Archives for category: Texas

Next year, students of Hispanic descent will be a majority in the public schools of Texas. Yet the voices of Latino parents, educators, and advocates are seldom heard in legislative hearings. Instead, it is usually business leaders calling the shots.

A new organization called the Latino Coalition for Educational Equality has emerged to express their views and to release the results of a survey.

What issues are at the top of their agenda: adequate funding and well-prepared teachers.

“School finance is, by far, the biggest priority the groups identified, and the report summary echoes a lot of what the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) has argued in its piece of the everlasting school finance lawsuit: that Texas’ school funding is based on what lawmakers want to spend, not what a quality education actually costs, and that cuts in school funding have meant scaling back bilingual education programs.

“Interestingly, the teachers surveyed here are all bilingual teachers—either working in school districts or enrolled in teacher prep programs—and they were far more concerned with teacher quality, school accountability and access to books than school funding. Lopez says that’s a reflection of their more direct interaction with classrooms. “School finance obviously is intertwined in every issue,” she says. “You can’t advocate for more materials and more appropriate materials or resources without it being a school finance issue.”

“Teachers and advocates also agreed, according to the report, that “increasing the number of well-prepared Latina/o teachers” should be a top priority—a finding that squares with research suggesting that Hispanic teachers tend to stay in high-needs schools longer, bringing stability to classrooms as well as a cultural relevancy that helps students relate to lessons.

“It’s also worth noting what’s not listed among the top priorities: charter school chains, vouchers and full-time online schools, which the report dismisses as “privatization experiment efforts” that siphon money away from the schools most kids attend. In other words, if you ask Latino teachers and activists—and not Sen. Dan Patrick—there are plenty of “civil rights issues of our time” more pressing than school choice.

“It’s not that teachers and advocates were opposed to charter schools or any particular group of reformers, Lopez says, just those “who come in who have no historical participation in a community, and see it as a potential market.”

Jeffrey Weiss and Matthew Haag report in the Dallas Morning News about a cheating scandal at one of Dallas’s top-rated schools:

“Umphrey Lee Elementary was recognized as one of the best schools in Dallas, based primarily on the students’ STAAR results. But Dallas ISD officials concluded that was a sham, a distinction propped up by teachers feeding students answers on most of the 2012-13 state assessment tests.
Five teachers and an instructional coach resigned while under investigation last October. And by the end of the school 2013-14 school year, the students’ STAAR results had plummeted, dropping the school from the state’s top rating to as low as they go.”

Campbell’s Law strikes again. When test scores are made the measure and the goal, they distort the very thing being measured and incentivize unethical behavior.

When will we ever learn?

The New York Times has an amazing story by Michael Powell on the first page of Sunday’s sports section. Football star Deion Sanders won approval from the Texas Board of Education to open a charter school called Prime Prep Academy (Sanders’ nickname is Prime Time.) In no time at all, Sanders built a powerhouse of a sports academy. The school has a top-ranked basketball team, whose games are broadcast on ESPN, and presumably a super football team. This is a training school for aspiring athletes.

But it is not much as a school. According to Powell, “a respected Texas nonprofit group” that ranks schools gave the lower grades of the school an F, but did not grade the high school due to missing data. Powell says that Prime Prep represents “celebrity culture run amok and shoddy oversight of a charter school.” Parents send their sons there in hopes they might become professional athletes. Powell tells stories of school officials who were threatened by Sanders. The executive director of the school twice fired him but was overruled by the board. She is now the former executive director.

The Texas Education Agency is threatening to revoke the charter because the school cannot prove it used lunch money for meals. But, says Powell, Sanders is a close friend of the state Commissioner of Education, so don’t count on sanctions.

The former executive director said to Powell, “The high school was chaos. Academics didn’t even play second fiddle. It was all about getting those athletes scholarships and contracts. You didn’t mess with Deion World.” Powell waded through Prime Prep’s application for a charter and found it chock-full of jargon. A member of the state board told Powell that the board was awed to be in Sanders’ presence and fawned on him. But “the curriculum design was nonexistent.”

You can understand the allure of enrolling in a charter school that might propel you into pro sports. The teams are really good. The academic side seems to be a shambles, certainly not a priority. Most of the students are unlikely to break into professional sports. What will happen to them?

Is this the kind of innovation that America needs to compete in the global economy?

Without explanation, Rocketship Charters withdrew its application to open 8 schools each in San Antonio and Dallas.

A group of wealthy philanthropists has put up a large fund to draw charter chains to San Antonio, with a goal of 80,000 students in charters by 2026.

Once a charter has opened in Texas, it can expand without going through the entire application process by merely submitting an amendment to their original application.

Rocketship will not be considered in this cycle.

There has been speculation that Rocketship is slowing its expansion while it retools its program, but officials said that the chain intended to focus on four regions: California, Milwaukee, Nashville, and D.C.

The chain is slowing plans not only in Texas, but in Memphis and New Orleans. It hopes to grow from 9 to 20 schools in the next few years.

Texas State Commissioner Michael Williams overrode the veto of the state board of education to bring Arizona-based Great Hearts Academy to Texas. The state board thought they could veto the commissioner’s choices. But, well, it didn’t work that way, especially after Great Hearts hired Governor Rick Perry’s former chief of staff as its lobbyist.

Williams was impressed by Great Hearts’ excellent test scores and frankly didn’t care that most of its charters are located in white, affluent neighborhoods, and that its schools did not enroll any English language learners. Williams said that no one should hold against them the fact that most of their students are white and not poor.

“Williams’ decision has been so contentious not only because of the procedural issues, but because education leaders question whether Great Hearts—a chain of 19 schools in the Phoenix area (as of this fall), all but one of them in the suburbs outside the city—can replicate its program for Texas students.

“Great Hearts advertises SAT scores hundreds of points above the national average, glowing college attendance rates and an “A” rating from the state for most of its schools. Williams told the board this morning that Great Hearts’ track record suggested they clearly fit the bill for a “high performing” network. But critics—like those who rallied to keep the chain from expanding into Nashville—say Great Hearts gets those results because its student body reflects the white, affluent neighborhoods where it opens. None of Great Hearts Arizona’s 7,617 students are classified as “English language learners,” according to the Arizona Department of Education, and just two of its schools have any students on free or reduced lunches—a common shorthand measure of student poverty.
Roberto Gutierrez, who leads Great Hearts’ nationwide growth efforts, said in a statement that they’re committed to serving a diverse student body in Texas. “Our first campus in central San Antonio is in a neighborhood that is more than 61% Hispanic/Latino,” Gutierrez wrote. Great Hearts’ school in that city is set to open this fall on two campuses in the Monte Vista neighborhood near Trinity University. “The Dallas and Irving neighborhoods we seek to serve are also diverse, urban communities full of parents and students who support these new public school offerings for excellence.” They’re still looking for a campus in Old East Dallas, Oak Cliff or downtown Dallas.

“Speaking to the board this morning, Williams allowed that in Arizona, “the bulk of [Great Hearts' students] are white and probably not poor.” But he said it’s wrong to hold that against them. “There is nothing in Texas law, and nothing in the public policy of this state, that says that one cannot have a charter, or an expansion amendment, that serves kids who are not poor and who are not minority. Quite frankly, I think the latter part would be against the law. … State law doesn’t say that you can only have charters for brown, poor and black kids.”

Great Hearts Charter chain, based in Arizona, was rejected by the Texas state board of education. State Commissioner Michael Williams–not an educator–overturned the state board’s veto. It is not clear that Williams, a Bush family favorite, has this power.

But Great Hearts has the right connections.

As this story in the Texas Observer explains,

“In early June—weeks before Williams reversed the board’s veto—Great Hearts hired Rick Perry’s former chief of staff Ray Sullivan to lobby for them in Texas. And late last year, according to the Tribune, board member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) said he’d been surprised to to get a call from the governor’s office wondering how he planned to vote on Great Hearts. In its expansion bids, the chain seems capable of calling in quite a bit of political firepower. Texas is no exception.

“In 2012, Republican leaders in Tennessee engaged in a nasty, drawn-out fight with Nashville’s school board. Although state leaders insisted the school be approved, the local board rejected Great Hearts’ bid to expand into the city, sticking to that decision even after the state withheld $3.4 million in transportation and utilities funding. In Nashville, as in Texas, critics had worried Great Hearts would locate in wealthy neighborhoods far from the city’s worst-off schools.

“And in Arizona, where the school began in 2004, Great Hearts expanded quickly under a board led by Jay Heiler, a well-connected operative in state politics and media who’s defended Senate Bill 1070—Arizona’s infamous immigration crackdown law—supported private school vouchers and agitated against proposals to boost public school funding. Heiler also did a stint on the board of the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix think tank similar to the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Goldwater advances conservative political causes at the state level and is backed by well-known corporations and the Koch brothers.”

It helps to know the right people, or to hire them.

A comment from a reader, Joyce Murdock Feilke, in Texas:

“As a mental health professional in Texas schools, I can relate to this teacher’s comment: “The students are beginning to “check out”.

“Dissociation is how children often cope with stress which they are developmentally unprepared to process. When it becomes chronic in their daily environment, it can lead to mental illness, since it impacts their social and emotional development.

“The age inappropriate focus on performance and data with age inappropriate material and methods related to high stakes testing, has created an authoritarian environment of fear, intimidation, and boredom for children in elementary schools. This performance based reward/punishment environment is the same punitive classical conditioning (behaviorism) that is used to “train” dogs and zoo animals.

“I have observed the increasing symptoms of emotional desensitization in children in Texas elementary schools and spoken up and written articles about it for the past two years . After a time in this environment, many children will begin to look more like prisoners of war than normal healthy children. They lose vitality, spontaneity, and the ability for imaginative play. They have difficulty with scientific thinking and using higher level thinking skills. They become obedient and submissive to authority, and function more robotic. The symptoms of traumatic stress: Regression, Dissociation, and Constriction, are similar in PTSD, BOS, and “Battered Child Syndrome”: In these children’s daily school environment, it is not “post” as after acute trauma, but it is “chronic”, and has high potential to cause permanent psychological damage in the form of personality disorders (mental illness).

“What many of us in Texas schools originally thought to be soaring rates of High Functioning Autism (HFA), which also has symptoms of regression, dissociation, and constriction, is now thought to be stress related rather than HFA. For young children who still have a developing brain, being forced to function in a chronic state of hyper vigilance and/or hypoarousal or hyperarousal, will become “hard wired” into the personality. It changes their brain chemistry. CCSS is creating Anxiety Disorders and Depression that many children will suffer for a lifetime.

“Few politicians or “reformers” have listened to the voices of mental health professionals or educators who are warning about the potential for psychological harm in this CCSS (and Texas STAAR) environment. After writing numerous professional articles and reports for state legislators, only to have them ignored, I wrote the same message in the rhyme of Dr Suess: Here is my warning about CCSS and Texas STAAR, which I will keep repeating until someone listens:

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Michael Williams, Texas State Commissioner, gave Great Hearts Academy permission to open another charter in Dallas even though the state board of education tuned it down. Williams is not an educator. He is a favorite of the Bush family who previously served as head of the Texas Railroad Commission, which “regulates” the oil and gas industry (not?).

Great Hearts is controversial because it has campuses that have little or no diversity, it does not provide transportation, and it charges substantial fees to parents. It was repeatedly rejected in Nashville for its lack of diversity plans.

In Arizona, the charter chain was criticized by the Arizona Republic for buying nearly $1 million in books from a board member.

“”I certainly think it flies in the face of legislative intent,” said Thomas Ratliff, a Republican SBOE member from Mount Pleasant, of Williams’ decision. “Republicans are critical of this president for doing executive orders around an elected Congress, and it looks like Michael Williams decided that playbook looks OK.”

“Critics have pointed to the disproportionately white and affluent student body of Great Hearts’ campuses in the Phoenix area as evidence that those practices keep low-income students out of the school. In Phoeniz, nearly 60 percent of public school students are Hispanic or black, 69 percent of the nearly 7,000 students are white. Only two of Great Hearts’ 16 Arizona campuses participate in a federal program that offers free and reduced-price meals for low-income students. That concern led the Nashville school district to deny Great Hearts’ charter application last year because of what one official described as “serious and persistent questions about their definitions of excellence, and reliance on selectivity and mission fit for success.”

A note from a reader in Texas, where Rocketship charter schools have big expansion plans:

Rocketship has re-applied for charters in Texas, 8 each in San Antonio and Dallas. Last cycle, in spite of support from San Antonio group, Choose to Succeed (along with the promise of million(s) in start-up funds), Rocketship failed to meet TEA external reviewers standards and was not eligible for consideration by the commissioner. It appears in order to promote the anointed California charter chain this year, Choose to Succeed offered the SBOE a donation for them to visit out of state charters which had applied to TEA.

However, questions were raised whether private funds should be raised for fact finding missions by a watchdog group as well as SBOE members and local superintendents expressed alarm at the proposal.

The SBOE may consider a policy on accepting donations at their mid-July meeting. Interviews of charter applicants will take place 7/21-23 in Austin.

Rocketship has had some bumpy times since the resignation of its co-founder, John Danner.

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And a scathing report on its Milwaukee expansion.

Even Nashville, where its school has not yet opened reported its academic shortcomings and a change in its development model in an investigative series reviewed by Diane Ravitch.

Just this month, former USA Today reporter and editorial writer, Richard Whitmire, released his book, “On the Rocketship: How Top Charter Schools are Pushing the Envelope,” which was subject of a webinar 6/26 at the Fordham Institute which is quite favorable to the charter chain.

The 860 page (!) Rocketship pending application can be viewed at:

Texas journalist Jason Stanford says it is time to recognize one of the heroes of the Education Spring: former Texas Commissioner Robert Scott, who bluntly said that high-stakes testing had grown too powerful and who warned that Common Core was intended to create a national curriculum and testing system. He came under a lot of criticism at the time and had to step down, but he has been proven right. The movement against high-stakes testing continues to escalate, and the number of states dropping out of Common Core seems likely to increase.

“Scott announced his resignation as Texas Education Commissioner in May 2012, but his public career effectively ended that January when he said that standardized testing had become a “perversion of its original intent.” Testing was wagging the dog, and Scott placed the blame on testing companies and lobbyists that have “become not only a cottage industry but a military-industrial complex.”

“You’ve reached a point now of having this one thing that the entire system is dependent upon. It is the heart of the vampire, so to speak,” said Scott, who stood by his remarks even as others failed to do the same for him.”

Texas was the heart of the testing movement, and a vast majority of local school boards passed resolutions opposing the misuse of testing. Even the Legislature took a stand against high-stakes testing. Much of that momentum can be credited to Robert Scott, who had the courage to speak out when it was unpopular. He is a hero of American education.


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