Month: <span>October 2015</span>

From Irving ISD to Qatar


Former Irving ISD student Ahmed Mohamed not only became an instant social media celebrity, but he also traveled widely after he was handcuffed and arrested when his harmless homemade clock was mistaken by school employees for a possible bomb. Now, the 14-year-old is getting ready to become an international transfer student.

Earlier this week, Ahmed met President Obama after accepting the president’s invitation to visit “Astronomy Night” in Washington, D.C. Then, less than 24 hours later, his family announced they were moving to Qatar, where Ahmed will join a “Young Innovators Program” run by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development. Ahmed will receive a full scholarship.

In a statement from his family, the famous clockmaker noted that Doha, Qatar’s principal city, has a number of “amazing schools,” including some campuses of American universities. Texas A&M has a campus there, but there was no word on whether Ahmed plans eventually to become an Aggie.

I wish Ahmed well. And, I hope the over-reaction of Irving school administrators and police to his clock hasn’t made the difficult task of balancing the very real need for campus and student security with student expression and common sense even more difficult for educators.



Choice of next education commissioner will say a lot


With the pending departure of Michael Williams, a holdover appointee of Rick Perry, Gov. Greg Abbott now will have an opportunity to appoint his first state education commissioner. Considering Abbott’s education record so far, we better keep our fingers crossed.

Remember, Abbott designated a home-schooler to chair the State Board of Education, backed tax cuts over adequate education spending during last spring’s legislative session and continues to defend the state’s inadequate and unconstitutional school funding system. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Tea Party-types and school privateers also are likely to try to influence the governor’s selection.

Granted, the education commissioner has limited policy-setting authority and has to operate within the confines of laws set by the Legislature and Congress. But school children and educators need a real advocate for public schools in the state’s top education office, someone who – as TSTA President Noel Candelaria pointed out — will “advocate for a greater investment in our public schools and policies that will end punitive standardized testing that robs teachers and students of the time they need for real teaching and learning.”

Abbott’s choice will say a lot about whether he really intends to make public education a top priority or will continue to merely pat educators on the head with empty plaudits.



Dan Patrick, Arne Duncan: bad news “reformers”


The observation may be enough to make Tea Party darling Dan Patrick choke, but he has a couple of annoying things in common with one of the key figures of President Obama’s administration. I am talking about the soon-to-be-retired Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Both profess to be education “reformers,” but neither has a clue about how to improve public schools. Instead, they promote policies that do more harm than good to students and educators.

Both are big proponents of standardized testing, and each has championed the diversion of tax dollars from traditional neighborhood schools, where the vast majority of school children in Texas and throughout the nation are educated, many in overcrowded and under-equipped classrooms.

As a state senator, Patrick voted to cut $5.4 billion from public school budgets in Texas, and, as lieutenant governor, he left billions of tax dollars sitting in the bank while public schools remain under-funded. Then, this week, he renewed his tired call for diverting education tax dollars to pay for private school vouchers and expand charter schools, many of which are operated by for-profit companies.

Two weeks ago, only a few days before he announced he would be leaving his Cabinet post in December, Duncan announced the Department of Education would give another $157 million to create more charter schools throughout the country, despite criticisms by his own department’s inspector general that the agency has done a poor job of overseeing how charter schools spend their federal dollars.

Some charters are good, but others are operated by corporations more interested in how much money they can make from your tax dollars than they are in how well they educate children. Studies have shown that charters, on the whole, perform no better – and, in some cases, worse – than traditional public schools, but they continue to be promoted by self-styled “reformers” who would rather pay for placeboes than adequately fund public education.

Counting the new grants, the Department of Education has now awarded more than $3 billion to charter schools since fiscal 1995, but the Washington Post reported, “The federal government has not tracked how its dollars have been used by charter schools, nor has it studied their academic performance.”

The Department of Education’s inspector general, in a 2012 report, found dozens of charter schools that received millions of federal dollars never even opened their doors to students.

Among the latest grants, according to the Post, Ohio got the largest single award of $32.5 million, even though that state has “been at the center of several recent charter school scandals” involving inflated enrollment figures and evidence of inflated evaluations.

Duncan said it was largely up to state agencies and officials to hold charters accountable for their tax dollars. I guess he means agencies such as the under-funded Texas Education Agency and officials such as school-privatization champion Dan Patrick .

How reassuring is that?



If only there were a STAAR test for legislators


I have long been convinced that many elected officials, including members of the legislative majority, use the student and school “accountability” system as an excuse to under-fund public education. These are the same people who also like to say that “throwing money” at education doesn’t improve student performance.

The truth is Texas government has never “thrown” money at education. Quite the contrary. You don’t throw money at education by cutting $5.4 billion from public school budgets, as the legislative majority did four years ago. And, you don’t throw money at education if you consistently rank, as Texas does, in the lower tier among the states in per-student funding.

What the Legislature does throw at school children, though, beginning with third-graders, is a series of standardized tests supposedly designed to hold students and their teachers “accountable” for the insufficient tax dollars that are spent on them.

In truth the STAAR tests – the latest and most difficult generation of a series of such exams – measure little more than a child’s ability to take a test. The whole experience is wasteful and stressful, for students, parents and educators alike. Countless hours of classroom time that could be spent teaching critical thinking skills and other important educational issues are frittered away on teaching kids how to take and pass the next STAAR or a practice benchmark. But don’t blame the teachers. They are teaching to the test because their school rankings and maybe their jobs depend on the STAAR scores.

Many children start worrying about the STAAR test as early as second grade, a year and a half before they will have to take their first one. This is counterproductive to the extreme, tarnishing and perhaps even destroying the joy of learning that is so crucial to a child’s education. TSTA President Noel Candelaria noted in a television interview this week that such stress made his daughter dread the start of third grade this year.

Members of the legislative majority claim they are simply holding those third-graders and their teachers “accountable.”

Bunk. They are using their definition of “accountability” as an excuse to continue to shortchange public education and school children. And now that the passing standard on the next round of STAAR tests is being raised, children as young as 8 and 9 will feel even more stress.

Accountability should start at the top, with the Legislature, but the legislative majority refuses to acknowledge its responsibilities to school children and educators. Texas spends $2,400 less per public school student than the national average, yet the legislative majority left billions of tax dollars in the bank. And, led by the governor, the state continues to fight a court order finding the school funding system inadequate, unfair and unconstitutional.

While state policymakers drag their feet, thousands of Texas school children will remain in overcrowded, under-equipped classrooms, and teachers will continue to struggle to provide the individual attention that many children need.

Yet, if STAAR scores drop this year, these same legislators will act surprised and continue pontificating about “accountability” – not theirs, the kids.

If only there were a STAAR test for legislators. The closest thing we have are elections, and most of these lawmakers will be on the ballot next year. Virtually all will claim to be “friends” of education, but many of them aren’t. They would rather test kids, continue to under-fund classrooms, declare the public schools a “failure” and propose vouchers and other privatization schemes. So, do some research before you vote.

TSTA will be endorsing genuine, pro-education legislative candidates in both party primaries.