Be Positive and Nice

"Marvelous" test scores

The headline on the front of the Houston Chronicle's Metro section July 19 could have been lifted right off a Houston school district press release: "HISD Test Scores Are 'Marvelous,' Researcher Says."

The headline accurately reflected the story -- Gary Dworkin, a sociology professor from the University of Houston, was quoted as saying that HISD's scores on the Stanford Achievement Test were "marvelous for the seventh-largest district in the country."

Dworkin says he didn't actually use the word "marvelous" -- "I think [the reporter] said something like, 'Aren't these scores marvelous?' and I said, 'Well, they are pretty good' " -- but he says the quote "was not accurate, but it was close enough."

(Pretty damn close enough, actually -- reporter Melanie Markley has him saying it on tape.)

At any rate, the point is Dworkin is always telling the Chronicle that one thing or another that HISD is doing is marvelous.

Let's look at the last three years.

April 5, 1997 -- A front-page story announces "No Advantage in Suburbs: Poor Children Do Better in Urban School Districts." Dworkin says his study shows that HISD does a whole lot better educating low-income kids than suburban school districts do. Low-income kids "whose parents move from HISD to the suburbs hoping to get a better education will actually perform less well."

December 21, 1997 -- A volunteer youth program at HISD is "of course, not a panacea," the Chron paraphrases Dworkin as saying. But, " 'Any kind of efforts to try to get kids to recognize that there are chances and opportunities for them cannot be bad,' Dworkin said."

September 16, 1998 -- A study by Dworkin rebuts criticism of HISD's test scores by a conservative taxpayers group.

August 8, 1999 -- Dworkin supports HISD's move to not promote students having trouble passing a grade. " 'It looks like there is no academic disadvantage to retention,' Dworkin said, 'and most likely it increases the chance of these kids passing the TAAS.' "

February 2, 2000 -- Houston Hispanics are concerned about what they feel is the district's "insensitivity toward their community," but -- perhaps not surprisingly -- Dworkin is right there when the district needs him. "HISD does 'reasonably well' in studies that compare how Hispanic students of different districts perform" on the TAAS, the Chronreports him saying.

July 19 -- "HISD Test Scores Are 'Marvelous,' Researcher Says."

No need to read further to see who that researcher might be.

This is not to say that Dworkin uses suspect research or cooks the books. He's entitled to his opinions about HISD.

But the fact that he thinks HISD is doing "marvelous" hardly qualifies as headline news.

You Are (Almost) There

Former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill had a famous saying: "All politics is local." TV news outfits have their own corollary: All news is local.

Channel 2 took it to a bit of an extreme July 12 with their report on a videotape showing Philadelphia cops playing the whoop-ass card on a seemingly defenseless suspect.

Channel 2 showed the video, of course. They described how the suspect had led the officers on a chase and had allegedly shot at a cop. Finally, well into the piece, they let us know one other bit of information: that the whole thing happened in Philadelphia, not Houston.

They then went LIVE! to reporter Joe Vazquez "in downtown Houston" for a discussion on whether the cops had gone too far. Standing before the dramatic backdrop of the Houston skyline -- a skyline that was approximately 1,500 miles away from where the incident occurred -- Vazquez interviewed KPRC's crime consultant, former FBI man Don Clark.

Together they stood under the stars looking at the video, the urban al fresco atmosphere no doubt aiding in their ability to interpret events. Some things sure didn't look right on the tape, Clark offered, but it's hard to say what's going on unless you're there.

And if you can't be there, then just pretend you are.

Extreme Machine

The right-wing screamers at KPRC-AM, home of the only real political talk-radio in Houston, may be toning down their act.

KPRC is owned by Clear Channel Communications, a radio behemoth based in San Antonio. Clear Channel is in the process of merging with another giant, AMFM of Dallas, which owns KTRH-AM here in Houston.

Rumors are that Clear Channel is getting nervous about the merger passing muster with the feds. Whether that has anything to do with recent activities isn't clear, but it's said that word has come down from on high at Clear Channel that the most vehement right-wing rhetoric should be reined in a bit.

At KPRC, that apparently has resulted in the departure of David Benzion, who produced afternoon host Mike Richards's show and also made occasional on-air appearances. Station officials aren't talking, but Benzion no longer works at KPRC, a change in job status that came soon after he reportedly called Jesse Jackson "Jesse Jackass" on the air.

Clear Channel's angst might be directed more specifically at KPRC, rather than its hundreds of other stations. The corporate bosses' unhappiness with 950 AM surfaced earlier this year when an in-house consultant criticized the station for having too many elderly callers and playing moldy oldies as bumper music (see "Geezer Alert!" by Tim Fleck, April 27).

Of course, "toning down" the rhetoric at KPRC is a matter of degree. Maybe now Hillary Clinton will have only horns, instead of horns and cloven hooves.

 
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