Month: <span>May 2016</span>

Elections have consequences for education


Elections have consequences, and if we don’t keep reminding ourselves of this fact, someone else will – sometimes not very pleasantly.

On a postive note, the defeat of Mary Lou Bruner in the Republican runoff for the District 9 seat on the State Board of Education will have the kind of consequences most of us like. Ms. Bruner will have to confine her outrageous, ill-informed prejudices to Facebook and won’t have the chance to insert them into Texas’ public school curriculum and textbooks.

Educators played a significant role in defeating Mary Lou and giving the Republican nomination to TSTA-backed candidate Keven Ellis, the Lufkin ISD board president.

Because of their large numbers – there are more than 600,000 public school employees in Texas – educators and their families play important roles in elections. And, from the perspective of what’s in the best interest of their profession, they sometimes make the right choice, as in the case of Ellis, and sometimes they don’t.

Many educators were angered by Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent suggestion that spending more on education may be a “waste” of money. Many are angered by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s persistent attempts to privatize public education. And many have expressed outrage over the unanimous ruling by the Texas Supreme Court that it is OK for Abbott, Patrick and the legislative majority to continue to under-fund public schools.

Yet, only two years ago, many educators voted to elect Abbott, Patrick and four of the Supreme Court justices who issued the school finance ruling. Each won with 58 percent or more of the general election vote, and candidates don’t win that large a margin without the votes of many teachers, superintendents, other school employees and school board members.

Moreover, educators who choose to vote a straight Republican ticket this fall will vote to re-elect three more of the Supreme Court justices who opted to let the legislative majority continue to shortchange schools, students and educators’ jobs.

TSTA endorses candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, based on their stands on one issue and one issue alone – public education.

Individual educators, of course, have the right to vote for whomever they want, and I respect that right. As do most people, educators base their votes on a variety of issues that are important to them personally. But they may not always be in the best interest of their profession — or their students.

And the consequences keep piling up.



Governor doesn’t want to “waste” more money on education


Far from being a champion for more education funding, Gov. Greg Abbott has made remarks suggesting he thinks Texas and other states are “wasting money” on educators and school kids.

On a stop in Midland to promote his new book, the governor again defended the Texas Supreme Court decision that upheld Texas’ inadequate and unfair school finance system. And, according to the Midland Reporter-Telegram, he indicated he will not make improvements in education funding a priority during next year’s legislative session. Quite the contrary.

Despite new National Education Association rankings that show Texas spends about $2,700 less than the national average in per student funding, Abbott implied that spending more would “waste more money.”

Without offering any evidence, he said: “We have found from the states that spend more money – that waste more money – that they have a far inferior product. Money is not always the answer. You have to be smart. The focus is on educating children, not writing checks.”

What’s so “smart” about educating children in overcrowded classrooms, with outdated instructional materials and outdated technology? What’s so “smart” about over-testing and under-funding? What’s so “smart” about treating students like widgets?

Get your head out of the sand, governor.

“Transformational education reform” gave us STAAR


Anytime anyone uses the words, “transformational” or “reform” in reference to education, beware. Be extra careful if both words are used, and if the word-dropper is someone like Rod Paige, duck and cover.

Some of you may not remember Rod Paige, but surely you know his legacy. It’s the standardized testing plague now known in Texas as STAAR. As U.S. Secretary of Education, Paige helped then-President George W. Bush concoct and market that mind-numbing Kool Aid that has done about as much to poison educational progress in Texas as the legislative majority’s budget cuts.

The testing regime, a requirement of the since-repealed No Child Left Behind Act and spread throughout the country under the false guise of education “reform,” has wasted countless days of valuable classroom instruction time and dulled the joy of learning for countless school children subjected to endless test preparation drills and worksheets.

The same Rod Paige’s name popped up this week on an oped, published in the Austin American-Statesman, calling for “transformational, top-to-bottom reforms” for school funding in Texas. The article, mercifully, didn’t propose more testing, but it didn’t call for an end to it either.

No, this time, Paige – with co-author David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association – was talking about school finance, but only in a very limited sense that was not what most people would consider “transformational.” Instead of calling on the Legislature to raise funding overall for a woefully underfunded public education system, they mainly focused on seeking increased state funding for charter schools.

Public charter schools, they said, receive on average $1,000 less per student than traditional public schools and now serve more than 227,000 students.

Lost in the discussion, however, is the fact that charter schools on average do not perform any better or worse than traditional public schools, and they are a minor part of Texas’ school funding problem. (Besides, the disparity in state funding hasn’t stopped private, for-profit charter school operators from popping up all across Texas, eager to get their hands on school tax dollars.)

Charter students represent only a small percentage of Texas’ 5.2 million public school enrollment, and per-student funding for that total enrollment averages about $2,700 less than the national average, with many school districts spending even less than that.

First things first. Even though the Texas Supreme Court – in an opinion full of $100 words and empty political rhetoric – has washed its hands of school funding, the Legislature must do what’s right for all the school children of Texas, not just charter students. During next year’s session, lawmakers need to begin work on an adequate and fair funding plan and drastically reduce or eliminate STAAR testing. It’s time to invest, not test, to replace the Kool Aid with resources that all school children and educators really need.





Trump just gave us a Texas reason to vote against him


We really don’t need any more reasons to vote against Donald Trump. Our cup already runneth over. But here’s another one anyway. Trump announced today that, if elected president, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett will be on his short list for potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees. Yikes!

Willett is the justice who wrote last week’s Texas Supreme Court decision that Texas’ bad school finance system was constitutional, taking the legislative majority off the hook to do the right thing for Texas school children. It was a lot of political hand-washing that will leave Texas schools under-funded.

Imagine what kind of damage Willett could do on the big Supreme Court. Maybe not as much damage as Trump would inflict on the country from the White House, but I think you get the idea.