Month: <span>May 2014</span>

Patrick’s record on education speaks for itself


Not too many years ago, Dan Patrick was simply a publicity stunt. Now, he could become the next lieutenant governor of Texas, in a prime position to wreak havoc on public schools and a host of other important public services. The mainstream media has all but inaugurated him to the state’s No. 2 office, assuming that people who purport to care about Texas’ future will vote nevertheless in November for the “inevitable” because he has an R behind his name.

Patrick won the Republican nomination by appealing to Texas’ right-wing political fringe, largely at the expense of the state’s emerging majority population.  He likened the growth of the Hispanic population, including immigration from Mexico, as an “illegal invasion” that must be stopped by sealing off the border. And, he accused immigrants of bringing leprosy and other “third-world diseases” into the United States.

The rhetoric – which, for all we know, Patrick truly believes – worked because people who know better, the traditional Republicans who have turned their primary over to flat-earth ideologues, stayed home or held their noses.

No sooner, though, had Patrick won a low-turnout runoff – he won the votes of only 3.5 percent of registered Texas voters — than he already was trying to backpedal on his anti-Hispanic remarks in an effort to appear more “moderate” for a wider general election audience. Because of Republicans like Patrick, Hispanics have traditionally voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates, and Patrick’s Democratic opponent, Leticia Van de Putte, is Hispanic. Both are state senators.

It is unknown how heavy the Hispanic voting turnout will be in November because that voting bloc has not yet lived up to its potential, but it could be crucial not only to Van de Putte’s chances but also to the election prospects of gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis and other Democratic candidates. That is why Patrick and other Republicans enacted the photo identification law as a potential barrier to discourage many Hispanics from going to the polls, and this is the first general election in which it will be in play.

Texans who care about the future of public education have a lot at stake in the November election because the differences between Patrick and Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott, on one hand, and Van de Putte and Davis, on the other, are crystal clear.

Three years ago, Patrick voted for the $5.4 billion in school budget cuts that hurt all the state’s school districts and struck particularly hard at property poor districts with large numbers of low-income, primarily Hispanic, students. And, he has been a long-time champion of diverting tax dollars from these schools — and the vast majority of Texas children — to corporate-run charters or to private schools in the form of tax-paid vouchers, which would benefit only a select few Texas students.

Abbott continues to defend the school budget cuts and the rest of the state’s inadequate, unfair school funding system. He also is an advocate of selective educational opportunities, including a pre-kindergarten proposal that could require 4-year-olds to take standardized tests.

Davis and Van de Putte fought against the budget cuts and, last year, led the fight in the Senate to restore much of the funding. They also are strong advocates for improving educational opportunities for all Texas kids.

While he was trying to reverse course on his anti-Hispanic rhetoric this week, Patrick was quoted in The Texas Tribune, “Before you can get someone’s vote, you have to respect them enough to go talk with them and explain who you are.”

I think his Republican primary campaign and record as a state senator have been explanation enough.



Bipartisan legislative trouble looming for public schools


The attack on public schools in Texas is likely to escalate during next year’s legislative session, and it will come from both Republicans and Democrats calling themselves “reformers.” The Texas Observer has a good overview, linked below, about two high-dollar, deliberately misnamed groups that have been preparing for the session by spreading cash in this year’s political races.

One is Texans for Education Reform, about which I have written before. This is an offshoot of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a conservative, business group that has successfully lobbied for laws giving its members protection from lawsuits by aggrieved customers and other consumers. Technically, Texans for Lawsuit Reform hasn’t completely banned consumers from Texas courtrooms, but not for a lack of trying.

The group’s new incarnation, Texans for Education Reform, will be pushing for school privatization schemes, including expansion of corporate-run charter schools and online learning, to further enrich some of its contributors.

Now, another group with a similar agenda, Democrats for Education Reform, is moving into Texas. This comes just as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a Democratic appointee, is putting the squeeze on Texas to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores. Research has consistently found that standardized testing is neither a fair nor effective way to educate children or evaluate teacher performances, but it is a sure-fire way to enrich companies with test preparation contracts. And, the so-called education “reform” groups likely will be advocating for this as well.

According to the Observer, a spokeswoman for Texans for Education Reform declined to discuss the group’s specific legislative goals for next year. She did say the group would lobby for “research-proven reforms that empower parents, reinforce local control and provide pathways for intervention in chronically failing schools within a morally responsible timeline.”

But research contradicts the “reformers.” Charter schools are no better or worse, on average, than traditional public schools, and they take money from neighborhood schools, where most children will continue to be educated. And, studies have shown that test scores don’t accurately measure teacher effectiveness.

So, how morally responsible is it to use unproven privatization programs to undermine neighborhood public schools?

Making teachers an afterthought


While political leaders throughout the United States continue to heap high-stakes tests on 8-year-olds and wring their hands over less-than-magical scores, many of these same leaders – if you want to call them that — persist in neglecting the teachers at the heart of the educational process. And, I am not just talking about Texas, although our state ranks right down there with the most neglectful.

Now, those of you who think teacher pay isn’t a valid educational issue can go back to sleep. If you think teachers are overpaid because most of them get two months off during the summer, even if they cram about 12 or 13 months’ worth of work into a typical school year, you may find the Cartoon Network or the Disney Channel more to your level of comprehension.

But if you believe that teachers should be paid as professionals at a level that recognizes and rewards the value of their work, read on to learn just how far off the mark the United States has fallen in this age of “accountability.”

Pay for teachers in the United States is now only sixth highest in the world, according to a new report by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. This ranking is based on daily pay of teachers in public primary schools, adjusted for purchasing power parity. The UNESCO report is summarized in HR Exchange, a publication of the Texas Association of School Boards, linked below.

Since 2000, the purchasing power of teachers has increased significantly in many countries, while increasing by less than 5 percent in the United States. This means that average teacher pay in the U.S.  – unlike, say, the pay of hedge fund managers and other business billionaires who are some of our public schools’ biggest critics – has only slightly outpaced inflation. In Texas, according to TASB, the purchasing power for the average teacher in Texas has declined by $1,000 since 2000.

The UNESCO study also found that the United States, on average, rewards experienced teachers less for their years of service — compared to starting teachers’ salaries — than most other industrialized countries. And, the pay disparity between teachers and other people with similar educational backgrounds is greater in the U.S.

Teachers in the United States, according to the report, are paid between 66 percent and 70 percent of the average salaries of other people with bachelor’s degrees. Teachers in the 34 countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which include many countries with much smaller economies than the U.S., earn, on average, between 80 percent and 89 percent of the salaries of other individuals with bachelor’s degrees.

That comparison may be worse in Texas, where teacher pay is more than $7,000 below the U.S. average. And, now, state Education Commissioner Michael Williams, prodded by the Obama administration, wants to add insult to injury by imposing a teacher evaluation system that would potentially link teacher pay to student test scores.

Williams needs to get a clue, and, unfortunately, he isn’t the only one.

For-profit charter superintendents


You can count State Board of Education Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff among those who question how well some charter schools are using your tax dollars. Remember, charter schools receive tax dollars, even if many of them operate like private schools.

Ratliff recently released a survey comparing the salaries of the top 10 highest paid charter school superintendents with those of the top 10 highest paid traditional public school superintendents. According to the Dallas Morning News, the average top 10 charter superintendent salary was $242,172 a year, compared to $323,156 for the average among the 10 highest paid public school superintendents.

To provide perspective, Ratliff noted that the charter superintendents who were surveyed had an average enrollment of 3,037 students, while the average enrollment for the public school superintendents in the survey was 50,555 students. Or, to put it another way, each charter superintendent was paid about $79 per student and each public school superintendent about $6 per student.

“I find it ironic that charter schools were supposed to bring free market principles into the education marketplace, but they are obviously paying way above free market rates for their superintendents,” Ratliff said. “I would also like to point out that these entities are supposed to be non-profit organizations, but at these salary levels, some people are clearly doing quite well.”

Ratliff called on the state education commissioner and the Legislature to do something about the salary disparities.

The charter industry, of course, promptly sent Ratliff a letter, expressing “concern” over his conclusions, claiming, among other things, that many charter schools had a very high efficiency rating, according to the state comptroller.

Ratliff, in turn, said he found the comptroller’s rating system, which lumped charters and traditional public schools together, “skewed” because charters don’t have the same financial responsibilities as traditional public schools.

For one thing, traditional public schools have to provide bus service to students who live more than two miles from a school. Charter schools don’t have to provide transportation, and most don’t. Traditional school districts have to accept every child in the district who shows up for enrollment. Charters can pick and choose and create waiting lists, while many kids on the waiting lists are being educated in traditional public schools.

Next time, you hear about a “non-profit” charter school, take a closer look. Many of these” non-profits” are operated by for-profit management companies, which ultimately receive the tax dollars. According to Ratliff’s findings, many charter superintendents certainly are profiting.