The Brief: Top Texas News for Aug. 2, 2010

THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Officials announcing controversy-laden public school ratings Friday could barely contain their upbeat unease.

Results showed a significant boost in schools earning "exemplary" and "recognized" distinctions from the Texas Education Agency. But the officials, including Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott, spent much of their time at a press conference defending the now-infamous Texas Projection Measure, which the Tribune, through its own analysis of the data released Friday, reports masked public school failure in this year's findings.

Maligned for crediting students who fail state tests but are projected to pass in the future, the measure has become a lightning rod in discussion of state public education recently. This year, about a third of the state's schools were rated "exemplary," compared to 13 percent two years ago; three in four schools are now rated "exemplary" or "recognized," compared to fewer than one in two in 2008.

As the Tribune's Brian Thevenot notes, Scott, who has both defended the measure and said he'd be open to scrapping it, brandished a battery of charts and graphs and trotted out real, live people to fend off the criticism that has dogged him and the agency this summer. The results, in fact, did show some gains in certain areas.

But, as the Trib's analysis found, schools have not improved much since 2008, as the officials claimed. And perhaps most troubling, the measure masked a threefold increase in the number of schools deemed "unacceptable" — a rating that usually gives failing schools an ultimately fortuitous shot in the arm to push toward improvement. "In Texas accountability, as in horseshoes and hand grenades, close enough counts," Thevenot writes. "Separately, the way the state credits almost-passers in school ratings has nearly eliminated “failure” from the educational lexicon, along with its attendant consequences — and lessons."

CULLED:

  • Keep up, because the back-and-forth in the increasingly vicious governor's race is getting a little knotty: Allegations about murky real estate deals are spinning off into their own accusations surrounding grant requests that loop back around to businessmen with ties to those land deals. Got that? Dig in here.
  • U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has announced she'll vote against Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's confirmation this week. "I simply cannot reconcile Ms. Kagan's sparse record and my concerns about whether she will be an impartial arbiter of the law and so I will oppose her appointment," read a statement from Hutchison, who also voted against Kagan's solicitor general nomination last year.

“I see them sitting around waiting for something to happen, waiting for a call." — A Terlingua resident on Border Patrol agents, whom some border residents have accused of harassing locals while idling

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Deuell Asks AG: Can State Ban Abortion Affiliates? — The Texas Tribune

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