Month: <span>May 2016</span>

School kids need more than wishful thinking


Just for fun, let’s pretend we are members of the Texas Supreme Court and indulge in a little wishful thinking. Let’s close our eyes for a minute and hope that Dan Patrick resigns as lieutenant governor to begin a new career as a school custodian.

I am imagining a more useful, productive job for Dan, a job that actually would provide some public benefit from his fascination with bathrooms, and give the rest of us some relief from half-baked education “reform” ideas.

But we shouldn’t impose Dan on the kids, folks, not even in our dreams, and it’s not going to happen anyway. Patrick isn’t going to resign simply because we may wish it any sooner than the legislative majority is going to address problems with Texas’ school finance system simply because the Supreme Court said it hoped the Legislature would do that.

We may never know if Supreme Court justices were as concerned about the state of public education in Texas as they suggested in their published opinions or were simply using their words to shield an ideology, but what matters is they took the governor and the legislative majority off the legal hook for any kind of funding improvements.

The nine justices unanimously agreed that the school finance system, despite serious problems, met “minimum constitutional requirements.”

“I, for one, remain hopeful that more progress is yet to come,” Justice Eva Guzman added in one of the concurring opinions. But, from an enforceable legal standpoint, she may as well have been wishing for a visit from the Tooth Fairy.

The fight over school funding has left the legal arena and will continue to have to be fought in the political arena – the Legislature, the governor’s office and the court of public opinion.

TSTA and other public education advocates will continue to fight that fight, but it will be difficult. For the past 30 years, all the significant improvements that the Legislature has made in school funding have been prompted by court orders. And the initial reaction to the court’s decision from some state leaders wasn’t encouraging.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who as attorney general initiated the state’s school finance appeal to the Supreme Court, wrongly called the ruling a “victory for Texas taxpayers,” including local property taxpayers who are still on the hook to compensate for the state’s funding deficiencies. And Lt. Gov. Patrick will renew his efforts to peddle private school vouchers and other unproven schemes that would take more funding from public schools rather than increase it.

House Speaker Joe Straus applauded the Supreme Court decision, but he also signaled interest in looking beyond it.

“It’s important to remember the court also said there is ample room for improvement,” Straus said. “The Texas House will continue working to deliver value for taxpayers and provide an outstanding education for our students.”

We shall see.





Education commissioner doesn’t think STAAR is a problem

State Education Commissioner Mike Morath may have been embarrassed by the well-publicized glitches in the administration of many STAAR tests this spring, but he apparently still likes the wasteful testing regime.

In an interview with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith this morning, Morath claimed the STAAR tests weren’t “overly burdensome” for students because they required only two or three days of testing at the end of the school year.

He didn’t acknowledge, however, the many other days of benchmark testing and other test preparations that take big chunks of time away from real learning opportunities for elementary and middle-school students.

It is difficult to believe that the commissioner is so shielded from the realities of these classrooms that he actually doesn’t realize how much time is being wasted on teaching to the test and how the STAAR stress being placed on school kids is destroying their ability to enjoy learning.

Has he actually taken the time to sit down with some real classroom teachers and real parents? If so, he would get an education into the real world of STAAR testing.

Instead, Morath wants to increase the stress level even more – for students and educators alike – by tying test scores to teacher evaluations. That issue, over which TSTA has sued the commissioner, didn’t come up during this morning’s interview.

But clearly the commissioner loves test scores. He repeatedly said he wanted to improve student “outcomes.” I assume he means more than STAAR scores, but time will tell.




Another attempt to rewrite Texas history


Cynthia Dunbar did the school children of Texas a huge favor when she voluntarily retired from the State Board of Education several years ago. But she hasn’t retired her viewpoint that the only aspects of Texas and American history worth recording were coated in white – skin color, not snow.

She also had a fundamentalist, theocratic view of government, but that’s another issue.

Now, as misfortune would have it, Dunbar is back as a contributor to the first and only, so far, textbook on Mexican American history submitted for State Board of Education approval this year. And, to no great surprise, it mostly ignores Mexican American contributions to Texas’ history and distorts what it does present.

It’s a disservice to all of Texas’ school children and a slap in the face to an ethnic group that is a majority of Texas’ public school enrollment and rapidly becoming a majority of the state’s population.

My thanks to Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network and Patrick Michels of the Texas Observer for raising flags. Michels’ story is linked below. Fortunately, school districts can select different books if they choose to schedule a Mexican American studies elective, and some publishers may provide them, bypassing the State Board of Education.

“What’s most notable about the text, on first glance, is how little attention is given to the history of Mexican-American people,” Michels writes. A passage on Latin American literature, for example, features well-known writers from Colombia, Chile and Brazil.

In one passage of the book, the authors write, “Chicanos, on the other hand, adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society.”

Bunk. Almost sounds as if Donald Trump were a ghost-writer.

Chicanos have spent much of their history in Texas demanding fair working conditions, livable wages and the right to vote. In fact, they still are fighting for the right to vote in the wake of the legislative majority’s enactment of a voter identification law that was designed specifically to prohibit low-income Hispanics and African Americans from voting.

As the Texas Observer points out, this book probably isn’t what State Board of Education Member Ruben Cortez and other supporters had in mind when they won approval of a Mexican American studies elective.

But it is exactly what you would expect from people who continue to deny Texas’ history and jeopardize its future.




Dan Patrick: schoolyard bully


My recollection is that Texas voters in 2014 elected Dan Patrick lieutenant governor, not bully-in-chief. But the super-charged ideologue with an ego to match can’t help himself.

A couple of weeks ago Patrick was publicly bullying a county judge who wanted to temporarily raise property taxes to keep his community safe. Now, this week, he tried to bully a school superintendent for adopting a restroom policy to accommodate the preferences of transgender children.

I applaud the superintendent, Kent Scribner of Fort Worth ISD, for refusing to back down in the face of the lieutenant governor’s demogoguery and politically driven hysteria. Patrick claims such transgender accommodations endanger public safety. They don’t.

The school children of Texas have nothing to fear from their transgender classmates. But all school children and their parents do have something to fear from Texas’ biggest schoolyard bully, Dan Patrick. He picks on kids as well as adults, and not just on transgender kids.

Here is a sample of what the schoolyard bully has done, and it amounts to a lot more than strong-arming a classmate’s lunch money. We are talking about strong-arming a generation’s future:

# Patrick’s vote in 2011 to cut $5.4 billion from school budgets forced thousands of kids into overcrowded classrooms, laid off some of their best teachers and put who knows how many children behind the learning curve.

# His vote in 2013 against the entire state budget — against all funds for education, health care, transportation, public safety and everything else state government pays for — would have worsened the plight of millions of children, had not Patrick’s more-responsible colleagues in Austin voted for the necessary spending.

# He continues to short-change school children while demanding that the same kids, including eight-year-olds in the third grade, stress out over STAAR testing.

# To make it even worse for these same kids, the bully will continue to try to take money they need for teachers, books and computers and give it to private schools.

# Thousands of children are coming to school sick – or not coming to school at all – because Patrick and his accomplices in the legislative majority insist on under-funding health care for low-income kids, who account for 60 percent of Texas’ public school enrollment.

Now, the bully is trying to barge into school bathrooms – figuratively anyway, but nevertheless in a very obnoxious way.