Month: <span>December 2016</span>

STAAR testing is about to get worse for kids


Parents who have reached the breaking point over the state’s abusive, counterproductive STAAR testing regime had better brace themselves. The legislative majority has found a way to make the STAAR test even more stressful for their kids.

Beginning with the next school year (2017-18), the state’s school accountability system will be changed to assign campuses an A-through-F letter grade, with STAAR test scores being a major factor in determining what letter a school gets.

The legislative majority enacted this law during the 2015 legislative session. It was a transparent effort to heap more blame on students and educators for struggling schools that the same legislators have refused to adequately and fairly fund. These lawmakers would rather blame third-graders for failure than own up to their own responsbilities.

You may recall that while they were shortchanging the school kids, they were enacting a significant cut in business taxes, an important source of education revenue.

Teachers, superintendents, school board members and other educators are fighting back against the new grading system because we recognize it for what it is – an effort to stigmatize kids and their educators, not improve their schools.

Unless the law is repealed or changed, most of the schools getting Fs likely will be in low-income districts and neighborhoods where students fare worse on STAAR scores. Slapping Fs on their schools will do nothing to change that. If members of the legislative majority really want to help these children, they would draft an adequate and fair school funding system, giving all kids reasonable class sizes, upgraded equipment and instructional materials and other resources important to classroom success.

Instead, the state now funds only about 43 percent of the Foundation School Program, while local taxpayers make up the rest, with much of the property tax money raised locally being spent on other school districts and on non-educational programs that help the legislature balance the state budget.

Many low-income children who are struggling in school or dropping out also suffer from inadequate health care and nutrition, issues that make it difficult for them to learn and needs that historically have been under-funded in Texas.

A self-styled education “reform” group, some of whose leaders were early champions of the STAAR testing insanity, recently issued a statement accusing superintendents who have been pushing back against the A-F system of “choosing fear over progress.”

Educators are all for progress. They have devoted their careers to it. But these superintendents and their teachers fear – with justification – that the new grading system will do nothing to promote that progress for their students. If anything, it will be counterproductive, much as most education “reformers” are.



Want to save public education? Prepare to fight


You may have seen the YouTube video loop making the rounds of Rick Perry, in a pink vest, mouth wide open, arms pumping, putting the goober in goober-natorial. The video from one of Perry’s appearances on Dancing with the Stars may be an appropriate depiction – it’s energetic — of the next Secretary of Energy.

Had his flirtation with dancing stardom lasted much longer, Perry could have generated enough wind power on his own to launch a small sailboat, maybe, or at least ruffle his new boss’ hair.

Seeking a tiny ray of hope on the eve of what will be a very challenging political year for educators (any many other people), we could be grateful that President-elect Trump chose Perry for Energy and not the Department of Education. As governor, Perry promoted the biggest cut in public education funding in Texas history.

But then we remember who Trump did choose for Education, the billionaire, right-wing privateer Betsy DeVos.

Perry once vowed to eliminate the Department of Education, as well as the Departments of Energy and Commerce, although he had trouble remembering all three. But while Perry wanted to destroy the federal education bureaucracy, DeVos seems more intent on destroying public education, period, and in Texas she will be aided and abetted by the likes of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and, maybe to a lesser degree, Gov. Greg Abbott.

The next round to save public education in Texas as we know it will begin Jan. 10, when the Legislature convenes in Austin, followed very quickly by the Trump and DeVos takeover in Washington.

Rest up over the holidays and recharge your energy level. You are going to need it in the New Year, but not for dancing. For fighting.


Gov. Abbott clueless on special ed needs


Parents of special education children who have been denied needed services in public schools may be hoping that Gov. Greg Abbott will lead the way to a solution. They better think again.

Abbott finally made some public comments on the state’s illegal cap on special education services – three months after news of it broke – and gave every indication of being utterly clueless about what to do about it.

Instead of vowing to address the crux of the problem by boosting state funding for under-funded special education programs and public schools in general, the governor announced plans to squeeze even more money out of school kids, including those in special education.

First, he proposed further cuts in the business franchise tax, an important source of revenue for education and other state services. He promoted and signed a significant reduction in that same tax two years ago, assuring that schools would remain under-funded and special education services would be limited. But Abbott’s short-sightedness about addressing crucial state needs apparently is unlimited.

And, topping that off, the governor suggested that diverting existing school funds to private school vouchers also could help special education families. As the Houston Chronicle, which reported the governor’s comments, noted, “it was not clear how such a program would work or how it would address the problems” caused by the Texas Education Agency’s 12-year-old cap on special education enrollments.

It wasn’t clear how it would work because it wouldn’t work.

Vouchers wouldn’t come close to meeting the costs of special education services in private schools, meaning that the vast majority of special education students would remain in public schools, whose special education programs would be further undermined by the diversion of tax dollars.

Also, there are no guarantees that the state would hold private schools accountable for their state funds or prohibit them from arbitrarily cherry-picking among students.

Anybody who wants the governor to take the lead in realistically addressing the needs of Texas’ special education children – beginning with more funding for public school programs – had been start contacting his office because, so far, he doesn’t seem to get it.

Here’s his contact information:






Neglected special ed kids are the victims of elections


Elections can have devastating consequences, and I am not talking about Donald Trump. I am talking about the tens of thousands of Texas children who have not been getting the special education services to which they are legally entitled and the people responsible for their neglect.

The fault does not lie with teachers, principals or school superintendents, and it only partially rests with the Texas Education Agency, which arbitrarily imposed an artificially low cap on special education enrollments 12 years ago and then tried to deny it after news of the outrageous act hit the fan.

The ultimate blame rests with Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, former Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority that for years now has been deliberately under-funding Texas’ public schools. TEA imposed the “de facto” special education cap in 2004, the year after Perry and the legislative majority made deep budgetary cuts to avoid raising state taxes and then ignored the consequences suffered by real people, including vulnerable special education kids, who have to rely on public services.

The same political mindset was in charge in 2011, when even deeper budget cuts, including $5.4 billion to public education alone, were imposed. While the legislative majority bragged about holding the line on taxes, disabled children and their parents, foster children and a host of other vulnerable Texans continued to suffer – out of sight and out of mind, as far as the budget-cutters were concerned.

Now, thousands of special education parents are outraged, while Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick and many of their colleagues in the legislative majority continue to resist calls for adequate school funding, even as they continue to win elections. Patrick claims vouchers are the answer, but they are not. Most private schools won’t accept students with significant special needs, and those that do charge tuition much higher than a voucher would cover.

State government is spending less to educate each public school student than it did 10 years ago, and on average is spending $2,700 less on each student than the national average.

The hundreds of special education parents who have been venting their anger at public hearings with state and federal bureaucrats this week have taken an important first step. Now, they need to take that anger where it really belongs — to the state Capitol — and direct it at the elected officials who ultimately are responsible for the neglect their children have been suffering.

Elections have consequences for real people, and so do budget cuts. Real people have to demand the help their children need, and they need to demand it from the elected officials who can do something about it but have been refusing to do so.