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The [Wednesday] Papers

What with the Blue Line fire, the Robert Novak revelations, the All-Star game, and Mancow going off the air, it's hard to know where to turn first. But - stick with me here - I'll start with the latest test scores to come out of Chicago's public schools.

They are at a record high.

And they are bullshit.

As the Tribune reports, "For the first time, the majority of Chicago public school students passed state tests in reading, math and science, but significant changes in the exams fueled at least some of the sharp rise, officials said."

"We're on our way to becoming the best urban school district in the nation, " Mayor Richard M. Daley said, calling the test scores "historic."

The Sun-Times put that word in quote marks in its headline, "'Historic' School Test Results," though I'm not sure if that's because the word came out of the mayor's mouth or because it's such a dubious characterization.

Because guess what?

"[C]ity and school officials acknowledged that the gains are attributed in part to the Illinois State Board of Education making it easier to pass the 8th-grade math exam by lowering the passing score," the Tribune says in its report. "The state also revamped the test content and gave students more time to finish."

The Sun-Times reports that "State officials lowered the passing score from the 67th percentile to the 38th percentile."

Jesus! They gamed the system - by 29 percentiles! - and this was the best we could do? Maybe we should be disappointed with the results.

Now I know what Chicago schools "CEO" Arne Duncan means when he says, "This is a tipping point. We can go anywhere from here." Only 38 percentiles to go to reach total success!

Let's hope Daley and Duncan are only trying to fool us, not themeselves.

Of course, President Bush is easily fooled by bad intelligence. On his visit here last week, Bush recalled at a press conference that "The mayor said something interesting. He said, reading scores are up. That's a good sign. It means people are measuring and teachers are teaching. And when you have the basic - you know, the basic foundation for a good education laid, then you can focus on math and science."

Such as the math and science behind test scores.

"'I don't think there's any question that if you are not examining the exact same test that it is difficult to say that this is the quantitative number of where the improvement lies,' said Ald. Patrick O'Connor, City Council Education Committee chairman," according to the Tribune.

"Jeff Mays, president of the Illinois Business RoundTable, said his group fought against lowering the passing score for the math test because it lowered standards. 'It is really sad that we cannot attribute this fully to increased learning,' said Mays. 'I'm sure a lot of people put in a lot of time and effort trying to make it better, but the amount of increase attributable to that versus this mathematical wizardry from the state board - how do you separate the two?'"

You don't. You just ignore them and move on.

Blue Line Blues
"Blue Line Horror: 'Is It A Bomb?'"

Um, no. Maybe next time.

Novak Names Names
Sun-Times columnist Bob Novak has revealed two of his three sources for the column that sparked the Plamegate investigation as well as the fact that he has cooperated in the federal criminal investigation into the matter being led by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

Novak says he cooperated with the investigation to the advice of his attorney, who feared, as attorneys often do, that an unsuccessful challenge to resist a subpoeana would make bad press law, which in effect means that journalists ought to behave as if that bad law already exists in order for it to not. Lawyers afraid of making bad law are a bit like Dusty Baker waiting for a perfect roster to show what he can do. Circumstances are rarely ideal, and I bet attempts at avoiding bad law as often as not end up backfiring, but so be it, I'm not a lawyer.

What I find most intriguing about Novak's piece is this:

"I have revealed [Karl] Rove's name because his attorney has divulged the substance of our conversation, though in a form different from my recollection. I have revealed [CIA spokesman Bill] Harlow's name because he has publicly disclosed his version of our conversation, which also differs from my recollection. My primary source has not come forward to identify himself."

Could Novak's recollection have failed him with two different sources, or is it more likely that Rove and Harlow shaped their recollections to their best advantage to prosecutors and the public?

The Tribune, meanwhile, finds the Novak news only worthy of a Washington Post excerpt on page 6. It's not as if this is an important piece to a larger story about how this nation was led to war, that nearly ended up with the indictment of the president's chief political aide, and involves in Novak and Fitzgerald two characters from Chicago.

The Bill Beavers FunTime Hour
Bill Beavers isn't the only one who has finally been revealed to the city at-large as a cynical hack. The press corps which has, as Mark Brown points out today, long considered him a favorite for his bluntness, should now explain why they never considered the substance of that blunt talk as fodder for an examination into how he does business and his performance as an alderman.

More interestingly, though, is Brown probing the possible aldermanic candidacy to replace Beavers, - should he move to the county board - of Sandi Jackson, the wife of U.S. congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., and, judging by her credentials, a powerhouse in her own right.

Baseball Ballot Reform
Every year a debate ensues about how the players in baseball's All-Star game should be selected, such as this New York Times story saying the vote is in the wrong hands, meaning the hands of the fans. But maybe the real problem isn't fan voting per se, but the unlimited number of ballots that gives major markets an unfair advantage. What if each city had the same number of ballots?

Tony Peraica scores a sensible victory.

Penalty Phrase
An admitted "fresh convert" to World Cup soccer defends deciding games on penalty kicks by claiming they are not only essential - "you'd prefer that a tie game simply spun out into infinity, or at least until players collapsed from exhaustion-induced coronaries? - but "perfect metaphors for life."

Gee, didn't the White Sox just play a 19-inning game? They didn't decide the game with a home run derby.

"With a penalty kick, the gritty grandeur of effort and preparation is wedded to the fluid beauty of chance."

I have no idea what "the fluid beauty of chance" means.

"Bet Al Gore wishes he'd leaned the right way when George Bush got his big ol' Texas leg into that kick . . . "

I have no idea what that means, either. That Al Gore leaned the wrong way politically - not "right" enough? - when he won the popular vote in 2000 by about half a mil? Or that Al Gore chose the wrong recount strategy in Florida?

Perhaps penalty kicks are a metaphor for taking the easy way out to come to a grand conclusion with little significance to the matter at hand.

TV Troubles
"CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox averaged 20.8 million viewers during the average prime-time minute last week, according to Nielsen Media Research, making it the least-watched week in history for the four biggest broadcast networks."

Maybe the networks should ask Mayor Daley how to game the numbers.

Tales From the Front
How priceless does this column continue to be?

Shine On
You crazy diamond.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Wishing you were here.


Posted on July 12, 2006

MUSIC - December In Chicago Drill.
TV - Don't Weaken Media Ownership Limits.
POLITICS - Another SRO Crisis.
SPORTS - TrackNotes: Mom.

BOOKS - How Stereo Was Sold To A Skeptical Public.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Chicago Footwork King's Bail Battle.

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