Monday, April 26, 2010

On Hiatus

Due to the demands of "real life," whatever that may mean, we must temporarily suspend operations here at Slampo's Place. We hope to return soon to continue our self-appointed mission of smiting the wicked, exalting the righteous and improving the mediocre.

Meantime, as always, the window of the Official Clearinghouse for Al Hoang News & Infotainment remains open at the email address to your immediate right.

Thanks for your patronage.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Man in a Hurry

In what simply may have been a case of the natural phenomenon scientists call "a blind squirrel rolling up on a nut," the Chronicle's Teen Columnist recently had a pretty all reet examination of the situational complexities at Lee High School in southwest Houston, which has lost two well-respected principals –– one to firing, the other to getting-out-while-the-getting's-good –– under the new Houston schools superintendent. The columnist noted that the new super –– who initially impressed us as a smile-and-shoeshine sort of fellow (although judging from what we've seen of him on TV that probably should be amended to snarl-and-a-shoeshine) –– had never set foot on the Lee campus, despite overseeing the rending of the school's somewhat delicate fabric. (Lee, as you may have seen and read, has been in the news a bit this school year.) In a follow-up posting last week on her blog, Ms. Falkenberg reported that in the wake of her column* the super was preparing to head down the freeway and actually plant his feet on the campus, and, in response to her email asking him why he was doing so, he had emailed her back that:
Frankly, I have not been able to visit our schools as often as I would like.
Tomorrow, I am visiting Lee and Cashmere (SIC)--two of the schools that the state has labeled as 'failing.' Next week, I plan to visit Jones and several of our other 'failing' or low performing schools.
Obviously the super meant "Kashmere," another HISD school that has been in the news a lot this year. Other than the insertion of the parenthetical "(SIC)" –– that's Latin for "you big dummy" –– Ms. Falkenberg correctly passed on making any ado of the miscue, although some of her online commentators couldn't resist the opportunity.

Our first, admittedly knee-jerk, reaction was: Gee, that's terrible –– the superintendent of schools misspelling the name of an old Houston school that's been all over the newspaper lately and was even the subject of a lengthy investigative report the district ordered up. It certainly did not reflect a reassuring grasp of detail. Upon more sober reflection, though, we realized that the city's top public educator shouldn't be expected to spell the name of one of his schools correctly, especially in an email to a journalist, because, as lots of kids today know, spelling is just so passĂ©.

And anyhow, he spelled L-E-E correctly.

*Unfortunately, Ms. Falkenberg thought it necessary to puff out her chest and aver that she had "called out" the superintendent, thus precluding her immediate promotion to "Young Adult" columnist.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bill White’s Big Dropout Problem

It has come to our attention, and perhaps to yours, too, that Bill White is under the misimpression that Texas’s “dropout problem,” as he undoubtedly has phrased it somewhere along the line, is the hobby horse he’ll be able to flay straight into the under-repair Governor’s Mansion. It also appears that White is blaming Rick Perry for the problem, or at the very least suggesting that Perry hasn’t done anywhere near enough to keep those hard-working, knowledge-starved kids in school. (We must shrug and stipulate into the record here that, as best we can recall, we have never voted for Perry for any office, and we’re unlikely to do so this year, although, as with all things in heaven and on earth, we’re open to the possibility, in the unlikely event that Perry says or does something that impresses us.) The issue flared last week when, according to this story in the local newspaper, White and Perry argued over the extent of the, um, problem, with White proclaiming that “nearly 1 million Texas students have failed to graduate or get a GED on time” during the nine years Perry has been governor and Perry riposting that “the [number] that Mr. White uses is taking the number of kids starting their freshmen year and then the ones that graduate in four years the following May or June. If a child dies, they count that as a dropout. I think that's a little harsh.”

Now this particular debate over numbers strikes as being almost as meaningless as the semantic one over whether Houston is a “sanctuary” city ('tis what it is, y’know), although we have to give Perry comedy points for his baldly risible assertion that child mortality is is a factor in whatever the actual dropout numbers are. On the larger issue that White has been raising, however, we must rise again, all by our lonesome it seems, to point out what no other member of the Mainstream News and Infotainment Media has the wit, or the stick, to point out, and that is this: Bill White doesn’t have any more of a clue than Rick Perry about how to fix the “dropout problem” (we’re using quotes here because we are not fully convinced that the self-selecting clearing-out of the schools by teenagers who don’t want to be there is an entirely bad thing, but that’s pretty much beside the point we’re driving at, so let us keep our eyes on the road and our hands upon the wheel).

So far White has a little better than nothing, zilch, but clownish and ill-advised catchphrases and gusts of hot air, such as, “The governor is more interested in his own future than the future of Texans.” Yeah, that’s probably 'cause Rick Perry hates kids and wants them to be failures. You can see it in his eyes. And we all remember his wildly successful “Drop Out of School Right Now, Ninos” campaign. The Chronicle story kinda-sorta pointed out White’s nearly empty basket:
White, the son of public school educators, conceded there is no single or easy answer to the problem.

“You need to start early with early childhood education,” he said. “You need to offset summer learning loss (programs) for those elementary school kids who do not have access to books and computers at home during the summer. You need to have more flexible programs that accommodate and support those students in their attempt to graduate who must work when they are in high school.”
Oh, it’s not like anybody ever thought of that before, or tried it. Scouring White’s campaign Web site last week, we saw the first item under the heading “reducing the dropout rate” was this classic example of Bill White’s full-court noblesse:
When a student drops out of school, it must be treated as an emergency, not just another statistic. In Houston we launched Expectation Graduation to cut the dropout rate. For example, each fall, my wife Andrea and I led thousands of volunteers to go to the homes of high school students who have not returned to school. Approximately 8,800 students have returned to school as a result, and this initiative has been replicated in communities across Texas.
Yes, that’ll do it: A statewide version of the PR stunt that HISD and now other school districts pull every summer whereby teachers, administrators and concerned-citizen types go to the houses of dropouts to try and talk them back into school. (We are skeptical in the extreme of this 8,000 number and would suggest that some bored journalist –– a journalist, not a publicist –– track, say, 20 of these kids who answer the door when Bill White and Co. come a’knockin’ this summer to see how many of them actually make it back to school, and how many eventually graduate. Ah, but that would be real work and take lots of time and in any case would probably be a downer, so never mind.) There’s was one decent and very modest idea that White appears to have made, which we can't do justice to at this moment because the "issues" link on his site isn't loading, but it had something to do forging closer links between schools and businesses that employ students in after-school jobs.

If White were serious about the dropout problem and not just trying to warp reality by blaming Perry, he'd buck up and demonstrate some of the intestinal fortitude his successor as mayor seems to possess by doing the following:

1. Call for the immediate end of "bilingual" classes in Texas public schools in favor of strict and unrelenting English immersion for all students. This is one of our frequent hobby horses, so we’ll just direct your attention to this Heather McDonald article exploring how, as the author put is, the “curtailment of California’s bilingual-education industry” and its “counterintuitive linguistic claims” have led to slightly higher test scores for Hispanic students in that state. The “dropout problem" is not, of course, exclusively a Hispanic problem, but in large urban school districts it is a disproportionately Hispanic one, and anyone who thinks the early-grades barrio-izing of non-English-speaking Spanish speakers doesn’t contribute, directly, to the “dropout problem” down the road is a fool. White won't do this, of course, because he's already demonstrated a pronounced disinclination to break with Democratic Party orthodoxy, and the fear of course is that such a stand would alienate Hispanic voters, although we'd expect the blowback would be a lot less than you'd imagine among Mexican-Americans who actually vote (and speak English). But White needs to do this, not just because it's the right thing (always reason enough), but because he requires his own "Sister Souljah" moment ––and this, unlike Clinton's, would be a moment on something that actually matters–– if he wants to avoid having “Lost to Rick '39 Percent' Perry in First Bid for Statewide Office” as his next resume entry. This is a no-brainer when it comes to sound public policy. Maybe that's why we can't recall Rick Perry ever having anything to say on the subject, either.

2. Call for an immediate end to the requirement that students must complete four years of math, four years of science, four years of English, etc., to graduate high school. This, too, would skirt the boundaries of bipartisan heresy –– that no man's land where Bill White has rarely ventured –– because it would implicitly acknowledge the cold fact, verifiable by 4,000 years of human experience, that not all kids are cut out to master Algebra II. What you could do instead is retain the 4-year requirements for a college-bound track of study but offer an alternative for kids who’d rather learn some vocational skills and who probably aren't going to get a whole out of reading, say, Love in the Time of Cholera. Beginning with or just after 9th grade, the bewitching hour for most dropouts, the non-college track would consist of three hours in the morning of intense instruction and/or remediation in math and language arts, with three more hours after lunch devoted to the teaching of skills (plural) that will come in handy in the workplace. The choice of tracks would up to the student and his parents. This, too is no-brainer, but come to think of it we can't recall Rick Perry saying much on the subject (maybe he has and we missed it).

3. Start addressing the nettlesome and unpleasant cultural factors that are the main contributor to the “dropout problem.” Take to the bully pulpit and emphasize that it’s not a good idea for 12-year-old “shorties” to be having more shorties. Suggest to parents that it’s an equally bad idea to pull their kids out of school for a month in the middle of the semester to go back to Mexico. Explain why it’s not a sound parenting practice for mamas to drop their kindergartners off at school in the morning with the godawful rap music with its “motherfucker this” and “motherfucker that” blaring out of the windows. In other words, start putting the onus where it belongs: on the parents. Because no halfway sensible person is going to look at the "dropout problem" and think Rick Perry's the daddy.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More Chicks Than You Could Stuff Inside a Pullman Car (If They Still Made Pullmans)

Yep, we know: when you're trying to beat the rap in Texas it probably helps to be a semi-renown musical legend, and it certainly can't hurt to be able to afford Dick DeGuerin as your Bar-accredited courtroom mouthpiece. We'd imagine that being white is still an advantage, too, although maybe not as much as that accident of birth once was. Still, we must confess to having swelled just a bit with a Bullock-ian sense of Texas pride when we read of this exchange Friday during a courtroom proceeding up in McLennan County, which resulted in a jury's acquittal of old five-and-dimer (and illegally pistol-packing barroom patron) Billy Joe Shaver of aggravated assault for shooting and wounding an obnoxious, liquored-up gentleman outside a bar two years ago*:
[Lady prosecutor] suggested that [Shaver] could have just left the bar if he had felt so intimidated.

That would have been "chicken shit," Shaver replied.

[Lady prosecutor] asked whether Shaver was jealous that [the victim] at the time was talking to Shaver's wife, Wanda.

"I get more women than a passenger train can haul. I'm not jealous," Shaver said.
For readers unfamiliar with Mr. Shaver and his oeuvre, we must point out that he is not a 23-year-old hip-hop artiste of the Southern school but rather a 70-year-old Caucasian who could pass for 80 and many years ago lost parts of a couple of fingers while working in a lumber mill. We needn't add that they don't make 'em like Billy Joe Shaver anymore, although we're not entirely certain how we feel about that.

*Brought to our attention by the omnivorous and erudite Banjo Jones.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

For Real (So Far)

After catching the public speakers’ portion of the 3-30-10 Houston City Council meet-up on the access channel,* we were moved to wonder why the mayor’s unilateral move to increase the insurance payments of under-65 municipal retirees hasn’t occasioned more comment and commentary, especially from Our Town’s legions of conservative bloggers and the other vociferous gum-beaters of the blogosphere,** for whom public employees and public-employee unions are generally bĂȘte noire, generally speaking. (We, of course, expected absolutely nothing from the likes of the Sexiest Blogger in Houston,*** or Most Influential-est and Boring-est Block-Quoter in the Western Hemisphere, whatever, and we have not been disappointed, although this wily old vato, who was briefly in the employ of the mayor's runoff opponent last year, did weigh-in from the port side with an appreciative acknowledgement of the mayor's bulls-by-the-horn approach. We know it's early, but we expect to see at least one and possibly more pro-Parker op-ed pieces by erstwhile mayoral would-be Bill King (checking his Web site, we see ... nada, but as we said it's still early).

We are not saying here that he mayor was absolutely 100-percent right in this move (and how could such an unpalatable action be "right"?), 'cause we don't have enough information to issue such a snap judgment, especially on the, um, complex political ramifications, not to mention the financial ones. We must admit that we did blanch a bit, in sympathy, as several under-65 and able-bodied (or at least able-bodied enough to get to the microphone in council chambers) ex-city workers bewailed the extremely large increases they'll be forced to bear in their monthly payments –– one guy said his were in the neighborhood of $700+ –– but then the il’ dude inside us who hut-huts along like either John Calvin or Edmund Burke (he dresses like a city employee –– a cop!) came a'strolling, twirling his nightstick and wondering, "Who but a public employee could afford to retire well before 65 in this day and age?"**** and "How many dependents are you carrying there on your policy?" Council members Clarence Bradford and Wanda Adams, especially the former, raised concerns about the mayor's action, which, if we can interpret their meanings within the broad confines of necessary council collegiality, seemed to imply that the mayor had been high-handed and not sharing information with them. The mayor, we noticed, did not flinch.

So we have some predictions here: No. 1.) Expect the public bonhomie and good feeling and general unanimity of the White Era City Council to be a thing of the past, a development that will be the direct result of No. 2.), and that is: This mayor apparently came into office prepared to actually do stuff.

*In case you were wondering, we heard District F Councilman Al Hoang say nothing stupid or needlessly insulting during the part of the meeting we saw –– in fact we could not tell whether Hoang was actually present and accounted for.

**We would also paint local conservative talk radio with this possibly unwarranted broad brush, except that we rarely listen to any of it.

***Who was see is actually encouraging people –– or a person, to be exact –– to move away from Houston, but presumably only after he's returned his Census form.

***The aggrieved retirees we saw all looked to be of our vintage, mid-range Baby Boomers. One, who seemed to be a friend of the mayor, spent an unusually large portion of his allotted minutes congratulating her and the council for various unspecified fiscal accomplishments.