Month: <span>April 2014</span>

Teachers are professional educators, not bounty hunters


Greg Abbott’s teacher “bonus” idea sounds more like a bad April Fool’s joke concocted by a tone-deaf political consultant than a serious policy proposal from someone aspiring to be governor of Texas.  Abbott is proposing that teachers be awarded a $50 bonus for every student who passes an Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) exam – up to $2,000 each year.

Abbott has been so busy over at the attorney general’s office defending an inadequate school funding plan, including $5.4 billion in budget cuts from 2011, that he must not have noticed what the Legislature did last year. Last spring, lawmakers reduced from 15 to five the number of end-of-course exams that high school students have to pass in order to graduate. And, why did they do that? Because parents have had it up to here with the state’s overemphasis on standardized testing and what they fear is a plague of teaching to the test at the expense of real instruction.

Now, what does Abbott  or that political consultant think is going to happen if teachers are given a financial incentive, regardless of how pitiful, for every passing grade on an AP or IB test? Parents are going to start screaming even louder against teaching to the test. And, teachers, whether guilty of the practice or not, are going to take the blame.

Moreover, the bonus plan would unfairly overlook many teachers in lower grades who gave the AP and IB students the necessary foundation for passing those tests. Teachers who administer the tests don’t deliver the passing scores alone.

What is really insulting about Abbott’s proposed bonus, however, is the fact that average teacher pay in Texas is about $7,000 below the national average. Abbott ignores this problem while proposing a few dollars for a limited number of teachers. Teachers are professional educators, folks, not bounty hunters.

There is a stark contrast in education between Abbott and his opponent, Wendy Davis. Davis has made teachers the first plank in her education platform and wants to begin a serious conversation about improving teacher pay and student achievement. And, unlike Abbott, she consults with real educators.

Abbott listens to education privatization schemers, including pseudo “reformers” who want to drain neighborhood schools of tax dollars to enrich private charter operators.  That’s where meaningless ideas like test bonuses come from.



Would Abbott really forbid testing for 4-year-olds?


For the record, folks, Greg Abbott’s spokesperson is now saying the Republican gubernatorial candidate is not so out of touch with parents that he actually wants 4-year-old kids to be subjected to standardized testing. Of course, it was easy for parents or anyone else to make that assumption after Abbott announced his half-baked pre-kindergarten proposal last week.

I say half-baked because it isn’t an expansion of pre-K to thousands of children who really need it and could benefit from it, but instead is a way to avoid a commitment of significant state support.

Abbott proposes an additional $1,500 in state funding for each student enrolled in a half-day, pre-K program, provided the program meets “gold standard” performance criteria to be set by the state. To assure that the programs are properly evaluated, they would be submitted to state “assessments” at the beginning and end of each school year. Although there are various ways to perform educational “assessments,” the default for Texas government for many years now has been standardized testing.

Abbott compounded what his campaign claims is now a misperception by including “norm referenced standardized tests” among a short list of pre-K assessment options. Now, his spokesman says, Abbott didn’t really mean that.

Or did he?

The spokesman, Matt Hirsch, said the suggested assessment options were “there for informational purposes only,” according to the Texas Tribune story linked below. He said the Texas Education Agency would have to come up with an assessment plan.

But asked if Abbott would require TEA to exclude standardized testing as an assessment, Hirsch hedged. He said only that Abbott “would discourage the use of standardized testing for pre-K students.”
That is not the same thing as promising to use the powers of the governor’s office to forbid it.

Keep in mind, though, that this is the same Greg Abbott whose office continues to defend the $5.4 billion that the legislative majority cut from public school budgets three years ago. Those cuts included about $200 million for pre-K. So, his commitment to pre-K remains iffy, at best.

Research has documented the strong positive differences that pre-K and other early childhood education programs make in preparing children for success in later grades. This is especially true for underprivileged children and those who are still learning English, which are the majority of children in Texas public schools.

Abbott has suggested some of those programs are a “waste,” when, in fact, they are vital to thousands of children.

Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who truly appreciates the value of early education, is calling for increased access to full-day pre-K programs and an expansion of early-childhood reading programs – no standardized testing attached.


You can’t improve schools by running over educators


John Arnold survived the Enron collapse, started his own hedge fund and then retired in 2012 – when he was 38 – with an estimated personal wealth of $3 billion. Not bad, eh? Not bad for anyone, least of all a graduate of the often-maligned Dallas Independent School District.

Of course, not every child who enters DISD is the son of a corporate lawyer, as was Arnold. Many other DISD kids come from backgrounds of much lower income and lower expectations, and many fail along the way. This supposedly is the reason that Arnold, who now lives in the very upscale River Oaks neighborhood of Houston, is a major financial backer of a controversial effort to overhaul Dallas ISD by converting it into a home-rule charter district.

In a recent interview with the Dallas Morning News, Arnold credited the obvious role of teachers in his own success, acknowledged that teachers are “vital” for public schools and said he wasn’t trying to put teacher unions out of business. His recent, public record, however, is largely a slap at educators, the same people who help put him where he is today.

Until the Dallas ISD takeover attempt, Arnold was best known for his proposal to do away with defined benefit pensions for teachers and other public employees and replace them with risky, 401(k)-style investment plans that could evaporate if the economy sours on the eve of a teacher’s retirement. Since most Texas teachers don’t get Social Security, their hard-earned TRS defined-benefit pensions are about their only nest egg. And, it is downright galling for a 40-year-old billionaire to propose taking that away.

According to the Dallas Morning News, a foundation established by Arnold and his wife gave $72.6 million to education-related groups and causes from 2008 through 2012. But let’s take a look at some of the top 10 recipients of Arnold’s money.

Some $20,223,700 went to Teach for America, a corps of college graduates who teach in struggling schools. The theory may sound good, but it is only a temporary education fix, at best. Many of these young graduates have no intention of becoming educators. They teach for a few years, move on to higher paying jobs, and are replaced by other young people who also soon will be moving on. Some districts may hire them because they are cheaper than more-experienced, appropriately certified teachers.

The Arnold foundation has given more than $9 million to charter school networks and $1.5 million to Parent Revolution, a group supporting “parent trigger” laws enabling parents to turn over neighborhood public schools to private operators of charter schools. And, the foundation has given more than $12 million to two groups founded by Michelle Rhee, who declared war on teachers when she headed public schools in Washington, D.C.

And, now, Arnold is backing a misnamed group called “Support our Public Schools,” which, if it succeeds, could wipe out contractual and grievance rights for teachers and all other Dallas ISD employees – and force them to take pay cuts.

If Arnold is so interested in improving public education, why doesn’t he take some time to sit down and meet with real educators, the people in the classroom everyday, instead of going out of his way to undercut their influence and their livelihoods?