School's Out

Newsweek magazine has come out with a cover story on "America's Top 100 High Schools," and it's underlying message is clear: Houston, you suck.

Not only that, but Dallas is great.

Four freakin' schools from the Dallas area are in the top 20; only one Houston school made the top 100 -- and that one is a state charter school, YES College Prep, which came in at a lowly 87th.


Top high schools

Where is the love, Newsweek? It's not like we here at the Houston Press spend a lot of time defending the Houston school district, but we did recently publish our own take on the area's best high schools, and HISD was well represented (see "These Kids Go to the Best Public High School in Houston," March 2).

As discussed in that story, Newsweek's methodology is a bit suspect; it relies heavily on the number of students at a school who take advanced-placement tests. The magazine rewards smaller boutique programs at the expense of larger, more "normal" high schools.

"If we broke up the [International Baccalaureate] program at Bellaire and paid for all their AP tests, the small Bellaire program would be No. 1," says Robert Sanborn, president of the advocacy group Children at Risk.

Jay Mathews created the methodology used by Newsweek and says a rule change from last year caused the number of Dallas schools to spike.

"We had a rule that we would disqualify a school if more than half its students were admitted based on grades and test scores," he says. "We had to sort of massage that rule."

He says it was a "clumsy way" of determining which schools had too few "average students" to be considered for the list. Still, three of the four Dallas-area schools have fewer than 100 students per grade.

Mathews says Houstonians should not be discouraged. "Houston probably has more schools on the full list [of 1,139] than any other big city," he says. "You're way ahead of D.C. and New York and Philadelphia and Chicago."

But not Dallas. Hey, at least we still got Chamillionaire and Mike Jones.

Everyday He Writes the Book

Sane people all over Houston who listen to sports-talk radio (and we're willing to concede there's an oxymoron lurking about in that phrase) had spent much of 2006 waiting desperately for April 29.

On that day the NFL draft would occur, the Houston Texans would use their top pick to take Reggie Bush or Vince Young, and no longer would listeners be subjected to the 648th guy that week to call in with a couple of thoughts on whom the team should choose.

And then Texans general manager Charley Casserly chose Mario Williams. This is like having the choice of spending the night with one of the stars of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and picking Bernie Mac.

We searched far and wide to find the reason for the move. We ended up talking to Dawn Werk of Alpha Books, the publishers of The Complete Idiot's Guide series of books.

Q. Is there a Complete Idiot's Guide to the NFL Draft?

A. Ummm. No -- we have one to football, by Joe Theisman, but it's just your general rules to the game and how it's played. That would be the closest thing we have.

Q. So there wouldn't be a book outlining who you should draft if, say, you can pick between a Heisman Trophy superstar and a hometown hero?

A. Right, right -- we don't have one. May be a good idea, though.

Q. Your Web site says people can propose books to you. Has anyone named Charley Casserly written in proposing to write a Complete Idiot's Guide to the NFL Draft?

A. Not that I'm aware of. A lot of those ideas come to me because people don't know where else to send them, but as far as I'm aware I haven't heard any of the editors talk about that. So, as far as I know, no, he hasn't.

Q. And actually, I guess, the books are not written by idiots, but for idiots.

A. They're for people who are maybe an idiot in that particular topic. They could be smart in other things. I, for instance, would not know anything about the NFL draft. An Idiot's Guide would be perfect for me.

Q. We probably could have used it here in Houston, too.

A. Sorry.

At Least Someone's Happy

Everyone's grumbling about high gas prices. Unless you work for a giant oil company, and then you've got a shit-eating, profit-making grin on your face. (If you're top management, that is. The less exalted aren't sharing in the wealth too much.)

Is it boom time again in Houston, where greedy oil execs are chortling their way through lavish expense-account meals while the rest of America scrimps in order to afford a fill-up? Apparently so.

Data from the state comptroller's office, which tracks the taxes raised by mixed-drink sales, shows things are pretty swell if you're running the kind of restaurant the oil crowd favors.

Mixed-drink sales at Sullivan's and Pappas Bros. Steakhouse are up by 14 percent or so from 2002; at Brennan's the rise is 53 percent, and at swanky ol' Tony's it's 95 percent.

Rene Zamore, executive director of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association, says a lot of establishments do seem to be enjoying sales increases.

"If it is [because of] the oil business as a direct result of their upswing in profits, then that's a positive, considering most people are kind of a little on the disgruntled side of the oil industry and how much they're profiting," she says. "So if they can bleed it back into our industry, great."

Hear that, America? Maybe the next time you're grousing about gas prices, you might stop to think that at least one city's getting some good out of them.

Call Me

Forget Catherine Zeta-Jones. Forget the "Can you hear me now?" guy. Phone-company endorsement has a brand-new face: State Representative Sylvester Turner.

Turner can be heard on the radio extolling the wonders of communications giant AT&T. "Whenever I'm getting rolled by the Republicans in Austin, I always use AT&T to hear about it!" he doesn't say.

Actually, Turner says he's doing ads to inform constituents that they may eligible for a $7-a-month rebate on their phone bill. The rebate does not apply only to AT&T, but AT&T is the company that asked Turner to do the spots (for free).

"And if there's a competitor [to AT&T] that wants to provide the same information, then I'll say the same thing," he says.

A recent change by the legislature now makes the rebate available to people at 150 percent of the poverty level, as opposed to the previous 125 percent. About 200,000 more Texans are eligible for it.

"We're trying to reach a very specific population," says Tracy King, an AT&T regional VP. "We know that they tune in to Sylvester Turner's voice."

Other politicos doing the ads include Senator Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, Representative Veronica Gonzalez of McAllen and Brownsville, and Dawnna Dukes of Austin.

Martha Wong, who represents Bellaire, West U and Montrose, apparently wasn't needed.

It's So Hard to Choose

For what fans can only hope is the last time ever, the Houston Texans' ineptness resulted in the team's getting the first choice in the NFL draft. Their last game of the 2005 season, against the equally inept San Francisco 49ers, was dubbed the "Bush Bowl" because it was assumed the loser would use the resulting first pick to take USC running back Reggie Bush. Then UT's Vince Young -- from Madison High -- went all heroic in the Rose Bowl, and Houstonians demanded the team draft him. Instead the Texans took relatively little-known defensive tackle Mario Williams from North Carolina State.

Click here to see how the three compare.


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