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November 24, 2014

Ideology and expediency drive SBOE textbook debate

On Nov. 21, the State Board of Education did what they don’t do well, by essentially violating the textbook adoption process to approve social studies textbooks that in some cases include controversial “theories” that defy accepted historic and academic facts. Due to the impact of the Tea Party on the electoral chances of Republican members, the 10-5 vote to adopt the textbooks was cast along party lines, with Republicans voting to adopt and Democrats opposing adoption. 

The SBOE debate was fractious and unfortunately, not centered on what is best for our students. Instead, ideology drove the debate, and discussions centered on matters ranging from cultural diversity to the evil lurking in Common Core. In the end expediency trumped concerns that sufficient time was not given to review publishers’ responses to errors found during the review process, including a 400-page report submitted by one publisher, as the majority feared textbooks might not be adopted if the process was not concluded at this meeting. 

That adoption process requires that all public comment and review be completed by Sept. 25. However, the process was ignored when the right-wing Truth in Texas Textbooks (TTT) submitted a 460-page report of factual errors just before the November meeting.  Social conservatives allowed the founder of TTT more than an hour to testify, while a Harvard historian was given less than a minute. 

The SBOE is statutorily bound to notify local districts about which textbooks are available by December 1 so the local adoption process can begin. SBOE member Ruben Cortez made a motion that there be a special meeting on Dec. 1 so members could review the reams of reports sent by publishers prior to voting. The motion also failed on a party-line vote. 

The top five for the 84th Session

Also last week, the Board identified several legislative priorities, then narrowed the list down to five top concerns. SBOE member Mercer moved that his legislative priority – criminalization of the Common Core and its use – be included, but after rebukes from members Knight, Ratliff, and Rowley, the motion was rejected. After hours of discussion, the SBOE adopted five legislative priorities: 

restoring the responsibilities of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to the SBOE, although they didn’t specifically call for eliminating SBEC. 

new and additional funding for instructional materials that wouldn’t involve diverting other funds; 

funding for local districts to hire more guidance personnel to meet the requirements of HB 5; 

additional funds for TEA to strengthen its curriculum department to support the TEKS and textbook adoption processes; and 

funding for the creation and implementation of the SBOE long-range strategic plan.

Commissioner Williams’ report

TEA has applied for a Pre-K grant to provide greater access, strengthen teacher professional development, and fund full-day classes, which includes a provision to use some of those funds for private pre-K providers.

TEA has a new website, http://tea.texas.gov.

A board of managers has been appointed for the Honors Academy charter district.  The campus has been operating as a private school since the beginning of the school year and will cease operation on Dec. 1.

Students will no longer have to pass the 5th and 8th grade Math STAAR to advance to the next grade level. They will still be required to pass the reading assessment.

Williams addressed concerns about the Math TEKS and the timing of the Math STAAR two months before the end of the school year. He feels the latter should be given early enough that results would be back before the end of the school year.

Other action

The SBOE adopted a 3.5 percent distribution rate from the Permanent School Fund (PSF).  The PSF enjoyed a 15.94 percent return in 2014, outperforming its benchmarks by 58 basis points and strengthening the cushion it must maintain to ensure intergenerational equity.

The board adopted on second reading the curricular requirements for Languages Other Than English (LOTE).

The SBOE also adopted textbooks for math and fine arts.

Friend of Education Award deadline is Dec. 1

As noted in the Fall Advocate, TSTA presents many awards. One deadline is coming soon: nominations for the Friend of Education Award must be received by Monday, Dec. 1. This award recognizes either (1) an individual who is not a professional educator who has made a significant contribution to the cause of public education or (2) an organization/company outside the field of education that has made an outstanding contribution in the field of education. 

Please see http://tsta.org/news-center/awards-grants#friend for details about the award and how to submit nominations, and contact Neocha Campbell in the Center for Executive and Governance at neochac@tsta.org if you have questions.


November 21, 2014

SBOE adopts instructional materials

The State Board of Education voted today to adopt new instructional products for social studies, fine arts, and high school mathematics courses and adopted legislative recommendations. More details from Texas Education Agency are available at http://tea.texas.gov/About_TEA/News_and_Multimedia/Press_Releases/2014/SBOE_adopts_instructional_materials.

Teacher Retirement System Board completes two-day board meeting

The important news was the actuarial valuation of the Pension Trust Fund as of Aug. 31. The Fund earned an annual rate of return of 16.8 percent, ending the fiscal year at a market value of $132.8 billion compared to a market value of $117.4 billion for the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2013.

The funding period of the Unfunded Actuarial Accrued Liability increased slightly as a result of the cost-of-living adjustment passed by the legislature in 2013 and a change in mortality assumptions. The Fund is still considered to be actuarially sound, with a funding period under 30 years.

The overall takeaway from the meeting is that the Fund is in good shape, and that the next legislative session will need to address funding issues with ActiveCare and Care.

The next Board meeting will be Feb. 11-13.


November 20, 2014

How did you celebrate ESP Day?

Wednesday of American Education Week is ESP Day, and our locals in the Beaumont, Pt. Arthur, Ysleta, Southwest, and Cy-Fair school districts celebrated.

Beaumont/Pt Arthur: The two locals’ annual banquet honoring ESPs and other school employees drew 60 people! 

Southwest: Southwest TSTA welcomed NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, TSTA President Noel Candelaria and TSTA Vice President Ovidia Molina. 

Ysleta: Ysleta Teachers Association launched a fair pay campaign on National ESP Day at the Board of Trustees meeting. Their resolution was put on the agenda for the December meeting. 

Cy-Fair: Three members spoke at the school board meeting about the great education employees in the district.

November 19, 2014

NEA president returns to Texas

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia is back in Texas for American Education Week. She'll be at Southwest Elementary in Southwest ISD for Educator for a Day Thursday, when community leaders are invited to serve as educators to get a glimpse at a day in the life of a school employee. Later in the day, TSTA President Noel Canderlaria will join her for a press conference, meeting with the San Antonio Express-News editorial board, and a reception at Aggie Park. Garcia ends her tour Friday with a breakfast with area superintendents and board members.

Textbook controversy continues

From the Austin American-Statesman: Despite months of debate, the State Board of Education failed to grant preliminary approval Tuesday to new history and social studies textbooks for Texas public schools with a third of its members voting no and nearly as many abstaining.

In separate unanimous votes, the 15-member elected education board gave preliminary approval to fine arts and mathematics textbooks and online instructional materials that will appear in classrooms starting next fall and which were not the subject of nearly as much controversy as those covering history and other social studies topics such as geography and government.

The failed preliminary vote came amid a fresh wave of concern about bias in the textbooks from across the political spectrum with new requests for revisions, and responses from publishers, continuing to roll in despite submission deadlines the board set.

The nearly four-hour public hearing Tuesday, for example, was somewhat dominated by conservative group Truth in Texas Textbooks, which submitted a 469-page report in October — a month after a Sept. 5 submission deadline — requesting publishers make hundreds of changes.

The group’s chairman, San Antonio tea party activist Roy White, who also leads the local chapter of a national organization dedicated to fighting extremist Islam, told the board the textbooks did not adequately portray Islam as violent. Several members applauded White for his efforts and lamented the fact that his report had come in so late, saying they hoped publishers would respond on their own accord.

Another speaker said she thought one textbook published by Cengage Learning — which the board later decided to exclude from its approval list — illegally invoked the Common Core, a national initiative to set uniform academic standards in public schools that the Texas Legislature banned last year and conservatives often bash for perceived liberal bias. That led to a motion to approve all social studies materials except for Cengage, which board members later dropped amid concerns that they might approve content they haven’t reviewed with publishers still responding to change requests.

A few scholars reiterated concern about the textbooks’ emphasis on the influence of Moses and Christianity upon the founding of the nation, but were asked almost no questions.

The board has given publishers an indefinite amount of time to respond to public comments. Some of their revisions were posted online as late as Tuesday, which is why Chairwoman Barbara Cargill said she chose to abstain from the vote. Three other Republicans abstained, and all five Democrats voted no.

“I want to read those first,” Cargill said. “For me, what’s really important is that they stand firm on our rich religious heritage and the benefits of the free enterprise system.”

Despite the failed preliminary vote, the education board still is set to take a final — likely tense — vote on textbooks and dozens of related digital learning materials for all subject areas on Friday.

Cargill said she thinks all the fine arts and mathematics instructional materials, including textbooks, will be approved at that meeting and “at least some” of the social studies instructional materials.

Others who abstained noted the vote was nonbinding.

“It’s no big deal,” said District 11 board member Patricia Hardy of Fort Worth. Hardy said she wanted to be sure textbooks accurately described the U.S. as a “constitutional republic” rather than a “democracy,” a concern another speaker raised during the public hearing.

District 9 board member Thomas Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, however, bemoaned the vote as a sign of gridlock — and that changes are needed to improve the instructional material adoption process. Ratliff said he “cast an aye vote to keep it moving forward.”

“It’s time to look at our process and make it longer, more robust and allow for more thoughtful deliberation, because this is awful. This is just awful,” he said.


November 17, 2014

Senate Education Committee report: voucher fight begins, again

On Monday, Nov. 17, the Senate Committee on Education, led by Chairman and Lt. Governor elect Dan Patrick, met to discuss school facility demands, privatization, and the implementation of Senate Bill 2, the charter school expansion bill from last session. The liveliest discussions centered on vouchers and education tax credits.

TSTA testified on the perils of privatizing public education. TSTA noted that Texas voters do not favor taking state tax dollars from shortchanged neighborhood schools and sending those funds to private and religious schools, for several good reasons.

The state school finance system has been found unconstitutional, woefully inadequate and inequitable by a state district judge, and state tax dollars for education should be used to fix that system, not for private schools.

Private and religious schools discriminate in their admissions on the basis of religion, prior educational performance, gender, English-speaking ability, citizenship, and athletic ability. Using state dollars to engage in discriminatory practices would be unconstitutional. 

Further, special needs students who would use vouchers or education tax credits to attend private schools would lose the important federal protections under IDEA. 

The bottom line is simple: vouchers and education tax credits are bad public policy and only serve to harm neighborhood public schools when we should be working to provide parents and teachers the opportunity to develop policies that truly involve the community in the effort to strengthen neighborhood schools. 

Today’s hearing will most likely be the last Senate Education hearing of the interim. Stay tuned to learn who will chair the Senate Education Committee during the next legislative session.

Celebrate American Education Week

Communities nationwide are joining the NEA from Nov. 16-22 to celebrate 93 years of American Education Week (AEW), the annual observance that honors students, teachers, education support professional, parents, and community members who help students succeed. http://neatoday.org/2014/11/13/celebrate-american-education-week-november-17-21


November 12, 2014

What will Texas do with its additional billions?

The Legislature, when it convenes Jan. 13, will have billions of additional dollars to spend on state needs without raising anyone’s taxes, thanks to the state’s strong economy. Lawmakers will have enough money to immediately begin drafting an adequate and fair school finance system, as recently ordered by a state district judge. What the Legislature actually does with the additional billions, however, will be decided by the officeholders elected on Tuesday, including a new governor and a new lieutenant governor, who so far seem more inclined to waste the opportunity. 

•Read more in Grading Texas at http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas/dan-patrick/strong-economy-offers-opportunity-for-schools-but.  

•A related post says this great opportunity for school funding already is in jeopardy: http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas/dan-patrick/the-debate-should-be-about-school-funding-not-tax-cuts.


October 28, 2014

TSTA member wins Teacher of the Year

Shanna Peeples is the 2015 Texas Teacher of the Year! An English teacher at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo ISD, Peeples has been a member of Amarillo Education Association/TSTA since 2003. She will represent Texas in the National Teacher of the Year competition.

Since 1969, the Teacher of the Year Program has honored excellence in classroom education and provided a forum to showcase many outstanding educators whose efforts and example have inspired their students, their colleagues, and the communities they serve.


October 24, 2014

Raising the bar or shutting the door?

For the third time, the State Board of Educator Certification (SBEC) reviewed and discussed the contentious GPA requirement for entry into an educator preparation program. At its May 2013 meeting, SBEC adopted language that would raise the GPA requirement to 2.75.  It reversed itself at its August meeting and sent the proposed rule to SBOE, which exercised its authority to reject the rule.  SBOE rejected the entire rule (19 TAC Chapter 227) on grounds that a 2.5 GPA requirement did not comply with legislative intent (SBOE had requested a letter from the sponsoring legislator).

At the most recent meeting of SBEC, the board considered three options.  The first was to do nothing and let the 2.5 GPA requirement stand; the second option was to seek an opinion from the Attorney General but the time lag in the process deemed this unlikely; and the third option was to gather additional data and bring it back for discussion at its March meeting.  Some board members expressed concern about having sent the rule with the 2.5 in it to SBOE and, after reading the statutory language, admitted that it mandated as 2.75 GPA.

Alternative certification providers and school administrators expressed the most concern about increasing the GPA requirement, citing the impact it would have on potential candidates for entry into teacher certification and shrinking the pool of available teachers.  SBEC member Grant Simpson presented the board with research on this issue.  The study concluded that:(1) GPA is an adequate predictor of success in the educator preparation program, on the certification exam, and in the classroom; and (2) an increase in the GPA requirement from 2.5 to 2.75 would eliminate 25% of under-represented groups in teacher preparation programs.

Proponents of the increase in the GPA requirement argue that the higher GPA would elevate teaching as a profession and make public schools more competitive with high-performing global counterparts which attract the highest performing 1/3 of their students into teaching.

The confusion stems from the language in the statute:

Sec. 21.0441.  ADMISSION REQUIREMENTS FOR EDUCATOR PREPARATION PROGRAMS.  (a)  Rules of the board proposed under this subchapter must provide that a person, other than a person seeking career and technology education certification, is not eligible for admission to an educator preparation program, including an alternative educator preparation program, unless the person:

(1)  except as provided by Subsection (b), satisfies minimum grade point average requirements prescribed by the board, not to exceed the following:

(A)  an overall grade point average of at least 2.75 on a four-point scale or the equivalent on any course work previously attempted at a public or private institution of higher education; or

(B)  a grade point average of at least 2.75 on a four-point scale or the equivalent for the last 60 semester credit hours attempted at a public or private institution of higher education. 

The Sun Also Sets

SBEC member Bricker opined that SBEC’s failure to address the issue (i.e., raise the GPA) may provide ammunition for the Texas Sunset Review Commission to approve a recommendation to axe the board.  The Sunset Review Commission will hold a public hearing on November 12th and 13th. SBEC adopted a statement to be presented to the Commission, with its recommendations being released on or around December 10th. 

Who’s on First

The board received an update on the new Core Subjects EC-6 and Core Subjects 4-8 tests being implemented in January, 2015 and approved the passing standards for each examination.  Members expressed concern that the exhaustive tests (over five hours in length with 267 core subjects covered) may present problems for people taking the test.  A key change in the format is that candidates no longer have to pass all content areas to pass the test.  Currently, if you fail one content area, you have to take the entire examination again. Under the Core Subjects examination, a candidate would only take the exam(s) not passed. 

The January 2015 administration is a pilot administration and data from it will be used to make any necessary changes within the confines of (1) test validity requirements; (2) cost of implementation; and (3) legislative intent.

In a somewhat odd twist, TEC 21.048(a) gives authority to the Commissioner to determine the satisfactory level of performance required for each exam and in the second TEC 21.048(a), that authority is given to SBEC.

Sec. 21.048.  CERTIFICATION EXAMINATIONS.

Text of subsection as amended by Acts 2013, 83rd Leg., R.S., Ch. 1292 (H.B. 2318), Sec. 2

(a)  The board shall propose rules prescribing comprehensive examinations for each class of certificate issued by the board.  The commissioner shall determine the satisfactory level of performance required for each certification examination.  For the issuance of a generalist certificate, the commissioner shall require a satisfactory level of examination performance in each core subject covered by the examination.

Text of subsection as amended by Acts 2013, 83rd Leg., R.S., Ch. 1282 (H.B. 2012), Sec. 5

(a)  The board shall propose rules prescribing comprehensive examinations for each class of certificate issued by the board.  The board shall determine the satisfactory level of performance required for each certification examination.  For the issuance of a generalist certificate, the board shall require a satisfactory level of examination performance in each core subject covered by the examination.

In other action, SBEC:

Adopted a rule-review calendar for years 2015 through 2018.  First up is Chapter 249 – Disciplinary Proceedings, Sanctions, and Contested Cases, which will begin in March 2015.

Amended Chapter 249(b)(7) as follows: “the person has failed to provide information required to be provided by SBEC rules, including, but not limited to §229.3 of this title (relating to Required Submissions of Information, Surveys, and Other Data).”  The board did not reinsert the word “willfully” or “recklessly.”

Adopted for first reading and filing authorization a fee schedule that raises fees for EPPs and reduces the fees for certification candidates.

Adopted for first reading and filing authorization sanctions and a process for investigations for complaints.

Approved Board Operating Policies and Procedures that include, among other things, webcasting of SBEC meetings and a rulemaking process that includes start and ends dates for the public comment period on SBEC rules.


October 23, 2014

All-hazard approach to safe schools should embrace health, mental health 

From TEA: As part of Texas Safe Schools Week (Oct. 19-25), the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) at Texas State University and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) noted that mental health plays a key role in a safe and secure learning environment.
 
Senate Bill 460, passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature and signed into law, seeks to strengthen the detection and education of students with mental or emotional disorders. It provides effective strategies for teaching and intervention and information for parents and guardians as to how they can take appropriate action in seeking mental health services. Under the legislation, the State Board of Educator Certification is responsible for appointing a board of experts in the diagnosis and treatment of mental or emotional disorders to create instruction in the detection and education of students with mental or emotional disorders.  

“Student health and safety are key components of all-hazard emergency plans and procedures and require input from such key community partners as law enforcement, medical services, public health, fire services and mental health,” said Dr. Victoria Calder, executive director of the Texas School Safety Center.

As part of preparedness, it is critical to identify school district and community resources, with disaster behavioral health experience and training, prior to an emergency. Educators then should work with community mental health service providers to ensure a variety of services are available to students and staff who need them.

“A strong collaboration between our educators and local mental health professionals is essential for the academic and emotional well-being of every student,” said Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. “This commitment plays a key role in creating a positive learning environment.”

While emotional health should be part of school district health and discipline programs, the psychological and mental health response also is a critical component of school emergency planning. Emotional health often is influenced by emergencies or traumatic events involving the school or the community and can have lasting effects. There are things schools can do to support the emotional needs of students, including:

  • Immediately responding to imminent warning signs;
  • Immediately informing parents or guardians;
  • Making safety the first consideration, even if that means involving administrators and law enforcement; and
  • Seeking assistance from appropriate community agencies (such as child and famliy services and community mental health) that have trained staff  and programs in place specific to the needs of children.

Texas Safe Schools Week is held annually in conjunction with the national America’s Safe Schools Week. To read the Governor’s Safe School Week proclamation, the joint Texas Education Agency-Texas School Safety Center proclamation or to learn more about Texas Safe Schools Week topics, visit the Texas Education Agency website at www.tea.state.tx.us or the Texas School Safety Center website at http://txssc.txstate.edu/.


October 21, 2014

We’ve redesigned our app!

Our TSTA app’s new toolbar helps you stay in contact with TSTA and your local association. In addition to better design and flow, the improved app allows you to easily:

• Share the app with a friend
• Share education news stories
• Access a list of other locals’ social media
• Update your TSTA contact information
• Stay logged in

Update today or download free from iTunes or Google Play!

Apply for an athletics grant 

California Casualty, provider of the NEA® Auto and Home Insurance Program, is taking applications for the 2014/2015 California Casualty Thomas R. Brown Athletics Grant program. The grant program was created to offset severe budget cuts that have forced public high schools across the nation to decrease, eliminate or implement fees for their sporting programs – leaving some students sitting on the sidelines unable to participate. Schools demonstrating the most need will receive grants in amounts of $1,000 to $3,000. Applications for the 2014/2015 academic year must be received by January 15, 2015, for consideration. Details and application forms can be found at www.calcasathleticsgrant.com.


October 18, 2014

TSTA's state committees are meeting

TSTA's state committees are meeting today in Austin. They have some exciting plans for this school year, including new workshops at the state convention! 


October 17, 2014

TRS trustees look at ActiveCare, Care studies

Today, the TRS Trustees conducted a board meeting that largely focused on ActiveCare and Care. Before TRS staff presented a draft of the healthcare sustainability studies, TSTA appeared and offered the following testimony:

“We have three main concerns regarding ActiveCare and Care during the upcoming legislative session. First, we don’t want to see a reduction in benefits; second, we do not want to see an increase in premiums; and finally, we want to see the state pay its fair share.

"We know TRS is prohibited from lobbying, but our hope is that the studies are able to educate the legislature on the hardship borne by school employees and retirees because of the rising cost of healthcare. The better the legislature is educated on this subject, the easier it will be for us to encourage them to do the right thing, and hopefully, for them to do the right thing. 

"Our teachers and retirees deserve great healthcare at a reasonable cost. We are counting on these studies to help us negotiate a better healthcare system for school employees and retirees. We look forward to working with you to achieve that goal.”

Regarding the sustainability studies, staff first tackled Care. They presented the following options in their draft report: pre-fund; pay as you go; fund for a 10-year solvency; retiree pays full cost; a defined contribution with a health reimbursement account; elimination of Care 2 and 3; and a combination of ActiveCare and Care.

Regarding ActiveCare, the options included: increasing state funding and benefits; offer only an HD plan with a health savings account; retain only one plan that would look like ActiveCare Select; eliminate uniform statewide coverage; and eliminate coverage for spouses.

All of these proposals have numerous options within them, including shared responsibility between the insured and the state, and the options can be used in concert. It should also be noted that this is a draft, and many of the options are not financially feasible. What is clear from the study is that TRS believes the legislature needs to increase its funding for both Care and ActiveCare. The final version of the studies should be made available in the next month. A draft of the studies can be found here: http://www.trs.state.tx.us/about/documents/trscare_sustain_activecare_afford_study.pdf

The Board will next meet on November 20-21, 2014.


October 15, 2014

Watch online: TRS to consider future of ActiveCare, Care

On Friday, Oct. 17, Teacher Retirement System staff will update the TRS Board on the Health Benefits Study that is almost complete. The study, which will offer various options for ActiveCare and Care, should be presented to the legislature in November. 

TSTA will be testifying Friday. If you have concerns about the future of ActiveCare or Care, we highly recommend you follow the meeting online at http://trs.mediasite.com/mediasite/Play/c49b025876ef404dab8bdcf4b198af401d.


October 14, 2014

School equity

It is the mission of NEA to make every public school as good as the best public school and to ensure that the gifts and talents of each and every child are given a chance to flourish. 


October 10, 2014

Take the Healthy Me, Better Year pledge

NEA Health Information Network has recently launched a pledge-based social media campaign around member self-care – the Healthy Me, Better Year pledge. It's a simple reminder that taking care of yourself benefits your students and the entire school community. Take the pledge at http://bit.ly/HMBYpledge and use the hashtag #NewSelfie1415 across social media platforms.


October 9, 2014

Texas House Public Education Committee report: testing concerns continue

The House Committee on Public Education met on Oct. 8 to monitor and hear testimony on the implementation of House Bill 5, legislation passed last year that eliminated 10 high school end-of-course STAAR exams, leaving only five: Algebra I, English I and II, US History, and biology.  The hearing focused primarily on testimony and committee members’ concerns regarding the testing of students with disabilities and the number of students who were unable to pass the Algebra I and English II exams, which is necessary to graduate.

Declining graduation rates and promotion policies troubled committee members, prompting some to express a desire to file legislation next session to eliminate all high stakes exams that are not required by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, including both high school exams and those required in grades 3-8. The staff of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) made it clear that the commissioner of education does not believe he has the authority to waive the STAAR requirements for graduation from high school, and one committee member suggested a bill be fast tracked by spring of next year to help students trying to graduate in 2015.

Obviously, high stakes testing remains an important and explosive issue; TSTA will continue to work to eliminate testing as a measure in a punitive accountability and evaluation system and to return testing to its proper role as a beneficial diagnostic tool.

The House Committee on Public Education also met jointly with the House Committee on Corrections to discuss the impact of SB 393 and SB 1114, legislation passed last session that now prohibit school police and resource officers from ticketing students involved in fights, cursing teachers, disrupting class, chewing gum, etc., all matters considered Class C misdemeanors. 

TSTA worked last session to make sure a teacher can still remove a disruptive student from a classroom, but ticketing had raised concerns about the impact of the $500 fines being levied against students that were processed through the juvenile justice system in city and county governments. Due to the enormous number of these citations clogging up court systems and the resulting tarnish on a students' records, state senators Royce West, D-Dallas, and John Whitmire, D-Houston, enacted the legislation to reduce the use of ticketing.

The next meeting of the House Committee on Public Education is Thursday, Oct. 16 at 10 a.m.


October 8, 2014

Pledge to vote for education

The legislative majority cut school funding; let’s send them a message on Nov. 4. TSTA and Progress Texas are asking you to sign a petition pledging to put our kids and their neighborhood schools first, then share your action with your friends and family on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus. http://act.progresstexas.org/sign/education/?source=tsta

Early voting starts Oct. 20

In less than two weeks, you can help elect the candidates who support public education. Early voting takes place Monday, Oct. 20 through Friday, Oct. 31. Learn more about voting early in person or by mail at http://votetexas.gov/voting/when/#early-voting

Your vote makes a difference

Elected officials make decisions that affect you and your students, including salary, class size, benefits, course content, and retirement. That's why we formed TSTA-Political Action Committee - to screen, endorse, and fund pro-public education candidates up and down the ballot. Here is a list of endorsed candidates who have contested races in November; please support them and encourage your family and friends to join you.

http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/EndorsedCandidates14_0.pdf 


October 6, 2014

Candelaria represents NEA on national panel

TSTA President Noel Candelaria was a panelist on "Early Childhood Education: Why Universal Pre-K Makes Sense for America" at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Public Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., Sept. 20.

He joined Reps. Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Pedro Pierluisi of Puerto Rico, Libby Doggett of the U.S. Department of Education, Ana Gallegos of Tucson UISD, and Dr. Ana Maria Garcia Blanco of the Instituto Nueva Escuela in Puerto Rico.

“It was a great opportunity to talk about the overwhelming need to provide access to Pre-K for all 3-4 year olds, especially in our neediest communities, to eradicate the school-to-prison pipeline,” he said. “A lot of great data was shared regarding the need to ensure adequate funding for quality programs that offer full day Pre-K with small class sizes; certified teachers with adequate professional development as early childhood specialists; and the need to do away with the punitive overemphasis of testing that is robbing children of learning — a toxic environment that goes against everything we know about children’s brain development. I also spoke about Race to the Top funding for Pre-K that creates a system of winners and losers, when we cannot afford to lose one blessed child to inadequate funding."


October 2, 2014

TSTA president: Texas students deserve a solid school funding system now

“It would be a disservice to Texas schoolchildren for Attorney General Greg Abbott to continue wasting tax dollars on an appeal. Our students shouldn’t have to wait another year or longer for the financial resources they need to excel,” TSTA President Noel Candelaria said in a Dallas Morning News op-ed today.

“The Texas economy is strong. The state comptroller’s office recently reported a 5.5 percent annual growth in sales tax receipts last fiscal year, and similar growth this year is expected to swell state coffers. The rainy day fund is at $8.4 billion and growing, thanks to robust oil and gas production.

“There is no reason, financially, for the Legislature to delay a real school finance remedy past next year’s session,” Candelaria said. “Lawmakers need to begin work to develop a reliable school funding plan now, so all our children can have equal educational opportunity. http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/latest-columns/20141002-tsta-president-texas-students-deserve-a-solid-school-funding-system-now.ece


October 1, 2014

Helping girls make the leap from great students to great leaders 

Educators play a key role in supporting girls’ leadership development and shaping perceptions among all students about girls’ and women’s suitability for leadership, according to a new report from NEA, the American Association of University Women, and the Tisch College of Citizenship & Public Service at Tufts University.

The report, Closing the Leadership Gap-How Educators Can Help Girls Lead, was released at a webinar/panel discussion yesterday that featured teachers and key international education and equity advocates. 

Read the report, watch a recording of the webcast (scroll forward eight minutes), and download NEA’s Girls Leadership and Equity Toolkit here: http://www.nea.org/women.

$30 million in proven or suspected fraud in Pennsylvania charter industry

The Center for Popular Democracy has issued the first state-specific follow-up to its whistle-blowing May 2014 report Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud, and Abuse. The report reveals more than $30 million in proven or charged fraud, waste, or abuse in Pennsylvania’s charter school system.

“It’s time for lawmakers to stop providing charter industry players a blank check with little oversight and no accountability. We’re referring to the same politicians who call for ‘public school accountability’ by piling toxic tests on our students, yet seem to look the other way when it’s time to hold all charter schools responsible for their use of public funds,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said.

Read the press release at http://www.nea.org/home/60569.htm.

September 30, 2014

TSTA: Van de Putte advocates for schools; Patrick poses a disaster

Leticia Van de Putte reaffirmed her position as the real education candidate during last night's lieutenant governor's debate, while Dan Patrick emerged from hiding long enough to try to mislead Texans about his miserable education voting record and the real danger he poses for public schools. 

"Dan Patrick, in tonight's debate, continued to falsely portray himself as a champion of education, when, in fact, he would be a disaster for public schools as lieutenant governor," said TSTA President Noel Candelaria. "Patrick voted for $5.4 billion in school budget cuts in 2011, he voted against the entire state budget -- including all education funding -- in 2013, and, if given the chance, he will continue to steal tax dollars from Texas students for more testing and private school vouchers.

"Leticia Van de Putte is a genuine advocate for students and educators. She will reduce testing and tap into billions in available state revenue to increase our investment in strong neighborhood schools, including expanded early childhood education and other programs critical to our state's future," Candelaria added.

The state comptroller's office recently reported that sales tax revenue grew by 5.5 percent last fiscal year and is expected to increase by about that much this year, thanks to a strong economy. The Rainy Day Fund balance has reached $8.4 billion and is projected to reach double digits soon because of increased oil and gas production.


September 29, 2014

A closer look at the school finance ruling

In his recent EdAlert newsletter, Rep. Lon Burnam of Fort Worth explains why increased funding for public schools makes sense and why Texas will have a “stark future” if education gaps aren’t closed. He also includes useful facts about school funding taken directly from the Executive Summary in the Judge Dietz's ruling. http://www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/EdAlert_School_Funding.pdf


September 27, 2014

NEA President: Texas tour highlights

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García’s Back to School Tour included Texas, where she was joined by TSTA President Noel Candelaria and local leaders. See some of the highlights at http://lilysblackboard.org/2014/09/texas-week


September 26, 2014

TSTA: Abbott wrong to appeal school finance decision

The Texas State Teachers Association said today that Attorney General Greg Abbott’s decision to appeal the school finance ruling is a huge disservice to school children, educators, and Texas taxpayers.

“Despite being caught telling a lie in the first gubernatorial debate, Greg Abbott did not have to appeal the district court ruling that found the state’s school funding system inadequate and unconstitutional,” said TSTA President Noel Candelaria. “By filing this appeal, Abbott made it very clear that he is willing to make five million Texas students wait another year or more for the resources crucial to their success.

“We demand that Abbott quit wasting tax dollars and drop an appeal that robs our children of the opportunity guaranteed them by our great state,” Candelaria added.  “Legislators should begin working now on a fair and legal school funding plan that can be enacted during next year’s session.”

Your vote makes a difference

These candidates, who are endorsed by TSTA-Political Action Committee, have contested races in November. Please consider helping them by volunteering, contributing to TSTA-PAC, and taking your friends and family with you to vote.
http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/EndorsedCandidates14_0.pdf 


September 24, 2014

NEA expanding teacher leadership initiative

NEA, the Center for Teaching ,and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards are expanding the national Teacher Leadership Initiative, a joint endeavor to develop a new generation of leaders within the teaching profession. TLI was launched in 2013 and was formally announced earlier this year at an event at NEA.

“Positive change in education must be driven by the profession and shaped by the experience of teachers working in classrooms,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. “This initiative will ultimately develop expertise and engage thousands of teacher-leaders in leadership work in schools—because every student should have the best possible educators in their schools.”
 
The NEA Foundation was awarded a $750,000 grant over 24 months from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) of Battle Creek, Mich., which will support the NEA’s efforts to expand the scope of the initiative in three ways:

Recruit a more diverse cohort

NEA will expand the number of participant states and develop an “urban” teacher cohort in efforts to recruit, retain, and prepare a more diverse pool of candidates for the TLI. New sites for expansion include Columbus, Ohio and Prince George’s County, Md.

Expand the TLI curriculum

NEA will build a new module for Diversity, Equity, and Cultural Competence (DECC) to help teachers develop Instructional Leadership skills that improve their effectiveness in teaching students from diverse cultural, racial, economic, and language backgrounds.

Design leadership capstone experiences

This project will also foster leadership in public policy by ensuring that teacher leaders know about and learn to influence the key policy levers that influence educational equity and teaching excellence. As with other TLI strands, the NEA will develop capstone projects that will require teacher leaders to study and engage on a related policy issue related to equity at the district or state level.

The TLI is a product of the organizations’ shared vision of teacher-leadership advancing the profession. The long-term goals of the TLI are: 1) define the foundational competencies of teacher leadership; 2) develop relevant experiences and supports to help teachers cultivate those competencies; and (3) activate teachers to be leaders for their profession as a result of their participation in this process . The TLI has previously received support the Ford Foundation as well.

Participants will engage with an interactive curriculum designed and facilitated by other expert teachers. Their learning will take place on CTQ’s collaboratory platform and in face-to-face meetings led by NEA affiliate leaders. Once teacher leaders have been prepared, TLI will mobilize their leadership to help advance student learning, strengthen the teaching profession, and provide vision and direction to the Association. In addition, the partners will develop systems to support their on-going professional growth.

“The program will prepare and support the next generation of our profession’s leaders to meet the demands of a 21st century teaching professional and ensure the success of their students,” said Eskelsen Garcia.


September 23, 2014

Free webinar: Girls’ Pathways to Leadership

NEA invites you to a free webinar revealing new research on closing the leadership gap for girls, insights about international innovations and challenges, and tips to facilitate learning environments that foster girls' leadership. The report was commissioned by NEA and the American Association of University Women, and conducted by Tufts University.

WHEN: Tuesday, September 30 at 7 p.m. EST

WHERE: Virtual Event (You will need to install Firefox or Chrome browser. After verifying you have either browser, you will need to install a Google Hangout Plugin.)

WHY: Women account for half of the U.S. population, yet they hold only 24 percent of seats in state legislatures; 12 percent of mayoral seats in the 100 largest American cities; 10 percent of governorships; 20 percent of seats in the U.S. Senate; and 18 percent of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Schools provide a venue for addressing persistent gender leadership gaps by creating a pipeline of girls and young women who are interested in taking on future leadership roles.  Educators play an important role in supporting student leadership development and in shaping the perceptions of all students about girls’ and women’s suitability for leadership.


September 22, 2014

TSTA: Greg Abbott lied about school finance appeal

Attorney General Greg Abbott is under no legal requirement to appeal state District Judge John Dietz’s school finance ruling, contrary to the claim Abbott made in Friday’s gubernatorial debate. Abbott said a 2011 law does not give him the discretion to drop the appeal and settle the lawsuit.

“Greg Abbott either deliberately lied to Texans, or, as the state’s chief lawyer, isn’t competent enough to know the law,” said TSTA President Noel Candelaria. “There is absolutely nothing in state law that requires the attorney general to continue wasting tax dollars trying to defend an inadequate and unconstitutional school funding system.”

“TSTA renews its demand that Abbott drop further appeals now, and we urge legislators to begin work immediately on a school finance plan that gives all Texas children the resources they need to succeed,” Candelaria added. “We commend Senator Wendy Davis for advocating for a sound school funding plan, not costly, politically motivated delays.”

By beginning work now, lawmakers can be prepared to use surplus state funds and a rapidly growing Rainy Day Fund to enact a constitutional funding law when the legislature convenes in January.

The 2011 law that Abbott cited during the debate merely specified which settlements of lawsuits against the state are contingent on legislative approval. It did nothing to prevent the attorney general from dropping an appeal and negotiating a school finance settlement for presentation to the Legislature.

Members are phone banking for pro-education candidates

Here are some photos of TSTA Region 1B phone banking this weekend for Senator Leticia Van de Putte, TSTA-PAC endorsed candidate for lieutenant governor! https://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157647911696955


September 19, 2014

TSTA: Wendy Davis the clear winner for public education

This evening’s gubernatorial debate reaffirmed what public education advocates have known for a long time: Wendy Davis is the only candidate for the state’s top office who will advocate strongly for public schools, educators and students.

“Wendy Davis is the clear winner for public education,” said TSTA President Noel Candelaria. “Davis made it clear that, as governor, she will make sure testing is cut, and not school funding, so educators and students have the time and resources they need to succeed.”

“The state comptroller’s office has made it clear that because of Texas’ strong economy, the Legislature will have billions of dollars in additional revenue next session – more than enough money for lawmakers to start working to correct the deficiencies in the inadequate and unconstitutional school funding system that Greg Abbott is defending,” Candelaria added. “Now is the time to act, but Greg Abbott’s courtroom appeals will force our school children to suffer through a year or more of additional delays.”

In testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee earlier this week, John Heleman, the comptroller’s revenue estimator, said sales tax revenue grew by 5.5 percent last year and was expected to continue growing at a similar rate next year. Additionally, he said, the Rainy Day Fund balance has reached $8.4 billion and will continue to grow to as much as $15 billion, thanks to increased oil production.


Pension Trust Fund exceeds expectations

On September 18-19, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees held a quarterly meeting. Executive Director Brian Guthrie stated that the Pension Trust Fund finished the fiscal year close to $130 billion.

The Fund exceeded all expectations with an astonishing 16.5 percent annual rate of return. Guthrie also noted that he expects the forthcoming actuarial report (due before the November board meeting) to declare the Fund actuarially sound, with a funding period of between 25 and 27 years.

The October board meeting will be devoted exclusively to healthcare, with a layout and discussion of a draft of the findings of the health care study. The complete Trust Fund and health care studies should be made public some time in November. At the October board meeting, the board will also discuss going out for a bid for a new pharmacy benefits manager for TRS Care.

Finally, on Wednesday, September 24, the Legislative Budget Board will present to Senate Finance the cost drivers for the TRS and TEA budgets for the next biennium. Included in that presentation will be TRS’ request of $875 million for TRS Care as an exceptional item in their legislative appropriations request.


September 18, 2014

Watch the Wendy Davis-Greg Abbott Debate, Friday, 9-19, at 6pm

Don’t miss the debate Friday night between Wendy Davis, the TSTA endorsed candidate for governor, and her opponent Greg Abbott, who continues defending the education budget cuts and our inadequate school funding system. This will be one of only two televised gubernatorial debates before the Nov. 4 election. http://www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/DebateInfo.pdf

September 17, 2014

TSTA endorses Houston, Collier for attorney general, comptroller

The Texas State Teachers Association today announced its endorsements of Democrats Sam Houston for Texas attorney general and Mike Collier for state comptroller.

“These offices – the state’s chief lawyer and its revenue estimator – are extremely important to educators and public schools,” said TSTA President Noel Candelaria.

“As attorney general, Sam Houston won’t waste tax dollars defending an inadequate and unconstitutional school finance system,” Candelaria said, noting that his opponent, Ken Paxton, voted for $5.4 billion in school budget cuts in 2011 and has admitted that he violated state securities laws, which are designed to protect educators and other hard-working Texans against fraudulent investments.

“As comptroller, Mike Collier would use his experience as a first-rate accountant and financial expert to provide the kind of accurate revenue estimates we needed in 2011, when the current comptroller’s underestimate of available state revenue triggered the devastating school budget cuts that Mike’s opponent, Glenn Hegar, supported,” Candelaria said. Hegar has also proposed repealing local property taxes, a major source of school revenue, and a proposal that would require a massive increase in the state sales tax.

TSTA, through its political action committee, earlier endorsed State Senators Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, two of the Legislature’s strongest advocates for educators and public schools, for governor and lieutenant governor.


September 16, 2014

Annenberg study calls for new charter school standards

A new report by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University calls for increased accountability, transparency, and equity in the taxpayer-funded charter school sector. The Institute is proposing standards to be implemented into state and charter authorizer policies that would better serve all students and protect the public’s investment in public education. Approximately 2.57 million students are enrolled in over 6,000 charter schools nationwide.

"Standards and vigorous oversight are key to protecting charter school students and the public’s investment in public education,” NEA President Eskelsen García said. http://www.nea.org/home/60421.htm


September 15, 2014

Support the candidates who will support you

TSTA members are working hard to elect -- and reelect -- pro-public education candidates in November. Here are some photos of Southwest TSTA meeting with Rep. Phil Cortez and TSTA President Noel Candelaria today. https://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157647593907236


September 11, 2014

Garcia promises to lead high-stakes testing revolution

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia promised NEA would lead the nation’s teachers in making the case “to put a blessed end to this obsession with high-stakes testing.” http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/local/article_7f35902a-3962-11e4-beb0-0017a43b2370.html 


September 10, 2014

TEA to apply for federal preschool expansion grant

TEA news release: Commissioner of Education Michael Williams has notified the U.S. Department of Education that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) will submit an application for a federal preschool expansion grant.

Jointly administered by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the new Preschool Development Grants Program will award federal funds through a competitive process to help states build, develop and expand voluntary, high-quality preschool programs for low- and moderate-income families.

“One way to begin closing the achievement gap in Texas is to better prepare children who are entering our public schools,” said Commissioner Williams. “With many high-quality pre-k programs already established in our communities, this federal grant opportunity allows an avenue to enhance and build upon that success.” 

Because Texas currently serves 10 percent or more of four-year olds in established pre-k programs, it is eligible to receive an expansion grant of up to $30 million per year for four years. The total federal funding available nationwide for pre-k expansion grants is $160 million. Texas is one of 35 states, along with the District of Columbia, that are eligible for this funding.

TEA will submit its formal application by Oct. 14, 2014 (the submission deadline). Awards will be announced by the federal government in December. Under the program criteria, awarded funds will begin serving students on or before Dec. 31, 2015.

For more information about the federal Preschool Development Grants Program, visit http://www2.ed.gov/programs/preschooldevelopmentgrants/index.html.


September 9, 2014

TSTA: TEA budget is inadequate

The Texas State Teachers Association today criticized the Texas Education Agency for submitting a “woefully inadequate” appropriations request for the Legislature to consider next year.

“Education Commissioner Michael Williams should be a leader in demanding that Texas school children have the resources they need to succeed,” said TSTA President Noel Candelaria. “This woefully inadequate budget request would not allow schools to fully recover from the $5.4 billion in budget cuts imposed by the legislative majority in 2011, much less meet continued enrollment growth.”

“The Texas economy is strong.  So, the money will be there to correct crippling deficiencies in school funding. Commissioner Williams and the legislative majority need to find the political will to do the right thing,” Candelaria added.

Part of the cut funding was restored in 2013. But with total school enrollment increasing in Texas by about 80,000 students per year, school districts still will have less state aid to spend per student than they did in 2010-11, the last year before the budget cuts. Enrollment growth and inflation alone are expected to cost an additional $3.8 billion over the next biennium. That means the TEA budget, if adopted by the Legislature, would force local property taxpayers to shoulder more education costs, while state tax revenue is increasing by billions of dollars.

Under the TEA budget, several key grant programs cut in 2011, including the Student Success Initiative and full-day, pre-kindergarten, would not be restored.

New on Grading Texas: when school lunches become political

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples has a beef with a “Meatless Monday” program in some Dripping Springs ISD cafeterias, and I have a couple of beefs with Staples, who is a politician, not a nutritionist. http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas/uncategorized/when-school-lunches-beco...

Attempt to overturn key provisions of Citizens United decision clears Senate hurdle 

A legislative attempt to override the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC passed a key hurdle in the U.S. Senate yesterday. SJ Res 19, a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would expressly grant Congress the authority to regulate and limit the amount of money raised for and spent on federal political campaigns, was able to meet the 60-vote threshold to proceed to debate in the Senate. The provision will allow states to regulate campaign spending at their level.  

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC in 2010, corporate money has flooded our political system, drowning out the voices of ordinary Americans. In 2012 alone, “Super PACs” and 501(c)4 entities spent hundreds of millions of dollars to influence the outcome of elections. 

“As we approach our midterm elections, millions of dollars of secret, unaccountable corporate money is being spent to influence voters – and politicians,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia said. “Educators live the impact of the Citizens’ United decision every day as they fight the pro-privatization agenda of the Koch Brothers, the Walton family, and ALEC-member politicians. Educators know that the corporate education agenda, including private school voucher schemes, teacher evaluations tied to toxic testing, policies that promote the misuse and overuse of high stakes standardized testing, and slashing public education budgets have hurt our students and public schools. We urge the Senate to pass this constitutional amendment to allow Congress to turn down the volume on corporate speech so individual citizens can be heard as our nation’s founders intended."

Follow NEA at twitter.com/neamedia.


September 8, 2014

More funds for Texas teachers and students

In an oped in today’s McAllen Monitor, TSTA President Noel Candelaria and NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia discuss the great jobs that educators do every day in teaching children and challenge state government to do its part by passing a fair and adequately funded school finance system. Candelaria and Garcia will tour the Valley this week. http://www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/commentary-more-funds-for-tex.pdf

NEA President visiting Rio Grande Valley this week

TSTA President Noel Candelaria and NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia kicked off this week's tour of schools in the Rio Grande Valley with an editorial in The Monitor, McAllen's newspaper.

The leaders, who both began their teaching careers working with disadvantaged students, expect to meet teachers with a high percentage of students who come from low-income families, are English Language Learners, and may be at risk of dropping out of school.

"We have taught children who faced these challenges and went on to succeed in school, but every child and every teacher needs the resources required for success," they said in the column. "Educators alone can’t deliver these resources for our students. Our students need help from everyone who believes in equal opportunity for every child, no matter what their background.” 

Read more at http://www.themonitor.com/opinion/commentary-more-funds-for-texas-teachers-and-students/article_beb96674-355f-11e4-836d-001a4bcf6878.html.


September 2, 2014

A message from your new NEA President 

Lily Eskelsen Garcia took office this week as NEA president! She sends this message to you:

"It's my first week on the job as your National Education Association president, and I want to share this email alert for my new and improved online platform, Lily's Blackboard - www.lilysblackboard.org. We've created this improved site to share my thoughts and the latest news on key issues facing us as we work together in support of student success and public education. For this 2014 Back to School season, I also wanted to highlight a few resources inspired by our members, who are heroes for America's students each and every day. I look forward to staying in touch with you in the coming months, so stay tuned! Also, if you're on Twitter, connect with me @Lily_NEA. Thank you for all you have done and will do to make this the best school year yet for our students!


August 28, 2014

TSTA: Get to work on a school finance solution now

The Texas State Teachers Association today urged state leaders to comply with Judge Dietz’s school finance ruling, stop engaging in costly appeals, and get to work now on a legislative solution for the upcoming legislative session.

“It’s time for state leaders to stop defending a woefully inadequate school finance system in the courtroom and turn their attention to providing students and teachers the resources they need to excel in the classroom,” said TSTA President Noel Candelaria.

“Filing appeals and waiting another year or longer may be convenient for some politicians, but making students wait in a state system that provides roughly $600 less per student than it did six years ago is shameful,” Candelaria added.

“TSTA urges Attorney General Greg Abbott to stop wasting time and tax dollars on appeals and calls on legislators to start working now to develop a school finance plan worthy of our students,” Candelaria said. “Every day of delay risks the future of another Texas child and the future prosperity of our great state.”

Senator Van de Putte blasts TEA Commissioner Williams for blaming teachers for poor STAAR test performance

This week, the Senate Committee on Education met to discuss STAAR writing scores and STAAR passage rates on end-of-course exams. TEA Commissioner Williams attended the hearing to discuss STAAR with the Committee, and he blamed teachers for poor STAAR test performance. 

Before the Commissioner spoke, the committee heard testimony that indicated a large number of students were able to score well in advanced level math and English courses, score well on the ACT or SAT, and gain entrance to college, yet were unable to pass the STAAR EOC exams in math and English. Senator Van de Putte suggested there must be something wrong with the STAAR system if students can do well in the classroom and gain entrance into college, yet fail STAAR exams. 

Commissioner Williams responded that he believed the problem was with the teachers. He stated that the tests have become harder, the subject matter more difficult, and that the teachers were not able to elevate their level of instruction.

Senator Van de Putte blasted Commissioner Williams for the assertion that teachers were to blame, and pointed out that teachers are not even told the content areas that the STAAR exams cover, leaving them to teach in the dark and hoping the kids hit the mark. She went on to state that the tests should be used as a diagnostic tool only, that the state needed to remove the high stakes, punitive nature of the STAAR system, and let the teachers know the content that will be covered on the tests.

Commissioner Williams also came under fire from Senator West for failing to close achievement gaps between African-American students and higher performing student populations. Committee members were clearly disgusted with STAAR and EOC exams.  Senator Van de Putte hopes to address these concerns during the next legislative session, hopefully as Lt. Governor, and TSTA encourages you to help her win that very important election.


August 27, 2014

Davis holds education news event at TSTA headquarters

Flanked by TSTA President Noel Candelaria, Vice President Ovidia Molina and others, Sen. Wendy Davis, TSTA’s endorsed candidate for governor, held a news conference at TSTA headquarters in Austin today. 

She talked about the dramatic differences between her record on public school issues and that of her opponent, Greg Abbott. 

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t think a person who is in the insider network and who took our schools to court in the first place is someone they can depend on to suddenly fight for them,” Davis, who has consistently fought the legislature’s cuts to schools, said.

Also speaking at the event were TSTA President Noel Candelaria, Education Austin Vice President Montserrat Garibay, and a student.

Clips of Davis and Candelaria on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/TSTAeditor

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157646920846362


August 22, 2014

TEA suspends SSI math requirement for grades 5 and 8

The Student Success Initiative (SSI) requirement that students in grades 5 and 8 must pass the STAAR mathematics test to be promoted to the next grade level has been suspended for the upcoming school year, state Education Commissioner Michael Williams announced today. He said the suspension was necessary because of the state’s transition to revised statewide curriculum standards in math.

The commissioner’s action demonstrates the necessity of aligning tests with curriculum standards that are taught. Williams’ announcement and yesterday’s announcement that the federal government will give states flexibility for a year in tying test scores to teacher evaluations also reinforce TSTA’s argument that an over-reliance on testing is not the way to educate students.

To read the full news release from TEA go to http://www.tea.state.tx.us/news_release.aspx?id=25769815716.


August 21, 2014

Duncan: we'll allow flexibility in tying high stakes consequences to student test scores

Today, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that the Obama administration WILL allow flexibility in tying high-stakes consequences to student test scores for up to two years. In response, NEA released a statement to media that reads in part:

“There is increasing evidence that the collision between old and new standards and assessments with already flawed evaluation systems are fraught with pitfalls and dangerous consequences for student learning and growth—especially when these systems are developed hastily with too much external pressure and too little time for collaboration. It is just common sense to allow a moratorium on high-stakes consequences of test scores,” said NEA President-elect Lily Eskelsen García.

NEA’s full statement can be found in the press center at: http://www.nea.org/home/60170.htm

Duncan’s full announcement can be found at: http://www.ed.gov/blog/2014/08/a-back-to-school-conversation-with-teachers-and-school-leaders

TSTA will be looking at how this impacts the waiver that is the basis for TEA's pilot program, which includes test-based teacher evaluation, and legislative efforts that seek to tie teacher evaluation to standardized test scores.

Participation in state teacher survey is low

The Texas Education Agency released the results of the Teaching, Empowering, Leading, and Learning (TELL) Texas Survey this week
and the responses from educators who actually took the survey about teaching and working conditions were mostly positive. But since only about 20 percent of school-based licensed educators participated, no one really knows how accurately TELL portrays what most Texas educators think.

TSTA encouraged its members to participate when the survey went online last spring. But the timing wasn’t good. The survey was conducted while many teachers were preparing to administer STAAR tests and finishing up many other chores as the end of the school year was approaching. Here is a link to the TEA news release: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/news_release.aspx? id=25769815625.


August 20, 2014

New poll shows skepticism over standardized tests

As students, parents, educators and community members continue to push back against the overuse and abuse of standardized testing in our public schools, the most recent PDK/Gallup poll reinforces that Americans have had enough of the nation’s obsession with testing. According to the results, parents are concerned about the amount of testing and an overwhelming majority of public school parents (68%) are skeptical that standardized tests help teachers know what their students are learning or what to teach.

“More and more Americans understand that over testing is taking a toll on our students and on what and how we teach,” said National Education Association President-elect Lily E. Garcia. “Students and teachers continue to lose more and more class time to testing and test preparation, and that time should be spent teaching and learning a rich, engaging curriculum. The serious consequences of these toxic tests will only snowball unless parents, educators and community members push back against lawmakers determined to tie high-stakes decisions to fill-in-the-bubble tests.” 

As opposition to the overuse of standardized tests increases, so has opposition to connecting those tests to teacher evaluations. According to the poll, 61 percent say they oppose the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations. “More and more parents and the public understand the flaws of these tests. And what's even more absurd is that we've seen educators being evaluated on students and subjects they don’t even teach,” said Garcia. “Enough is enough.”

The poll also indicated that public support for Common Core State Standards is diminishing as the majority of Americans are learning of the standards from the media instead of their schools.

“It’s no surprise that many aren’t behind the Common Core as they are victims of targeted misinformation campaigns. Some on the far right have turned high standards for all students into a political football,” said Garcia. “Our students’ futures aren’t a game. These Standards are an opportunity for all students to have access to a great education, but are being overshadowed by a propaganda war on TV and poor implementation by too many states and districts on the ground. Educators need the resources, time and training needed to get it right for students."

Other key findings of 46th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools:

    • 50% of Americans gave the schools in their communities either an A or B, with parents awarding local schools even higher marks. These grades have remained consistent over the last few years.
    • Two-thirds of Americans oppose public school vouchers.

Read the PDK Survey Part I here: http://pdkintl.org/noindex/PDK_Poll46_2014.pdf.


August 19, 2014

Candelaria: Back to school brings new opportunities

An op-ed by TSTA President Noel Candelaria ran in the Lufkin News today:

At the start of the school year, I am reminded of the remarkable connection between teacher and student that is at the heart of learning. When a new class of students meets its new teacher, each student brings both a challenge and an opportunity for success.

My greatest opportunity in the classroom was Robert. That is not his real name, but his challenges, and mine, were very real. Robert was a special needs student. He was often in trouble, in and out of police custody for aggressive behavior. He even shoved a filing cabinet toward a teacher.

Robert was referred to the alternative campus where I taught and was assigned to my class. I was concerned about how he might affect my other students, but I was determined to get through to Robert.

I visited Robert’s home and learned that he acted up when he didn’t take his medication, and that often happened because his single mom was a quadriplegic and sometimes she couldn’t find transportation to the pharmacy.

Some may have seen Robert as impossible, or a failure, but I told his mother my job was to make sure he graduated from high school. After arrangements were made to get help for Robert and his mother, his behavior improved. It wasn’t easy, but Robert made progress and he graduated. He now attends community college and loves to write.

There are other Roberts in neighborhood public schools throughout Texas, where there are teachers equally dedicated to turning their challenges into success stories. Most students’ needs are less dramatic than Robert’s, but just as real. Some enter school speaking little, if any, English. Some come to school too hungry to hunger for knowledge. Others are gifted and talented.

We don’t have standardized students, and teachers must work to find a way to help them meet their unique needs and develop their unique skills. We teach for that moment when a light flickers in our student’s eye that says “I get it,” when learning is fun and builds the confidence needed to reach the next level.

Those moments define success in the classroom, but these days, teachers face other challenges. Crowded classrooms make it harder to give our students the individual attention they deserve. Teachers are frustrated by a high stakes testing epidemic that steals valuable time needed for teaching, dulls the joy of learning, and improperly judges them and their students by a single standardized test score.

As school begins this year, teachers simply want to be free to teach so our students can be free to learn. Teachers are getting ready, spending their own money to buy classroom supplies, preparing to meet their challenges and turn them into opportunities. More than anything, your child’s teacher wants to reach that “aha” moment that lights a child’s eyes when learning happens, because those moments light the path to a successful future, for all of us.


August 5, 2014

TSTA applauds Leticia Van De Putte’s education plan

The Texas State Teachers Association today applauded Leticia Van De Putte for proposing education priorities that will give educators and students the resources and the time they need for classroom success.

“Senator Van De Putte knows that students aren’t standardized. She knows that each student needs a good teacher and the time to learn, not a battery of stressful standardized tests,” said TSTA President Noel Candelaria.

“Leticia is from a family of educators,” Candelaria noted.  “As lieutenant governor, she will work to make sure our teachers have the resources they need to teach effectively and restore common sense to Texas classrooms.”

See the plan here: http://leticiavandeputte.com/texasfirst-education-2

Read a Grading Texas blog on the plan here: http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas/testing/fighting-the-testing-plague.


July 25, 2014

Charter rule hearing

A long line of charter school operators and supporters complained to TEA administrators Friday that new proposed rules designed to hold charter operators more accountable for the tax dollars they receive from the state were too restrictive.

The rules were drafted to comply with requirements of Senate Bill 2, a law enacted by the Legislature in 2013 to raise the previous limit of 215 charters that could be granted in Texas to more than 300 over the next several years. Legislators agreed to the charter expansion only after imposing higher accountable standards on the schools’ academic performances and financial practices.

TSTA believes that the state should hold charter operators to strict accountability standards in how they spend the public’s money. Each tax dollar granted to a corporate-style charter is one less dollar spent on neighborhood public schools, where the vast majority of Texas school children will continue to be educated. (Press release here: http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/20140725-Charter.pdf.)

Even with the new accountability standards, charters still have fewer restrictions than traditional public schools. Charters don’t have to provide bus service, and many don’t, and many charter operators cherry pick the best and brightest students, while a neighborhood public school is required to educate any child who lives in its district.

TEA will accept public comments on the new charter rules through Aug. 18.


July 17, 2014

The heartbreak of being a teacher in Texas

TSTA and Del Valle Education Association member Katie Plemmons pens an excellent column in the Texas Tribune about the challenges facing Texas teachers today, and the impact of teacher turnover on our students. http://tribtalk.org/2014/07/17/the-heartbreak-of-being-a-teacher-in-texas/


July 15, 2014

New TSTA president, vice president take office

President Noel Candelaria and Vice President Ovidia Molina, the new leadership team for the Texas State Teachers Association, took office today, following their elections by delegates to TSTA’s annual state convention in April. Each was elected to a three-year term.
 Read press release


July 11, 2014

TRS-ActiveCare and TRS-Care

On Thursday, July 10, the House Committee on Pensions and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III (Education) held a joint hearing on the state and future of TRS-ActiveCare and TRS-Care. TSTA testified, urging legislative action to help educators who are bearing the cost of rising health care premiums and preserve the TRS Care program for retirees. read more


July 10, 2014

Getting involved

The November election is critical to Texas public schools and the educators, support staff, and students who work and learn on our campuses and in our classrooms. TSTA is supporting Wendy Davis for Governor and Leticia Van de Putte for Lt. Governor because they have a proven record of fighting for us in the Texas Senate. And their records are far superior to their opponents, who have supported devastating school funding cuts, vouchers, and privatization.

Many TSTA members have asked us how they can get involved in the effort to elect our endorsed “education candidates.” Battleground Texas is organizing neighborhood teams to get the message out in every Texas community, neighbor to neighbor.  With two candidates who are stressing the importance of education in their campaigns, TSTA members can play an important role by  volunteering whatever time you have to be part of a neighborhood team in your community. 

For TSTA, this is about more than just this fall’s election. By volunteering for a neighborhood team, you get practical community organizing experience and build relationships in your community that will help local TSTA efforts when we are working to elect school board candidates who will work with us.

Signing up for a neighborhood team is easy. Simply use this link to sign up, and we’ll get a Battleground Texas neighborhood team leader in touch with you. https://tsta.wufoo.com/forms/yes.


July 9, 2014

NEA RA votes to end toxic testing

The 9,000 delegates to the NEA RA launched a national campaign to put the focus of assessments and accountability back on student learning and end the “test, blame, and punish” system that has dominated public education in the last decade. The campaign will, among other things, seek to end the abuse and overuse of high stakes standardized tests and reduce the amount of student and instructional time consumed by them. http://www.nea.org/home/59453.htm 


July 7, 2014

New TSTA leaders take office next week

On Tuesday, July 15, Noel Candelaria will become state president of TSTA. Prior to his election as vice president in 2011, he was a special education teacher in Ysleta ISD and president of Ysleta Teachers Association. Ovidia Molina, an ESL and history teacher in Alief ISD and Region 3B president, will become vice president. 

All-minority, all-female team to lead NEA

At the NEA Representative Assembly July 3-6 in Denver, delegates elected a new president: current Vice President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. Garcia, who was an ESP and teacher in Utah, takes office Sept. 1. Mary Hatwood Futrell was the last woman to lead NEA, from 1983-89.

Delegates also elected Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle, a Pennsylvania science teacher, as vice president, and Executive Committee member Princess Moss, a Virginia music teacher, as secretary-treasurer. 

Honoring Malala Yousafzai

In 2012, 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, an activist in Pakistan, was gunned down by Taliban militants determined to ban girls from attending school. NEA honored Yousafzai, who continues to advocate for education and children, with the Mary Hatwood Futrell Human and Civil Rights Award and the 2014 NEA Friend of Education Award. Watch a video here: http://www.nea.org/grants/59660.htm.

July 3, 2014

Class size waivers still rampant

From the Dallas Morning News: The Texas Education Agency excused 1,272 elementary schools from the 22-pupil limit in kindergarten through fourth grade. Most cited “financial hardship” or “unanticipated growth” in their requests for waivers. That’s a slight improvement from the previous year, when 1,480 schools were exempted. But it’s nearly 30 percent of the elementary schools in the state. It is also more than 2 1/2 times the number of campuses that received waivers in 2010-11, the last school year before the Legislature dramatically reduced per-pupil funding in an effort to close a huge budget shortfall without raising taxes. Read more at http://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/headlines/20140702-class-size-waivers-still-rampant-in-texas-elementary-schools.ece.

TSTA: Education Commissioner wrong to allow charter expansion

The Texas State Teachers Association today rebuked State Education Commissioner Michael Williams for overturning a veto by the State Board of Education and allowing a corporate charter company from Arizona to expand into Dallas and Irving.

“It was wrong for a political appointee like Commissioner Williams to overturn the decision of elected state officials and give Great Hearts Academies a license to cherry pick students and profits from Dallas County’s public schools and Texas taxpayers,” said TSTA President Rita Haecker.

Numerous reports indicate that Great Hearts has a history of skipping over Hispanic, black and low-income students when it fills its classrooms. In fact, Anglo students make up a majority of students enrolled in Great Hearts classrooms in predominantly Hispanic Phoenix.

“An appointed commissioner should not force Texans to enrich a corporation insensitive to the needs of the majority of Texas school children,” Haecker concluded.


July 1, 2014

Education Austin leader takes spotlight at NEA Annual Meeting

Montserrat Garibay, vice president of Education Austin, spoke at the Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women in Denver June 29; it’s part of the NEA Annual Meeting (http://neatoday.org/2014/06/30/nea-activists-vow-to-continue-fight-for-social-justice). She also will be on stage for the Empowered Educators Day, which will be live streamed July 2 at http://www.gpsnetwork.org/welcome/ra2014.


June 30, 2014

Harris v. Quinn ruling creates uncertainty

In a 5-4 ruling in Harris v. Quinn today, the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated agency fee arrangements for Illinois home healthcare workers. Harris v. Quinn was brought by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a political group that seeks to weaken the power of working people.

At issue in the case was whether non-union members could reap the wages, benefits, and protections negotiated in a collectively bargained contract without needing to pay their fair share. 

“Quality public services, economic stability, and prosperity start with strong unions, but today the Supreme Court of the United States created a roadblock on that path to the American Dream. This ruling jeopardizes a proven method for raising the quality of home health care services —- namely, allowing home health care workers to join together in a strong union that can bargain for increased wages, affordable health care, and increased training,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said. “Every educator who enjoys the benefits and protections of a negotiated contract should, in fairness, contribute to maintaining the contract. And fair share simply makes sure that all educators share the cost of negotiations for benefits that all educators enjoy, regardless of whether they are association members.”

Read more at http://neatoday.org/2014/06/30/with-harris-ruling-supreme-court-silences-voices-of-working-families. 


June 24, 2014

TSTA: Abbott playing politics with school finance

The Texas State Teachers Association today applauded the visiting judge’s decision to deny Attorney General Greg Abbott’s attempt to get state District Judge John Dietz removed from the school finance lawsuit.

“As an impartial judge has clearly pointed out, Greg Abbott’s clumsy attempt to remove Judge Dietz was a frivolous, political attempt to delay judgment on an unconstitutional school funding system. The school children of Texas need an attorney general and a governor who will fight for adequate and fair education funding, not someone who will defend school budget cuts and shortchange Texas’ future,” said TSTA President Rita Haecker.

Read more in an Austin American-Statesman report here: http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/judge-dietz-can-stay-on-school-finance-case/ngRJq

Volunteer for a TSTA Committee

TSTA relies on member volunteers to serve on its governing committees. There are three standing committees: Legislative, PAC (Political Advocacy), and Credentials, Bylaws and Elections. In addition, there are the following non-standing committees: ESP, Special Education, Communications and Community Outreach, Governance and Compliance, School Board Policies, Member Advocacy, and Teaching Profession.

The TSTA President Elect has begun the appointment process for 2014-15. All members are eligible to serve. If you are interested in a committee appointment, please contact Neocha Campbell at neochac@tsta.org by July 11. Please indicate your particular area of interest and give a brief explanation of why you would like to serve on a TSTA Governance Committee. Please contact the Center for Executive and Governance at 877-ASK-TSTA if you have any questions.

TEA advises districts of Community and Student Engagement deadline

The Texas Education Agency has advised all school districts and charters of the summer deadlines to submit locally-assigned performance ratings.

Under House Bill 5 (passed last year by the 83rd Texas Legislature), all districts are required to evaluate the district’s performance and the performance of each campus in regard to community and student engagement. Districts must assign one of four performance ratings – Exemplary, Recognized, Acceptable or Unacceptable – to the district and each campus for overall performance, including the following categories:

  • Fine arts;
  • Wellness and physical education;
  • Community and parental involvement;
  • 21st Century Workforce Development program;
  • Second language acquisition program;
  • Digital learning environment;
  • Dropout prevention strategies; and
  • Educational programs for gifted and talented students.

House Bill 5 requires a local committee or committees to determine the criteria that the district uses to evaluate and assign performance ratings and to evaluate the district’s compliance with statutory reporting and policy requirements. The Texas Education Agency will begin collecting information regarding locally-assigned district and campus community and student engagement ratings beginning in late June.

While districts must assign locally-determined performance ratings for the district and all campuses in the district, ratings are not required for budgeted (non-instructional) campuses, Disciplinary Alternative Education program (DAEP) campuses, Juvenile Justice Alternative Education program (JJAEP) campuses and facilities operated by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

Under House Bill 5, districts must post the ratings and compliance status for the district and each campus on the school district’s website by August 8, 2014.

The Texas Education Agency is required to report the performance ratings and compliance statuses on the TEA website no later than October 1, 2014. Please note that while TEA has reporting responsibilities under House Bill 5, the agency has no authority to provide policy guidance to districts regarding the criteria for determining the community and student engagement performance ratings and compliance statuses.


June 19, 2014

Austin member to lead Empowered Educators Day
As you know, nearly 9,000 educators will be in Denver June 26-July 6 for the NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly (RA).

The RA, the top decision-making body for our nearly 3 million members, will set Association policy for the coming year. But what happens before the RA begins on July 3?

June 29: The Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women looks at past, present, and future social justice activism. This year's theme is "Action Now: Unleashing the Power of Diversity."

June 30: Outreach to Teach has been sponsored by the NEA Student Program for 18 years. Future, current, and retired teachers, support professionals, and higher education faculty will repair, landscape, paint, clean, and decorate Denver's Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy and Valverde Elementary School.

July 1: NEA's Read Across America will host a read-in at the Denver Public Library.

July 2: Raise Your Hand - Empowered Educators Day will showcase the work of educator innovators who are leading the way for quality instruction and student success. TSTA's Montserrat Garibay, vice president of Education Austin, will join NEA President Dennis Van Roekel on stage. In the evening is the Human and Civil Rights Awards Dinner.

Read more at http://www.nea.org/grants/2014-annual-meeting-agenda.html


June 18, 2014

Students protest proposed cuts in Beaumont

Through social media, flyers, and protest signs, Beaumont ISD students are fighting to save teacher jobs. While BISD administrators argued against a Texas Education Agency takeover of their district in an Austin courtroom Tuesday, students stood outside with signs about saving their teachers and their fine arts programs. 

"This is serious for us. We care about our teachers, and we don't want to lose our programs," junior Kayla Simmons said. "We know this will affect our future."

Using the hashtags #fineartsmatter and #saveBISD, students have mounted a protest that has reached from their hometown to the state Capitol.

"They probably look at our age and think 'They're just a bunch of kids,' but I think we're just people trying to make a difference," Hope Flores said.

A decision on the TEA takeover is expected Friday. "The plaintiffs in evidence tried to establish harm by demonstrating they had to do a major layoff and had a hard time filling high level jobs because of the uncertainty and low morale that looms because of the possible conservatorship," Portia Bosse, TSTA government relations specialist, said.


June 13, 2014

TSTA fighting home rule takeover of Dallas ISD

A big money effort, fueled by Houston billionaire and former Enron executive John Arnold and supported by the Dallas mayor, is trying to use home rule to pave the way for a hostile takeover of Dallas neighborhood schools. Arnold is the same hedge fund manager who is trying to destroy defined benefit pensions for teachers and public employees, along with his support for a charter takeover of New Orleans schools.

A group with a misleading name, “Save Our Public Schools (SOPS),” has secured the number of petition signatures required for the appointment of a charter commission, and the Dallas ISD School Board is appointing that commission while grappling with numerous legal problems raised by the lack of clarity in a statute that was adopted 19 years ago but has never been used.

• TSTA and NEA-Dallas have been working with the “Our Communities, Our Schools” coalition that includes the AFT Alliance, the NAACP, LULAC, and other community groups opposing home rule. TSTA staff and/or officers have attended five meetings in Dallas in support of NEA-Dallas efforts on this issue.

• TSTA has worked with NEA-Dallas to develop and distribute anti-home rule flyers and information to NEA-Dallas members and other Dallas ISD employees.

• TSTA has also alerted NEA to the need for funding should home rule go on the November ballot, and we are working with other potential funders to outline a campaign plan should one be necessary.

• TSTA is spending PAC funds for direct mail and calls in support of Joyce Freeman in the Dallas ISD District 6 School Board runoff. Freeman opposes home rule, and her opponent is supported by so-called “reformers.” Most observers see the outcome of this runoff as important to giving the home rule opposition much needed momentum.

• TSTA is considering the best timing for any appropriate legal action against the DISD home rule effort. AFT has filed suit against the appointment of a teacher member who may not have met the proper criteria for appointment, and TSTA is monitoring that action closely.


June 12, 2014

No value added model this year but... 

Texas Education Agency will not use test-based Value-Added Model (VAM) in the teacher evaluation pilot this year, but it is funding development of a statewide VAM.

This week, TEA notified us that the 20% VAM will not be scored during the pilot year for teachers in school districts participating in the teacher evaluation pilot program. However, TEA is not backing off their intention to require statewide test-based value-added modeling to be used for teacher evaluation, should the legislature give TEA that authority in the 2015 session. 

TEA locals in Cypress-Fairbanks and Pflugerville were active in their opposition to the test-based VAM being used in the TEA pilot program. Cy-Fair withdrew from the pilot and Pflugerville decided they would not use test-based value-added modeling to evaluate teachers.

At this time, if the legislature approves it, VAM scoring may not happen statewide until the fall of 2016 due to logistical problems with the modeling. TEA is contracting with SAS – a firm that has developed VAM models in Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Tennessee – for the value added modeling that would ultimately be used in the new teacher evaluation system as a condition of the federal waiver agreement under NCLB.  

TEA is using Title II federal discretionary funds to pay SAS for its services – another example of funds that could be used for other educational purposes being spent on private contractors in a business born of test-based accountability. 

TSTA has a number of specific concerns related to the directives for developing modeling that would attempt to use a VAM that scores an individual teacher, which research has consistently found to be both impossible and inappropriate. While taxpayers pay for another year of this “modeling development,” the pilot year will also be used to come up with alternative growth measures and to determine the cost of the new system.

TSTA fighting home rule takeover of Dallas ISD

A big money effort, fueled by Houston billionaire and former Enron executive John Arnold and supported by the Dallas mayor, is trying to use home rule to pave the way for a hostile takeover of Dallas neighborhood schools. Arnold is the same hedge fund manager who is trying to destroy defined benefit pensions for teachers and public employees, along with his support for a charter takeover of New Orleans schools. 

A group with a misleading name, “Save Our Public Schools (SOPS),” has secured the number of petition signatures required for the appointment of a charter commission, and the Dallas ISD School Board is appointing that commission while grappling with numerous legal problems raised by the lack of clarity in a statute that was adopted 19 years ago but has never been used.

TSTA and NEA-Dallas have been working with the “Our Communities, Our Schools” coalition that includes the AFT Alliance, the NAACP, LULAC, and other community groups opposing home rule. TSTA staff and/or officers have attended five meetings in Dallas in support of NEA-Dallas efforts on this issue. 

TSTA has worked with NEA-Dallas to develop and distribute anti-home rule flyers and information to NEA-Dallas members and other Dallas ISD employees.

TSTA has also alerted NEA to the need for funding should home rule go on the November ballot, and we are working with other potential funders to outline a campaign plan should one be necessary.

TSTA is spending PAC funds for direct mail and calls in support of Joyce Freeman in the Dallas ISD District 6 School Board runoff. Freeman opposes home rule, and her opponent is supported by so-called “reformers.” Most observers see the outcome of this runoff as important to giving the home rule opposition much needed momentum.

TSTA is considering the best timing for any appropriate legal action against the DISD home rule effort. AFT has filed suit against the appointment of a teacher member who may not have met the proper criteria for appointment, and TSTA is monitoring that action closely. 


June 11, 2014

Student loan bill fails in Senate

Partisanship has killed another important piece of legislation aimed at helping Americans who are struggling with student loan debt. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act failed to get the 60 votes needed to proceed to a floor debate. http://www.nea.org/home/59360.htm


June 10, 2014

Wrong call: teacher tenure

A California judge chooses big money over student and teachers in a landmark teacher tenure ruling.
http://neatoday.org/2014/06/10/wrong-call-a-california-judge-picks-big-money-over-teachers-and-students/


June 9, 2014

TRS Board Increases ActiveCare Rates, Again

The TRS Board of Trustees held their long-awaited June Board Meeting on June 5-6. After two days of waiting, the Board finally revealed and approved the new rates for TRS ActiveCare and Care for the next fiscal year. read more

Here's a link to more extensive info on the new ActiveCare setup – including AC Select: http://www.trs.state.tx.us/trs_activecare/documents/ppo_rates_benefits_fy15.pdf


June 5, 2014

TSTA urges halt to increases in educator health insurance premiums, seeks legislative funding

The Texas State Teachers Association today urged the Teacher Retirement System Board of Trustees to hold the line on health insurance costs for school employees and to join TSTA in demanding that the Legislature increase the state’s share of those costs. The TRS board is expected to consider an increase in employees’ premiums for ActiveCare, the state health insurance program for teachers and other school workers, when it meets on Friday.

press release


June 3, 2014

Beaumont teachers ask state education commissioner to block layoffs

The Beaumont Teachers Association today asked the state education commissioner to block a proposed reduction in force that could cost the jobs of more than 200 teachers and other employees in the Beaumont Independent School District. press release


June 2, 2014

Tell TRS how an expected premium increase will affect you

This Friday, the TRS Board will be setting rates for ActiveCare for the next plan year.  TSTA has learned that TRS is expected to increase ActiveCare premiums again, effective next September. We have no indication about how much the premium increase might be.

It also appears likely that TRS will eliminate ActiveCare 3 and move any participants in ActiveCare 3 to ActiveCare 2. TRS will also select an HMO vendor for ActiveCare and discuss the sustainability studies for Care and ActiveCare. 

The Friday portion of the Board meeting will begin at 9:30 am and start with a public comment session.  We encourage you to attend on Friday morning to inform the Board about how premium increases are affecting you and your families, and to let them know that raising rates on active teachers is unacceptable. Please let us know if you plan to attend and comment. 

After public comments have concluded, the Board will immediately dive into the healthcare portion of the meeting. The Board meeting will be held at the TRS offices at 11th and Red River. For those of you who cannot attend the meeting, you may still monitor the meeting through the TRS webcast.


300 jobs at risk in Beaumont 

The first step in Beaumont ISD Superintendent Timothy Chargois’ plan to lay off some 300 employees was approved by the school board on May 29, in spite of a strong campaign by Beaumont Teachers Association that included a rally at the board meeting and collecting more than 1,000 signatures on a petition in one day. 

TSTA believes BISD has no legitimate reason to adopt the “financial exigency” declaration needed to cut these jobs, and we will do everything possible to prevent these layoffs.

“The problems facing Beaumont ISD are not the fault of the educators who work to provide our students with the quality education they deserve,” BTA said in a press release. “The very idea that someone could suggest firing 300 people without public hearings and input from teachers, parents, and the community is an insult to everyone who cares about our schools.”

Beaumont leaders on television: http://kfdm.com/shared/news/top-stories/stories/kfdm_live-report-teachers-protest-looming-cuts-10259.shtml

Local newspaper report: http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/news/article/Chargois-sets-June-date-to-notify-staff-of-layoffs-5514102.php


May 28, 2014
 

TSTA: Clear contrast on education in governor and lieutenant governor races

Dan Patrick’s nomination as the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor completes a GOP top-of-the-ballot ticket that is hostile to public schools, a clear contrast with the strong pro-education records of Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic nominees for governor and lieutenant governor. http://tsta.org/pressroom


May 27, 2014

BISD press release on May 26

The problems facing BISD are not the fault of the educators who work to provide our students with the quality education they deserve. However, by sending this notification on a Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend, Dr. Chargois’ action has shown utter disrespect for the teachers and students who will pay the price should his recommendation go forward. The very idea that someone could suggest firing 300 people without public hearings and input from teachers, parents and the community is an insult to everyone who cares about our schools. The Beaumont Teachers Association will utilize every resource at our disposal to prevent this harmful proposal from taking effect while we work to find a more appropriate resolution to the problems facing BISD.

--The Executive Committee of the Beaumont Teachers Association


May 23, 2014

TRS staff recommends no premium increases

This week, the Retirees Advisory Committee of the Teacher Retirement System met to hear from staff about TRS-Care rates for FY 2015 and receive an update on the TRS-Care Sustainability Study.

Staff informed the Committee that they will be recommending to the Board that there be no premium increases for FY 2015. There may be a benefit restatement for FY 2015, but staff insisted that benefits will not change either.

Staff discussed the TRS-Care Sustainability Study, stating that they are looking at all options. The TRS-Care Fund will be facing an almost $1 billion shortfall in the next biennium, and TRS intends to ask for that amount in an exceptional item of its legislative appropriations request.

TRS, however, is looking at doing all they can to help the TRS-Care fund become solvent in the future. They are looking at a number of options, including: a pay-as-you-go system; a system where the retiree pays for all optional coverage; a defined contribution plan with a health reimbursement account that will allow retirees to shop for coverage; modifying eligibility for Care 3; and combining ActiveCare and Care. Staff will also be looking at using a combination of some of the above-listed options. The Sustainability Study should be finalized in the fall.

The full Board meets next on June 5-6, 2014.


May 20, 2014

TSTA applauds Davis debate proposal, focus on education

“Texas was made great by confident leaders who met the challenges of their times. Today, Texas is changing, and for the first time in 24 years, there is no incumbent running for Governor. Now more than ever, it is time for candidates to come out of the shadows of their campaign ads and tell us how they would meet today’s challenges and keep Texas strong," TSTA President Rita Haecker said in a statement issued today regarding Senator Wendy Davis’ proposal for six gubernatorial debates during the 2014 campaign.

“We are especially pleased with Senator Davis’ proposal to have one debate focused entirely on education, the most important responsibility of state government. Parents and educators deserve to hear the candidates debate their plans to provide educational opportunity, and that requires
more than sound bites, slogans and campaign ads.”


May 19, 2014

Stanford: Abbott education plan writes big check to failed experiment

In budget cutting session, Lege incorporates language that opens door for TEA to dramatically expand K12,Inc.

From columnist Jason Stanford: "Greg Abbott opposes universal pre-K, arguing that we should not spend tax dollars on unproven education methods. But earlier this month in rolling out the third plank of his education platform, he proposed doing even worse—spending more money on something we know doesn’t work: K12 Inc., the country’s largest online education company. We hold schools, students, and soon teachers accountable. It’s time to hold purveyors of failure accountable as well.

"Founded in 2000 with funding from convicted Wall Street felon Michael Milken, K12 Inc. has a great business model. Virtual schools cut out the expensive brick & mortar facilities and move the entire school online where students can point and click their way to a high school diploma. No schoolhouse means no light bill, no cafeteria, no janitors, and no gym teacher. Their overhead is a fraction of a neighborhood public school, but thanks to a loophole snuck into the same 2011 bill that cut funding for Texas public schools by$5.4 billion, virtual schools get funded at the same level as public schools.

"K12 Inc. might be great for its investors, but it’s horrible for its students. Everywhere virtual schools have been tried they have failed to meet minimum standards or do better than public schools, according to a report by Progress Texas. K12 Inc. is so ineffective that the NCAA announced last month that it was K12 Inc. credits would no longer count towards eligibility." Read more at http://www.chronicle-tribune.com/peru_tribune/opinion/stanford-k-inc---great-for-investors-horrible-for/article_a6c1c2ae-df84-11e3-84e3-0019bb2963f4.html.


May 15, 2014

TSTA to House Public Education Committee: a test-based “value-added measure" is not a valid measure for teacher evaluation

In a preview of what promises to be a critical organizing issue as we approach the 2015 legislative session, the House Public Education Committee met in Austin on May 14 to hear testimony regarding its interim charge requesting the committee to look into ways to improve teaching practice, including teacher evaluation.

TSTA was invited to testify on a teacher evaluation panel and provide feedback on the NCLB waiver extension currently being negotiated between the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the United States Department of Education (DOE). The waiver would be necessary to prevent local school districts from losing a portion of their federal Title I funding should the district not meet federal student performance measures. The DOE is using the waiver process to push states to use “student growth” measures as a factor in teacher evaluation, although DOE has started granting extensions to states in response to research that shows standardized test scores are not a legitimate measure for teacher evaluation.

TSTA expressed very serious reservations about the proposed evaluation system TEA has submitted to the federal Department of Education. TEA should not rush into the NCLB Waiver with test-based evaluations,
which include a “pilot” program in 72 school districts. Most troublesome is the fact that TEA indicated that they intend to push this system statewide in the 2015-16 school year, even though the data needed to analyze the pilot would not be available until August 2015, about the time school starts.

TSTA strongly encouraged legislators to slow down TEA’s rush to test-based evaluation based on a pilot that won’t be complete by the time the next legislative session is finished, citing several critical concerns.

• Research has consistently shown that student performance on standardized test scores in not a valid measure of any one teacher’s performance, and test-based evaluation should not be the basis of employment decisions. You can read the most recently published research at: http://epa.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/04/11/0162373714531851.full.pdf+html?ijkey=Uwvo4Eg6.hQHI&keytype=ref&siteid=spepa
• The proposed TEA pilot would require that a minimum of 20% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on Value Added Modeling (VAM), which means test scores - and TEA would that prefer 50% be based on test scores if they had their way.
• In fact, a 20% “floor” would allow local districts to increase the percentage of evaluation based on tests.
• The “steering committee” that was convened by TEA to devise this system included teacher representatives, including a member of TSTA who opposed the use of any VAM as an evaluation measure.

In written and oral testimony, TSTA objected to the use of a Value Added Model (VAM) that uses high stakes standardized test scores as a measure of student growth for teacher evaluation.  Such a VAM l is just that, a model, and it may not comport with what is going on in a 21st century Texas classroom.
• A test-based VAM methodology cannot control for or measure factors that cannot be tested, including the motivation to learn, family circumstances, and student health, to name just a few.
• The VAM has not yet been scientifically validated as a legitimate method for estimating the value a teacher adds to a student’s academic performance, and every VAM will have a margin of error, a potential double whammy for an unsuspecting “good teacher.”
• A policy that dictates a 20% VAM teacher evaluation component is punitive in nature, increases the high stakes nature of standardized tests, and has no intuitive or useful value to the teacher seeking information that could be used to make adjustments to improve student learning in the classroom.

Finally, TSTA believes teacher evaluation is too important to be based on an inappropriate VAM measure based on standardized tests. A meaningful teacher evaluation system should be designed to be transparent, with clear standards and positive feedback to help a teacher improve her or his craft. The complex VAM equations and the punitive nature of this model is neither supportive nor is it designed to improve teaching practice.

TSTA doubts that any VAM methodology would be transparent to all but a few practitioners on its face.  Very few educators would be able to dispute an evaluation based on the way a VAM model’s complex differential equation determined that an individual teachers was scored “below” or “well below” average, for example. To make the point in a very personal way, educators in such systems have already seen their VAM based evaluations go from award-winning to worthy of dismissal in two years, even though their teaching practice remained constant.

This fight has just begun, and TSTA will utilize every political and legal option available in our organizing efforts as we work to stop this most recent intrusion of standardized testing into the teaching and learning process. However, this is an issue where we can make a difference, working with parents and others who know that the purpose of education is not producing standardized kids.


May 13, 2014

Cy-Fair ISD withdraws from TEA teacher evaluation pilot

The Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District has withdrawn from a state pilot program that would tie teacher evaluations, in part, to student test scores. Cy-Fair had been the largest district among as many as 72 districts and charter schools that the Texas Education Agency had listed as participants in the evaluation during the 2014-15 school year. http://tsta.org/pressroom


May 9, 2014

Video: teachers write a letter to themselves on first day teaching

In honor of teacher appreciation week, SoulPancake and Edutopia asked teachers to write a letter to themselves on their first day teaching. http://youtu.be/miPYLJI247g


May 8, 2014

TSTA: Another Abbott Education proposal for a select few

Greg Abbott’s latest education proposal would continue to pick winners and losers among Texas schoolchildren, rather than giving every Texas child the resources to succeed.

“Greg Abbott’s digital learning plan is another timid proposal that would benefit only a select few of our students, much like his limited pre-K plan,” said Texas State Teachers Association President Rita Haecker.

“Texas needs leaders who are ready to meet today’s challenges and offer real educational opportunity to every child,” Haecker added. “With every proposal, candidate Abbott sounds like the same Greg Abbott who continues defending an inadequate and unfair school finance system and $5.4 billion in school budget cuts.”


May 7, 2014

Education International report: 'Getting Teacher Migration and Mobility Right'

Around the world, many teachers feel compelled to leave their home countries and pursue employment opportunities abroad. Education International’s report, “Getting Teacher Migration and Mobility Right,” is a comprehensive report of these teachers’ experiences. The report contains important information about the role that unions can play in protecting migrant teachers. 

Education International surveyed 1,358 teachers to better understand the rewards and challenges associated with teaching abroad. The study aims to identify more effective practices for international teacher migration and spotlight issues of concern such as trafficking of teachers and exploitative job recruiters.

Further information about the report and teacher migration can be accessed on the newly launched web portal, Migrant Teacher’s Rights, http://www.migrantteachersrights.org.


May 6, 2014

Tours for teachers

Global Exploration for Educators Organization (GEEO) is a 501c3 non-profit organization that runs summer professional development travel programs designed for teachers.

GEEO is offering the following travel programs for 2014: India/Nepal, Italy, Amalfi Coast, Greece, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Thailand/Laos, Cambodia, China, Turkey, Peru, New Zealand, Costa Rica, South Africa/Mozambique/Zimbabwe/Botswana, and The Galapagos Islands. The registration deadline is June 1, but space is limited and many programs will be full well before the deadline.

Educators have the option to earn graduate school credit and professional development credit while seeing the world.  The trips are 8 to 24 days in length and are designed and discounted to be interesting and affordable for teachers. GEEO provides teachers educational materials and the structure to help them bring their experiences into the classroom. The trips are open to all nationalities of K-12 and university educators and administrators, as well as retired educators. Educators are also permitted to bring along a non-educator guest.

Detailed information about each trip, including itineraries, costs, travel dates, and more can be found at www.geeo.org. GEEO can be reached 7 days a week, toll free at 1-877-600-0105 between 9AM-9PM EST.


May 5, 2014

Join in: Vine campaign for Teacher Appreciation Week

Join NEA's Vine campaign by submitting your own six-second video using the #ThankATeacher hashtag. If you’re not on Vine and don’t want to take the time to create an account, no worries — as long as you use the #ThankATeacher hashtag, you can be included your posts from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Want to participate? Here’s how:

  • Vine is a free download in the app store of all three major smartphone platforms. After installation, you'll be prompted to sign up with either your Twitter account or email address.
  • Start recording! Press the camera icon in the top-right corner of the app. Holding your finger to the screen begins recording, and releasing your finger pauses it.
  • Once you've recorded your video, press the arrow in the top-right corner of your screen and preview your finished product. If you'd like to rearrange your sequence of clips, press the Edit button and simply drag and drop your individual clips to their new places in your timeline. You can delete clips by dragging them to the top of the screen into the trashcan icon, as seen above.
  • When you're finished editing, press Save, then press the green checkmark at the bottom of your screen. You'll be brought to the Share screen where you can add a caption and the #ThankATeacher hashtag.
  • Share your Vine on your Facebook and Twitter and ask your network to #ThankATeacher.

NEA will be searching the hashtag and highlighting their favorite Vines on the NEA Today social media properties during Teacher Appreciation Week May 5-9. Be sure to “follow” them on Vine, “like” them on Facebook, and “follow” them on Twitter.Click here to see examples of what other people have done: https://vine.co/u/917198843584581632

TSTA joins Thank A Million Teachers initiative

As part of a national initiative to recognize our nation’s teachers, TSTA has joined with the Farmers Insurance family and its member 21st Century Insurance to urge America to thank teachers, present and past, for the positive impact they have had in communities across the nation. Everyone is encouraged to visit www.ThankAMillionTeachers.com to thank deserving teachers today. At that website, teachers can also submit proposals for $2,500 grants. Proposals for the next round are being accepted in May and June for public voting in July.


April 30, 2014

TSTA applauds Davis plan to reduce standardized testing (4-30-14)

TSTA President Rita Haecker applauded the announcement of Senator Wendy Davis’ “Great Standards, Great Texas” plan to reduce the emphasis on standardized testing in Texas schools.

Join the thank-a-teacher Vine campaign!

NEA’s National Teacher Day #thankateacher Vine campaign is taking off! Join in by submitting your own six-second video (instructions below) using the #ThankATeacher hashtag. If you’re not on Vine and don’t want to take the time to create an account, no worries — as long as you use the #ThankATeacher hashtag, we can include your posts from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Want to participate? Here’s how:

  • Vine is a free download in the app store of all three major smartphone platforms. After installation, you'll be prompted to sign up with either your Twitter account or email address.
  • Start recording! Press the camera icon in the top-right corner of the app. Holding your finger to the screen begins recording, and releasing your finger pauses it.
  • Once you've recorded your video, press the arrow in the top-right corner of your screen and preview your finished product. If you'd like to rearrange your sequence of clips, press the Edit button and simply drag and drop your individual clips to their new places in your timeline. You can delete clips by dragging them to the top of the screen into the trashcan icon, as seen above.
  • When you're finished editing, press Save, then press the green checkmark at the bottom of your screen. You'll be brought to the Share screen where you can add a caption and the #ThankATeacher hashtag.
  • Share your Vine on your Facebook and Twitter and ask your network to #ThankATeacher.

NEA will be searching the hashtag and highlighting their favorite Vines on the NEA Today social media properties during Teacher Appreciation Week May 5-9. Be sure to “follow” them on Vine, “like” them on Facebook, and “follow” them on Twitter.

Click here to see examples of what other people have done: https://vine.co/u/917198843584581632


April 29, 2014

Texas' high school graduation rates shine

In a study released this week by the U.S. Department of Education, only Iowa posted a higher graduation rate than Texas for the Class of 2012. Texas, with a graduation rate of 88 percent, tied for second place with Nebraska, Vermont, and Wisconsin. http://www.tea.state.tx.us/news_release.aspx?id=25769810912


April 28, 2014

Deadline extended on TELL Texas Survey

The Texas Education Agency has extended the TELL Texas survey window until May 31. While the survey is voluntary for educators, it is TEA's expectation that principals, as agents of TEA, will distribute the access codes to all licensed professional educators in their schools.

If a principal has misplaced the packet of anonymous access codes, replacement codes for the entire school can be requested by clicking on the "Need Help?" button at www.telltexas.org. The Help Desk will send the codes electronically, and they can be printed out for distribution.

If you missed the earlier notices, this  is the first statewide TELL (Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning) Texas Survey. It is your chance to tell leaders if you have the tools you need to do your job well. TSTA supports this effort and hopes members will participate.

You will be able to access the survey using a unique, anonymous access code that will be included in the materials mailed to each school the week before the survey begins. This anonymous online survey concerns teaching conditions that are important to student achievement and teacher retention, such as instructional practices and support, leadership, facilities and resources, community engagement, professional development, managing student conduct, and new teacher support.

The TELL Texas Survey is funded as part of HB2012, which requires the commissioner of education to develop an online teaching and learning conditions survey to be administered statewide biennially to teachers, principals, counselors, and other school-based professional staff. Results will be reported approximately five weeks after the close of the survey window and will be available for schools and districts to use in campus and district improvement planning.

The survey is administered by the New Teacher Center, a national organization dedicated to supporting the development of a high-quality teaching force. The Center has conducted similar surveys in other states, and since 2009 has heard from more than one million educators.


April 23, 2014

TSTA: Abbott continues to tinker while education needs grow

While Texas continues to shortchange public education, Greg Abbott continues to tinker with selective programs that would benefit only a few of Texas’ 5 million schoolchildren. http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/20140423_Abbott_tinker.pdf

Thank an ESP this week!

Today we celebrate the contributions of administrative professionals. http://educationvotes.nea.org/2014/04/23/thank-an-education-support-professional-on-administrative-professionals-day/


April 21, 2014

Going to the Emerging Leaders Conference this July?

It's one of TSTA's most popular events! Mark your calendar for July 19-21 at the Austin Airport Hilton Hotel, and watch the Emerging Leaders page on Facebook for the latest details. http://www.facebook.com/tstael2014


April 15, 2014

Hear Wendy Davis speaking at the convention!

A new video clip features Sen. Wendy Davis, TSTA's endorsed candidate for governor, speaking at the TSTA House of Delegates about her opponent's plan for Texas four-year-olds. It's six minutes long but worth it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7f_lDFGtPMY&list=UU_qv082qWYDnaNts0gduk2Q&feature=share 


April 14, 2014

Davis, Van de Putte address TSTA Convention

The TSTA House of Delegates, meeting April 11-12 in San Marcos, elected new officers and heard from Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, the pro-education candidates TSTA is backing for governor and lieutenant governor.

Noel Candelaria was elected the new TSTA president and Ovidia Molina, vice president. Both will take office on July 15. Linda Estrada was elected to the NEA Board of Directors.

Davis and Van de Putte re-emphasized their commitment to public schools, educators and students, including their support of strong pre-K programs and opposition to excessive standardized testing.

“Everyday heroes, that’s who you are,” Davis told the delegates. She repeated her call for Texas teachers to be paid at least the national average (Texas teachers are now paid about $7,000 below that) and outlined her plan to encourage Texas’ best students to enter the teaching profession.
Van de Putte, who chairs the state Senate Education Committee and comes from a family of educators, vowed to fight privatization of public schools and assured delegates that, as lieutenant governor, she would continue to place a high value on education professionals.

“Teaching is what will keep Texas strong,” she said.

TSTA President Rita Haecker, making her last address to a House of Delegates convention, recounted her successes during six years as TSTA’s leader, including the recruitment of more than 30,000 new members and establishing a “pipeline” for training and developing new leaders.
“Our members join us to create a better world, a better world for themselves and their students,” Haecker said.

Candelaria, who has been TSTA vice president since July 2011, is former president of the Ysleta Teachers Association and a former special education teacher in Ysleta ISD. He said he is “ready to lead the members of TSTA, organize all educators who teach our 5 million students and urge our students’ parents to join us in helping to shape a quality public education system in Texas.”

Molina is a TSTA Advisory Board member, vice chair of the TSTA/NEA Hispanic Caucus, Region 3B president, treasurer of Alief-TSTA/NEA and former president of Alief-TSTA/NEA.  She is a teacher in Alief ISD.

Estrada is a member of the TSTA Board of Directors and Advisory Committee, chair of the TSTA ESP Committee and president of Donna TSTA/NEA. She is employed by Donna ISD.

Please visit TSTA's Flickr album to see photos of this weekend's meetings, including the speeches by Sens. Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, and Sunday's ESP Conference. https://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets

TSTA recognizes the best

At TSTA’s state convention last weekend, the Ronnie Ray ESP Advocate of the Year Award was presented to Bobbie Cunningham, a custodian at Cypress Springs High School in Cypress Fairbanks ISD. Watch a video at http://youtu.be/Jywoz_tc2SA.

Monica Washington, the Texas Teacher of the Year, won the Ermalee Boice Instructional Advocacy Award. There was an article about her in your Winter 2013 Advocate.

Social Justice Awards were presented to El Paso Teachers Association for its two-day community forum to discuss problems in the district and work on solutions; to Education Austin for a wide range of projects, including efforts to stop charters, keep a school open, and support immigrant students; and Ruben Cortez, who has worked as a member of the State Board of Education to stop vouchers and privatization.

TSTA’s Pride in Communications Awards recognize outstanding communication efforts by local or regional associations. Edgewood Classroom Teachers Association won the award for best newsletter; Cy Fair TSTA/NEA won best website; and Lubbock Educators Association won best electronic newsletter.

Membership Awards went to Laredo United, Southwest Educators Association, Alice Local Association, NEA-Dallas, and Pecos-Barstow-Toyah (one award each); Lubbock Educators Association (two awards); Edinburg Local Association, Del Valle Education Association, New Caney Local Association, and Socorro Education Association (three awards); and Pharr-San Juan-Alamo TSTA Professional Association (four awards).

School Bell awards went to Alex Hinojosa, Andrew Kreighbaum, and Robert Moore, El Paso Times; Mark Wiggins, KVUE-TV, Austin; Terrence Stutz, The Dallas Morning News; Morgan Smith, Texas Tribune; Natalie Gross, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal; Ericka Mellon, Houston Chronicle; O. Ricardo Pimentel, San Antonio Express-News; and Sandra Sanchez, The Monitor.

Congratulations to all!


April 13, 2014

Photos: TSTA Convention and ESP Conference

Please visit TSTA's Flickr album to see photos of this weekend's meetings, including the speeches by Sens. Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, our endorsed candidates for governor and lieutenant governor. https://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets


April 10, 2014

SBOE members visit TSTA Board meeting

TSTA Board members, who are meeting in San Marcos today prior to the House of Delegates, were visited by State Board of Education members Marisa Perez, Marta Dominguez, and Ruben Cortez, the three who spearheaded passage of a motion to develop Mexican American, African American, Native American, and Asian American studies textbooks.


April 9, 2014

TSTA member named HEB finalist

Congratulations to Nicholas Solis, a TSTA member at Hillcrest Elementary in Austin. Nicholas is a finalist in the HEB Excellence in Education Awards competition. See www.facebook.com/HEBExcellenceinEducationAwards


April 8, 2014

Nominate your outstanding school volunteers

The State Board of Education is now accepting nominations for the 2014 Heroes for Children Award. This annual award recognizes public school volunteers who have been strong advocates for Texas schoolchildren.

Volunteers may be nominated by individual persons or by organizations; forms must be received by 5 p.m. May 30. The State Board of Education will select one hero from each of the 15 State Board of Education districts. Heroes will be honored during the board's September meeting. Educational employees, elected government officials, and organizations are not eligible to be nominated. The application form is available at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=4140.


April 7, 2014

Davis, Van de Putte to address TSTA House of Delegates

TSTA's House of Delegates will meet Friday, April 11 and Saturday, April 12 at the Embassy Suites in San Marcos. Delegates will elect new TSTA officers, and at mid-day on Saturday, gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and lieutenant governor candidate Leticia Van de Putte will address delegates and guests.
http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/2014springAdvocate-web.pdf

TSTA: Abbott Pre-K would help only a select few

At a news conference, TSTA President Rita Haecker delivered a strong rebuttal to an early childhood education plan proposed by Greg Abbott that would exclude thousands of Texas school children while inviting unproven private operators to run some pre-K programs. Wendy Davis, TSTA's choice for governor, is supporting universal pre-K programs for every eligible Texas child.

Press release: Pre-kindergarten works for children; Abbott doesn't
http://www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/20140401Pre-K_works.pdf

Press release: Abbott hypocritical on early childhood education
http://www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/3-31-14news%20release.pdf


April 4, 2014

TSTA supports Mexican American Studies course curriculum

The TSTA Board voted unanimously to support an initiative, which the State Board of Education will consider next week, to create a Mexican American Studies course curriculum as a new high school elective. In light of past efforts by some SBOE members to remove Hispanic and African American leaders such as Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall from the social studies curriculum, TSTA views this course as a first step toward recognizing the diversity of our state, and particularly our student population. Ysleta ISD recently adopted a Mexican American Studies curriculum and El Paso ISD is considering a similar proposal.

Currently, the majority of Texas K-12 students are Hispanic, but the sponsors and supporters of this Mexican American Studies course hope this ultimately will lead to the creation of additional courses related to African American and Asian American studies, which would better prepare Texas students to work and prosper in our great and diverse state for generations to come.


March 31, 2014

TSTA:  Abbott hypocritical on early childhood education

TSTA President Rita Haecker said it was hypocritical for Greg Abbott to claim to support early childhood education while continuing to defend in court $5.4 billion in school funding cuts, including almost $200 million from pre-kindergarten programs.

“When it comes to providing educational opportunity for the children who need it most, Greg Abbott’s actions speak a lot louder than his words,” Haecker said. “If Greg Abbott really cared about improving early learning opportunities for Texas children, he would stop defending $200 million cut from pre-kindergarten programs and stop promoting a budget plan that would shortchange public education.”

“Early learning opportunities are particularly crucial for children in the Rio Grande Valley, and hypocritical lip service adds up to nothing for them,” Haecker added. “The schools in the Valley have been neglected for too long by people like Greg Abbott, but we can change that this year. We need a governor like Wendy Davis, who fought the budget cuts and has a plan to ensure access to full-day pre-kindergarten for every eligible Texas child.”


March 28, 2014

House Public Ed holds first interim hearing

The House Public Education Committee held its first interim hearing this week in Austin with six panels of invited testimony regarding the implementation of HB 5 (83R) and recommendations for improvement; from Texas Education Agency, the State Board of Education, and public and higher education stakeholders to ensure the creation of additional rigorous mathematics and science courses needed to address the current and projected needs of the state's workforce; and to review the broad scope and breadth of the current TEKS in the tested grades, including the format, testing calendar, and the limitation on instructional days available.  The committee invited recommendations for streamlining the assessment of TEKS and focus on core concepts, and asked for review of current federal testing requirements in grades 3-8 to determine if testing relief is possible.

Testimony from district administrators explained to the committee that currently most districts are only able to offer two of the endorsements of the five passed last session, the multidisciplinary endorsement being the most common.   It was also expressed from a number of the invited guests that testified on HB 5 implementation that more guidance is needed to equip counselors with the tools to help students decide on the individual graduation plans and more counselors are necessary.

It was also reported from TEA staff that 76% of students are on track to graduate in 2015, but 24% of students have failed at least one of the five end of course STAAR exams needed for a high school diploma.

With regard to the Algebra II debate, the Commissioner of Higher Education, Raymund Paredes, cautioned the committee that if a student wants to go to university, the student better take four years of math in high school.  

Finally, a number of guests and public testimony stressed the necessity to amend the TEKS requirements in all grades.  It was noted that due to the cumbersome nature of the TEKS it is difficult for teachers to get through all the requirements in any given school year for any given course and grade.  

The Senate Committee on Education has its first interim hearing on April 14, 2014.


March 26, 2014

Taxpayers subsidize private school tuition

Taxpayers in 14 states will spend nearly $1 billion this year subsidizing tuition for private schools, including many religious schools that teach creationism, an alternative the U.S. Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional
for teaching in public schools, according to a new media report. http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas

Texas ranks 46th in per-pupil spending

Texas will spend an average of $8,998 per student this school year, well below the national average of $11,674. We rank 46th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the Dallas Morning News reported Wednesday, drawing on data from the National Education Association. http://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/headlines/20140325-texas-improves-school-funding-but-still-trails-most-states.ece

Retirees gain organizing skills at NEA conference

Training retired members to organize their communities to advance the cause of public education. That's the purpose of the NEA-Retired Organizing Conference, which this year was held at Houston's Westin Galleria Hotel on March 25-27. It included national speakers, skill development, knowledge building, and great opportunities to network with peers. See http://www.nea.org/retired for more about NEA-Retired.


March 24, 2014

TELL Texas Survey opens soon

The first statewide TELL (Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning) Texas Survey will be administered April 7 – May 5. This is your chance to tell leaders if you have the tools you need to do your job well. TSTA supports this effort and hopes members will participate.

You will be able to access the survey using a unique, anonymous access code that will be included in the materials mailed to each school the week before the survey begins. This anonymous online survey concerns teaching conditions that are important to student achievement and teacher retention, such as instructional practices and support, leadership, facilities and resources, community engagement, professional development, managing student conduct, and new teacher support.

The TELL Texas Survey is funded as part of HB2012, which requires the commissioner of education to develop an online teaching and learning conditions survey to be administered statewide biennially to teachers, principals, counselors, and other school-based professional staff. Results will be reported approximately five weeks after the close of the survey window and will be available for schools and districts to use in campus and district improvement planning.

The survey is administered by the New Teacher Center, a national organization dedicated to supporting the development of a high-quality teaching force. The Center has conducted similar surveys in other states, and since 2009 has heard from more than one million educators.

Go to www.telltexas.org for more information.


March 20, 2014

Now online: campus-based emergency toolkit

The Texas School Safety Center has developed a campus-based emergency toolkit, which provides guidance on the training all students, staff, and visitors need to respond to emergencies.


March 19, 2014

FAQs on the new graduation plan

May a course satisfy both a foundation and an endorsement requirement? If a specific course can be taught for more than one credit, how will the credit be applied to the new graduation requirements? The Texas Education Agency has posted the answers to these and other questions about the new graduation requirements; click on “Foundation High School Program FAQs — March 2014” at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index2.aspx?id=25769806149.


March 10, 2014

TSTA: Texas women deserve equal pay and a governor who will advocate for it

Today, the Texas State Teachers Association challenged Attorney General Greg Abbott to explain why he is content to see Texas women continue to be paid, on average, about 80 cents for every dollar a man earns in the same job. http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/20140310EqualPay.pdf


February 28, 2014

Photos from the Read Across America tour

TSTA Vice President Noel Candelaria took some great shots of NEA's national Catavan tour, which kicked off in Texas this week at Rivas Elementary in Donna. Other photos are from Jefferson Elementary in Edinburg, Milton and Muller Elementaries in Laredo, and Spicewood Park (Southwest ISD) and Vestal (Harlandale ISD) Elementaries in San Antonio. See them in our Flickr album at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157641474532525.

We are experiencing problems with our Flickr account, but the photos from Austin's Metz Elementary and Del Valle's Hillcrest Elementary should be up by the end of the day.

What are you doing to celebrate?

Here's what Socorro Education Association is doing for Read Across America, NEA's national celebration of reading: http://www.sisd.net/Page/33577.


February 25, 2014

Education Austin wins three-year contracts

In a resounding victory for Education Austin and Austin ISD students, the local school board voted 5-4 last night to restore teachers' three-year contracts. More than 100 Education Austin members pleaded for stability for students and their teachers, chanting, “Here is our plea: Give us three!” and wearing bright red stickers that said simply "3." State funding cuts to public education prompted AISD to switch from three-year to one-year contracts in 2011. Read more: http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/austin-teachers-rally-for-3-year-contracts-its-a-r/ndbLb.

Links to news coverage: 

National reading campaign kicks off in Valley

From the Monitor: More than 300 elementary students donned floppy red-and-white striped hats Monday as they sat in their school’s gym and listened to a diverse lineup of speakers promoting the virtues of habitual reading. But even before the program at Jefferson Elementary in Edinburg — which included readings of the Dr. Seuss favorites Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, and a “reader’s oath,” led by state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg — the National Education Association kicked off a three-week nationwide tour with an appearance at another Hidalgo County elementary school. 

NEA's Read Across America kicks off in South Texas

From NEA Today: Life in the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas is relatively quiet. It’s a family-oriented area, where much of the excitement surrounds local football or basketball games. On Monday, Feb. 24, however, students from two elementary schools in Hidalgo County received a special treat from local, state and national guests, who read books from the beloved author Dr. Seuss. The event was part of the 17th anniversary of the National Education Association’s award-winning Read Across America literacy program. http://neatoday.org/2014/02/25/nea%E2%80%99s-read-across-america-kicks-off-in-south-texas


February 24, 2014

It's time for Read Across America!

Your TSTA officers and NEA Executive Committee member Princess Moss are in the Rio Grande Valley today with Thing 1 and Thing 2 to kick off NEA’s annual nationwide celebration of reading.

"We're so excited that NEA chose to come to South Texas for RAA's kickoff," Ruben Cortez, Jr., a member of the State Board of Education, said. "We're working to bridge the literacy and opportunity gaps and excited to see the progress at M. Rivas."

Rivas Elementary in Donna was the tour’s first stop; in the afternoon, the group visited Jefferson Elementary in Edinburg, where Thing 1 and Thing 2 read in the school gym.
On Tuesday, the Catavan will visit Milton Elementary in Laredo and Muller Elementary in Laredo United, and on Wednesday it travels to San Antonio with stops at Spicewood Park Elementary in Southwest ISD and Vestal Elementary in Harlandale ISD. The tour ends Thursday with Metz Elementary in Austin and Hillcrest Elementary in Del Valle ISD. Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157641474532525/

Austin to vote on three-year contracts

The Austin ISD Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote Monday whether to extend the length of teacher contracts, after the district and the teacher’s union, Education Austin, declared an impasse over the issue last month. Read the rest of the story at http://kut.org/post/austin-school-board-weigh-three-year-teacher-contracts.


February 21, 2014

Faculty group sues over Brownsville job losses

The Texas Faculty Association (TFA) on Thursday filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Brownsville against the University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB) and Texas Southmost College (TSC) on behalf of three former faculty members who were illegally terminated after the two schools dissolved their joint operating arrangement.

TFA, the higher education affiliate of the Texas State Teachers Association and the National
Education Association, acted on behalf of plaintiffs Juan Antonio Gonzalez, Dorothy Boven
and Karen Fuss-Sommer, who were tenured faculty members at UTB and TSC when they
were dismissed. All live in Brownsville.

Filed by TSTA staff counsel Russell Ramirez, the lawsuit contends the three, all older than
40, were terminated in violation of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act
(ADEA) and University ofTexas System rules. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Boven
was denied equal pay under federal law because, while still employed, she taught a fifth
class for which she was not paid while male faculty members were paid for teaching a fifth
class.

"When faculty rights are violated, we are going to defend them," said TFA Executive
Director Mary Aldridge Dean. "Tenure is a property right, and it is not to be taken without
good cause or due process, and these individuals were denied both."

The three plaintiffs were granted tenure by Texas Southmost College and were retained by
the University of Texas at Brownsville as tenured faculty after the two schools merged in
1992. “Tenure denotes a status of continuing appointment as a member of the faculty at an
institution of The University of Texas System pursuant to The University of Texas System
Rules and Regulations," the lawsuit states.

But when UTB and TSC separated in 2012, the three were terminated under a provost's
charge that gave non-tenured faculty members priority over tenured faculty with master's
degrees.

The suit alleges:

# The priority given non-tenured faculty members "had a disparate impact on faculty
members who are over 40 years of age" because most tenured faculty, including the
plaintiffs, are older than 40. The designation was an "artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary
barrier to employment."

# The plaintiffs' academic programs and academic positions weren't eliminated. The
plaintiffs were terminated, and the defendants sought new applicants for their positions.

# The plaintiffs were not terminated for performance, good cause or because of a financial
exigency. "Defendants had no bona fide academic reason to terminate Plaintiffs'
employment" under UT rules.

The lawsuit contends the plaintiffs have suffered a "substantial loss" of income and
benefits, including retirement benefits and health and life insurance policies, as well as
"damage to both their professional and personal reputation." It seeks reinstatement of the
plaintiffs to their former positions with tenure, back pay and other benefits, court costs and
reasonable attorney's fees and exemplary damages "sufficient to punish the Defendants
and deter future similar conduct."

Named as defendants, in their official capacities, are UTB President Juliet Garcia, UTB
Provost Alan F.J. Artibise and TSC President Lily F. Tercero.

Contact Mary Aldridge Dean, Executive Director, Texas Faculty Association at
marya@tsta.org.


February 20, 2014

TSTA calls on Abbott to settle school finance suit

The Texas State Teachers Association today called on Attorney General Greg Abbott to settle the school finance lawsuit on terms favorable to Texas schoolchildren. According to a tweet by Texas Tribune reporter Morgan Smith, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst said a school finance settlement was up to the attorney general. “If we can find a fair way to settle it, that’s great,” Dewhurst was quoted as saying.

“There is nothing fair about Greg Abbott’s continued defense of the $5.4 billion in education cuts that were imposed by David Dewhurst and the legislative majority in 2011,” said TSTA President Rita Haecker.

Although the Legislature restored part of the cut funding last year, school districts are still operating with far less state aid than they received prior to the devastating cuts. Meanwhile, enrollment has increased by about one-quarter of a million students, while Abbott continues to waste tax dollars defending an indefensible, unconstitutional system.

“Even Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who helped engineer the deep cuts, is passing the school finance buck to an attorney general who has refused to do what is fair for our children and their teachers,” Haecker concluded.


February 19, 2014

Early voting underway – know what you need to vote under voter ID law

TSTA works closely with organizations that work to protect every citizen’s right to vote. Thanks to Empower the Vote Texas and Progress Texas, there is a website - http://www.gotidtexas.org/ - that provides all the information you need to make sure you are able to vote and have your vote count. Please remember to vote and share this useful information with your members.

Wendy Davis Announces “Great Start” Plan for Early Childhood Education

Senator Wendy Davis has once again demonstrated that education is her priority by announcing her “Great Start, Great Texas” plan last week in Houston and San Antonio. She was joined in San Antonio by Senators Leticia Van de Putte and Carlos Uresti and Mayor Julian Castro. Davis’ plan emphasizes pre-K expansion, developing reading skills, and providing additional support for teachers and teacher’s aides. Earlier this year, Davis announced her “Great Teachers, Great Texas” plan. TSTA Vice President Noel Candelaria, Harlandale Education Association President Cathy Stein and San Antonio Alliance President Shelley Potter were present at the San Antonio event, which was held at Leal Middle School in Harlandale ISD.

TSTA Leaders Take Case for Affordable health Care to TRS Board meeting

On Wednesday, February 12, 2014, TSTA leaders took our “Fair Share” health care campaign to the TRS board meeting in Corpus Christi, and made quite a powerful impression there, bringing some Board members to tears. TSTA Vice President Noel Candelaria, San Marcos Education Association President Susan Seaton, Del Valle Education Association (DVEA) President Michelle Cardenas, DVEA members Katie Plemmons and Brenda Dominguez, and Killeen Education Association President Stacy Stoll made the trip to the Corpus Christi meeting, capping off a week of action that began with a successful press event help by Region 2D leaders in Austin the previous Saturday. TSTA leaders and staff worked together and we are off to a great start in our efforts to demand health care affordable for educators and all educational employees. Photos and videos of the testimony can be found on our YouTube, Flickr, and Facebook pages (see icons at the bottom of the home page).

REMEMBER to VOTE. EARLY VOTING continues through February 28 and Primary Election Day is March 4.

SBEC meeting largely uneventful

As in the past, there was a plethora of hearings at last week's State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) meeting.

Information:

• The four-year review for 19 TAC Chapter 247 (Educators’ Code of Ethics) will begin at the August SBEC meeting.  This chapter establishes definitions, ethics, and standards of practices for Texas Educators. 

• On 04 April 2014, SBEC will conduct a planning retreat to address, among other things, its legislative agenda for the upcoming legislative session, prioritize SBEC policies, and review the process for disposing of disciplinary actions.

Action items:

SBEC approved

• Approved professional development requirements for teachers, principals, and counselors to align with state statute.  The requirement places a 25% rule on the number of continuing education requirements necessary to meet the 150 hours required for certificate renewal.  The 25% mandate would apply to professional development an educator decided to seek on their own and the educator would have the onus of responsibility to keep track of the hours.

• New TExES Generalist EC-6 and Generalist 4-8 Examinations, which include a two-year overlap to facilitate the transition to the new examinations.  The overlap allows pre-certification candidates to finish their requirements under the current program by 2016.

It was reiterated that pre-certification candidates must pass each core subject of an examination to get a passing score on the overall examination. 

• The transitional provisions, which are necessary to clarify the years for the standards of performance for certification examinations.  The baselines date is the 2012-13 academic year.

• Amended language relative to the Personnel Assignments that address Career-Technology Education, Information Technology, Special Education Counseling Services; and Administrators and other Instructional and Professional Support Assignments.

The proposed rule also clarifies language as to the hiring of professional support personnel who require other professional licenses (e.g. Audiologist, School, Psychologist).  An assignment as a Speech-Language Pathologist is allowed pursuant to the Texas Occupational Code 140.054

• A rule to align with HB 798 that allows the Texas Occupation Code to define the types of misdemeanor convictions that may be pursued under the TOC.  The adopted rule would not minimize the authority of SBEC in disciplinary hearing and actions.

• The authorization of the rule review process for Chapters 227 (Provisions for Educator Preparation Candidates); 228 (Requirements for Educator Preparation Programs); and 229 (Accountability System for Educator Preparation Programs). -- Bryan Weatherford, Teaching & Learning


February 18, 2014

What do you need to vote?

The Got ID Texas? website will explain what documents you 'll need to vote and how to get them. http://www.gotidtexas.org/


February 14, 2014

TRS update

At its meeting this week in Corpus Christi, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board picked a new Health Plan Administrator for ActiveCare, Aetna. The board also decided to choose a new Pharmacy Benefits Manager, CVS/Caremark.

The board also discussed the process they will undertake to prepare for the next legislative session, which commences on January 13, 2015. In July of this year, the board will approve TRS’ legislative appropriations request (LAR). In August, TRS will submit its LAR to the Governor’s office and the Legislative Budget Board (LBB). In September, the Governor’s office and the LBB will hold joint hearings on the LARs of all state agencies, and in November, the LBB will adopt the spending limit.

TRS has made the following assumptions for its LAR:

• Member contribution rate: 6.7% in FY ’15; 7.2% in FY ’16; and 7.7% in FY ‘17
• State pension contribution rate: 6.8%
• Local pension contribution rate: 1.5%
• State contribution rate for TRS-Care: 1.0%

TRS will also ask for $1 billion for TRS-Care in an exceptional item.

State funding for the TRS health plans will be of primary importance next legislative session. Stay tuned for more TRS updates. The next board meeting will occur in Austin on March 27 & 28. -- report from John Grey


February 13, 2014

TRS report: TSTA leaders launch “Fair Share” health care campaign

On Wednesday, February 12, TSTA leaders took our “Fair Share” health care campaign to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board meeting in Corpus Christi, where they made quite an impression on the TRS Board. Vice President Noel Candelaria and several TSTA local leaders from Central Texas Region 2D made the trip to the meeting, capping off a week of action that began with a press event last Saturday in Austin.

The TSTA leaders addressed the board prior to the Town Hall Meeting, driving home the detrimental effects that TRS insurance premium increases have on our members. TSTA was the only education association represented by active teachers and educational employees at the board meeting, and that made quite an impact on the board.

Vice President Candelaria spoke as the TSTA Association representative and stated:

“As you heard earlier today from several of our members, the recent premium increases for TRS ActiveCare have caused severe financial hardship. Many of our members received no salary increases during the last three years, only to be given a marginal pay raise this year that was swallowed up by these premium increases. So it’s no secret that our members are suffering financially.”

Several TSTA local leaders took time off to drive to Corpus Christi and formally address the board during the early morning public comment period. San Marcos Education Association President Susan Seaton, Del Valle Education Association President Michelle Cardenas and members Katie Plemmons and Brenda Dominguez, and Killeen Education Association President Stacy Stoll all made powerful presentations to the board, bringing several board members to tears. They relayed personal stories of how high health care premiums were causing financial devastation for some of our members. They also asked the board to consider their actions in relation to the everyday lives of public school employees.

Susan, Michelle, Stacy, Katy, and Brenda also presented the TRS board with a large Valentine, asking TRS to “Have a Heart” when it comes to premium increases. The Valentine also contained thousands of petition signatures asking for lower premiums. Chairman David Kelly came from behind the table, over to our local leaders, accepted the Valentine, and thanked them for their commitment to their profession.

TSTA leaders expressed our appreciation that the Board will not raise premiums now, in the middle of the school year, and asked that the Board do everything possible to prevent another premium increase in the next school year.

TSTA also asked the TRS Board to join us in asking for additional funding from the legislature for ActiveCare and TRS Care. The legislature has not increased the minimum state contribution to TRS ActiveCare in over a decade, while the cost of health care has skyrocketed. Employees now carry 57 percent of the burden for their own health coverage, and many cannot afford to keep the coverage levels they need.

TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie stated that TRS has the responsibility to properly educate our elected officials at the legislature so that they can make the right decision on health care funding.

In addition to addressing the TRS Board, our TSTA leaders also addressed the press who were covering the meeting, a great follow up to the press coverage garnered the previous Saturday at the Austin press conference that featured the many of the same Central Texas leaders.

Thanks to Noel, Susan, Stacy, Michelle, Katy, and Brenda for their incredible efforts.  This week, we saw what can be done when TSTA leaders and staff work together as we kicked off the “Fair Share” health care campaign and prepare to take it statewide to local school boards and the legislature.


February 12, 2014

TSTA to TRS Board: hold the line on teacher health care premiums, support legislative action

TSTA today urged the TRS Board to hold the line on health care premiums for educational employees and join educators in asking the legislature for the first increase in the state contribution for educators’ health insurance in over a decade. TRS administers TRS-ActiveCare, a health insurance program that provides health insurance coverage in most Texas school districts.

“Recent TRS insurance premium increases have caused severe financial hardship for many school employees,” said TSTA Vice President Noel Candelaria, who addressed the TRS Board at their meeting in Corpus Christi. “It’s time for the state to step up and do its fair share for Texans who teach and care for our children every day at our neighborhood schools.”

Candelaria cited TSTA’s recent moonlighting survey – done by professors at Sam Houston State – that found that 44 percent of Texas teachers take a second job during the school year just to make ends meet.

“One of our members told us he had to take a second job just to pay for health insurance,” Candelaria observed. “Texas educators, who are already underpaid, should not have to suffer financially in order to secure health insurance for their families.”

He said TSTA was pleased that the Board will not raise premiums now, in the middle of the school year, and asked that the TRS Board do everything possible to prevent another premium increase in the next school year. “Health expenditures have increased dramatically in the past decade, but during that same time the legislature has not increased the state contribution for educational employees’ health coverage one dime,” Candelaria said, noting that ten years ago, educational employee contributions accounted for 32 percent of TRS-ActiveCare costs, compared to a 57 percent share today.

“We want the very best for our children, and we can’t keep the best teachers and educational employees in our schools if we keep forcing them to shoulder the burden of rising health care costs and budget cuts,” Candelaria concluded.

Watch videos of our members testifying today at http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLkHA9tlHv0EYFK6h9hsm-aUJOYWMsZ7b8!

Webinar on Defered Action for Childhood Arrivals is Feb. 26

You’re invited to a webinar for educators entitled "How to Support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) & Undocumented Students."

More than half a million young people have taken advantage of DACA, a program that allows them to stay in the United States without fear of being deported. Many more are eligible to apply but need help to complete the process. DACA, created by President Obama in June 2012, offers young people who were born abroad but raised here a way to stay in the United States and pursue their dreams of giving back to the country they call home.

Please join two of the nation's foremost advocates for DREAMERS and experts on DACA for a webinar for educators who want to help students through the DACA process. Join us online on Wednesday, February 26  at 5:00 p.m. PST / 8:00PM EST for this special program.

WHO: Immigration Advocates Network
National Education Association
National Immigration Law Center
Own the Dream

WHEN: Wednesday, February 26
Pacific Time: 5:00PM to 6:00PM
Eastern Time: 8:00PM to 9:00PM

WHERE: Webinar and Conference Call

RSVP: http://bit.ly/DACAwebinarRSVP

MORE INFO: http://bit.ly/DACAwebinar-info
Delia Garcia: dgarcia@nea.org
Monica Thammarath: mthammarath@nea.org


February 11, 2014

Petition for National Day of Service for Chavez

The NEA Board last weekend supported the petition calling for a National Day of Service in honor of Cesar Chavez’s birthday, March 31. Please sign the petition to President Obama at http://www.takepart.com/chavez

TEA asks school districts to submit bad weather waivers in March

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is asking school districts and charters seeking
waivers for bad weather days for this school year to submit their requests in March.

Snow, sleet and icy conditions have impacted districts statewide over the last several weeks
resulting in the cancellation of instructional days. As a result, the agency anticipates an influx of
waiver requests. The March timeframe allows the full impact of winter weather to be assessed by
school districts and charters on their 2013-2014 school year calendars.

School districts and charters in Texas must build two “makeup days” for school closures into
their adopted school calendar. If dates for the designated makeup days have already passed,
schools are still required to make up at least two of the scheduled instructional days lost. The
makeup day must be at least seven hours in length (including intermissions and recesses).
It is the local school district’s responsibility to make its school calendar for the school year. TEA
does not direct any school district or charter on the specific days to identify or designate as
makeup days in their school calendar. That is strictly a local decision.

Waiver requests submitted to the agency will be reviewed by the commissioner of education. A
decision will be provided in a timely fashion. If a district receives a lost-instructional day waiver,
it does not lose any state funding for that day.


February 6, 2014

Watch Marisa Maher accept her award in D.C.

Phylicia Rashad, the Tony Award-winning actress best known for her role as Clair Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” will host the NEA Foundation's 2014 Salute to Excellence in Education Gala on Feb. 7 in Washington, D.C.

TSTA member Marisa Maher, a business teacher and coach at Dripping Springs High School in Dripping Springs, will be one of 36 educators to receive the California Casualty Award for Teaching Excellence at the event.

For the first time, the NEA Foundation will live stream the entire event on www.neafoundation.org, beginning at 7:30 p.m. (ET) on Feb. 7.


February 5, 2014

CSCOPE review complete

Some 140 Texans examined 431 CSCOPE social studies lessons plans and posted their reviews at www.cscopereviews.com. CSCOPE was a curriculum management system that provided lesson plans to participating school districts and charters. The review process included a public hearing. In August 2013, CSCOPE was formally renamed the TEKS Resource System.


February 4, 2014

TSTA endorses Leticia Van de Putte for lieutenant governor

The Texas State Teachers Association today announced its endorsement of Senator Leticia Van de Putte for lieutenant governor.

“Senator Van de Putte knows the classroom is the heart of public education, and she has worked tirelessly to free teachers to teach and give every student the opportunity to succeed,” said TSTA President Rita Haecker. www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/20140204LeticiaVandePutte.pdf

TRS to hold Town Hall Meeting on Health Care Programs

TRS will be conducting a Town Hall Meeting in Corpus Christi Feb. 12 to discuss TRS-ActiveCare, the active school employees’ health insurance program, and TRS-Care, the retiree health insurance program. The panel discussion will focus on the current financial condition of both programs as well as possible changes that could help make the programs more sustainable over the long term.

The Corpus Christi meeting will be webcast live through the TRS website. Not only will viewers be able to watch the meeting from their own homes or offices, but they will also be able to send their questions by email during the Town Hall Meeting. Those watching may also submit questions via our Twitter account @TRSofTexas using the hashtag #TRStownhall. TRS asks that participants not submit personal, health-related questions as panelists will not be able to address them. The webcast will also be recorded for later viewing. 

The Health Care Town Hall meeting is scheduled for: Wed., Feb. 12, 1-3 p.m., Education Service Center, Region 2, Room 3-23, 209 N. Water St., Corpus Christi, TX 78401. It is part of the three-day TRS Board Meeting/Retreat Feb. 12-14. Agendas and board materials for all three days can be found on the home page of the TRS website along with links to the live/on demand webcasts. http://www.trs.state.tx.us 

TEA considers teacher evaluation tied to test scores

TSTA has submitted public comment to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) regarding Commissioner of Education Michael Williams’ proposed new "teacher standards" for effective teaching. The proposal has positive elements, but the good could be subverted by a separate teacher appraisal model being developed by TEA that would base individual teacher evaluations on student performance on standardized tests. TSTA supports high standards for teachers, but we urge the commissioner to scrap plans to develop test-based teacher evaluation as a key element of teacher appraisal. The vast majority of Texans, and especially parents and teachers, oppose the excessive emphasis on standardized tests in our schools.


February 3, 2014

House interim committee charges are released

On Jan. 31, House Speaker Joe Straus released interim committee charges for the 83rd Legislature. Among the charges for the House Committee on Public Education: to explore “innovative, research-based options for improving student achievement beyond standardized test scores. Evaluate standards for effective campus management as well as teacher preparation, certification, and training. Review current teacher evaluation tools and instructional methods, such as project-based learning, and recommend any improvements that would promote improved student achievement. Engage stakeholders on how to recruit and retain more of our ‘best and brightest’ into the teaching profession.”

The committee’s other charges include monitoring the implementation of HB 5 and ensuring “the creation of additional rigorous mathematics and science courses needed to address the current and projected needs of the state's workforce”;  looking at strategies that have improved student achievement at chronically underperforming schools; and reviewing TEKS.


January 31, 2014

SBOE approves graduation requirements

The State Board of Education today approved new graduation requirements on a 14-1 vote, pursuant to HB 5 which established the Foundation High School Program. These graduation requirements will become effective 20 days from filing with Texas Register. 

The SBOE ad hoc committee on CSCOPE reviewed 431 lessons, which now are available for review at www.cscopereviews.com. The board also approved the advertisement of bids for instructional materials, including textbooks aligned with the controversial Social Studies curriculum adopted in 2010, and approved guidelines to expand the Permanent School Fund Bond Guarantee to benefit open-enrollment charter schools. See the full report from Teaching & Learning Specialist Bryan Weatherford at http://www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/SBOE_January2014_Report.pdf.


January 30, 2014

Get ready for Read Across America

Smilemakers.com is the official Seuss Store for Read Across America 2014.  Use promo code NEAMB when ordering and receive 20% off entire order, free shipping (on orders over $25), free "Reading is Fun" stickers (while supplies last), and you can order pre-packed Dr. Seuss Classroom Celebration Kits. Visit www.neamb.com/smilemakers or call 888-800-SMILE(7645). Learn more about Read Across America at www.nea.org/readacross.


January 29, 2014

Two things to follow this week

The State Board of  Education meets this week on the new high school graduation plan and curriculum standards for Languages Other Than English. It's livestreamed at http://www.texasadmin.com/tea.shtml or follow it on Twitter @TeacherChat or @teainfo. The school finance trial is also going on; follow it on Twitter @EquityCenter.


January 27, 2014

GRAMMY recognizes NEA member

The first educator to be honored by The Recording Academy and the GRAMMY Foundation is NEA member Kent Knappenberger of New York! He received his award earlier but was recognized during last night’s show.

SBOE meets this week

The State Board of  Education will meet Jan. 28-31 in Austin. The board is expected to finalize the new high school graduation plan and vote on new curriculum standards for Languages Other Than English. The full agenda is available at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/agenda and the meeting will be livestreamed at http://www.texasadmin.com/tea.shtml.

TEA considering teacher evaluation tied to test scores

Commissioner of Education Michael Williams has proposed new "teacher standards" for effective teaching. The proposed standards have positive elements, but the good could be subverted by a separate teacher appraisal model being developed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) that would base individual teacher evaluations on student performance on standardized tests. TSTA will be submitting public comment to TEA that supports high standards for teachers, but we will also urge the commissioner to scrap plans to develop test-based teacher evaluation as a key element of teacher appraisal. The vast majority of Texans, and especially parents and teachers, oppose the excessive emphasis on standardized tests in our schools. For more, go to http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=25769808607 and click on Item II at the top of the page.


January 24, 2014

TSTA offices are closed

Due to icy road conditions, TSTA is closed today.


January 23, 2014

TSTA endorses Wendy Davis, the education candidate

TSTA today announced its endorsement of Wendy Davis for governor. “TSTA is proud to endorse Senator Wendy Davis for governor because she has worked tirelessly in the Senate on behalf of students, parents, and teachers to give every Texas child the opportunity to succeed,” said TSTA President Rita Haecker. “Too many candidates give education lip service, but when others defended cuts that harmed our neighborhood schools, Wendy Davis fought successfully to restore funding for our schools.”

Haecker noted that this week Davis’ opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, sent his assistants back to a courtroom to defend an unconstitutional school finance system from which the legislative majority cut $5.4 billion in 2011. Abbott supports so-called education “reforms” hatched by “experts” who haven’t set foot in a classroom for years, while the school cuts continue to have serious consequences. Teachers now spend an average of $700 a year out of pocket to pay for classroom supplies, and 44 percent must take a second job during the school year, according to a study commissioned by TSTA and conducted by Sam Houston State University. http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/January23release.pdf

NEA investing $60 million to improve student success

NEA announced today a series of initiatives focused on expanding the ability of educators to create solutions in our public schools, including a fund that will invest more than $60 million over the next 10 years to improve student success and strengthen the education profession. The Great Public Schools Fund (GPS Fund) is one of several recently launched NEA initiatives to prepare the next generation of teacher leaders and create concrete solutions for our nation’s public school students.

“With more than 3 million members working in schools and communities across the nation, NEA is a leading voice for student success and great public schools,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “It is time for us to accelerate the transformation of public education. Nobody knows better than educators what their students need to succeed in the classroom. Through the new GPS Fund we are providing the resources to put these plans in action and help ensure opportunity, equity, and success for every public school student in America.” http://www.nea.org/home/57755.htm


January 21, 2014

Are you on Pinterest?

TSTA has a Pinterest page at http://www.pinterest.com/TSTANEA/tsta. Who else is pinning?

Federal budget's teacher quality programs: winners and losers

Congress agreed to halt sequestration—across-the-board cuts of about 5 percent to nearly all programs—as part of a fiscal 2014 budget deal completed this week (and now awaiting President Obama's signature).
With that in mind, which of the federal teacher-quality programs look to get some of their mojo back? To read more: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/teacherbeat/2014/01/the_budget_deals_teacher-quali.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS3

Cumulative end-of-course passing rate rises to 76 percent

The Texas Education Agency announced today that approximately 309,000 students in the Class of 2015 have taken all or most of the end-of-course (EOC) assessments required for graduation. Of that number, approximately 76 percent of students - who are currently in their junior year of high school - have already passed the assessments they have taken and are on track to graduate under requirements set by the Texas Legislature in House Bill 5. The latest statewide summary reports are available at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index2.aspx?id=25769809035.


January 17, 2014

TSTA: Dewhurst out of touch with teachers

In remarks to The Texas Tribune yesterday, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst demonstrated he is out of touch with the needs of Texas teachers, ignores their financial reality and doesn’t understand what effective classroom instruction requires.
http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/20140116DavidDewhurst.pdf

Wendy Davis: the education candidate for governor

Sen. Wendy Davis is making it clear that she is the education candidate for governor. Her first policy proposal was “Great Teachers, Great Texas.” On Thursday, she announced a “Great Pathways” plan to help more students attend college and earn dual college and high school credits, which would save families money and make it more likely a student will attend college or receive timely job training.
http://www.wendydavistexas.com/blog/2014/great-pathways-great-texas

Beware of education “reformers” with lots of money

New on Grading Texas: “Teachers and other public school advocates should be wary of any group promoting ‘education reform’ because that has become a code term for school privatization. Texans for Education Reform has backers who know how to make money but know little about public education,” blogger Clay Robison says. http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas/texans-for-education-reform/beware-of-education-reformers-with-lots-of-money

Diane Ravitch to speak at Austin conference

The Network for Public Education’s national conference March 1-2 in Austin features some of the most important figures in the education reform debate, including Diane Ravitch, Karen Lewis, and John Kuhn. Registration is now open. http://wp.me/p2D92I-1Oc

Get ready for Read Across America

Smilemakers.com is the official Seuss Store for Read Across America 2014. Use promo code NEAMB when ordering to receive special discounts, free shipping on orders over $25, free "Reading is Fun" stickers while supplies last. Check out the pre-packed Dr. Seuss Classroom Celebration Kits. www.neamb.com/smilemakers

Wendy Davis: The Education Candidate for Governor

Wendy Davis is making it clear that she is the education candidate for governor. Her first policy proposal was “Great Teachers, Great Texas.” Today, she announced a “Great Pathways” plan to help more students attend college and get dual college and high school credits, which saves families money and makes it more likely a student will attend college or receive timely job training. Read the news release from Wendy’s campaign.


January 15, 2014

More than 3,000 lesson plans available

NEA and BetterLesson launched a new website today, cc.betterlesson.com/mtp. The site, where teachers share what works in the classroom, features more than 3,000 classroom-ready lessons that are easily accessible and can be integrated into any curriculum. It features the lessons of 130+ Master Teachers representing every K-12 grade level for math and English Language Arts & Literacy. This is one of several long-term partnerships NEA has pursued to support its members’ professional development and leadership in the teaching practice. 

NEA on the Roswell school shooting

“We will probably never know all the factors that accumulate to unleash this kind of violence, but we must commit to doing all we can to make sure students and educators are safe in our schools,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said, concerning the school shootings in Roswell, New Mexico on Jan. 14. “Preventing gun violence, bullying prevention, and greater access to mental health services are key issues that must be addressed, so educators and families can identify problems and intervene before it’s too late.” http://www.nea.org/home/57686.htm  

January 14, 2014

Ready to purchase a home?

The Homes for Texas Heroes Home Loan Program, created by the Texas Legislature, provides low interest rate loans with down payment and closing cost assistance in the form of a grant (meaning no repayment or second lien) to eligible public school employees, including teachers, full-time aides, librarians, nurses, and counselors. The program can be used to purchase a home or refinance an existing mortgage loan. For more information and to find out if you’re eligible, visit www.tsahc.org.


January 13, 2014

Public education conference in Austin

Registration and Information now available! @NetworkPublicEd Conference in Austin March 1 & 2.
http://wp.me/p2D92I-1Oc


January 9, 2015

Senator Wendy Davis unveils “Great Teachers, Great Texas” plan

Today, Senator Wendy Davis announced her first education policy proposal, and she put teachers first. Davis will work to provide incentives to encourage the best and the brightest to become certified, career teachers. The plan also would provide additional support to keep current Texas teachers in the profession by providing local districts funding to get Texas teacher salaries in line with the rest of the country. Today, too many teachers have to take second jobs to make ends meet, and the “Great Teachers, Great Texas” plan is designed to give talented teachers the time and the freedom to teach a growing Texas student population.

For more details of the plan, go to: www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/GreatTexas_summary.pdf. To read TSTA's press release on the plan go to: www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/TSTAnewsDavisplan.pdf.


January 6, 2014

When teaching doesn't pay the bills

A recent survey, conducted by Lubbock Avalanche-Journal Media with the help of Clinton Gill, organizational development specialist for TSTA, revealed many local teachers moonlight to make ends meet. Teachers who work two to four jobs said they stayed in the field to make a difference, but some are now forced to consider a career change. http://lubbockonline.com/education/2014-01-03/when-teaching-doesnt-pay-bills-survey-reveals-low-pay-causing-teachers#.UssgbtJDvTp
 

Win up to $3,000 for your high school athletic program

The California Casualty Thomas R. Brown Athletics Grant was established to provide support to public high school sports programs negatively impacted by reduced budgets. Apply by Jan. 15, 2014. https://www.calcas.com/web/calcasathleticsgrant