Month: <span>December 2013</span>

Educators need more than cheerleaders in high places


Arne Duncan has been U.S. Secretary of Education for several years now, and he still doesn’t get it. You don’t reward and build public respect for teachers with feel-good campaigns and phrases, but that is still what he is trying to do.

In the newspaper column linked below, journalist Mary Sanchez takes Duncan to task over the Department of Education’s new public service campaign, called “Teach,” which purportedly was designed to convince more of the top college students to become teachers.

Sanchez says the campaign essentially has “all the honesty and appeal of ‘Join the Army and see the world,’” while ignoring what really is important in teacher recruitment and retention, beginning with better pay.

The column isn’t about Texas teachers specifically, and I am not sure the writer gives enough credit to the current crop of educators. But the piece is relevant since Texas teachers are paid $8,000 below the national average, and compensation for the teaching profession nationally ranks below most other professions.

Small wonder that about 44 percent of Texas teachers are taking extra jobs during the school year, and about half of Texas teachers quit during the first five years in the classroom.

The column also addresses other relevant issues, including the grossly uneven distribution of income and wealth in America, and how that affects teachers’ challenges in the classroom.

Adding insult to injury – and this isn’t in the column – Duncan also is promoting the misguided fantasy that tying teacher pay to student test scores will somehow magically make all our educational problems disappear.

Arne Duncan purports to be an advocate for public education, but educators – and their students — need more than cheerleaders with empty slogans.


Abbott not listening to real education needs


Not only is Greg Abbott totally clueless about the needs of public schools, he doesn’t listen to those who value public education and do know what our neighborhood schools need. I know I have been picking on Abbott a lot lately. But the man wants to be governor of Texas, folks, and yet he seems to know almost nothing about public education, one of the most important programs that state government is responsible for supporting.

Consider what he told reporters the other day, after meeting privately with charter school leaders in San Antonio. It is not clear that he actually met with any teachers, and, if he did, it sounds like he didn’t listen to them anyway.

“No one before now has come out and said what our priorities should be in education in the state of Texas,” Abbott said.

What??? The truth is the attorney general has been so busy wasting tax dollars on mostly symbolic and ideological suits against the federal government that he simply hasn’t been listening.

For years, the real education experts have been telling anyone who will listen what our educational priorities should be:

  • An adequate and fairly funded school finance system that gives every child an opportunity at a first-class public education.


  • Teachers who are paid at a level commensurate with their professional work, and paid enough so almost half of them don’t have to take a second job to make ends meet. Pay that is $8,000 below the national average, the current level in Texas, is not professional and promotes a high rate of turnover, to the detriment of students.


  • Smaller class sizes that allow teachers to give students the individual attention needed to promote real learning.


  • Up-to-date textbooks and instructional materials free of political ideology and modern, technological teaching aids for every classroom.

By real education experts, I mean people who have actually been in the classroom.  For years, teachers and educators have been telling legislators and governors what Texas’ educational priorities must be. I am not talking about voucher hucksters, virtual school promoters, corporate charter CEOs and other privateers posing as “education reformers.” These are the people to whom Abbott has been listening so far, and their only interest in the public schools is how to rob them of tax dollars.

And, if the pleas of teachers weren’t enough, Abbott could have learned about the real education priorities had he spent much time in the courtroom when his office was defending the unconstitutional school finance system, including $5.4 billion in education budget cuts. He would have heard a parade of additional experts — school superintendents and other witnesses — describing in detail the consequences of under-funding public schools.

Abbott claims to want to give Texas the “No. 1 ranked education system in the entire United States of America.” But that’s a hollow promise from someone who continues to defend $5.4 billion in school budget cuts, including the loss of 11,000 teacher jobs, thousands of overcrowded classrooms and per-student spending that ranks 49th among the states and the District of Columbia.

Abbott said he could not “go back and reconstruct” what happened when the legislative majority slashed school funding two years ago. In reality, the next governor actually could, and Wendy Davis makes it clear that she will. But it is very clear that Abbott wouldn’t.





Anti-public school voucher advocate advising Abbott


Although Attorney General Greg Abbott has been in public office for years, long enough to qualify as a career politician, his campaign for governor so far has been one, long anti-government crusade. And, don’t kid yourselves, folks. If you are anti-government, you are anti-public education.

Judging from his own rhetoric, Abbott’s proudest accomplishment as attorney general has been suing the federal government. Fortunately, he lost many of those lawsuits, including his suit to overturn the Affordable Care Act, a law designed to give millions of Americans – including thousands of Texas school children – a chance at decent health care.

So, what did Abbott do yesterday? Did he interrupt his learning-about-education tour to unveil a proposal to improve public school funding? Of course not. He is still defending the $5.4 billion that the legislative majority cut from the public education budget two years ago. Remember?

Instead, Abbott’s campaign hosted an online discussion with a policy adviser named Merrill Matthews. Although the announced subject was how to continue to fight Obamacare, Matthews also wants to wipe out direct, public funding of public schools in favor of issuing vouchers directly to parents so they can send their children to private schools at taxpayer expense.

The idea ostensibly is to give parents the “right to choose” their children’s education. But, in reality, the proposal would help finish the job the legislative majority and Abbott already have begun – shutting down neighborhood public schools.

From what I have read so far, Abbot doesn’t have a clue about the needs of public schools, the educators who work in them and the students who attend them. But what else can we expect, really, from someone running an anti-government campaign?



No defense for Abbott on education


You could say that Democrat Wendy Davis put Republican Greg Abbott on the defensive in the first exchange over education of their gubernatorial race. But, in truth, Abbott already had put himself on the defensive because he was on the wrong side of education long before he ever launched his gubernatorial campaign.

As Davis correctly pointed out, Abbott persisted in defending an unconstitutional school finance system, even after the legislative majority had slashed $5.4 billion from public schools. Abbott’s response that he was required by the state constitution to defend state laws was weak, coming from someone who aspires to lead Texas.

He, instead, could have demanded that the Legislature give him a school finance law that was defensible under that very same constitution. It didn’t require another court order to point out the obvious unfairness and inadequacy of the current system, but that is exactly what Texas got, despite Abbott’s attempted defense.

Moreover, Abbott dug himself into an even deeper hole on education a few weeks ago by announcing a so-called “budget plan” that would result in even deeper cuts to public schools and other critical state needs. The elements of Abbott’s budget proposal were designed simply to appeal to right-wing ideologues who want to continue to cut every government program in sight, without regard for the consequences.

All of which makes Abbott’s sounding board tour – or whatever he is calling it – of selected public schools seem very puny. At his first stop in Plano the other day, he promoted computers and online learning. In doing so, he tried to ignore the underlying financial struggle of many school districts with overcrowded classrooms, inadequate supplies, thousands of children whose families can’t afford computers and teachers having to take second jobs to make ends meet.

Plano ISD, incidentally, was one of several hundred school districts involved in the school finance lawsuit against the state, the lawsuit that Abbott lost. Had Davis been governor, she would have vetoed the budget cuts, forced the Legislature to try again and may have helped the state avoid the lawsuit.

Davis cut to the bottom line, while Abbott stammered.