wesley cheating story

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.”

news & notes?

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.

america’s best meat judges

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 –

vince neil’s face lift

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.

sea ray, fantasy football

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.

cheating goes worldwide

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.
Also, in case you didn’t catch my story in Sunday’s DMN, perhaps you caught it on CNN, or in the Washington Post, the Guardian UK, USA Today, Newsday, or the Boston Globe.
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.