Month: <span>December 2015</span>

Educators need to be wary of pension “reformers”


The Teacher Retirement System of Texas is one of the strongest public pension systems in the country and with the continued hard work of educators and prudent policy decisions, it will remain that way. But public pension systems in general remain under political attack, as we are reminded by a recent appointment that Gov. Greg Abbott made to the State Pension Review Board, which oversees state and local government retirement systems.

Abbott named Josh McGee, a vice president of the Houston-based Laura and John Arnold Foundation, to the board. This is the same John Arnold, a former Enron trader, who wants to replace defined-benefit pensions, such as TRS, with risky 401(k)-style plans. Instead of safeguarding an educator’s well-earned retirement benefits, he would have a teacher roll the dice on a 401(k) that could vanish shortly before retirement if the stock market took another plunge.

The Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT) has asked Abbott to rescind McGee’s appointment because the group fears he will try to abolish police pensions. McGee’s anti-pension agenda, however, may be broader than that. He may not want to stop with the police.

Even though CLEAT backed Abbott for governor, there is no reason to expect Abbott to change his appointment. There is reason, though, to be wary of pension ideas coming from anyone affiliated with John Arnold.

Trying to save the fourth R in the school day


Remember when the four Rs were an essential part of every school day? Those were the long-ago days before school kids – and their teachers – were saddled with excessive standardized testing and excessive hand-wringing over how kids in Finland did better on test scores than we did.

Are you old enough to even remember the four Rs? They were, of course, reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic – and recess.

Public school students still are taught the first three Rs, although sometimes by different names. But the fourth R has become an endangered species in some schools, dropped from the school day for various reasons, including – you guessed it – to provide more time to prepare students for testing.

Now, we may be seeing an effort to revive the fourth R, at least in Dallas ISD, where trustee Dan Micciche is recommending a policy change to require recess for students in prekindergarten through fifth grade at least once a day in all the district’s elementary schools.

According to The Dallas Morning News, Micciche also said that physical education classes, which are structured, should not substitute for recess, where children are given an opportunity to take a break to play with friends and other classmates, or just relax.

“Numerous studies have discussed the importance of recess in improving social and emotional health and learning,” he said.

And, he could have added, relieving the stress of too many standardized tests.