Month: <span>November 2015</span>

Politics and education are personal


With all the misstatements, lies and sophomoric shenanigans that have become standard fare in many political campaigns, it may be increasingly difficult for educators to take politics seriously, much less personally. But in an open letter to her governor, an Indiana teacher spelled out exactly why she takes politics personally, and Texas educators would be wise to hear her out.

With only a few modifications, her letter, linked below, could be sent to Gov. Greg Abbott and many state legislators because the Texas and Indiana political records on supporting public education are similarly lackluster.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence recently angered educators in his state by reportedly telling teachers that they shouldn’t take it personally if their students’ grades dropped on new, more difficult standardized tests, even if their evaluations — and professional futures — were linked to the test scores. (Pence is supporting legislation to unlink teacher evaluations for a year because the tests are new, but the legislation hasn’t passed yet.)

You may say this isn’t relevant to me because my school district doesn’t link test scores to teacher evaluations and compensation. Some Texas districts, however, do tie evaluations to test scores, and depending on who gets elected to the Legislature next year, every district could be required to do so by the 2017-18 school year.

In any event, Donna Roof, a veteran Indiana teacher and public education advocate, felt inspired to point out why she took the governor’s remarks and policies personally – over excessive testing, crowded classrooms, inadequate funding, disrespect for teachers’ expertise and other issues that the governor and other politicians have foisted upon Indiana educators and students.

Sounding more familiar now, I bet. Her list could have been written by Texas teachers – and, with a few changes, should be.

Gov. Abbott claims to be a champion of education but so far, except to promote a limited pre-kindegarten program, hasn’t done a lot to prove it. He still resists calls for adequate and equitable school funding and, during last spring’s legislative session, demonstrated a preference for tax cuts and highways over schools.

Tell our governor you take it personally when he and other state leaders continue to neglect public schools in favor of over-testing, privatization and lip service. The first link is to an online message form for Gov. Abbott’s office. The second link is to Donna Roof’s letter to her governor.




Worry about school funding, not test scores


The state’s most prominent business group – which thinks excessive testing is more important to academic success than adequate school funding – is hyperventilating again. This time, it is because the Texas Legislature and some school districts gave a few thousand high school seniors the opportunity to graduate without passing all their end-of-course exams.

The students passed at least three of the five EOC exams, successfully completed all their required coursework and were deemed deserving of their diplomas by their teachers and principals. But in the eyes of the Texas Association of Business (TAB), the sky is once again falling on public education in Texas.

In truth, one of the biggest obstacles to public education in Texas is the Texas Association of Business and similar special interest groups that keeping wringing their hands over test scores while doing nothing to convince the legislative majority to adequately fund public schools.

In 2011, TAB did little, if anything, to discourage the legislative majority from slashing $5.4 billion from school budgets and was mostly silent while thousands of school employees lost their jobs and thousands of students were shoved into overcrowded classrooms.

During last spring’s session, even though many school districts haven’t recovered from the 2011 cuts, TAB successfully lobbied for a multi-billion-dollar cut in future business taxes – an important source of education funding – while lawmakers left several billion additional tax dollars unspent in the bank. TAB also supported the new A-F grading system for school campuses, which will do little more than stigmatize low-income students who suffer the most from inadequate school funding.

But whenever students in under-funded classrooms turn in lackluster STAAR scores, you can count on the folks at TAB to wail, professing more concern about the accountability of third-graders than they do about the accountability of legislators.

And, now they are wailing over the initial results of a new law to let some high school seniors graduate if they fail one or two of the five required end-of-course tests, provided that is the only obstacle to their graduation. That have to complete all their other required coursework and be approved by a special graduation committee that includes the student’s principal, the teacher of the course for which the student failed the EOC exam, a curriculum department chair and a parent or guardian.

The law, which went into effect last spring and will expire after the 2016-17 school year, if the Legislature doesn’t renew it, is a good idea. Since last spring’s graduating class was the first required to pass the EOC tests, Gov. Greg Abbott said it was important to protect students from being penalized by “evolving test standards.”

In reality, the Legislature needs to do even more to reduce the state’s punitive regime of over-testing. But the Texas Association of Business wasn’t pleased with the new, limited law and attempted to survey the largest 100 school districts to see how many graduates got a waiver from passing all the EOC tests. Seventy-eight districts responded, and 71 percent of the 5,578 students who sought the waiver received permission to graduate. TAB President Bill Hammond called that a “shockingly high number.”

Hammond predicted that more students will figure out how to “game the system” and graduate unprepared for college or the work force.

But if Hammond and other business leaders really care about the qualifications of high school graduates, they wouldn’t be as alarmed about kids potentially “gaming” the testing system as they are about the legislative majority under-nourishing the entire educational system with inadequate funding. That’s the bottom line.


Campus carry means guns in classrooms, legislator says


This should not be a surprise to anyone, but the main legislative sponsor of the new “campus carry” law believes it will be safe for college students with concealed handgun licenses to keep their firearms in their campus dormitories and bring them to class.

This is the same individual – state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury — who also has been quoted as declaring that the right to carry a gun is God-given. So, he obviously is a man on a mission, and he has served notice he will fight any effort to keep licensed handguns out of residence halls or classrooms, despite strong opposition from some university professors who believe that guns would be unsafe and potentially dampen academic debate.

Birdwell commented this week after the Faculty Council of the University of Texas at Austin approved a resolution urging UT officials to ban guns in classrooms, laboratories, dormitories, offices and “other spaces of education.”

Although Birdwell succeeded in winning legislative approval of the new law, which will go into effect at state-supported universities next Aug. 1, he still has some unfinished business, namely the debate over a provision in the law allowing individual universities to create some gun-free zones.

Such zones can’t have the effect of banning guns from an entire campus. Birdwell believes those zones should be very narrowly drawn and wants Attorney General Ken Paxton to help him make that point.

According to The Texas Tribune, Birdwell has asked Paxton to clarify where universities can ban handguns. Birdwell believes neither classrooms nor dormitories should be off-limits.

A classroom ban, he said in a letter to the attorney general, “would effectively force students to leave their handguns in their personal motor vehicles, or in their dormitories or other residential housing. Since students go to college to attend class, this would effectively prohibit a student/licensee from carrying their handgun on campus.”

Considering Paxton’s political history, I would be surprised if he disagrees with Birdwell. Ultimately, the dispute is headed for the courts.




Let’s keep private schools private


TSTA and other public education advocates were successful once again last spring in defeating proposals to take tax dollars from public schools and spend them on private school vouchers. But vouchers are a bad idea that won’t go away, particularly while Dan Patrick remains lieutenant governor, and the fight will be renewed the next time the Legislature meets.

With that in mind, take a look at the TV news report, linked below, about an unaccredited private school in Lubbock, Springboard Academics, which meets behind a Biodiesel lab and offers a “private education with homeschool freedom.” Tuition is low — $350 a semester, plus a $30 registration fee.

The school may offer what some students need, but the issue is vouchers. Do we want our tax dollars spent on an unaccredited, private school that may be gone next year?

This school doesn’t accept federal funding, so it may refuse to accept vouchers. But under some voucher proposals, this is the type of tight-budget facility – and who knows how many there are in Texas — where tax dollars could be headed if vouchers became law. Many voucher advocates would rather roll the dice – with our money — on little-known institutions than adequately fund public schools, where the vast majority of Texas school children will continue to be educated. And, for every private school operator refusing vouchers, a dozen others would eagerly grab them.

“Springboard Academics is a great place for someone who thinks outside the box and wants to steer clear of what regular curriculum does,” one of the school’s teachers is quoted in the story.

I hope the school is teaching enough of the basic curriculum to provide a sound education for its students, but I want it to keep doing so without any public funding.