The scoop from celebrities: Your most valuable class

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 2J

Most anyone who has been through school has one.

Maybe it was that gifted teacher who inspired self-confidence in you for the first time. Or that first class in a subject that would become your lifetime pursuit.

We asked some prominent Texans to tell us a story about the class or teacher who changed the world for them.

Janice Voss
Five-time space shuttle astronaut

“The summer before my senior year, I went to a summer program. …

“We were using Fortran 4 to do something on missile impact. They told us there was a barracuda or some kind of nasty fish, and it eats all the fish in a certain radius. We had to figure out how many fish would be left after a certain time …

“It was really about missiles – if you’re trying to bomb someplace, you have know about radius of impact.”

Raymond Nasher
Civic leader and real estate developer

“I went to the Boston Latin School. …

“Philip Marson was an incredible teacher. I had him for English. He made certain we read a very important book every week, and that we wrote essays every couple of weeks. … It taught me the importance of reading important work and being thoughtful in regard to language.”

Henry Cisneros
Former mayor of San Antonio and secretary of housing and urban development

“It was an English teacher, Brother Martin McMurtrey at Central Catholic in San Antonio. He liked my writing. He wanted us to read a paragraph like a conductor hears music – to be able to tell there was a discordant note in there. He said our lives would be better if we came to love books and reading.

“I remember the first time he asked me to speak extemporaneously in front of the class. It was the very first time I stood before a group to articulate an idea. He pulled me aside after class to tell me he thought I had done well. Not only did he encourage reading and vocabulary and writing, he played a huge role in helping me break out of my shyness and have the confidence to stand before a group.”

Ellen Herbert
Longview High School art teacher, 2004 Texas Teacher of the Year

“I took a graphic design class at Captain Shreve High School in Shreveport. It was an extended class, three hours a day instead of one. It was a creative class – we were presented with visual problems and challenged to find ways to solve them. We were taught some technique, but it was really a unique chance to have open-ended time to use our problem-solving abilities. You really felt you had a chance to work through these visual issues you needed time to work through.”

D.L. Coburn
Playwright, Pulitzer Prize winner for The Gin Game

“It was a drama course senior year. …

“It gave me my only preparation for writing plays. Out of that drama course came roles in the senior play and things like that. I went out for the play because there was a pretty cute girl who had the lead. I just wanted a small role that would get me into rehearsals. Mrs. Vanderlain ended up giving me a very large role.”

George Foreman
Former heavyweight boxing champion, minister, entrepreneur

“The school was in Houston – Atherton Elementary. Math was the most important subject. Mr. McNeal was so hard on me. I never knew I would one day have to count millions of dollars. … I am so grateful I had one teacher who could see into the future.”

Larry Hagman
Actor, J.R. Ewing on Dallas

“Typing. That’s where the girls were.”

Laura Miller
Former Dallas Morning News reporter, mayor of Dallas

“Funny enough, the class that influenced me most was … typing! First, because I became an excellent typist, and it served me well for years when I was on tight deadlines as a journalist. More importantly, my teacher – Mary Bankowski at Rippowam High School in Stamford, Conn. – was a strong, dynamic, inspiring business teacher who made me feel smart and special and convinced me I could achieve anything I set out to do. She helped me start a new school club called ‘Students With a Purpose’ – my first brush with public service!”

Eddie Bernice Johnson
U.S. representative from Dallas since 1992

“It is geometry. The course is based on logic, and it teaches you how to solve problems. The skills learned in geometry will take you through life. This branch of mathematics empowers you to see the world in a different light. As opposed to seeing the world as a place marred by random chaos, there is a certain order and logic to our world. The straight lines and the geometric angles teach us to understand the world and our place in it. I have used the logical approach to problem-solving throughout my daily life and my career in politics.”

For supers, a brief stay in hot seat; Short tenures the norm with stress, challenges of today’s urban schools

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 1A

W.T. White can rest easy.

Dr. White led the Dallas school district from 1945 to 1968 and holds the city’s record for longest-serving superintendent – 23 years.

Mike Moses was burned out a few months past three. And no one expects the next superintendent’s tenure to last much longer.

The job of urban superintendent has never been easy. But in the last decade, it’s become an around-the-clock stress test – the sort of job that chews through dynamic leaders and, more often than not, leaves them exhausted and beaten.

“It’s just a constant bombardment,” Dr. Moses said after announcing his resignation Wednesday. “And you can do that for a while, and you can enjoy the challenge of that for a while. But I think you just use up a lot of your energies.”

Dallas had six superintendents from 1914 to 1987 – 73 years. It’s had six in the years since.

“It’s obviously a very complex assignment,” said Nolan Estes, Dallas’ superintendent from 1968 to 1978 and now a professor at the University of Texas in Austin. “There’s no job more stressful than being superintendent of schools.”

While DISD’s leadership chaos in the late 1990s was unusual, it was by no means unique. Depending on how you measure it, the average urban superintendent lasts between two and four years.

The board game

The biggest problem tends to be a superintendent’s relationship with the school board. Boards are political animals, representing divided constituencies, and managing board relations is near the top of any superintendent’s agenda. New board members often want to put a new face on the district and have little patience to wait years for improvements.

“It’s not easy to have nine bosses,” said Dan Katzir, managing director of the Broad Foundation, which runs the Urban Superintendents Academy, a training program in California. “The care and feeding of the board is a big issue.”

Even those who get along well with their boards face the pressure of being in the media and public spotlights at all hours, every day.

“You give and give and give,” Dr. Moses said. “You show up at everything you show up for. You answer phone calls into the night. You talk to your friends at Sunday school about school problems. You know, you just … everything you do is almost related to school.”

Carl Cohn, superintendent of Long Beach, Calif., schools in the 1990s, took a monthlong sabbatical after six years in the job.

“I literally forgot about the district for an entire month,” he said. “That had a lot to do with coming back refreshed and renewed. Boards and superintendents that are having a good run need to think about those kinds of things.”

In contrast, Dr. Moses complained that his recent attempt at a vacation had proved futile, as he found he couldn’t escape the stress.

Another change: the development of an education industry that can be a powerful financial lure for superintendents. There are now hundreds of testing companies, consulting firms and other corporations in the business of education. They can make financial offers to superintendents that surpass even the outsized salaries school districts must now offer to be competitive.

Superintendents aren’t the only leaders with shortening tenures. A variety of studies have found that CEOs are spending shorter stints in the corner office. College presidents, nonprofit directors and politicians are changing jobs more often.

“This is a phenomenon beyond K-12 education,” Mr. Katzir said.

Churning through superintendents presents a real problem for urban schools, since each new superintendent often wants his own curriculum, his own top staff and his own way of doing things.

“When you’re dealing with a large system, it takes at least three years to get the changes started and begin to have them implemented deeply,” said Judy Farmer, a school board member in Minneapolis and co-chair of a national task force on leadership in urban schools. “If you leave, it’s up for grabs again.

“The people who stay in the system, the teachers and the staff, get to think, ‘I don’t really need to buy into these changes. That person’s going to leave soon anyway.’ They keep their heads down and keep doing what they’re doing.”

Mr. Katzir’s group awards the Broad Prize in Urban Education, which annually honors the top five urban school systems in the country. In the last three years, only one of the districts to be a Broad Prize finalist had a superintendent who had been with the district fewer than five years, he said.

When Dr. Cohn retired from Long Beach in 2002, he was the nation’s longest-serving head of an urban school district – 10 years.

“That stability and continuity at the top is so critical,” said Chris Steinhauser, the longtime deputy superintendent in Long Beach who succeeded Dr. Cohn. Long Beach won last year’s Broad Prize.

That sort of veteran leadership is increasingly rare. A study by the Council of Great City Schools found that only 15 percent of urban superintendents have been in the same job for more than five years.

Splitting up the job

Districts are trying a variety of methods to keep leaders longer. Some, such as Dallas, create incentive bonuses that reward superintendents who stay beyond a certain date.

Others are choosing to divide the job into two: education and everything else. Districts such as Seattle and San Diego have hired noneducators to handle the myriad issues a major school system must tackle, from real estate and zoning to lobbying and fund raising. That leaves the academic work to an educator with a strong background in curriculum and instruction.

But others say that in some cases, a long stay may not be the most productive option. In the corporate world, struggling companies often hire a “turnaround CEO” to make rapid structural changes and stabilize a venture at risk of spinning out of control. After a short period – sometimes months, sometimes a couple of years – the CEO departs and makes way for a new management team that can plan for the longer term.

Several education observers used the turnaround CEO analogy to describe Dr. Moses.

“It could be that Mike’s tenure there could be this yeomanlike tenure of cleaning up after Rojas and those other folks,” Dr. Cohn said, referring to former DISD Superintendent Bill Rojas. “That in itself is incredibly important work. The Dallas board and Dallas superintendency had really developed a reputation as very dysfunctional in terms of national observers.

“I don’t mean to diminish what he’s done there. That’s incredibly important. But is that district at a point where it really wants to get into the big leagues of urban districts? That comes about only from laserlike focus on student achievement.”

‘Tired’ Moses walking away from DISD; Analysis: Successes are many, incomplete

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 1A

How you evaluate Mike Moses’ tenure as Dallas superintendent depends on what you value.

As a manager and a political figure, it’s hard to call him anything but a success. He put a more positive face on the district than Dallas had seen in years. He convinced a series of people – the FBI, a federal court, Dallas voters – that DISD was turning around and deserved the benefit of the doubt.

But at the schoolhouse level, Dr. Moses’ grade can be only an incomplete. Test scores and dropout rates, while improved, still rank at or near the bottom of Texas. It may take years to see whether improvements in student performance are real and lasting.

Still, nearly everyone around the district took Dr. Moses’ resignation Wednesday as a blow. Dallas hasn’t had the best of luck choosing superintendents in the last decade: Bill Rojas, fired after less than a year, and Yvonne Gonzalez, who resigned the post on the way to a prison term.

“We went through successive superintendents, one more disastrous than the other,” said Dallas Mayor Laura Miller. “Finally, we had someone who had the temperament, the political skills and the ability. I am more than extremely disappointed.”

Political skills

Dr. Moses honed his political skills in his years in Austin as Texas education commissioner. And his greatest victories as superintendent seemed to come from his ability to persuade bodies outside the district to see things his way.

He persuaded the FBI to shutter its multiyear investigation into alleged criminal activities by district officials – and persuaded the bureau to produce an unusual letter announcing the investigation’s end.

He persuaded Judge Barefoot Sanders to end the district’s desegregation order after 32 years of federal control.

He convinced Dallas’ powerful business community that he was a calm leader who would bring stability and sense to the district.

He convinced voters – with help from those business leaders – that a district with a history of financial malfeasance should be trusted with $1.37 billion in taxpayer money.

That bond program, the largest in Texas history, is likely to be the longest-lasting evidence of Dr. Moses’ tenure. During the next few years, 20 schools will be built, with additions or renovations to all 218 existing schools.

Dr. Moses’ calm, at times soporific personality gets much of the credit.

“I want to say this in the most positive way: Mike is a good ol’ boy,” said Sandy Kress, the former DISD board president who went on to advise President Bush on education policy. “People like Mike. You want to help him. It’s an infectious ‘Let’s be together, let’s work together’ sort of thing. He has that in abundance. It works to his advantage.”

“He knows what he’s doing, and he has a very nice demeanor,” Ms. Miller said. “That’s a good combination. If you know what you’re doing but you’re a jerk, which is what happened with Rojas, it doesn’t work.”

Some criticism

Like all urban superintendents, Dr. Moses took his hits, from residents and the media. Recent controversies about his outside consulting work and a dispute at Pershing Elementary were part of the job, he said Wednesday. But those who worked for him in Austin and Dallas have long described him as thin-skinned and susceptible to criticism.

“Mike can be a sensitive person, which is just his personality,” Mr. Kress said. “But he deserved a lot of credit for building up support from various places across the community.”

That included bringing relative calm to a school board that had been known for infighting and feuding in the late 1990s. Particularly in the early part of Dr. Moses’ term, board meetings were often festivals of agreement, with the superintendent often reminding trustees publicly of the importance of unity and decorum.

In recent months, shifts in the board’s makeup made the body’s pro-Moses stance a bit less unanimous. But he still had broad support the day he announced his resignation. He also enjoyed relatively untroubled relations with teachers and their representatives.

“I’m really impressed by the way he pulled everyone in the district and the community together,” said John Stevens, executive director of the Texas Business and Education Coalition and a Moses friend.

“When he first told me he was considering leaving, I asked myself, ‘OK, who is the logical successor?’ I think that’s a very real concern for this community. Things can be tenuous and fragile.”

Classroom record

Dr. Moses’ impact in the classroom – in the quality of education available to Dallas children – is less clear. He threw out the jumble of reading and math curricula used in the district’s 157 elementary schools and replaced them with a standardized system. But the impact of those changes could take years to see.

Test scores, school ratings and dropout measures improved during his tenure. But so did those of other urban districts and Texas as a whole – and Dallas, because of its miserable record, had much room for improvement. Mr. Kress, while saying Dr. Moses was a strong academic leader, said it was difficult to know how much of the gains were due to statewide initiatives and how much were due to his work.

In 2003, of the state’s 1,039 school districts, DISD ranked 951st in how many of its students passed all sections of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test. It also trailed all of the state’s large urban districts, even those with higher student poverty rates.

“I think Mike accomplished what he could at this phase of academic improvement,” Mr. Kress said. “The truth is that the next phase, getting student performance up to where it’s among the best in the state, will take another three to five years.”

Some might say that three and a half years isn’t enough time to create serious improvements in academic performance. On the other hand, three and a half years is the longest tenure of any Dallas superintendent in more than a decade, and a hair longer than the national average for urban school chiefs.

One of the issues that gave Dr. Moses trouble in recent months was his work on the side to help other districts pick superintendents. Ironically, his biggest contribution to DISD may be in guiding the district to pick his successor – someone with the combination of political, leadership and educational skills needed for the job.

“I hope the trustees have learned during these years what a superintendent should resemble,” said Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. “If nothing else, it would be worth it if he could etch in their minds what a superintendent should look like in the future.”

Where the only growth industry is death; AIDS destroys scarce resources as well as family members

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 4H

PARADISE COMPOUND, LUSAKA, ZAMBIA – It took a moment for Mwiche Simukoko’s family to realize she was dead.

“There was no big sign,” says her aunt, Terry Nkoma, sitting in the dirt outside the family’s mud-brick house, where Mwiche’s wet tuberculosis cough had echoed a few hours earlier. “She just stopped talking. She had been saying, ‘Mommy, mommy.’ Then the noise was not there.”

When the United Nations issued its annual global AIDS report last week, it focused on big numbers. Thirty-eight million infected. Forty-five million new infections expected this decade. Three million deaths last year.

But in Paradise Compound, a ramshackle clutch of huts that is one of the Zambian capital’s poorest neighborhoods, the focus is on smaller sums, like $70. That’s about how much it cost Mwiche’s family to bury the 23-year-old with the long hair and the bad reputation – the seventh of 10 siblings to die of the TB that is often a marker for AIDS.

In Zambia, where the average person earns about $300 a year, families often choose between burying their dead or buying food. Sometimes it seems coffin making is the country’s only growth industry.

The cost of Mwiche’s burial would be even higher if it weren’t for James Njanji, a Lusaka taxi driver who hopes to lead a small revolution in the way Zambians are buried. “People should not have to suffer after they are already dead,” he says. “They should find their place in the ground.”

Mwiche was not a universally beloved member of her family. Zambia is a traditional, conservative place, and Mwiche was a wild child.

“The girl was always going with friends to have beer,” Terry says. “She was always drinking and talking. When people are together, sometimes they do bad things. That was happening.”

She says Mwiche was sick with tuberculosis for six years. She went to a local clinic to be tested for HIV, and the doctors confirmed her suspicion. It didn’t seem to bother her.

“She said, ‘I know it’s a disease. It came, and there is nothing I can do,'” Terry says.

The three who remain? “I can’t say they’re healthy,” Terry says. “They have been keeping with these other people who died. So we can’t say they are safe.”

Terry holds the one photo the family has of Mwiche. In it, she’s with two friends in a bar. She wears a long, modest dress and shoes caked with dried mud. She’s not smiling.

But families must bury even those whose lives fall short of expectations. In Lusaka, the first step is transporting the body to the city morgue. In Paradise Compound, that means hiring a small pickup truck. The lowest price Mwiche’s family could find was 90,000 kwacha, or about $18.

The family didn’t have $18. So they sold their sofa. “Now you sit on the floor,” Terry says, gesturing at the tin-roofed family house.

A few years ago, James Njanji got angry about how much it was costing Zambians to bury their dead. “I see all these companies making all this money from death,” he says. “The dead people’s money ends up in the coffin maker’s pockets.”

James is a lumbering, bearish man, with a deep voice and a wide smile. As a taxi driver, he has a source of income, even if it’s not enough to support the 12 children in his home – seven of his own and five orphans he’s taken in.

The Lusaka Funeral Association was his idea. It’s a sort of neighborhood burial insurance: People in the compound can join by paying 10,000 kwacha (about $2) and half that again monthly as dues. In exchange, if a relative of a member dies, the association will pay for part of the cost of burial.

The association keeps costs low by building its own coffins. A retired carpenter, Mutale Mulenga, volunteers his time and skills.

When James learns that Mwiche has died – aunt Terry is an association member – he alerts Mutale. James drives his taxi to a local lumber shop, where he buys two sheets of 10-millimeter particle board for the coffin. (“For a big person, you need two sheets. For a child, you only need one.”) It costs about $14.

Wordlessly, Mutale marks the sheets, cuts and nails, and planes down rough edges. The compound’s children gather around in the dirt and sawdust around him, curious who has died today.

Now James has to figure out a way to get the coffin from the morgue to the cemetery. His taxi is too small. He drives to a stick-frame tire shop with a roof made from old corn sacks. It’s manned by two bored teen boys playing with the spokes of a wire tire rim.

He bargains with the truck owner, and they agree on a price: 105,000 kwacha, or about $21 – almost a month’s earnings for an average Zambian.

“It’s becoming very expensive to die,” he says.

The next morning, the rented Toyota truck drives Mwiche’s family and the coffin to the morgue. The women go inside and clean and dress Mwiche’s body. After an hour, the family loads the now-full coffin onto the truck bed and head off to Chunga cemetery, south of town. The landscape looks like the highland plains of New Mexico, all scrubby hills and dust.

The Toyota turns onto a parched dirt road, then a packed grass path. The cemetery is crowded this morning: At least 20 families are burying someone.

Standing around Mwiche’s grave are a dozen teenage boys, some with cups of homemade whiskey. These boys make their living by showing up at Chunga every morning and offering to dig graves. They accept cash or alcohol as payment. For Mwiche’s grave, they want alcohol. Instead, they get 10,000 kwacha ($2) to split among themselves.

The coffin is opened for one final viewing. The boys have no hammer, so they use stones to pound the nails back in. Two lower the coffin into the fresh grave; four others start shoveling dirt. The ground is hard and rocky; it has been months since the last rain, and there’s not enough dirt to make a full burial mound.

The crowd is silent; the mourners next door have stopped their singing. The only sounds are the hollow thumps of the first clumps of dirt on the pressed-wood lid.

This simple burial has cost about $70, more than anyone in the family will earn this year. Without the funeral association, it could have taken weeks for Mwiche’s family to raise the money for burial.

Most families in Zambia can’t afford a gravestone. So the government provides a small metal marker. The markers don’t have names, only a single letter and a five-digit number.

James asks the family where Mwiche’s marker is. He discovers there is none: The family forgot to pick one up at the morgue.

If they’d like, they could go get one later. But James doubts they’ll bother.

“Some people want to remember a grave,” he says. “Some people, they just want to bury the dead and be done.”

The next day, the sky opened up, and it rained.

Joshua Benton, a staff writer of The Dallas Morning News, spent six weeks in Zambia last fall on a Pew Fellowship in International Journalism. More stories and photos from his trip are posted on his blog at www.zambiastories.com. His e-mail address is jbenton@dallasnews.com.

And then there were three…; Students who fail TAKS get fewer retest chances to graduate on time

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 1B

For 63,984 members of the Class of 2005, it was the first last chance.

That’s how many of Texas’ rising seniors failed at least one section of last year’s Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. This week, many of them filed into their high schools for another stab at it.

“We’ve been working very hard to prepare our students for this,” said Sarah Cook, a U.S. history teacher at Rockwall High School. “We’ve been targeting them individually. We’re hoping for 100 percent passing.”

They are the first class that has to pass all four sections of the TAKS – English language arts, math, science and social studies – to graduate on time.

There’s a bit more pressure on this year’s seniors than on their predecessors. Under TAKS’ precursor, the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, the graduation test was given at the end of 10th grade. That meant failing students had two years – and up to eight retests – to get over the passing bar.

But the TAKS exit-level test is given at the end of junior year, which means this week’s tests were one of only four chances they’ll have to try again.

“I haven’t seen too much stress,” said Neil Wellman, Lewisville’s director of assessment. “It’s not their last chance yet. They’ve still got time.”

This spring’s battle for status as “most difficult test” ended in a virtual three-way tie. English language arts, math, and science all had between 28,000 and 34,000 students fall short of state standards. That’s out of roughly 217,000 students tested.

Students fared the best on the social studies test. Only 6,300 failed statewide.

Many schools have been offering help for students preparing for the test – ranging from standard summer-school classes to small-group tutoring.

State rules for remediating those who fail the high school test aren’t as strict as those for third-graders. (Third-graders must pass the reading TAKS to be promoted to fourth grade, with some exceptions allowed. It’s the only other high-stakes test for Texas students.)

Districts are required to offer accelerated instruction to third-grade students who have twice failed the reading TAKS. There’s no such requirement for juniors, and many schools offer no specialized TAKS instruction during the summer leading up to the test.

“Our district left it up to individual schools whether or not to provide tutoring in the summer,” said Cindy Bauter, testing coordinator at Lewisville High School.

Lewisville High did not provide tutors, she said. But the state does provide review booklets to all failing students for their own individual study, she said.

Many of the students being tested didn’t fail on their first try – they simply didn’t show up. In Rockwall, for example, 42 of the 192 students eligible to retake TAKS this week were absent when the tests were first given in the spring.

It remains to be seen how well students will perform. Just over half of the retakers failed only one of the four sections, and many of those missed by only a few test questions. But about 10,000 students failed three or four sections – and, in most cases, have a lot of work ahead of them.

Results from this week’s tests should be reported back to schools in about two weeks.

Column: Texas colleges buck trend concerning class rank

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 1B

Texans don’t always value the same things as the rest of the country. We probably like our barbecue more and our lutefisk less than folks up north, for instance.

But every once in a while, you start to wonder if those folks outside the Republic might be onto something.

Not with lutefisk (dried cod jellied in lye, for the non-Minnesotans out there). But with the way we admit kids into our colleges.

For the last few years, the Texas Legislature has pushed the state’s public universities in one direction. Most of the country has been lockstep the other way.

Here’s what I’m talking about: Every year, the National Association for College Admission Counseling asks universities a simple question: What do you look for in an applicant? Tracking the answers over time gives you a good idea what’s in and what’s out in the eyes of admissions offices.

The one factor that’s most out: Class rank. In 1993, 42 percent of schools said they placed “considerable importance” on a student’s class rank. In 2003, only 33 percent did. That’s the biggest drop of any factor.

Over that same span, SAT and ACT scores became more important to admissions directors: 46 percent valued them a lot in 1993, vs. 61 percent in 2003. A student’s high school grades also jumped up in importance.

So, nationwide, class rank is on the way down. SAT scores and grades are on the way up.

In Texas, class rank means everything. SAT scores and grades are afterthoughts. Either Texas is backwards, or everybody else is backwards.

“We’re admitting a lot of students we might not otherwise want to take,” said Mark Yudof, chancellor of the University of Texas System.

The reason is, of course, the controversial top 10 percent law. The Legislature has decided that students who finish in the top 10 percent of their high school class are automatically accepted into the state university of their choice.

As long as you fill out the paperwork on time, nothing else matters. Your SAT scores can be microscopic. Your extracurricular activities can stop at making lint sculptures and paper airplanes. It doesn’t matter: You’re in.

But most other universities are heading in the opposite direction. “Class rank is really a third-tier factor now,” said David Hawkins, NACAC’s director of public policy. “As an indicator of how successful a student will be in college, it tells you a little, but not a lot.”

One reason: Class rank, by itself, doesn’t tell you much. The top 10 percent at Highland Park High isn’t equal to the top 10 percent at North Dallas High. And every school ranks its students in different ways. Does Advanced Placement Physics count more than gym? Do art classes count at all? Do senior-year classes count more than freshman-year classes? Different schools have different answers.

“Class rank has become less and less meaningful,” said Ann Wright, vice president for enrollment at Rice University, Texas’ most selective institution. “It’s interesting to see who’s in the top 10 percent or the top quarter. But it’s certainly not very accurate.”

“Class rank can tell you something, but only if you know something about the high school,” said Monty Curtis, associate vice president for enrollment management at Southwestern University. “There’s no consistency.”

It’s becoming an issue because now more than 70 percent of freshmen admitted to UT-Austin are getting in via the top 10 percent law. Dr. Yudof said in a few more years the entire class might be admitted that way. “Some of these kids may not have the most compelling personal histories,” he said delicately. “I think it’s too mechanical.”

Pressure’s mounting – particularly from Republican-vote-heavy suburbs – for the Legislature to change the rule. Dr. Yudof said he would support taking another look.

There are plenty of good arguments for the law. Its original intent was to boost student diversity, and it has done that. It’s allowing UT to draw students from a wider geographic area and not just the Dallas and Houston suburbs. And preliminary studies have indicated that the top-10ers do just as well as everyone else once they get to Austin.

But it’s still curious that admissions officers in the rest of the country – who can choose to admit students however they want – are slapping down class rank just as Texas is raising it up.

“We like to see kids taking the toughest classes and doing well in them, no matter their rank ,” said Chris Ellertson, dean of admissions at San Antonio’s Trinity University. “Class rank is meaningful only in the context of other factors.”

Teacher who let her pupils hit boy won’t be indicted; Mother says ‘justice system has failed’ son who was punished

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 4B

A Dallas County grand jury decided Thursday not to indict a Seagoville Elementary School teacher who disciplined an 8-year-old boy by having his classmates take turns hitting him.

“She’s very relieved,” said the teacher’s attorney, Ted Steinke. “She feels bad about what happened. She had absolutely no malicious intent, nor did she have any intent to cause any injury to the child.”

The teacher, whose name has not been released by officials, has been on administrative leave with pay since shortly after the May 6 incident. Mr. Steinke said Seagoville police investigated and turned the case over without charges to the grand jury, which heard evidence Tuesday.

Parents of students in the class complained that after the boy got into trouble, the teacher asked the class to line up and take turns hitting him as punishment. The boy’s mother said he takes medication daily for emotional problems.

“I think the criminal justice system has failed,” said the mother, Shellee DeChant. “I was very surprised by the decision.”

Mr. Steinke said the teacher had apologized to the boy, his family and his classmates. “She understands she made a mistake,” he said. “She didn’t use the best judgment in that scenario.”

Dallas school district spokesman Donald Claxton said it had not yet been determined what further discipline the teacher will face. “There have been discussions about options,” he said. “They were going to be incumbent upon what happened with the grand jury. So now that they’ve taken action, I’m sure our employee relations folks will be making a decision.”

Mr. Steinke said his client wants “to remain with DISD and go back to work.” She is pursuing a master’s degree in early childhood education, he said.

Ms. DeChant said her son would be transferring to another school this fall.