Jimmie Don Aycock

Students need real help, not labels


The A-F grading system for individual schools, which the Texas House has now joined the Senate in approving, will stigmatize students – mostly low-income children – while doing nothing to improve performance.

It also will make it easier to label schools as “failures,” clearing the way for takeover by corporate-run charters and generating profits (with our tax dollars) for landlords and charter management companies.

As The Dallas Morning News reported, data presented to legislators have indicated that, on average, the state’s lowest performing schools have enrollments that are 86 percent economically disadvantaged. That means their students are primarily low-income and/or of limited English-speaking ability, and they are the schools most likely to be marked with “Ds” or “Fs.”

Research indicates that poverty has a significant impact on educational achievement. Poor children can succeed, but this rating system would serve only to punish poverty-stricken students – and do nothing to provide them greater opportunity.  The A-F system only serves the interests of education privateers, not the children who need the most help.

“Why should we place the blame on the kids?” asked Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, in debating unsuccessfully against the A-F proposal.

Why, indeed.

The House and the Senate have passed different versions of the A-F rating requirement. So more votes will be necessary before the legislation goes to the governor, but House approval increased the likelihood that the proposal will become law.

The House version is part of a broader bill by Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock that would create a fairer accountability system for public schools. Aycock’s accountability system would reduce the role that standardized tests play in measuring school performance and include other factors – such as graduation percentages, attendance, dropout rates and parental engagement – as well.

Aycock is to be commended for his attempt to improve the overall accountability system, and adding the A-F grading system could improve the bill’s chances in the Senate. But, at least at the outset, low-income schools would get the worse marks, and A-F grading systems have been unsuccessful in improving campus performances in other states where they have been tried.

Disadvantaged children don’t need “Ds” and “Fs” or corporate takeovers of their neighborhood schools. They need more help and support from their local communities, which is why TSTA is supporting separate legislation to encourage use of the Community Schools model, which has been effective in Texas and a number of other states in turning around struggling schools.

This approach, which also is advancing in the House, would enable teachers, parents, local businesses and non-profits to work together to provide students and their families all the resources necessary for classroom success. Success requires hard work, not labels.




“Best” legislators were education supporters


You may or may not agree with all the choices on Texas Monthly’s just-released list of Ten Best and Ten Worst Legislators, but I think Paul Burka and his crew were dead-on accurate in drawing a huge distinction between the lead lawmakers on public education.

House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock made the “best” list, and Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick was rated among the “worst.” Amen.

Although the magazine hasn’t published the reasons for its evaluations yet, the major differences between the two during the recent regular legislative session are easy to document.

Aycock, a Republican from Killeen, was the primary sponsor of House Bill 5, the new law overhauling high school graduation requirements and reducing the insanity of high-stakes standardized testing. It reduces end-of-course exams for high school students from 15 to five.

Aycock also voted for the new state budget bills restoring almost $4 billion of the $5.4 billion cut from public school budgets two years ago, and he attempted to slow the greedy drive toward school privatization. He let it be known early on that there was little stomach in the House for private school vouchers, and he tried – although with limited success – to slow down the expansion of privately operated charter schools.

Aycock listened to the concerns of educators — the real education experts — not just to ambitious school profiteers disguised as self-styled “reformers.”

On the other side of the Capitol, though, Senate Education Chairman Patrick operated in a different world. The Republican from Houston called himself an “educational evangelist.” In truth, he was a privatization huckster.

His top priority was siphoning tax dollars from public schools – where most students get their educations — for vouchers, which would have benefited a handful of kids while enriching private school owners at taxpayer expense.

Unable to get any traction for that bad idea, Patrick focused his attention – with some success — on expanding charter schools. Charters, on average, don’t perform as well as traditional neighborhood schools in state ratings, but Patrick’s success in winning enactment of his Senate Bill 2 will allow more private operators of charters to dip into the state treasury.

And, adding insult to injury for public school students and employees, Patrick voted against the state budget that restored much of the education funding he voted to cut two years ago.

I find it interesting that other members of the “Ten Best” list include Speaker Joe Straus, who made education funding a priority at the beginning of the session, and Rep. Jim Pitts of Waxahachie and Sen. Tommy Williams of The Woodlands, the two budget-writing chairmen.

Receiving a special “Bull of the Brazos” award was Rep. Sylvester of Houston, a champion of public schools and education funding.

Eight on the “Ten Best” list were supported by TSTA during last year’s elections. They were Aycock, Pitts, Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, Sen. Robert Duncan of Lubbock, Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen, Rep. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth and Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio.

To see both lists, click on this link: