Good God, a good grade

A bit of good news published in last Thursday's Dallas Morning News surprised Buzz so much that we nearly spit out our morning, coffee. A study by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation found that Texas is "one of only a handful of states" that holds its public schools up to high academic standards and tough testing policies.

The bad news was that Alabama was also among the handful. Talk about a backhanded compliment.

Texas was one of five states that "combine solid academic standards with strong accountability systems" in public education (in English: Texas cracks down on children and schools with low standardized test scores). California, North Carolina, and South Carolina also made the group's "honor roll."

But critics argue that the study obscures Texas' real education picture: an abysmally high dropout rate and low to average scores on most national achievement tests. Those scores have stagnated even as statewide TAAS scores continue to surge upward, largely because of "teaching to the test" and outright cheating.

The foundation went so far as to deem a handful of states irresponsible for not embracing Texas-style reforms, though their national scores on standardized tests outperform Texas. Now why might that be? Two possible answers come to mind: The national standards are screwed up, or plain old politics. The Fordham Foundation is a conservative think tank whose president, Chester E. Finn Jr., is an informal advisor to Gov. George W. Bush.

Bush has taken the message of the so-called "Texas Miracle" on the presidential campaign trail, though that bubble may be about to burst.

An article published in the January 3 issue of The American Prospect, a liberal opinion magazine, painted a starkly different picture of Texas schools. Under the headline "Too Good to Be True," writer Peter Schrag doubted Texas would confront reality anytime soon. "At a time when high-stakes testing is the flavor of the might be difficult even under the best of circumstances to have a healthy debate about the Texas Miracle," he said. "It becomes nearly impossible, however, when so great a political load rests on the continued belief in its validity."

Buzz suspected it was a load of something.

Has he even unpacked yet?

Back home at the ranch, the man Dallas has pinned its hopes on for an educational miracle is staying put -- or so he says.

Bill Rojas has been superintendent of public schools in Dallas for five months -- it only seems longer -- but his name already has been floated as a candidate for the top job in both Los Angeles and his native New York City. Both cities recently gave their superintendents the boot. So, is there any truth to the rumor he's packin'?

"Pure speculation," Rojas told Buzz. While New York is where Rojas toiled for 23 years in lesser roles before becoming superintendent in San Francisco, he said he's committed to finishing his contract in Dallas, which expires in 2002. (Anyone committed to sticking around DISD probably should be...committed, that is.)

Compiled from staff reports by Patrick Williams

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams