Month: <span>December 2015</span>

Some holiday reflections on education


Here are some observations as we prepare to catch our breath at the end of a long year and prepare to dive into another one.

H – Hope. This is an appropriate theme for the season. Hope draws strength, though, from action.

A – Adios. Adios (finally) to No Child Left Behind.

P – Public schools. Public schools and the people who work in them will remain the best investment in the future of our country.

P – Patrick, Dan. Texas would be a better place if this self-styled education “reformer” were to quit listening to his own echo chamber and give an ear to the real experts — educators. We can wish for it, and we also can believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

Y – Year, Old. Under-funded schools and over-tested students continued to say a lot in 2015 about the upside-down priorities of the statehouse majority. Change can begin in 2016, but it will require political action by educators, including you.


H – Hype. This is what school privatization advocates continue to peddle. Vouchers, corporate-style charters and an open taxpayer checkbook for private online schools are designed to line privateers’ pockets, not improve educational opportunities for the vast majority of Texas school children.

O – Opportunity. This is what public education offers to all children, regardless of where they come from or the prejudices some have to endure from presidential candidates and other “grown-ups” who should know better.

L – Less. Less testing! Less testing! Less testing!

I – Instruction, Ideology. The latter needs to butt out of the former in public classrooms.

D – Defined. Under-paid Texas educators deserve their defined-benefits pensions. But never, ever take them for granted.

A – Abbott, Greg. After a year in office, he still doesn’t understand that public schools, educators and students need more than lip service and bad appointments from the state’s highest elected official.

Y – Year, New. In the upcoming election year, every candidate will claim to be a “friend” of education. Don’t believe any of them until you check them out. Then vote for those who can prove themselves, regardless of party affiliation.

S – Students. Our future will always depend on them – and on the educators and staff who teach them and give them a safe and healthy learning environment. But you already knew that.

See you in 2016.



New education commissioner tied to testing


What kind of state education commissioner will Mike Morath be? Based on his record as a self-styled “reformer” in Dallas ISD, the best response for an educator right now is to expect the worst and hope you are wrong.

The type of alleged “reform” that Morath advocated in Dallas was an abuse of the term. True reform is change for the better, not change simply for change’s sake and certainly not the type of change, supported by Morath, that has roiled the ranks of Dallas educators with only minimal, if any, benefit for the vast majority of Dallas school children.

Morath was a strong supporter of former Superintendent Mike Miles, a dictatorial “reformer” who resigned earlier this year after disrespecting and alienating teachers, removing an elected school board member (not Morath) from a district campus and paying big salaries to controversial and inept administrators.

Morath supported the effort – also backed by former Enron trader John Arnold – to transform Dallas ISD into a “home rule” school district that could have operated without important state educational standards or employment protections for school employees. Fortunately, a local citizens commission killed that bad idea before it could get off the ground.

Morath also was instrumental in Dallas ISD’s adoption of a teacher evaluation system partly tied to test scores. This is an unfair and counterproductive way to evaluate and compensate teachers. It also flies in the face of growing professional, public and political opinion against high-stakes testing – from educators, a growing number of parents and large majorities of members of Congress of both parties.

Just last week, Congress completed action on a new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaces the test-heavy failure known as No Child Left Behind. In so doing, Congress removed the federal link between test scores and accountability and left it up to the states and local school districts to decide what weight to give test scores in determining student success.

Under the new law, Texas now has the opportunity to measure student success with more meaningful options, including graduation and college admittance rates, pre-AP courses, course grades and teacher observations.

Morath, who will succeed Michael Williams next month, is tied to the failure of high-stakes testing and out-of-step with the type of reform that educators and students really need, the type of positive change that would replace teaching-to-the-test with meaningful classroom learning.

We can only hope that Morath will use his new appointment and the new federal law to quit thinking top-down and begin working with teachers and parents to move away from testing and toward more-meaningful ways to promote and measure student success




Teachers continue to bail out school budgets


Seldom at a loss for empty rhetoric, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was quoted in the Austin American-Statesman the other day as saying he will “continue to focus on making Texas schools the envy of our nation.” He should try telling that to some Austin ISD teachers who are working every day to make Patrick’s alleged goal happen – with precious little help from Patrick.

In addition to their normal duties, teachers at Palm Elementary School in Austin ISD are working with school administrators to restore their school, which was heavily flooded during storms several weeks ago. According to the Austin Chronicle, floodwaters from Onion Creek made a mess of the facility, forcing the temporary relocation of students and leaving the district with costly cleanup bills.

The teachers, meanwhile, are digging into their own pockets to help restock their classrooms with school supplies, only a few months after buying supplies – without reimbursement – for the start of the school year. Those supplies were ruined or washed away.

Unfortunately, it is not unusual in Texas for public school teachers to pay several hundred dollars a year for classroom supplies that districts can’t afford. Palm teachers are getting hit twice, and Education Austin President Ken Zarifis made it clear that state government (including Dan Patrick) is to blame because the legislative majority continues to under-fund public education.

Lawmakers, he pointed out, have created “an unstated expectation that teachers should pay for their basic supplies.”

“We have a finance system that has been starved by our state for years and has increasingly made demands upon the teachers,” he added. “There are enough challenges and frustration dealing with a flood, never mind resupplying your classroom.”

Zarifis is a former middle school teacher who recalls buying things like highlighters, markers, extra paper and other things the district didn’t provide and many students can’t afford.

Teachers were paying an average $697 a year from their own paychecks for classroom supplies in 2013, the last time TSTA surveyed its members on the question. And, that was a signficant increase from the previous survey – an average $564 a year in 2010.

This, of course, is only one result of an under-funded school finance system that Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott and the legislative majority continue to ignore while they fight a court order for improvements.

The several billion taxpayer dollars that Patrick insisted upon leaving in the bank last spring could have bought a lot of school supplies and classroom computers, raised teacher salaries, lowered health insurance costs and reduced class sizes for thousands of school children.

Patrick’s rhetoric is a lot cheaper, and it is an insult to educators and a disservice to school children.




For Trump, less education is more


Please don’t blame school teachers for the blustery rise and, so far, staying power of Donald Trump at the top of the Republican presidential sweepstakes. But there may be a connection between Trump’s popularity and the education – or, more specifically, the lack thereof – of many of his supporters.

Trump, the billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV star, draws most of his support, according to the Washington Post story linked below, from Republicans, primarily white, with lower levels of education.


Trump has led the charge among Republican presidential candidates against immigration and immigrants, beginning with his allegation about “rapists” coming over the border from Mexico to his latest outrageous – and unconstitutional – declaration that the U.S. border be closed to all Muslims.

As the Post noted: “Trump has certainly distinguished himself as the candidate willing to express outrage and horror about the nation’s immigration challenges. He has also espoused a range of demonstrably false, unproven and outright conspiratorial ideas about immigration.”

And, who feels the most threatened by immigration? They are the Americans at the bottom of the job ladder – the uneducated and the under-educated – who fear the job competition from immigrants the most intensely.

That’s because, the Post points out, many immigrant workers arrive in the United States with limited educations and are competing for the same manual labor, service and other low-paid jobs as Americans with limited education and job skills. Even some of the more-educated, professionally trained immigrants have to settle for low-paying jobs because they can’t afford the additional training and testing that their professions may require in the U.S.

Not all Americans of limited education support Trump. Many do not. But obviously there are enough of them who consider themselves Republicans to make a difference so far in GOP polling.

Trump’s simpleton rhetoric — “bomb the —-“ out of America’s enemies – also appeals to less-educated people unable – or unwilling – to comprehend the complexities of the challenges that will face the next president of the United States.