Month: <span>January 2014</span>

Campaigning for an education apocalypse


After observing the race for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor teeter ever more precariously over the abyss on the right edge of the flat Earth, I am surprised that at least one of the four contenders hasn’t gone to court to officially change his ballot name to Attila.

The latest chapter, which unfolded last night in a televised debate from Dallas, made it crystal clear – as if we didn’t know already – that the needs and realities of public schools, students and teachers are merely an afterthought— or worse — for these guys.

The incumbent, David Dewhurst, already was on record asserting that Texas teachers are paid a “very fair salary,” despite the fact that teacher pay in Texas lags more than $8,000 behind the national average. If he and his GOP opponents get their way, the gap will worsen, teachers will pay even more than the $700 they now pay, on average, out of their own pockets each year for classroom supplies and their classes will get larger.

Dan Patrick, the self-styled “educational evangelist,” in truth would plunder neighborhood schools – and most Texas children – of financial resources to line the pockets of private schools and private charter operators for the benefit of a handful of mostly cherry-picked students.

Judging from the debate and general campaign rhetoric, nothing much separates Dewhurst, Patrick and the other two GOP contenders – Jerry Patterson and Todd Staples – from each other. And, that is bad news for public education.

All four committed or recommitted last night to teaching creationism in Texas schools, an idea struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 because it “impermissibly endorses religion.”

These four candidates are running for the second highest office in Texas, folks, an office with tremendous influence over legislation. Candidates for that office should be promoting investment in a public education system that will be the key to Texas’ future in the 21st century, not endorsing ideological detours or schemes to plunder neighborhood classrooms.

Instead of sounding like serious candidates for high office, these guys, as my TSTA colleague, Ed Martin notes, sound more like the “Four Horsemen of the Republican Apocalypse.”… An apocalypse for public education, in the destructive, not revelatory, sense.

Beware of education “reformers” with lots of money


As a rule of thumb, teachers and others who truly value public schools should be wary of any group claiming to promote “education reform,” which more often than not in the current Texas political climate is a code term for school privatization. And, you should be extra wary of Texans for Education Reform, which has formed a political action committee that already has raised nearly $1 million to spend on political campaigns this year.

This is the same group that emerged during last year’s legislative session, and it didn’t have the slightest interest in giving public schools and teachers the resources they need to handle growing student enrollments. As far as I know, this group didn’t even bother to seek input from the real education experts who are in the classroom every day, our public school teachers.

This group wants to drain money from public schools for more privately operated charter schools and online virtual learning, which offer opportunities for more enrichment in the entrepreneurial community, not opportunities for enriching the learning opportunities of thousands of Texas school children.

Charter schools are a mixed bag, academically. Many privately run charters try to cherry pick the best students, while taking money from neighborhood public schools where most Texas children will continue to be educated. Computers are an important classroom tool in the 21st century, but not a replacement for teachers.

Some of the major players in this new group – including Dick Weekley and Richard Trabulsi — were principals of Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR), another group with a misleading name. Its goal was not judicial reform but enactment of laws making it extremely difficult for consumers to win legitimate damage claims against businesses and doctors. TLR has been largely successful in restricting consumers’ access to the courts after contributing millions of dollars to Gov. Rick Perry and legislators in numerous election cycles.

So far, according to the Austin American-Statesman, the new Texans for Education Reform PAC has contributed $95,000 to House Speaker Joe Straus and members of legislative committees that draft public education laws. Only 11 people, including Weekley, account for the nearly $1 million the PAC has raised so far.

Make no mistake. These people know how to make and spend money, and they don’t hesitate to spend as much as they think it may take to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, they know very little about public education and, so far, don’t seem interested in talking with people who do.




Elections have consequences — in New York and Texas


With the new year comes some encouraging news from New York City, where the new mayor, Bill de Blasio, did something that his longtime predecessor found unfashionable. De Blasio actually appointed an educator as the new chancellor of the city’s school system.

De Blasio has decided that the city’s public schools and their 1.1 million students have had all the alleged “reform” they can take. He also wants to reduce the focus on high-stakes testing, which, he believes, has “taken us down the wrong road,” according to the Education Week article linked below.

State and federal requirements, unfortunately, will limit what the new mayor can do to curb standardized testing, but the schools chancellor is one of his top appointments. Unlike cities in Texas, New York runs its school system, and de Blasio campaigned for changing or undoing many of predecessor Michael Bloomberg’s agenda and replacing it with a greater emphasis on educational policies that have been proven to work, such as more prekindergarten and other early-childhood programs.

And, the new mayor is signaling that he values the input of educators. His choice for new schools chancellor is Carmen Farina, a former teacher, principal and community and regional superintendent who spent 40 years working in New York public schools before retiring during the Bloomberg administration.

Time will tell, of course, how de Blasio and Farina work out. But consider that Bloomberg, during his 12-year tenure, appointed three schools chancellors, and none was an educator. They were a corporate executive, a publishing executive and a former deputy mayor. And, Bloomberg’s education agenda was heavy on expanding charter schools and tying student test scores to education-related decisions.

By contrast, one urban education expert told Education Week that Farina actually knows what needs to happen in classrooms for children to be successful.

“This will be the first time in many years that New York has an (education) leader who understands curriculum and instruction,” said Pedro Noguera, a New York University education professor.

This is another reminder, folks, that elections have consequences, in Texas, no less than in New York. For many years now, Texas voters have been electing a governor and a legislative majority that have pursued the same unproven education “reforms” as Bloomberg while mostly ignoring the real education experts, Texas’ educators.

You can start undoing the damage this year – at the polls. In the upcoming weeks, TSTA will be evaluating the educational priorities – or lack thereof – of candidates for governor, other statewide offices and the Legislature. Keep an eye on this space and our website,, and then decide which candidates will listen to and value the viewpoints of educators. And, then, vote for them, beginning with the party primaries, which now are only two months away.