Santa Barbara News Press

Bitter Rivalry in Race for Top

In Santa Barbara County, as in the rest of the country, the race to become high school valedictorian is an increasingly cutthroat competition.

The honorific post has become the focus of intense student rivalries, slick maneuvering over class choices, and even the threat of legal action by parents.

To avoid splitting scholastic hairs in excruciatingly close contests, local schools are naming more multiple winners. Colleges, meanwhile, are getting flooded with more valedictorian applicants. And the valedictorians themselves are achieving GPAs that are through the roof.

Locally, the most intense valedictorian controversy has been waged at Lompoc High, where a $35,000 scholarship was at stake.

There, a neck-and-neck bid not only had a parent calling an attorney, but another accusing the school district of a cover-up. In the end, the school named four winners — a record number.

Lompoc is not the only place where pursuit of the valedictorian award has amped up academic competitiveness.

“With more students applying to colleges, it is kind of raising the bar,” said Jennifer Foster, an assistant principal at San Marcos High School.

To beef up their college applications, more students are taking college-level courses known as “Advanced Placement (AP)” or “International Baccalaureate” classes. Schools assign higher weight to those courses, raising the top possible GPA from 4.0 to 5.0.

During the 1990s the number of students taking college level courses doubled, according to The New Yorker magazine, which published a story this month stating that the increased competition has caused some schools to drop the distinction. Between 1990 and 2000, the mean GPA of high schoolers in the United States rose from 2.68 to 2.94, the magazine reported.

The stepped-up drive comes as a new reality TV show, called “The Scholar,” appears to glorify the growing intensity by having 10 students vie for a scholarship to the college of their choice.

In Carpinteria, valedictorian Emily Pettijohn felt the pressure both at home and beyond. The race at her school was so close the principal named three salutatorians.

Yet earning the title didn’t improve her prospects for scholarships; she applied for eight, and didn’t get one. The rejection letter from one school, Colorado College, said this has been the most competitive year in three decades — with 30 percent of its incoming freshmen being valedictorians from their schools.

She said many of the high schools there give the distinction to all students who receive straight A’s.

As a result of her failure to secure a scholarship, Emily is taking next year off.

“I’m going to move to Colorado and get residency out there,” she said. “I want to work full time . . . so I can save up some money for next year.”

Sometimes, the valedictorians aren’t even seniors.

Last year at Santa Barbara High School, seniors were peeved when 16-year-old Ben Eidelson, a junior who had accrued enough credits to graduate, took the title because he had the highest grade-point average, a 4.94. He had also earned two associate of arts degrees with honors.

In the old days, the tradition was to name one valedictorian and one salutatorian. Not anymore.

At the private Bishop Diego High School, there was only one valedictorian and salutatorian each year between 1990 and 2001, but this year, for the first time, the school had two of each. And Carpinteria’s naming of three salutatorians also probably constitutes a record, Principal John Arreguin said.

“It’s kind of difficult when you get into (differentiating) grade-point averages in the thousandths,” he said. “When you get into that minute an area . . . it isn’t worth trying to split hairs.”

At Santa Barbara High this year, Mikel Richardson won by a sliver, with an off-the-chart GPA of 4.85. The two salutatorians, Cord Phelps and Kimberly True, both earned a 4.82.

His sophomore year, Mikel quit playing football to keep his near-perfect grades on track.

While the praise from friends, family and strangers has been nice, it hasn’t come without sacrifice.

“I would have liked to learn a musical instrument,” said Mikel, who will attend Westmont College in Montecito, where he will major in chemistry.

David Hodges, an assistant principal at Santa Barbara High, said while it is good to recognize the academic feats of star students, he worries that the valedictorian title replaces the emphasis on learning with that of grades. Students, he added, are not similarly awarded for improvement.

“Say a student has gone from D’s to B’s (because) their reading comprehension had gone up,” he said. “Those accomplishments are well worthy of celebration as well.”

In Lompoc, the pressure went beyond simply being No. 1. Two of the school’s four winners had applied for a full-ride scholarship offered to valedictorians at Long Beach State — an award that amounts to about $35,000.

The dispute began when the front-running student, Matt Marchione, lost his sole first-place status because he dropped an AP class, leading to a swirl of confusion over the new winner. The school ultimately named four valedictorians, one of whom was Matt, whose father had contacted an attorney shortly before the announcement.

Earlier in the year, Matt had successfully applied for the Long Beach scholarship. The school bestows the award on the contingency that students wind up the first-place winners.

Naming four valedictorians infuriated parent David Grill, the father of Diane Grill, one of the four. Mr. Grill suspects his daughter, who unsuccessfully applied for the scholarship, achieved the highest GPA, and that the district caved to the legal pressure — a charge district officials deny.

But his anger has cooled somewhat since learning that, regardless of whether his daughter was the lone valedictorian, she did not qualify for the Long Beach scholarship.

“It still remains that the reputation of the school board is in the trash can, and the morale of the academic students is in the trash can,” he said. “The students see that no matter how hard they work, how great they achieve, the bottom line is . . . the actual reward in the end is determined by secret, back-room politics.”

Meanwhile, at Long Beach, the number of applicants for the scholarship — called President’s Scholars — has skyrocketed, from 25 the first year in 1995 to about 650 this year. Only 65 scholarships are available.

“We have moms with students in middle school calling to say, ‘I’ve heard about the scholarship, what do we need to do now to be competitive?’ ” said Valerie Bordeaux of Long Beach State.

The valedictorian imbroglio at Lompoc High wasn’t the district’s first.

Five years ago, a student at the other high school, Cabrillo, had taken the maximum number of AP courses, and had aced every course she took. Yet her GPA was surpassed by that of another student who had recently moved to Lompoc from a school out of town that had offered more AP classes.

Over the objections of the new student’s father — who pointedly identified himself as an attorney — the Lompoc school board crafted a policy granting principals the ability to name co-valedictorians despite differences in grade-point averages, “if inequity existed.”

But not all contests are bitter.

Take San Marcos High School, whose valedictorian and two salutatorians were all on the school’s polo team, and began hanging out in seventh grade.

Yet salutatorian Mike Kuhn admitted he wanted the title so badly he could taste it, unlike Thomas Myers, who assumed a more laid-back attitude but nonetheless wound up the winner.

“It’s sort of a fitting end,” Mike said.

One local high school, Dos Pueblos, has never given the honor, Assistant Principal Michelle Hughes said.

“All of our graduates are special,”

she said. “We want to keep an even playing field.”

< back to News-Press story list


San Marcos High School graduate Thomas Myers assumed a more laid-back attitude toward the valedictorian honor than some of his peers, but he won it nonetheless.

Following controversy over who would be named valedictorian at Lompoc High, the school chose a record four winners, from top: Matt Marchione, Sarah Lyons, Thai Mova and Diane Grill

Santa Barbara News Press

Teacher Complains School Punishing Him for Politics

S.B. High instructor says he’s being wrongfully moved to new campus for comments in classroom about election

A Santa Barbara High School government teacher says he is being wrongfully transferred for expressing his conservative viewpoints in class.

Wes Ratelle, who has taught at the school for 11 years, is scheduled after this week to move to Dos Pueblos High School, where he would teach U.S. history, career choices and driver education.

A student’s complaint to parents following a class discussion about the presidential election led to the action, he said.

Wes Ratelle AP government teacher at SBHS faces a job transfer. STEVE MALONE/NEWS-PRESS
Wes Ratelle AP government teacher at SBHS faces a job transfer. STEVE MALONE/NEWS-PRESS

“I think it’s because I’m a white Protestant conservative,” said Mr. Ratelle, 37, adding that he thinks his honesty enhances students’ education. “They know Ratelle is not trying to B.S. you . . . If you already know a person’s political bias and they share both sides, there’s no hidden agenda there. . . . There’s no deception.”

The case raised the question of whether it is appropriate for a teacher to express his or her political views in the classroom.

According to the Santa Barbara school district board policy, teachers are prohibited from “promoting any partisan point of view” when discussing controversial topics.

“The teacher should help students separate fact from opinion and warn them against drawing conclusions from insufficient data,” it reads.

About 100 people — students, parents and teachers — have signed a petition supporting Mr. Ratelle.

Santa Barbara High School Principal Kristine Robertson declined to comment, citing the district’s policy of keeping personnel matters confidential.

Interim Superintendent Brian Sarvis dismissed the teacher’s claims.

“He’s just trying to divert attention from the real problem,” said Mr. Sarvis, who cited district policy in declining to elaborate on what the “real problem” is.

Mr. Ratelle is asking that the district take 30 days to investigate the veracity of the complaints, instead of transferring him after Friday.

“I have a degree in political science,” he said. “I’m basically being bumped down.”

Mr. Ratelle, the head coach of the school’s mock-trial team for eight years, would swap places with a Dos Pueblos teacher.

The current complaint is not the first against Mr. Ratelle.

In the week after last year’s presidential election, a student complained about the views he expressed in a class discussion touching on the ability of President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry to appeal to voters in the middle.

Mr. Ratelle said he told the class that Mr. Bush had done a better job of finding that middle ground, and that Mr. Kerry was too far left of center to appeal to a large cross-section of Americans.

After vehemently disagreeing, a student in the class told parents, who wrote a note to the principal, Mr. Ratelle said.

He said he makes no secret of his political viewpoints, but is careful to ensure that both sides are addressed in his college-level class.

He said he’s registered to vote as a Democrat. “I am considered more of a conservative in the classroom, especially when it comes to ethics and morality.”

He said the school’s Advanced Placement government teacher for the junior class is known to be more liberal.

“The students just know when they are juniors they get a more liberal teacher and when they are seniors they get a more conservative teacher,” he said.

Often, the two teachers will debate one another in front of students on hot topics, such as whether the state should allow teachers to post the Ten Commandments in classrooms. That teacher also signed the petition supporting Mr. Ratelle.

The other complaint filed this year had nothing to do with his political beliefs, Mr. Ratelle said. In that complaint, a student disagreed with Mr. Ratelle’s zero-tolerance policy for handing in extra-credit assignments after the deadline. But that student, Nick Martin, said he thinks the transfer is heavy-handed, and his father has since withdrawn the complaint.

“He’s a good teacher,” Nick said. “His class is exciting.”

Other students seemed to agree.

“In the past, students have found offense,” said Lizzie Collector, who describes herself as a mild liberal. “But in my class there hasn’t been any comment by him I found offensive. If it’s based on whether or not he should be voicing his opinion, he’s certainly not trying to change anybody else’s opinion.”

“How the district is handling it is just ridiculous,” said Raad Mobrem, who is also a student in the AP government class. “You don’t just take a man’s job and totally swap it around and his whole lifestyle” without a thorough investigation.

Ann Lippincott, associate director of the teacher education program at UCSB, said she doesn’t think it is always inappropriate for a teacher to express his or her political view point.

“It depends,” she said.

“Ultimately what we want is students — especially 12th-grade government students who are able to vote and be drafted — to engage in critical thinking. . . . The teacher needs to create space for multiple perspectives and multiple points of view.”


Santa Barbara News Press

A new path for autistic kids

Before the school year started, 6-year-old Kevin Bowen used to stare into space when his mother asked him questions, like “Do you want to read this book or that book?” Now he knows that all questions require some sort of response — even if it’s just a nod.

Kevin accomplished this key social development step in a new class for children with autism begun in September in the Goleta elementary school district. The class at Kellogg School has six kids, but more are on the way.

Student Brandon Geise gets help printing from foster grandparent Carol Rowland. STEVE MALONE/NEWS-PRESS
Student Brandon Geise gets help printing from foster grandparent Carol Rowland. STEVE MALONE/NEWS-PRESS

Last year, district officials identified 17 children ages 3 to 5, with varying degrees of the disorder, expected to begin kindergarten in the next three years. (Four started this year.) That number surpassed by two the total number of autistic students attending schools in the entire elementary district.

The numbers aren’t as high in Santa Barbara, where 12 students have been identified. But at Cleveland Elementary, two children are enrolled in a similar program begun this year.

The numbers reflect a larger phenomenon in the United States, where one in 160 children is now diagnosed with varying degrees of the disability, a brain disorder that affects a child’s ability to communicate and interact socially. That compares with one in 2,500 in the mid- to late 1980s, said Dr. Lynn Koegel, the clinical director of the Autism Research and Training Center at UCSB. With the mushrooming numbers has come increased media attention, and still unproven theories about a cause, such as prenatal exposure to certain medications and inoculations for measles, mumps and rubella.

The Goleta class provides one-on-one teaching to each of the kids, and it is expensive. The cost to the district is $165,000 out of a $29 million budget. With five district-funded teachers and aides for the six students, it amounts to about $27,000 per student annually, compared to the roughly $5,000 for most other students. (UCSB also funds one student teacher.)

But because Goleta Union enjoys a rare funding status related to the high property tax revenue generated within the district and its declining enrollment, it is better off financially than the vast majority of California school districts.

Goleta school officials traveled extensively to study model programs before setting up their own this year.

As a result, parents of students with the disorder have a “middle ground” option. Last year, parents could send them to either the “special day classes” for all students with developmental disabilities — such as mental retardation and cerebral palsy — or the regular classroom, where they would be watched over by an instructional aide.

In the special classroom in Goleta, the students ponder not only traditional subjects but learn social skills that other children pick up more easily.

One second-grade student who used to spit at the wall or “cuss out” classmates when they tried to talk to him has learned to say “no” when the head teacher, Brent Elder, asks him if he feels like talking.

“I’ll say ‘OK, then keep it cool and if you do we’ll talk about it,’ ” Mr. Elder said.

Autistic children “are not as concerned with social conformities,” said Dr. Koegel. “A (successful) teacher’s not going to say, ‘If you don’t do your homework, you can’t go to recess.’ A child with autism might say, ‘Fine.’ ”

Also, such children often need either more or less sensory input than others.

A student whose sensory needs are underactivated might crave deep-pressure rubbing occasionally throughout the day; a hypersensitive student might be unable to focus on anything but the feeling of the seam on the toe of his sock. Nearly half of people with autism are hypersensitive to noise.

“For them, the (school) bell ringing might seem like the sound of a dentist’s drill or a jet plane taking off,” said Helen Bird, who works with special education students in Goleta as an inclusion specialist.

In the Goleta class, the five boys and one girl take a daily “sensory break,” with an occupational therapist squeezing the hands and heads of some children or rubbing their arms and legs with a plastic brush. One child who has a need for oral input will receive a specially made rubber toy to chew on, providing an alternative to chewing on his hands.

Parents and educators seem to be pleased with the progress of the Goleta class.

Kevin’s mother, Terri Bowen, has noticed marked improvements in his writing skills.

“He’s now working on forming letters and numbers,” she said.

Some of the kids in the class spend up to half the day with “typically developing” kids. Dr. Koegel said that research in this past year suggests moving them toward full inclusion.

“Our end goal in life is to not have them in segregated settings,” said Dr. Koegel, who heads an inclusion program in the 500-student Montecito Elementary School for the eight children there with varying degrees of the disorder. “You want them to have jobs.”

Regular students, she said, also benefit.

“The typical kids are absolutely wonderful with kids with autism,” said Dr. Koegel, who was careful to credit the Goleta district for responding to parents’ requests. “There are several kids in each class who want to sit and help. It really makes your heart soar.”

Goleta parent Tambra Boydston can attest to that.

Her fifth-grade daughter, who was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, has been in the regular classroom since kindergarten and sometimes gets nudged in the right direction by nearby students.

“Once in a while they’ll notice she’s not quite focused. She’ll be staring out the window during reading and a kid will point where they are in the book,” she said.

Now, her daughter enjoys sleepovers and birthday parties with a circle of friends. But Ms. Boydston doesn’t necessarily credit the full-on regular classroom experience for her daughter’s social success.

“That’s who she is,” she said. “One thing that made it tough to diagnose her is she wanted to be cuddled. There are some that are that way.”

Mr. Elder said the goal of his Goleta class is to eventually integrate the students. But for now the structured environment is better for most of them.

“With autism, the world is chaotic,” he said. “Routine and sameness provide comfort in a world they have a hard time understanding.”

In the classroom, the most important asset is a teacher’s patience, a trait for which 24-year-old Mr. Elder is well known.

On a daily basis, one 5-year-old used to scream “No!” repeatedly and run around the room when he didn’t want to do an assignment, like learning how to count. Now, he knows to simply say “I’m not ready” when he needs a break before starting such a task.

The most severely affected student in the class is extremely withdrawn, and Mr. Elder can often spend 10 minutes sitting face-to-face with the boy, coaxing him to put on his shoes.

“Stand up,” he said evenly to the boy on a recent school day. The child was softly singing and muttering to himself while holding his ear and looking at his raised hand. “Pick up your shoe, please. Stand up. Hand me your shoe, please. Pull (the Velcro) off. Nice job.”


Autism is a developmental disorder that is characterized by three distinctive behaviors and is generally apparent in children by the age of three.

Autistic children have difficulties with social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and sometimes exhibit repetitive behaviors or narrow, obsessive interests. The behaviors can range from mild to disabling.

Many children with autism have a reduced sensitivity to pain, but are abnormally susceptible to sensations such as sound, touch, or other sensory stimulation. These unusual sensitivities may contribute to behavioral symptoms such as a resistance to being cuddled or hugged.

There is no cure for autism, but symptoms often lessen with treatment and with age.

— Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health


Carol Rowland, one of the “foster grandparents” in a Kellogg School program for students with autism, helps Kevin Bowen complete a class project. Kevin is one of six students in the class.

Jenny Wolfrom, an instructional assistant, works with student Jordan Frank as he examines an “emotion card” during a one-on-one activity at Kellogg School.

Santa Barbara News Press Shifting Paradigms

Christmas Unwrapped

Christmas Unwrapped: Not everyone can enjoy the day with family and friends

Traditionally, Christmas is known as a day of traveling, eating, unwinding and unwrapping. But not everyone in Santa Barbara is experiencing a traditional Christmas Day.

Today, as thousands indulge in the joys of tearing paper, laughing children, sentimental music and hot cider, others in Santa Barbara will march to the beat of a different drummer boy.

They will wait for emergency calls at a fire station, serve food at a swanky hotel in Montecito, counsel dangerous inmates in the Santa Barbara County Jail or lie dying in a hospice.

A SB County jail inmate holds the Christmas cards from wife and daughter. STEVE MALONE/NEWS-PRESS
A SB County jail inmate holds the Christmas cards from wife and daughter. STEVE MALONE/NEWS-PRESS

Some, like Scott and Bonnie Bosler of Visalia, would have celebrated in the conventional way were it not for a life-altering tragedy.

Their son, 17-year-old Brad Bosler, drowned in June while trying to save a friend. As a result, Brad’s parents and two sisters today will serve meals to the homeless at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission on East Yanonali Street.

“Our son was a big-hearted guy; he had a real giving heart, a real servant’s heart,” said Scott Bosler, whose son went to Mexico several times to build homes for the indigent. “We just weren’t ready to do what we’ve done traditionally during the Christmas season. . . . We wanted to do something he would have done.”

Brad was rafting in a canal near Porterville when a companion got caught in a whirlpool. Brad, a star athlete who hoped to become a firefighter, jumped in to save him.

“He wanted to be a hero,” Mr. Bosler said of his son’s professional aspirations. “He got to be what he wanted to be.”

Brad likely would have looked up to Jack Franklin, a Santa Barbara firefighter who is working the Christmas shift today.

As often happens on this day at the Carrillo Street station near State Street, Mr. Franklin and his company will eat a prime rib meal with dozens of family members in the garage that normally houses the engines.

“Generally it’s a zoo,” he said. “There are a lot of kids running around, with all their Christmas toys — remote controls on the floor where the engines (normally) park. But you drop everything when you have a call.”

And it happens.

Mr. Franklin, a fire engineer and former paramedic, has eaten holiday dinners in the front seat of a speeding ambulance.

“For the most part, it’s a lot of medical emergencies,” he said. “On holidays we’re (often) taking grandpa to the hospital because he’s having a heart attack. It’s a little bit too much excitement . . . with the whole family there.”

Sometimes, the fire station doesn’t need a chef. One Christmas, a family whose child nearly died of sudden infant death syndrome before being saved by firefighters brought a ham dinner to a small local station manned by three people.

“They brought a meal for like 25,” said Battalion Chief Chris Blair, who also works today. “We had ham sandwiches for weeks.”

As good as that meal may have been, its extravagance surely paled in comparison to the six-course dinner that will be served to hundreds tonight at the Four Seasons Biltmore Resort in Montecito, where a good night’s rest costs anywhere from $600 to $2,500.

The dinner, to be enjoyed in a renowned dining room with sweeping ocean views, will cost $120 a plate. And Rubin Cosio, the hotel’s food and beverage director, has the unenviable task of ensuring that the yuletide feast is worth every penny.

But he said he’s not worried.

“It’s only high-pressure if you don’t plan it correctly,” he said.

The hotel’s staff is making a special effort to see that each guest’s needs are tended to.

For instance, a “very senior manager” of a Fortune 500 company with a penchant for the $900-a-bottle Patr|ó|n Platinum tequila will find one waiting in his room, accompanied by two glasses with ice on the side.

“Some just like it straight up,” Mr. Cosio said. “It’s not anything you would make a margarita with.”

The hotel festivities, which include a $90 buffet, will be heavily attended by the L.A. elite who “just want to get away from their hurried lives” — executives, for instance, from CBS, NBC, Columbia Pictures and Universal Studios.

As the roughly 500 well-heeled folks wine and dine in Montecito, about 850 convicts will simply dine in the Santa Barbara County Jail, on Calle Real near Turnpike Road.

The inmates will eat a turkey dinner, attend services and sing Christmas carols.

Throughout the day, the Rev. Ivan Vorster, a 30-year pastor at the Harvest Christian Fellowship in Santa Barbara, will visit single cells, sitting face to face with some men who are “extremely dangerous.”

The Rev. Vorster isn’t scared, and not just because he will be accompanied by a guard.

“They are generally very respectful,” he said. “There’s a longing for their loved ones, for home. . . . (Talking with them) is declaring that somebody cares.”

One inmate, a young man who said he’s in for stealing, said he will give a sermon of his own.

“I feel like I’ve been called to preach the word,” the man said while hanging out with fellow inmates in the drug-treatment section of the jail, a less restrictive area that civilians can enter. “There are tools in here to better your life. You just have to use them.”

A few miles away, at a hospice on Calle de los Amigos near Hope Ranch, a 56-year-old literary agent from New York City is dying of a rare lung disease.

Al Lowman, whose list of clients includes singer Diana Ross, former Teen People magazine editor Christina Ferrari and folk singer Judy Collins, said he will spend Christmas Day resting at the Serenity House. The small facility accommodates six patients who expect to have less than six months to live.

“Growing up, my heart was not into (Christmas), but it is this year,” said Mr. Lowman, who was recently visited by Ms. Ross, hospice staff members said.

A talkative man, Mr. Lowman is upbeat even though his only son will not be able to visit him this year.

“I love living, and I love dying,” he said.

Mr. Lowman spends much time on the phone, doing business. He just finished editing the manuscript for Ms. Collins’ still-untitled book about creativity.

But he is not bed-ridden. Mr. Lowman sits in a chair, paces about the room and even kneels on the floor to call up on his computer the cover of Ms. Collins’ book — a painting she did herself.

To him, the Serenity House is aptly named.

“I’m having a holiday in the heart,” he said, mouse in hand, looking over his shoulder. “I’ve never been happier.”

Santa Barbara News Press

Journalist Claims Neoconservatives Direct the Country

Journalist Seymour Hersh addresses the audience at UCSB Campbell Hall on Sunday afternoon, talking mainly about abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and the war in Iraq.

The war in Iraq was not about oil; it was the product of a long-held philosophy held dear by a small group of “neoconservatives” who think the war is necessary to improve America’s standing in the world, said a top investigative journalist who spoke at UCSB on Sunday.

Seymour Hersh, the reporter who revealed the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison where Iraqi soldiers were tortured, humiliated and forced to take sexually explicit photos, brought his thoughts about the Iraq war to a capacity crowd of about 900 people.

Mr. Hersh, 67, spoke swiftly and apparently without notes, weaving together countless facts and stories in a relatively informal way that sometimes derailed his train of thought, leading to off-the-cuff quips that delighted his sympathetic audience.

But he made clear his opposition to the policies of President Bush. His message was serious and even somber at times.

“The war is unwinnable,” said Mr. Hersh, who is touring to — as he put it — “pimp” his newest book, “Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib.”

“The hatred for us is so acute,” he said.

Mr. Hersh’s book covers much of the same ground he covered for three years for the New Yorker, making the case, for instance, that the abuses at Abu Ghraib followed standard operating procedures established at Guantanamo, and that the case underscores a systemic problem that began at the top.

The Pentagon has called his reporting, which uses many unnamed sources, “outlandish” and “conspiratorial.”

Though he talked about the prison scandal, he often broadened the scope of the discussion by deriding the logic that led to the war.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the prominent neoconservatives — who Mr. Hersh said includes Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz — were able to convince Mr. Bush that crushing the Iraqi regime was the only way to win the war on terror, he said.

“It’s utopian, it’s idealistic,” said Mr. Hersh, who referred to the group as “zealots” and “cultists.”

“And it’s completely, utterly wrong,” he said.

As for the Nov. 2 presidential election, Mr. Hersh described Sen. John Kerry as the better choice, but he said “it’s going to be a very hard four years” no matter who wins.

He criticized Mr. Kerry both on his claim he that can achieve victory in Iraq and on his seemingly “unlikable” demeanor.

“But so what?” he said. “We don’t have to be fussy.”

Mr. Hersh, who received a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, criticized the mainstream media for going easy on both the Abu Ghraib story and the Bush administration.

“The failure of the press is something we’re going to have to figure out” how to change, he said.

Mr. Hersh said the prison scandal was engendered largely by the administration’s panic about the nascent insurgency earlier in the war. One idea, he said, was to “squeeze the prison population” for information.

“It morphed into madness quickly,” he said.

In a lighter moment, after losing his train of thought, someone in the audience blurted out that his points are interesting even if his points are unconnected.

He replied, “that’s how starved you are” for information.

After the lecture, a long line of people waited for Mr. Hersh to sign their books.

“He gives us the news we ought to be hearing,” said Chuck Bazerman, a UCSB professor who heard the lecture.

Kate McDermott of Camarillo was struck by the fact that “nine neoconservatives could take over the country.”

“It’s scary as hell,” she said.

Santa Barbara News Press

More to Stress Over in Longer SAT

Scott Fleming, an incoming junior at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, is feeling anxious about a new Scholastic Aptitude test, or SAT, that includes a 25-minute essay.

“I’m not sure what the grading scale is going to be on it,” he said. “It seems really subjective.”

Sara Monteabaro, junior class president of San Marcos High School, doesn’t like the sound of it, either.

“How one writes doesn’t always reflect how smart or intelligent” one is, she e-mailed the News-Press.

But like it or not, essay questions are coming this school year to an SAT test near you. Seen by many as the gateway to the university of one’s choice, SATs are already a stressful reality for students.

Katelyn Paulsen, student in Kaplan SAT prep class and junior at Buena High School in Ventura, studies assignment. LEN WOOD/NEWS-PRESS
Katelyn Paulson of Ventura is spending many of her summer hours at Kaplan test Prep and Admissions in Goleta, studying for the new SAT exam. LEN WOOD/NEWS-PRESS

Because it’s a period of transition, this year’s juniors have the choice of taking either the current test, the new test, or both. The current test will be offered from October through January. The new test debuts in March.

But the choice is misleading to those hoping to attend a University of California campus — the system will accept only the new test. Other schools, including USC, Stanford, Westmont College and Santa Clara University, will accept either test.

Besides an essay, the new test will add multiple-choice grammar questions and advanced algebra problems. It will eliminate analogies and quantitative comparisons. It will tack 45 minutes onto the three hours students currently have to take it. The top score will jump from 1,600 to 2,400.

The test was changed largely in response to criticism from the former head of the University of California system, who in 2001 made national headlines by questioning its usefulness. Then-president Richard Atkinson threatened to scrap the UC system’s reliance on the SAT, charging that it did not adequately reflect what was being taught in the classroom. It was unfair to some students, he said.

Mr. Atkinson’s arguments came amid widespread concern about the dip in enrollment of Latino and black students at UC Berkeley in the wake of California banning affirmative action in 1996.

“We should also adopt a more comprehensive, ‘holistic’ admissions process that takes a range of factors into consideration, from the quality of a student’s high school to the opportunities available to that student,” he wrote in an editorial for the Sacramento Bee.

With its esoteric analogies, the current SAT resembles an “old-fashioned IQ test which isn’t clearly tied to some kind of curriculum,” said Rebecca Zwick, a professor at the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at UCSB.

By changing the test, the SAT’s owner — The College Board — brought it closer to the structure of the high-school exit exam, which is designed to test strictly what is learned in the classroom, she said.

But Ms. Zwick — the editor of a book named “Rethinking the SAT” — doesn’t think the new test will erase any ethnic inequities inherent in the old test.

In fact, “increasing the level of the math content might lead to greater differences,” she said.

In Santa Barbara, where 44 percent of the high school students are Latino, educators don’t expect the new test to significantly help or hurt the local student population.

“test taking is test taking,” said Mike Couch, interim principal of Dos Pueblos High School. “Statistically, you will end up with the same curve.”

The UC system, he said, is still looking to accept the top 12.5 percent of the state’s students.

Nonetheless, many individuals will be affected: Up to 50 percent of the district’s high school students typically take the SAT, although fewer than 20 percent of Santa Barbara’s students go on to attend four-year colleges, Mr. Couch said.

Meanwhile, most students are unaware of the changes, said Sara, the junior-class president at San Marcos school.

“I think it will be explained once school starts again, but for now, we as students are in the dark,” she wrote.

Still, the companies that provide SAT coaching — such as Kaplan and the Princeton Review — are experiencing unprecedented spikes in enrollment.

“This year Kaplan as a whole has seen the biggest enrollment in the history of the company,” said Krista Plaisted, Kaplan’s director of SAT programs for California. “We’ve seen a 78 percent increase in enrollment (in one year).”

Officials at both companies declined to provide local statistics, citing competitive reasons.

For the essay component, instructors at the Princeton Review are telling students to keep in mind the overwhelmed graders.

Kaplan SAT prep class instructor Sarah Loebman talks to students  LEN WOOD/NEWS-PRESS
Kaplan SAT prep class instructor Sarah Loebman talks to students LEN WOOD/NEWS-PRESS

“They are going to be going through blocks and blocks of essays, all on the same subject,” said Katie Cabanatuan, director of Goleta’s Princeton Review. “The essays are being scored in about one to two minutes.”

Thus, presentation is key. Essays should be neatly written and broken down into about five paragraphs, she said. Students are encouraged to write long.

“They feel like if you have a lot to say, then you must know what you’re talking about,” she said. “It’s not an essay you’d want to turn into your AP English teacher.”

One thing that won’t change is the test’s attempts to trick the taker.

“The grammar kind of works against your ear,” she said. “A lot of things we hear every day are grammatically incorrect, but you don’t realize it.”

While Kaplan is advising students to take both tests, saying it can’t hurt to try twice, the Princeton Review advises taking it once, saying there is no point in stressing out about two exams.

At the end of the day, despite all the confusion and pressure, some students seem to be taking the dilemma in stride.

“I’ll basically just go with the flow,” said Travis Ahlstrom, a junior at Dos Pueblos. “I will talk to my counselor.”


When and where:

The current SAT can be taken at Santa Barbara High School on Oct. 9 , Nov. 6, Dec. 4 and Jan. 22. The new SAT can be taken at San Marcos High School on March 12, May 7 and June 4.

Cost: $29.50 for the current test. The price for the new test hasn’t been established.

Register: First-time takers must register online through, or through the mail by requesting that a registration bulletin be mailed to them. To do so, call SAT customer service at (609) 771-7600. Second-time takers can register over the phone.



An example of an essay question that would be on the new SAT:

Consider carefully the following statements and the assignment below it.

“Everything comes if a man will only wait.”

— Benjamin Disraeli, Tancred

“Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”

— William Jennings Bryan, Memoirs


Do you agree that persistence is the major factor in success, and that talent, genius, and education play, at best, secondary roles? In an essay, support your position by discussing an example (or examples) from literature, science and technology, the arts, current events, or your own experience or observation.


An example of the multiple-choice grammar question that will be added to the “writing” section of the test:

The vast majority of New Yorkers who drink decaffeinated nonfat cappuccinos prefer chocolate for dessert.

Which word is incorrect?

a) of

b) who

c) prefer

d) for

e) no error

3. An example of an analogy question that will be eliminated from the test:

Iron : Wrinkle

(A) bleach : color

(B) mow : lawn

(C) sweep : broom

(D) cook : food

(E) build : model

(Answers: 2. C; 3. A)