Month: <span>January 2016</span>

Federal education chief downplays testing


It remains to be seen, of course, how John B. King Jr., the new acting U.S. Education Secretary, will perform compared to his predecessor, Arne Duncan. But, whether he likes it or not, he won’t be as test-happy, thanks to the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The new law, which replaced No Child Left Behind, encourages states and school districts to reduce the role of high-stakes testing and prohibits the education secretary from mandating that teachers be evaluated based on test scores.

King, who has been making something of a get-acquainted tour around the country, addressed testing and teacher evaluations at a recent teacher town hall meeting in Philadelphia. According to Education Week, he said the new federal law gives states and school districts a “fresh start” and a “much-needed do-over” on the issue of using student outcomes to evaluate educators.

Under No Child Left Behind and Arne Duncan, student outcomes included test scores, which also are part of a teacher evaluation model (T-TESS) proposed by the Texas Education Agency. But King pointed out that state tests don’t have to be part of an evaluation system, and he urged state policymakers to work with teachers to change appraisal systems that aren’t working.

“Teachers were not always adequately engaged by policymakers in the development of new systems,” King said.

ESSA gives educators an opportunity to change that. Now, it is up to educators to seize the challenge.




Good schools and a clean environment aren’t “socialism”


The Texas Tribune had a story this week about a family of West Texas billionaires who struck it rich in the oil and gas fracking boom and are investing large amounts of their fortune in legislative candidates and a political action committee that, if given the opportunity, would gut state government, beginning with public education.

The family, led by brothers Farris and Dan Wilks, also has contributed $15 million to a super PAC supporting the presidential race of Ted Cruz, who, if elected, would try to gut the federal government, eliminating a host of services millions of Americans actually need.

In a recent interview, Farris Wilks told a TV reporter why he was investing so heavily in political races.

“I fear that our nation is going in the direction of socialism, and so I think that maybe we’ve forgotten what has brought us to the place we are as a nation,” he said.


Here’s a guy who has made a fortune, partly by hard work and partly by a government that has promoted his business. State regulations encourage fracking and try to ignore some of the environmental issues that have been associated with it. Voters in the city of Denton approved a local ordinance trying to ban fracking rigs from towering over their backyards and spewing noxious fumes through their neighborhoods, but Gov. Abbott and the Legislature overturned it, much to the delight of people like Wilks.

Wilks has the government he wants but has the gall to cry, “Socialism.”

The risk of Texas and the United States becoming socialist is about as great as the probability that Farris Wilks will vote for Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat for president.

Wilks, of course, is free to support the political candidates of his choice, but socialism is a scare word, not an issue. What Wilks really fears is the Texas Legislature or the federal government clamping new environmental and public safety restrictions on his business. So, he is supporting political candidates who will keep giving him the government he wants, which is as little government as possible. Never mind the public service needs of school kids and the rest of Texas’ non-billionaires.

Wilks also is overlooking – or ignoring – the fact that education and all the innovation it has produced also are major factors in, as he put it, “what has brought us to the place we are as a nation.”

Some of the candidates he is supporting would turn back the calendar.




Don’t get excited about education’s Powerball share


Predictably, as anticipation built over the huge Powerball payout this week, there was this headline on at least one TV station’s website: “Texas Schools Win Big in Powerball Jackpot.”

But not really. Texas’ under-funded schools are grateful for every dollar they can get. But the only big winners from the Powerball were the people who picked the right numbers, not the schools.

Powerball and the Texas Lottery generate a lot of big figures. But here is some perspective. Last year, the Texas Lottery, which is a partner in the multistate Powerball, contributed $1.2 billion to Texas public education through the Foundation School program. And Powerball alone generated $70 million for the schools since November.

But as Texas Education Agency spokesperson Debbie Ratcliffe pointed out in an interview with KUT’s Texas Standard: “Our entire school system spends around $50 to $52 billion a year in all funds. So the lottery essentially covers one week of operating our 8,000-plus public schools.”

No, folks, not even a $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot can take the governor and the legislative majority off the hook for a lackluster school funding performance.

Judge blocks Nevada voucher program touted by Patrick


Nevada’s new system of private school vouchers that Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was touting last week has been blocked, at least temporarily, by a Nevada judge, who ruled that the scheme, which would drain tax dollars from public schools, violated the Nevada Constitution.

In remarks to the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin, Patrick said he would push during the 2017 legislative session for tax credit scholarships that would help public school students from all economic backgrounds – not just low-income kids — transfer to private or religious schools. He said the Legislature may want to copy Nevada’s “education savings accounts.”

Whatever your call them, scholarships or savings accounts, they are vouchers that would steal much-needed tax dollars from already under-funded public schools, where the vast majority of Texas students will continue to be educated.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, District Judge James Wilson of Carson City granted an injunction against the new law in a lawsuit brought by six parents who are challenging the program. He said the plaintiffs are likely to prevail at trial because the Nevada Constitution requires the Legislature to “set apart or assign money to be used to fund the operation of public schools, to the exclusion of all other purposes.”

The Texas Constitution is worded a little differently, but it also requires Texas legislators to fund a system of free public schools and says nothing about siphoning tax dollars to subsidize private school tuition.

Voucher proponents, nevertheless, will remain undeterred. The state of Nevada likely will appeal the district judge’s order to the Nevada Supreme Court and try to jump-start what is considered the most sweeping voucher law in the country. Students selected for the program would receive, on average, about $5,100 per year.

And, in Texas, Patrick, the self-proclaimed education “evangelist” and “expert” in his own mind, will continue to promote vouchers and a host of other unproven privatization schemes while squeezing the budgets of public schools.