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January 2nd, 2012:

Crime lab update

One way or another, Mayor Parker says we will have a new crime lab in 2012.

After years of scandal, the police department will no longer run Houston’s crime lab, Mayor Annise Parker said Wednesday.

The promise is among the initiatives she will elaborate on next week during her inauguration speech. Parker was reelected in November and will begin her second term in January.

But during an interview Wednesday with KHOU 11 News, Parker stressed that the city would have an “independent” crime lab by the end of 2012.


Currently, the lab is downtown at police headquarters in the 1200 block of Travis. The mayor is still deciding where the new one would be located and how much it would cost.

“This is not at all an effort to save money,” Parker said. “This is about an effort to achieve objective justice. And when you consider that longstanding problems in the crime lab have cost the City of Houston millions and millions of dollars to fix, this is not something where we can cheap out.”

There’s long been talk of a regional crime lab – an option Parker said she preferred—but the city and the county haven’t agreed on how to pay for it.

See here for some background on where the city/county partnership stands. That option certainly seems like the most sensible one, but as long as there are people like Steve Radack out there making life difficult, it can’t be a bad idea to explore other possibilities. We’ll see what the Mayor has to say about this in her inauguration speech tomorrow; I’ll have a copy of that to add afterward.

More algebra, please

I applaud HISD for doing this.

A handful of campuses in the Houston Independent School District are experimenting with placing their best math students in algebra in seventh grade – two years before most take the class.

The earlier they pass algebra, the thinking goes, the more time they have to take advanced math courses in high school that could lead to college credit.

Over the last decade, policy-makers across the nation have pushed for algebra to become the standard for eighth grade, while some educators argue against the rush.

HISD’s move to teach algebra to an even younger set gives the students – many from poor, minority families – a head start in the course, considered a stepping stone to college and 21st century careers.

Time will tell whether the effort produces a crop of math brainiacs who take college-level calculus and statistics in high school or burnouts who ditch the subject after earning the four credits needed to graduate.

“Certainly we don’t want to push kids into something they’re not ready for,” said Monica Kendall, HISD’s manager of secondary math. “But I would like to challenge what people think kids are ready for. A lot of people think economically disadvantaged students can’t do upper-level math. My whole perspective has been, ‘Let’s find out what they can do.’ ”

Little research exists on seventh-graders taking algebra, although HISD isn’t breaking entirely new ground.

Locally, the Spring Branch and Alvin school districts are among those that have been enrolling their top seventh-graders in algebra for years.

I have no opinion on whether algebra should be the standard in eighth grade, but I can tell you from personal experience that seventh graders have been taking algebra successfully for many years. I know because I took it in the seventh grade, which was in 1978-79. My intermediate school (that’s what they call “middle school” in New York) offered algebra for its gifted & talented seventh and eighth graders; it was done as a two-year course, and enabled you to go straight to geometry in high school. By doing so, you were on track to be able to complete a year of calculus in high school, which needless to say gave you an advantage going into college.

Obviously, this isn’t for everybody; the story says that about two percent of HISD’s seventh graders are enrolled, which almost surely means there’s room for growth. It should be fairly easy to identify the kids who are bored with grade-level math and are ready for a greater challenge. It should be the goal to make algebra available in every middle school for all seventh graders who would like to take it.

Happy birthday, Jacob!

Meet the newest most popular boy’s name in Texas.

For the first time in more than a decade of dueling to become the most popular baby boy name in Texas, if infant Jacobs could talk, they’d have said “No way, Jose!” in 2010.

Since 1996, Jose has been the top name for baby boys in the Lone Star state, according to Social Security Administration popular baby names database. Those little guys have edged out the longtime second-place Jacobs for the top slot since 1998.

However, Jacob joined Isabella atop the list of the most popular names for newborns in Texas and in Houston in 2010. Jose landed at No. 2 statewide.

The story notes the “Twilight” connection, about which the less said, the better. As for me, I remember seeing a production at the now-defunct Radio Music Theater back in the 90s, in which the father of the house addresses his teenage daughter’s boyfriend as “Michael”. When the boy asks him how he knew his name was Michael, the father says “Well, aren’t most boys your age named Michael?” Clearly, not any more they’re not – “Michael” wasn’t even in the top ten for Houston.

The Houston list also turned out some originals on the pink side from Aabida to Zyrianna and Aa’den to Z’yun on the blue side.

One girl each received these names: Amazing-Grace, A’Miracle, Apple, Babygirl, Beyonce, Dae’Gorgeous, Elektra, Forever, Gorgeousg’zaiya, Myranique, Paisley-Ann, Passion, Praisegod and Radiance.

Some of the more creative boy names appeared inspired by faith: Divinefavour, Ezra-Nehemiah, Godswill, Goodness, JesusNazaret and King-David. Other little guys were dubbed Baby Boy, Clever, Handsome, Sir Genius, Memphiz and Tuff. In true Texas flair, one boy was named Stetson and another’s first name: Dallas Cowboys.

I got nothing. Talk amongst yourselves.