Kids take STAAR; Senate bleeds schools


It was coincidental, I guess, that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick rammed his education-squeezing version of a state budget through the Senate on the same day that Texas school kids began taking the stress-producing, money-wasting STAAR exams. Whatever the eventual STAAR outcomes, the children and their teachers will end up doing their jobs a lot better than Patrick and most of the senators did theirs.

The Senate budget is shameful. At Patrick’s behest, the Senate essentially took an extra $1.8 billion from local property taxpayers and did little more to address the needs of under-funded school districts that are growing, collectively, by 80,000 to 85,000 new students every school year. Senators left about $12 billion of taxpayer money sitting unspent in the Rainy Day Fund, because Patrick would rather brag about being tight-fisted than increase resources to improve educational  opportunities for 5.3 million school children – or improve health care or other public services.

The next chapter in Patrick’s attack on public education will be Senate action on his pet bill to drain more funding from public schools for private school vouchers.

Fortunately, the next step in the budget process is the House, where the leadership actually wants to govern and believes the emergency facing public schools requires tapping into the Rainy Day Fund. The final version of the budget will be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee, either later this spring or in a special legislative session in the summer.

Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, the official sponsor of Patrick’s budget, noted during the budget debate that the “most important function of this Legislature…is to educate our children.”

But does she really believe that? You couldn’t prove it by her budget.

Nelson also criticized previous legislative sessions for putting “band-aid after band-aid after band-aid” on the school finance system without doing much to improve it. She was mostly correct about the band-aids, but at least her predecessors were putting the band-aids on. She and Patrick are removing the band-aids, and schools are bleeding.

Michigan takes steps to junk A-F grades for schools


While educators continue pushing back against the A-F grading system for public schools in Texas, top education officials in Michigan are moving to drop plans to impose an A-F grading system there. One reason is fear it would increase the stakes of standardized testing and promote more teaching to the test.

Sound familiar?

Leading the attack against A-F in Michigan are State Board of Education member Tom McMillin and State Education Superintendent Brian Whiston. Whiston had intended to develop an A-F grading system but, unless overridden by the Michigan Legislature, now intends to issue “dashboard” style scorecards that instead of letter grades will include data on graduation rates and other factors in addition to student test scores. The Michigan State Board of Education unanimously opposes A-F.

“A to F just increases the high-stakes nature of the one (standardized) exam, and it’s more teaching to the test,” said McMillin. According to the Associated Press, he said A-F would do “more damage than good” and would force schools to deemphasize creativity classes such as music and art.

Educators applauded the decision against A-F in Michigan, but it was criticized by at least one charter school advocate.

Unlike in Michigan, any repeal of the A-F system in Texas will have to come from the Legislature, which enacted the system in 2015. Unless changed or repealed, it is to go into effect next fall.

TSTA and other public education advocates oppose assigning letter grades to schools because they would primarily stigmatize children from low-income neighborhoods while doing absolutely nothing to improve their educations. And letter grades would increase the high-stakes pressure of the STAAR tests on educators and students because, as the Texas law is currently written, most of the A-F grading will be based on test scores.

During a dry run test of the A-F system earlier this year, schools in low-income neighborhoods received a disproportionate number of “F” scores.

Both House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty and Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor have filed legislation to revise Texas’ A-F law, reportedly to meet educators’ concerns by reducing the impact of test scores. TSTA will be following their legislation closely.



Dan Patrick doubles down on STAAR testing, A-F


Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is consistent – consistently wrong on education policy and consistently refusing to admit it. Yesterday, he doubled down on his support for STAAR testing when, in an interview with the Texas Tribune, he reaffirmed his support for the new A-F grading system for public schools.

Because campus grades largely will be determined by STAAR scores, this will increase STAAR stress even more for kids, beginning with third-graders, a serious concern for parents and educators to whom Patrick remains oblivious.

School board members, superintendents, principals, teachers, parents and other people who actually know something about education are united in their opposition to the letter grading system because they know it will do absolutely nothing to improve public schools.

Instead, it simply will stigmatize low-income children, who likely will be tagged with the most Ds and Fs, if we can’t persuade the Legislature to repeal the law before it goes into effect next fall. Texas’ entire public education system is under-funded, but low-income and special-needs children are particularly ill-served by Patrick and a legislative majority that would rather punish and label kids as failures than own up to their own failure to adequately and fairly fund all the public schools.

“Anyone who thinks in the education community that…that system is going away – not going away,” Patrick said in his Tribune interview.

Fortunately, the legislative process is still a democracy, and Patrick doesn’t have to have the final say. Had it up to here with STAAR? Then tell you own legislators. Here is how to find your individual state senators and state representatives and how to contact them. Click on this link and fill in your home address:




Time for educators to fight back


Elections have consequences, folks, and beginning this week Texas educators are going to get a preview of what some of these consequences may be for their jobs, their students and their students’ families. And you are not going to like what you see coming from either Austin or Washington.

So, it is time to start pushing back.

The new session of the Texas Legislature convened today in Austin, where public education, educators and students remain under attack. Even though schools are woefully under-funded, the legislative majority, egged on by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, will consider spending as much as $3 billion of local school tax revenue for other state programs and stealing from what’s left of the public education budget for private school vouchers.

Your state legislators need to hear from you – early and often:

# Demand that they reject vouchers and other privatization schemes, including education savings accounts.

# Demand that they spend your local school tax dollars on what you paid them for – education.

# Demand that they dip into the state’s Rainy Day Fund to increase school funding. This savings account is for emergencies, and school funding is an emergency. The fund was not approved by Texas voters to be hoarded by ideologically driven state leaders who are intent on reducing government, beginning with education. The Rainy Day Fund’s balance is approaching $12 billion, a definite bright spot in an economy and revenue stream recovering from the recent plunge in oil prices.

# Demand that your legislators abolish or significantly cut back on the STAAR testing regime, which continues to unnecessarily stress our children and rob them of valuable learning time.

# Demand that they repeal the A-F school grading system, which will put more stress on STAAR testing and do absolutely nothing to improve public education.

As the session unfolds, TSTA will alert you to more issues as well as developments in these. To learn who your state representative and state senator are and how to contact them, click on this link and enter your home address. Then contact them:


Meanwhile, any educator who took a gamble on Donald Trump for president rolled the dice for an all-out attack from Washington on public schools, and the person who will lead the charge is Trump’s choice for education secretary, Betsy DeVos. A billionaire member of the Amway family, DeVos has no experience in public education (not even as a student) and knows nothing about it, but she has been spending a lot of time and money trying to dismantle and privatize it.

In her home state of Michigan, DeVos fought to undermine public schools with tax cuts for the wealthy. She also advocated for vouchers to divert tax dollars from public education so private schools and for-profit charters could profit off taxpayers with little or no accountability. Now, DeVos and Trump want to wage their campaign across the nation.

DeVos’ Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for next week. If she wins committee approval, the full Senate is expected to vote on her confirmation within a few weeks. Tell Texas’ two U.S. senators – John Cornyn and Ted Cruz — that you oppose DeVos’ confirmation and why.



It will take time for election consequences to play out, so educators still have opportunities to make a difference – but only if we speak up and demand that lawmakers listen.