never had a TV appearance go as horribly wrong as this guy. Nerves, man. Nerves.
I can honestly say I’ve never had a TV appearance go as horribly wrong as this guy. Nerves, man. Nerves.
Here’s my story from today’s front page, and I happen to think it’s a pretty good one:
Houston’s Wesley Elementary may be the most celebrated school in Texas.
When George W. Bush, running for governor in 1994, wanted to declare education his No. 1 priority, he went to Wesley, where desperately poor students outscored children in the wealthiest suburbs.
When Oprah Winfrey wanted to promote a school that “defied the odds,” she took her cameras to Wesley, which has been the subject of dozens of flattering profiles.
But a Dallas Morning News investigation has found strong evidence that at least some of the success at Wesley and two affiliated schools come from cheating.
“You’re expected to cheat there,” said Donna Garner, a former teacher at Wesley who said her fellow teachers instructed her on how to give students answers while administering tests. “There’s no way those scores are real.”
The News’ analysis found troubling gaps in test scores at Wesley, Highland Heights, and Osborne elementaries, which are all in the Acres Homes neighborhood in Houston. Scores swung wildly from year to year. Schools made jarring test-score leaps from mediocre to stellar in a year’s time.
After The News shared its findings with Houston officials Thursday, Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra issued a written statement. “We have reviewed the anomalies in the test scores of the Acres Home schools as pointed out by The Dallas Morning News, and we agree that these anomalies identify performance that is highly questionable.”
If the test scores are to be believed, students at those schools lose much of their academic abilities as soon as they leave elementary school.
There’s also a sidebar:
The fact there might be cheating at Wesley Elementary is not news to Houston officials.
In June 2003, former Wesley teacher Donna Garner stood before a meeting of the Houston school board and directly accused officials of cheating at Wesley. “I was instructed on how to cheat and that the expectation was that I would cheat,” she said, according to a copy of her speech.
District officials pledged an investigation. But it has taken the district a year and a half just to hire an outside law firm to do the investigating. The lengthy delays could make it harder to catch cheaters.
“When a great deal of time has passed between the incident and the investigation, people forget things,” said Suzanne Marchman, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency. “And what happened on test day is not as clear as it was eight months ago or a year ago.”
Central Texans, I’ll be talking about the story on KTSA 550 AM at 1:05 this afternoon, should you want to hear how my radio voice differs from my in-person voice.
Update: Here’s the Houston paper, following my story. I have to admire the paper’s guts for including this quote from the Houston school board member who represents Acres Homes: “It is an embarrassment to hear from the Dallas Morning News what’s going on in Houston.”
I’m not dead, don’t worry. And crabwalk isn’t dead either. Just extremely busy. Big story in tomorrow’s paper, if all works out.
Here’s my story from today’s paper — on Wilmer-Hutchins, not cheating. If there’s a musty smell about it, it’s because I wrote it back in November and it’s been holding ever since, for a variety of reasons.
I’m off to Louisiana tomorrow for Festivus. Blogging is likely to drop from “semi-regular” to “sporadic” and, later, “scattered.” Perhaps “rare.”
So NPR wants to replace the disappearing “Tavis Smiley Show” with something new to target black audiences. Fine. But did they have to call the new program “News & Notes”? Is there a less original, more dull name conceivable?
Maybe I’ll start a network news show called “Moving Images With Accompanying Sound.” Or a new newspaper called “Things That Happened Yesterday That We Know About.” Or record a new album called “Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements.” Oh, wait.
I’d like to congratulate the men and women of Tarleton State University’s meat-judging team for taking first place in the 2004 Cargill Meat Solutions Hi-Plains Meat Judging Contest.
According to the university’s press release: “The championship concluded an unprecedented season for the team, which went undefeated, and included four of the team members being chosen for the American Meat Science Association’s prestigious All-American teams.”
FYI: “Meat judging competitors evaluate various cuts of meat in a daylong contest that is awarded in six different divisions including, beef, lamb, and pork judging, total beef, questions, and overall placing. The cuts and carcasses of meat are visually evaluated on characteristics such as meat color, amount of fat content within muscle, and US Department of Agriculture quality designations.”
By far my favorite section of the press release: The yearning for more meat judging. “Per collegiate meat judging rules, once an individual has completed a year of judging, they are no longer eligible for participation in that respective division -– a fact some team members have mixed emotions about. ‘We spent so many hours practicing in meat coolers and often driving five or six hours just for practice,’ [one of the competitors] said. ‘A little break would be nice, but I will certainly miss the competition and camaraderie that comes with judging.’”
Congratulations again, Tarleton State.
Not that I’d ever consider plastic surgery — what, and risk my already lucrative modeling career? — but this video of Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil getting a face lift would turn me off the prospect completely. Warning: Extremely graphic narcissism.
Boo, hiss: Sea Ray, one of the Official Bands of Crabwalk.com, breaks up. “The biggest difficulty we’ve failed to overcome is the financial challenge of being in an independent band full-time while maintaining any semblance of a personal life, as well.”
Boo, hiss: The season of the Bum Phillippi, my fantasy football team, is over. After weeks of teasing me with promising potential and piss-poor performance, Roy Williams was finally sent to my bench. So what does he do? 104 yards, two touchdowns. Had I started him, I’d be in the league finals. But instead, the BPs have plenty of time to contemplate what went wrong in the offseason. I’m considering firing the general manager, the offensive-line coach — hell, maybe the water boy.
Day two of my cheating series, on today’s front page:
Education researchers are clear: The vast majority of teachers are honest people and wouldn’t think of doctoring their students’ results on a standardized test.
But unfortunately, “the vast majority” doesn’t include everybody. In a high-pressure, high-stakes environment, some teachers are going to cross an ethical line.
Some experts say the Texas Education Agency isn’t doing enough to track them down. In some cases, the agency ignores information that could tip the agency off to improper behavior.
Or in the Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Sun, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Charlotte Observer, the San Jose Mercury News, the Kansas City Star, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, or the Raleigh News & Observer.
Or, if you like your markets a little smaller, the Canton Repository, the Bradenton Herald, the El Paso Times, the Barre Montpelier Times Argus, the Nashua Telegraph, the Contra Costa Times, the Billings Gazette, the Sioux City Journal, the Albuquerque Journal, the Lakeland Ledger, the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, the The (Columbia, S.C.) State, the Grand Forks Herald, the Akron Beacon-Journal, or the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.
Here’s that story I was talking about, on today’s front page. The opening paragraphs:
A Dallas Morning News data analysis has uncovered strong evidence of organized, educator-led cheating on the TAKS test in dozens of Texas schools -– and suspicious scores in hundreds more.
The analysis found a poor urban school where third- and fifth-graders are among the state’s weakest readers – but the fourth-graders beat out the state’s most elite schools. That’s despite the fact that many of its students have trouble speaking English.
It found a desperately impoverished school where the fourth-graders have trouble adding and subtracting -– but nearly all the fifth-graders got perfect scores on the math portion of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.
And it found schools where in one year’s time –- if the scores are to be believed -– children devolved from top students to barely being able to read.
The News’ findings have led to cheating inquiries in three Texas school districts, including the state’s two largest, Dallas and Houston. One of the schools under investigation is a National Blue Ribbon School that a year ago was touted by federal officials as an example of top academic achievement.
“It’s very disturbing that this is happening,” Dallas schools spokesman Donald Claxton said of data showing unusual swings in test scores at Harrell Budd Elementary. “There will be a broad-scoped, complete investigation. If there’s cheating going on, we want to stop it.”
Day two of the series, which may be even more fun, runs tomorrow.
Thanks to my Secret Santa, I can confirm that Stones Throw 101 kicks all kinds of ass. Such a perfect fusion of soul, funk, jazz, and hip-hop. I find myself bobbing my head far more than I should at my workplace.
Plus, it has the best lyric of all time: “I might have been a parrot / A gay Brazilian parrot / If someone hadn’t wakened me and / Pulled me out of bed.”
Just made my final appearance on TXCN. (TXCN is laying off most of its staff as of Jan. 1, and my little guest appearances on the network will sadly come to a close.)
Also just made my first-ever appearance on KHOU, the CBS affiliate in Houston. You Houstonians can spot me (looking a little worn out) on the Sunday-and Monday-night late news.
All this is about my Sunday and Monday stories, which you’ll probably want to check out.
Isn’t it about time for a new Built to Spill album? It’s been almost four years.
I’m just sayin’. It’s amazing how much more productive a strong cup of coffee and Ancient Melodies of the Future in your headphones can make you. Makes you feel like the sunniest marauding Visigoth in all of Europe.
If I may brag for a moment: Here’s the new story on the recent troubles of my employer in this month’s Texas Monthly. After spending a few hundred words slagging on the quality of the newspaper, writer S.C. Gwynne offers this statement that we occasionally do good work:
“Their recent stories on the Wilmer-Hutchins school district and on Child Protective Services are examples of superb urban journalism. ‘The Morning News is still the best paper in the state and region,’ says Robert Rivard, the editor of the San Antonio Express-News.”
It’s amazing how much two phone calls can improve your day.
You may want to pick up copies of Sunday’s and Monday’s papers — there’ll be some fun stuff in there by yours truly.
Fantasy football update: I am proud to say my squad, the Bum Phillippi, has finished the regular season alone in first place, with a record of 11-3.
Week 14 was a dramatic one, with everything coming down to Tony Gonzalez’s performance on Monday night football. I needed Tony to have no more than 82 yards receiving and no touchdowns. His stat line: 76 yards receiving, no touchdowns. Hence, a hairline victory for the B.P. over the Diogenes Club, 97.40 to 96.70. Apparently Tony Gonzalez wasn’t the honest man Diogenes was looking for.
Now come the four-team playoffs. The semifinals pit me against Ignignokt and Err, the league’s only Aqua Teen Hunger Force-inspired squad. So you know who you have to root against, I&E relies on Brett Favre at QB, Eric Moulds, Chris Chambers, and Javon Walker at wideout, Chester Taylor, Fred Taylor and Warrick Dunn at RB, and lonely kicker David Akers. May they all be temporarily and painlessly crippled by plantar fasciitis.
As for me, I’m still starting McNabb at QB, Tomlinson, Pittman, and Rudi Johnson at RB, Vinatieri kicking, and reliable Isaac Bruce at WR. The rest of my starters are in flux, thanks to subpar production at wide receiver. Roy Williams has teased me with potential long enough. To the bench! Keenan McCardell can’t get up for a rivalry game against his former team? To the bench!
Taking their places: Laveranues Coles, hopefully recovered from a season-long slump and now in rhythm with Patrick Ramsey, and Lee Evans, the rookie phenom from Wisconsin who’s been putting up big numbers the last three weeks.
The 10 most accurately rated artists in rock history by Chuckles Klosterman. Props for the shout-out to crabwalk.com faves Sloan, and I’ve previously expressed similar thoughts about the Lemonheads. I would, however, move Tortoise from the “underrated because barely anyone seems to know who they are” category to the “overrated because certain rock critics like them too much” category.
Also, the New Radicals were actually underrated. And the lead singer was named Gregg Alexander, and his biggest fan thinks he’s totally a cool guy.
My W-H story in today’s paper, nothing exciting.
For the record, this may be the last Wilmer-Hutchins board meeting I ever attend!
I cannot tell you how much shame I am dealing with right now.
The only saving grace is that the bad-dresser tag is much more fairly applied to the two other people in the photo (which is circa 1983): My grandmother, rockin’ the lapels at stage left, and my mother, resplendent in polyester and some sort of shiny chemise. (Honestly, I look pretty hot. The pocket square is a nice touch, I’d say.)
An unreleased song that may intrigue you: The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine (live), by peerless Austinites Spoon.
Stolen from homemade indie-rock popularity contest. Note that, in the collective opinion of our nation’s blog critics, Sea Ray is the 35th best band in America today. This sets a new record for Highest Rank For A Band Whose Members I Used To Hang Out With In College. It also sets a record for Highest Rank For A Band Whose Bass Player Suffered Through A Seven Mary Three Concert In Cleveland With Me.
“The Redskins (2-5 at home) were trying to prove their offense could thrive on consecutive Sundays and that their season-long problems were behind them, and Ramsey, running back Clinton Portis and wide receiver Laveranues Coles (12 catches for 100 yards) all provided quality play but not enough long plays or points to win (Washington is the lowest-scoring team in the NFL).”
Here’s my first ever story about a suburban tattoo parlor — as well as my first ever story to feature extended Pantera references.
(I’m forced to link to my own site, clipfile.org, because The Powers That Be at dallasnews.com have decided they don’t have to post every story to the web site during the holidays. Because, you know, people don’t like to read as much during Hanukkah.)
True conversation, had a couple hours ago with a dude getting a Pantera tattoo in a suburban strip-mall tat parlor:
Him: So, man, you listen to a lot of metal?
Me: Not really. A little, but not much.
Him: So what kind of music do you listen to?
Me: I dunno. A lot of indie rock.
Him: Indie rock? What the fuck is indie rock? Is that like [sings in a high, “gay” voice] “La la la la la la”?
Man, with all the Orange County blogging I’ve been doing lately, I should start watching The O.C. or something.
Remember the Greg Haidl case, the O.C. teen rapist of unconscious underaged girls who has thus far gotten off, thanks to his lawyer’s campaign of turning a near-coma rape victim into a wannabe porn-star “slut”? (Search the archives for “haidl” to find past entries.) Well, the OC Weekly has been doing its usual Menckenesque work fighting the good fight. Find all its recent Haidl stories here. Among the highlights:
- Skeezy (and self-proclaimed “World Famous”) lawyer tries to scam rape victim, says his own past habits of molesting underaged girls (while a prosecutor!) is besides the point.
- The shrink who said Haidl was so “depressed” he shouldn’t be jailed for causing an accident while underaged drunk driving has himself been accused of screwing his suicidal patients (and paying for them to have boob jobs), trying to hire a hit man to kill his wife, and prescribing narcotics to his drug-addicted business partner.
- Haidl getting tasered for throwing a tantrum when jail officials tried to stop him from giving candy to a child rapist.
The weekly also, wisely, named Haidl’s chief attorney — Joseph “Slut! Nut! Pathological liar! Wannabe porn star! Tease! Mess! Master manipulator! Compulsive liar!” Cavallo — O.C.’s Scariest Person 2004.
More Steve Rocco: Click the image of the mystery man in the right column here for video of the man in action. I had no idea he looks so much like Smithereens-era Pat Dinizio. Or perhaps Monkees-era Michael Nesmith gone to seed.
Also, you’ll get to hear an extended version of Rocco’s board-meeting remarks, including his thoughts on industrial slavery. Also, you’ll get to see how hilariously bad Los Angeles local TV news is.
Plus there’s this story, reporting Rocco’s first interview with the press, which contains some of the funniest non-fiction ever to appear in print:
Rocco spoke in veiled terms of his beliefs, saying that to understand them one must first read a book he self-published in 1992, “Behind The Orange Curtain: Secret Chronicles and Public Record Accounts of Corruption, Murder and Scandal of Corporate and Political California.”
Rocco said the book explores the effects of his arrest and conviction in 1980 for stealing a packet of sausages and a few rolls of film from a grocery store.
The incident, which he called a setup, had a big impact on his life, Rocco said. At the time, he says he was working as a substitute teacher in Orange Unified schools as well as other districts. His hopes to be hired as a full-time teacher in Orange, he said, were thwarted because of that arrest and another three years later on charges that he stole record albums from a library.
“Revenge,” he said, is too strong a word to describe his goal — but not by much.
“It’s called justice. It’s called righting a wrong,” he said. “It’s called something that never should have happened and that went too far.”
Remember Steve Rocco, the seemingly crazy man who somehow got elected to an California school board seat without ever appearing in public? Well, he was sworn into office yesterday, forcing him to make himself known.
And guess what? He’s crazy after all!
With camera shutters whirring, Rocco used his first chance to speak as an elected official to offer a rambling, agitated, five-minute diatribe that summarized his belief that Orange County is controlled by a cabal of corrupt politicians, judges and officials.
In Italian, he paid homage to his late father. Then switching to English, he said, “I am and always have been the anticorruption candidate,” adding later: “We are living in a time of secret organizations, living in a time of corruption and, most of all, living in a time of dictatorships.”
From the outset, Rocco signaled that his would not be the usual tenure. Dressed in black, he never removed his dark sunglasses or ski cap.
Personally, I wonder if he’s the same Californian Steve Rocco who put together this site dedicated to advancing the theory that Andy Kaufman faked his own death. The most recent entries dance around the subject, but provide no real answers. Kaufman and Rocco certainly have similar performance-art overtones.
Speaking of Stones Throw, they’re also responsible for the single greatest compilation-album idea of all time: The Third Unheard: Connecticut Hip-Hop 1979-1983. I’ve no idea if it’s brilliant or crap, but still: It’s time someone stands up for the Nutmeg State’s beat-box legacy. New Canaan, reprazent! (Great photo gallery and liner notes, too.)
Pitchfork reviews the new Stones Throw compilation today, and while I haven’t heard it, you should probably get it. Been getting into a lot of West Coast indie-leaning hip-hop lately, and Peanut Butter Wolf is one of the genre’s masters. (Along with the rest of the label: Madlib, Madvillain, Jaylib, Yesterdays New Quintet, etc.) Check out Wolf’s My Vinyl Weighs a Ton on eMusic if you’re a subscriber.
Speaking of West Coast instrumental hip-hop, I finally picked up a copy of Keepintime, a DVD document of a good idea brought to fruition. A bunch of L.A. turntablists (Cut Chemist, Shortkut, Numark, Madlib) track down the old L.A. funk session drummers of the ’60s and ’70s whose records they love to sample (Paul Humphrey, Earl Palmer, James Gadson). Then they perform live, with the drummers backing the effects wizards. The music never quite lifts off into greatness, but it’s a very entertaining journey along the way. I’m really looking forward to Brasilintime: Batucada com Discos, a similar project the same DJs did with classic Brazilian percussionists, which should be out on DVD shortly.
Finally, if you like this sort of music as much as I do, you really can’t be without In Tune and On Time, the newish DVD/CD set from the king of the scene, DJ Shadow. While a live video recording of a DJ performing sounds boring, the music is stellar, and the visuals are intermittantly hypnotic.
If you want to see what Shadow’s listening to these days, he wrote about the subject a few months ago in the NYT.
Someone dropped this book on my desk yesterday. So true.
Short W-H story today. Long W-H night last night.
For the record: You are hoping for Dallas Cowboys defensive back Roy Williams to have no more than six tackles tonight. Should he have more than six, the Bum Phillippi — my fantasy football team and, let’s be honest, America’s fantasy football team — will lose.
Here’s my story in today’s paper, which has absolutely nothing to do with Wilmer-Hutchins. I swear. It’s actually one of my favorite pieces in a while — telling the tale of a 35-year-old Chicano civil-rights school strike in a small south Texas town. You may actually enjoy reading this one.
Leave it to a profile of Bob Novak to produce one of the all-time great character descriptions:
“Beneath the asshole is a very decent guy, and beneath the very decent guy is an asshole.”
I’m sometimes convinced I’m the reverse: decent guy-asshole-decent guy.
Why in the world did one of the world’s hardcore godfathers move from D.C. to Toledo? Not clear, although this alleged explanation — a supposed Jeep fetish coupled with the relatively cheap availability of dilapidated Victorian mansions — could be as true as anything.
(Found via joeyharrison.com, photo blog of the husband of a former Toledo coworker of mine.)
Everyone remembers Rollen Stewart, right? The guy who became famous by putting on a big rainbow afro wig and going to sporting events, holding up a sign saying “John 3:16” and mugging for the cameras? The one who, in 1992, proclaimed the apocalypse was six days away, took a woman a hostage at a Los Angeles hotel, and threatened to blow the place up after shooting at passing airplanes?
Anyway, Rollen’s friend George Winter left a comment on my last post about Rollen, letting me know that Rollen, though in prison, still has something to say.
You already know Rainbow Man, “John 3:16 Shirt and Banner Man,” Rock’n Rollen Stewart if you watched any sports in the late 1970’s, all of the 1980’s and the early 1990’s…
And it didn’t just have to be sports - Rainbow Man was in Alaska when the Pope was there, he was the first to yell out “President Reagan” on the day that Reagan was elected, and he danced in front of Buckingham Palace just after Charles and Diana kissed after The Wedding of the Century.
Huh? First to yell out “President Reagan” on the day he was elected? What does that mean?
His most recent entry, in which he asks for money to support Rollen’s “cause”:
After spending the past six months in Solitary Confinement, Rollen is worried that the football season is half over, and anxious that no one has started a “John 3:16” banner campaign.
Yesterday I received a quickly-compiled letter from him. I knew that he had rushed because, in the past, he has used plenty of colored markers to write Bible citations and messages on the envelope. This one was all in pen and simply declared:
Rapture! Feast of Trumpets! Rosh Hashanah! 2005!
I will link, however, to my one contribution to global AIDS knowledge: zambiastories.com, the blog I kept while on fellowship in Zambia last year, reporting on AIDS. Links to my two DMN stories from Zambia are on that page, too.
If all goes according to plan — and it may or may not; my fingers and toes are crossed — I may get to do some more AIDS-related reporting in India soon. Think happy thoughts for me around the end of the month, when the selection process reaches its climax.
Joshua Benton is the director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, among other things. Before that, he was a staff writer and columnist for The Dallas Morning News. (More.)
Any opinions expressed here are solely mine, and not those of my employer. In many cases, they may not even be mine.