Archives for category: Texas

Brian T. Woods, a district superintendent in Texas, wrote an article exposing the myth of charter schools’ waiting lists.

Charters claim they must expand because 100,000 students are on waiting lists. Woods says that recent hearings before the state senate education committee demonstrated the falsity of that claim, based on data presented by the Texas Education Agency.

Some charters have waiting lusts, but most don’t. Charters actually have at least 108,000 vacant seats in the state. There are 250,000 charter students in the state, which is 5% of public school enrollment. About 30% of charter seats are empty. Why open more charters?

Woods also pointed out:

“The other revelation was a new study on the funding of charter schools versus that of independent school districts. A well-respected educational consulting group released a report examining the various funding structures. Among its findings, according to a Texas Association of School Boards report, if ISDs of all sizes were funded like charters, total state support would increase by more than $4.7 billion.

“That $4.7 billion would equate to about $940 per public school student per year, or more than $20,000 per elementary classroom. What a dramatic difference that could make to Texas public schools.

“The playing field is built to give an advantage to charter schools. This is what we mean when we say funding for charter schools draws resources from independent school districts.”

Despite the advantages of charters, public schools usually outperform the charters.

By the way, if you open the link, you will see a picture of charter children demonstrating for more charters and more money. Using children and staff as foot soldiers at political rallies is now common practice for the charter lobby. Public schools are not allowed to use students as props.

You may also notice that all the children attend a Harmony charter. These are Gulen schools, run by associates of a Turkish Muslim imam who lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania, yet controls a political movement in Turkey. It is odd to have a large charter chain controlled by foreign nationals and taking the place of community public schools.

When I visited Texas not long ago, I met legislators who had received all-expense paid trips to Turkey, at the invitation of the Gulen schools.

Joe Straus is speaker of the House in the Texas legislature. He is a moderate Republican from San Antonio. He is a friend of public schools. He happens to be Jewish.


Now his Tea Party opponent is challenging him because he doesn’t represent “Christian values” or even “Judaeo-Christian values.”


This is plain, old-fashioned bigotry.


Jeff Judson, a local tea party activist challenging Straus’ re-election, is sounding the same dog whistle himself, warning voters of “the disconnect between conservative, Christian voters and Joe Straus” in a rambling treatise titled “The Biblical Basis for Jeff Judson’s Candidacy for Texas House District 121 in the Republican Primary on Tuesday, March 1, 2016.”


Judson is known locally as an anti-streetcar crusader, not an actual crusader for Christ — until now.


“As Christians, we are citizens of two kingdoms: the Kingdom of Heaven and the political kingdom here on earth where we reside,” he began in the political ad. “We have obligations to both … As a Bible-believing Christian who attends Grace Northridge, an Evangelical church, I know that God created the institution of government to reward good and punish evil (Romans 13:1-4).”


Judson, the pious punisher, is casting Straus, a moderate Republican, in the role of evil.


“The Texas Senate passes God-honoring, conservative legislation which is often killed by Joe Straus, my opponent who is House Speaker,” he continued in the letter, before listing issues that Straus has tried to “stab … in the heart,” including “religious liberty” and “protecting life.”


“These are only a few examples of the disconnect between conservative, Christian voters and Joe Straus,” he continued. “If Christians do not speak out publicly about the moral and ethical issues facing a nation, who will?”


And then another Republican leader jumped into the fray, spewing his own bigotry:


On Sunday, the leader of Conservative Republicans of Texas sent an email blast announcing rallies in Houston to “take back our party.”


“Speaker Joe Straus and his RINO lieutenants, members of the Homosexual Political Movement (LGBT and Log Cabin Republicans), their corporate business donors and pro-Muslim sympathizers are organizing and spending millions of dollars to drive Christian conservatives and their values out of the Texas Republican Party,” he wrote. “I am not going to tell you that if this liberal, secular cabal has its way, then the will be the order of the day.”criminalization of Christianity will be the order of the day.”


I grew up in Texas. I am Jewish. I have strong Judaeo-Christian values. These expressions of hatred are not “Christian values.” They are the values of people who despise anyone who does not agree with them. It is a free country, and the bigots can say and believe what they want. But it would be tragic if the people of Joe Straus’s district allow these zealots to come to power and impose their views on everyone else.


I thank the Pastors for Texas Children for forwarding this disturbing article to me. They and their tireless leader, Pastor Charles Foster Johnson, remind me that there are many good people in Texas who don’t share the extremist views expressed by Joe Strauss’s political opponents.



The Lt. Governor has a powerful role in Texas government. Unfortunately, the Lt. Gov. right now is Dan Patrick, a former radio talk show host, who is a zealous supporter of vouchers. When he headed the Senate Education Committee, he put forward voucher bills but they died in the House. They died because of rural opposition to vouchers; it seems that rural Republicans in the House don’t see any good reason to kill off their public schools and divide their communities.


But Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick now says he wants “education savings accounts” so that public money can flow to private and religious schools, as well as homeschoolers, and he wants to model his plan along the lines of the one enacted in Nevada. It is still public money going to religious schools, but that’s what he wants. As he says in the article, he wants school choice for all children, not just the poor.


The Nevada plan is being challenged in court by several organizations, because it violates the explicit language of the Nevada state constitution. Studies show that it primarily benefits well-to-do families, not poor families.


As in most other states, about 90% of the children in Texas go to public schools. Those schools are underfunded, especially since a dramatic $5.4 billion cut in 2011. Some of the money was later restored, but not most of it. The children in Texas are poorer than they were five years ago. The pupils are majority-minority. This is the scenario in which Dan Patrick proposes to gut public education.


It is time for the Texas Pastors for Children, for Friends of Texas Public Schools, and for every organization that believes in democratic control of public schools in Texas to step up and beat back Patrick’s bills.

Pastors for Texas Children is an outstanding group of clergy who strongly support public education.


Their executive director, Reverend Charles Foster Johnson issued a statement remarking on Governor Greg Abbott’s appointment of a businessman as State Commissioner of Education and expressing the group’s earnest hope that he would recognize his responsibility to protect the children and to listen to experienced educators. The new commissioner served on the Dallas school board.



We wish Mike Morath all the best as he assumes the position of Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency. We look forward to working closely with him to ensure quality public education for all 5.2 million schoolchildren entrusted to our social responsibility, and to oppose any attempt to privatize this essential public trust.


We stand with our highly qualified, well-trained, and thoroughly experienced educators in Texas and trust their judgment on what is best for our schoolchildren. Education is a sacred servant-calling before God. We are privileged to submit to the authority and expert testimony of our proven educational leaders. We exhort our policymakers to do the same.

It is somewhat puzzling that Gov. Abbott would choose as our state educational leader someone from outside the field of public education, who has no formal training as an educator, no classroom experience as an educator, and no direct administrative experience in stewarding and shepherding the education of students. We hardly believe that such an individual could not be found among the 1200 active superintendents of our great state alone, not to mention the thousands more Texans who possess sterling educational credentials. Therefore, as we congratulate our new Commissioner, we invite him to join us in full cooperation with our established educational leaders.

We are eager to join Mr. Morath in empowering schoolteachers and school administrators in our 8500 community and neighborhood schools, in advocating for the proper funding of those schools, and in opposing any measure to privatize this public and communal trust. To take a center of learning overseen by the public interest and turn it into a center of profit controlled by private entities is a violation of God’s common good. We have every full expectation that Mr. Morath will join us in the protection of the fundamental provision of universal education for all Texas children by the public and at the public expense.





And here is a withering condemnation of this choice by Governor Abbott, written by Donna Garner, a conservative teacher-blogger in Texas:


As a conservative, I appreciate Gov. Greg Abbott for the many courageous positions he has taken for Texas; but he really missed it on this one!


I cannot think of very many people whom Gov. Greg Abbott could have appointed who would have been a worse choice than Mike Morath as Texas Commissioner of Education. (12.14.15 — Press release- “Gov. Abbott Appoints Mike Morath As Texas Education Commissioner — )


Mike Morath is supporting almost everything bad in education – the same Type #2 philosophy of education that opens the door to subjective, digitized curriculum and assessments found in Common Core/CSCOPE; the same “innovative” school model pushed by TASB and TASA with their 21st century transformational “visioning” approach to education; and the greedy consultants, lobbyists, and vendors who make a fortune off education’s “Golden Goose” of public dollars.


Gov. Abbott had previously appointed Mike Morath as the chairman of the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability (NGAA). It seems clear to me that the purpose of this commission is to recommend to the Texas Legislature that they replace the traditional public school classroom (where teachers teach fact-based curriculum directly and systematically while face-to-face with their students) WITH the 21st century transformational model where students receive all their instruction through digitized curriculum. Grading is done through subjective assessments (e.g., portfolios, projects, group work); and curriculum focuses on students’ feelings, emotions, and opinions – not on hard facts with right-or-wrong answers. Students graduate through online and dual credit courses with wishy-washy accountability standards and unsecure testing procedures.


Obviously if Mike Morath was chosen as the chair of this NGAA commission, he intends to implement this same Type #2 philosophy across Texas as the newly appointed Commissioner of Education.


America has hundreds of years of historical data to prove that the traditional Type #1 philosophy of education produces success. Americans became the leader of the world because of the many scientists, inventors, technicians, entrepreneurs, engineers, writers, historians, and businessmen who used their Type #1 education to elevate themselves to great heights. They were educated on a Big Chief Tablet.


Where is the proof that the Type #2 digitized “global citizen of the world” approach will make America great? In fact, there is no long-term, independent, peer-reviewed research to prove that that method of education works.



Thirteen-year-old Alex Trevino decided to take a stand against the Texas STAR test: she opted out. She might be held back and not promoted with the rest of her class. She and her mother say she is willing to take the consequences.

Alex told 12News, “I feel that we are not learning anything that we can use in life, we’re taught to a test, nothing comes out of it.”

State officials say she is not allowed to refuse the test.

Her parents support her actions. Her mother said she is proud of her. Rebellion against unjust authority is a tradition in Texas. It also is a tradition in the United States. Our nation was born of a Revolution, led by men who pledged their lives to fight for independence.

Alex is not backing down. She has started a Facebook page called STAAR SOS to encourage others to take a stand. To her surprise in the first four hours that the page was up, it gained more than 9,000 followers.

Alex’s Facebook page is

One determined teen could spark an opt out movement in Texas.

Audrey Amrein Beardsley patiently waded through a report produced by the George W. Bush Institute in Texas and discovered an argument that the language of the Texas State Constitution leads inexorably to high-stakes testing and value-added-modeling for teachers. The key word is “efficiency,” you see, and Texas can’t have an “efficient” education system without measuring everything. Some people would argue that a system cannot be “efficient” unless it has adequate resources to accomplish its purposes. But no, the folks at the GWBI think that what the writers of the Constitution had in mind was measurement.

Beardsley writes:

The Texas Constitution requires that the state “establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools,” as the “general diffusion of knowledge [is]…essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people.” Following this notion, The George W. Bush Institute’s Education Reform Initiative recently released its first set of reports as part of its The Productivity for Results Series: “A Legal Lever for Enhancing Productivity.” The report was authored by an affiliate of The New Teacher Project (TNTP) – the non-profit organization founded by the controversial former Chancellor of Washington DC’s public schools Michelle Rhee; an unknown and apparently unaffiliated “education researcher” named Krishanu Sengupta; and Sandy Kress, the “key architect of No Child Left Behind [under the presidential leadership of George W. Bush] who later became a lobbyist for Pearson, the testing company” (see, for example, here).

Authors of this paper review the economic and education research (although if you look through the references the strong majority of pieces come from economics research, which makes sense as this is an economically driven venture) to identify characteristics that typify enterprises that are efficient. More specifically, the authors use the principles of x-efficiency set out in the work of the highly respected Henry Levin that require efficient organizations, in this case as (perhaps inappropriately) applied to schools, to have: 1) Clear objective outcomes with measurable outcomes; 2) Incentives that are linked to success on the objective function; 3) Efficient access to useful information for decisions; 4) Adaptability to meet changing conditions; and 5) Use of the most productive technology consistent with cost constraints.

The authors also advance another series of premises, as related to this view of x-efficiency and its application to education/schools in Texas: (1) that “if Texas is committed to diffusing knowledge efficiently, as mandated by the state constitution, it should ensure that the system for putting effective teachers in classrooms and effective materials in the hands of teachers and students is characterized by the principles that undergird an efficient enterprise, such as those of x-efficiency;” (2) this system must include value-added measurement systems (i.e., VAMs), as deemed throughout this paper as not only constitutional but also rational and in support of x-efficiency; (3) given “rational policies for teacher training, certification, evaluation, compensation, and dismissal are key to an efficient education system;” (4) “the extent to which teacher education programs prepare their teachers to achieve this goal should [also] be [an] important factor;” (5) “teacher evaluation systems [should also] be properly linked to incentives…[because]…in x-efficient enterprises, incentives are linked to success in the objective function of the organization;” (6) which is contradictory with current, less x-efficient teacher compensation systems that link incentives to time on the job, or tenure, rather than to “the success of the organization’s function; (6), in the end, “x-efficient organizations have efficient access to useful information for decisions, and by not linking teacher evaluations to student achievement, [education] systems [such as the one in Texas will] fail to provide the necessary information to improve or dismiss teachers.”

The two districts highlighted as being most x-efficient in Texas, and in this report include, to no surprise: “Houston [which] adds a value-added system to reward teachers, with student performance data counting for half of a teacher’s overall rating. HISD compares students’ academic growth year to year, under a commonly used system called EVAAS.” We’ve discussed not only this system but also its use in Houston often on this blog (see, for example, here, here, and here). Teachers in Houston who consistently perform poorly can be fired for “insufficient student academic growth as reflected by value added scores…In 2009, before EVAAS became a factor in terminations, 36 of 12,000 teachers were fired for performance reasons, or .3%, a number so low the Superintendent [Terry Grier] himself called the dismissal system into question. From 2004-2009, the district
fired or did not renew 365 teachers, 140 for “performance reasons,” including poor discipline management, excessive absences, and a lack of student progress. In 2011, 221 teacher contracts were not renewed, multiple for “significant lack of student progress attributable to the educator,” as well as “insufficient student academic growth reflected by [SAS EVAAS] value-added scores….In the 2011-12 school year, 54% of the district’s low-performing teachers were dismissed.” That’s “progress,” right?!?

The other exemplary district, according to the report, is Dallas. It may or may not be relevant that the superintendents who led these two districts are now gone (Mike Miles of Dallas) or on their way out the door (Terry Grier of Houston).

The current Texas State Constitution was adopted in 1876. Do you think the Founding Fathers of the Lone Star State gave a tinker’s dam about VAM? As a native Texan, I say no. Do you think those rough-and-ready guys could have passed a high-stakes test? Sorry, but I think they had plenty of smarts, but not the kind that the George W. Bush Institute treasures. My thought: Why not ask Sandy Kress and the other GWBI fellows to take the 11th grade math test?

I have often written that high school students have the power to stop the bad policies that are ruining their education. When they realize they are being cheated, when they organize to fight for equitable funding and against the misuse of testing, it’s game over for the corporate reformers.

Two high school students in Texas have written a brief to demand adequate funding for their schools, in a case now in the courts.

Valerie Strauss writes:

“Two Texas teenagers representing a group of students in the Houston Independent School District have taken an unusual action: They wrote and submitted to the Texas Supreme Court a 35-page brief siding with more than 600 school districts suing the state for underfunding public education in violation of the Texas constitution.

“The court justices recently held a hearing about the suit, which the state is seeking to have dropped. The school districts — about two-thirds of the total in Texas — are arguing that state authorities rely on an outdated funding mechanism that does not provide schools with enough resources to meet the needs of the growing number of high-needs students in the state and provide an adequate education as required by the constitution.

“The suit was originally filed in 2011 after the state legislature cut nearly $5.5 billion from public education, and though most of it has since been restored, the districts still say they are being underfunded. A year ago, a Texas district judge agreed and threw out the state school funding system as unconstitutional.

“The two students who filed the brief (see below) on behalf of the HISD Student Congress, an organization that represents about 215,000 students in the district, are Zaakir Tameez, a member of the 2015 class of Carnegie Vanguard High School, and Amy Fan, a member of the 2016 class of Bellaire High School.”

Here is their 35-page brief.

The students write:

“School districts lack the necessary resources to correct the deficiencies in education that we face. With more funding, our schools would be able to provide their students with adequate resources, decrease class sizes, enhance enrichment programs, improve teacher quality, and innovate college and career readiness programs. Many consider these educational inputs “extras”, but we argue that these five objectives are vitally necessary in Texas, especially for our classmates who are English Language Learners or in poverty. In the following pages, we demonstrate why….

“Robert E. Lee High School is located at the cross streets of Richmond Ave. and Beverly Hill Blvd. in Southwest Houston. The surrounding neighborhood consists of dense enclaves of low income apartments, convenience stores, Mexican and Halal groceries, food trucks, and bus stops. The service industry dominates this part of Houston. There is high demand for unskilled labor and high availability of low cost apartments. Combined with Houston’s position as a primary destination for immigrants to the United States, this neighborhood and many others attract large numbers of immigrants and their families who often speak solely their native language.

“A. As students, we know that class sizes matter.

“In the 2013-14 school year, Lee was about 75% Hispanic and nearly 100% economically disadvantaged. One-third of the approximately 1,400 students were English Language Learners[3]. Many students were recent immigrants and did not speak English at all. Presented with these extra challenges, Lee did not receive the funding it needed to provide its students the chance they need to succeed in America. We spoke with Principal Jonathan Trinh about the struggles Lee High School faces as a consequence of the Texas formula funding that does not provide ELL students with sufficient resources:

“Our ELL students need more support in term of smaller class size to have more interaction and face time with their teachers. They need even more time in English classes with double and triple blocks requiring additional ESL trained English Language Arts, Reading, and Intervention teachers. [All of this requires funding.]”

“Decreasing class sizes is especially important for our ELL peers, because language classes require much more individualized attention, and for ELL students, every class feels like a language class.

“B. As Texans, our naïve lack of appreciation for enrichment programs is both morally wrong and economically impractical.

“In order to provide students extra assistance in English, Principal Trinh has had to cut language, art, and extracurricular programs at Lee. The school only offers Spanish because a large proportion of their students can test out, meaning he can hire fewer teachers. The principal would love to offer Mandarin, Hindi, or French, but there simply isn’t enough money for these languages, increasingly important in the 21st century economy to be part of the curriculum. Lee doesn’t have a band, orchestra or any sort of other musical outlet for students. Many students at Lee in fact have a passion for music yet have no way to express this passion, as the school can’t afford the instruments or the extra teacher. Others would love to become a mathlete or chess aficionado, but again, the money isn’t there. As a result, many funnel their boredom, frustration, and stress into alcohol, drugs, and gangs.

“All high school students possess ambition, optimism, creativity, and grit. But at Lee, their aspirations are stunted due to lack of funding. ELL students not only lack the opportunity to participate in enrichment programs but also often a serious chance at learning English and avoiding exploitation in the workforce after graduation. While Lee is working hard and concentrating its limited budget on providing what it can for its ELL students, these same students still have difficulty overcoming the language barrier because of large class sizes, a lack of enrichment programs, and a limited teacher hiring pool. Committed to providing ESL assistance to ELL students in all subjects, in 2014 Lee began hiring only ESL certified teachers. Unfortunately, these teachers are hard to find even right here in Texas.

“C. Many teachers in Texas are alternatively certified in their subject, and lack the academic experience necessary to be truly qualified to teach us.

“Mr. Edgardo Figueroa teaches English for Newcomers at Lee. All of Mr. Figueroa’s students come to him having never spoken English, and some unable to read or write in their native language. He accommodates them as much as he can, but with 220 students and about 32 per class, there’s only so much he can do. What has helped, he says, is the training he received through his ESL certification program. ESL trained teachers employ strategies such as the use of pictures to help students connect key words or concepts in English to their native language, in addition to many others. Teacher certification, however, is expensive and grossly underfunded in Texas.

“D. All students should have the opportunity to succeed via higher education or vocational schooling.

“Students’ struggles are not for lack of trying. In our conversation with Mr. Edgardo Figueroa, we learned a story of his to illustrate this point:

“In one class I had a Mexican student and a Chinese student who became very good friends. In order to communicate with each other they had to use the little English they had learned, always practicing the skills they learned in class. When they didn’t know English words for what they had to say, they used Google Translate.”

“These students deserve to dream big and have a fighting chance. Although some may not be the best academically, often due to English skills and difficult home lives, all should have access to vocational and technical schooling. Those who are capable of college-level work should be encouraged to apply and be assisted in the application process by college readiness programs. Many of our peers, who did not grow up in stable family environments and lacked access to quality counseling, were never introduced to four year residential colleges, two year associates degree programs, or even summer internships and academic camps. Texas children are being deprived of this information because of the State’s dismal effort in providing school districts the funding to build quality college and career readiness programs. These programs are essential in building an educated citizenry for the preservation of freedom and democracy as the Texas constitution prescribes[4].

4 “Sec. 1. SUPPORT AND MAINTENANCE OF SYSTEM OF PUBLIC FREE SCHOOLS. A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”

This is great news! Eastside Memorial High School in Austin will NOT be closed! For years, the school has been threatened with closure or conversion to a charter. The students, parents, teachers, and educators fought to keep their neighborhood school open. It is high poverty and 96% students of color, but the school refused to die.

School leaders brought in the Johns Hopkins Talent Development Group to help them. Everyone rallied to save their school, and they did it.

“At Austin’s Eastside Memorial High School, a new school year began for the first time in years without the familiar threat of closure, mass layoffs or reorganization from above. Its students earned a passing grade from the state last year, ending a run of more than a decade in which at least part of the campus came up short in the state’s ratings. In 2008, it became the first school in Texas closed for poor test performance. Austin ISD has been frantically trying to right the ship ever since.

“So on Tuesday, it was especially sweet to hear Education Commissioner Michael Williams in the school library delivering the good news: “We ain’t closing the school.”

The above quotes come from the Austin Statesman and they are behind a paywall.

The story appears also in The Texas Observer.

Eastside met state standards and raised its graduation rate. It is no longer a”failing school.”

A few years ago, I was in Austin to speak to the state’s school boards and administrators. When I had some free hours, I visited Eastside and spoke to a large gathering of educators, parents, and students. I felt their spirit. I knew they would resist. I urged them to keep fighting. They did. They elected a new school board member who supported the school. They worked together and they won.

Congratulations, Eastside Memorial!

In the past four years, a philanthropic organization called “Choose to Succeed” in San Antonio raised more than $35 million to attract some of the nation’s highest-test-score-producing charter schools to a city that already had many charter schools. The group brought in Great Hearts and BASIS from Arizona, IDEA, and Carpe Diem, while helping KIPP to expand.

Some of the new charter operators are planting campuses in the well-regarded Northside, North East and Alamo Heights independent school districts, indicating that the initial rationale some expressed for Choose to Succeed — that families needed an alternative to underperforming public schools — has evolved into something broader.Their quality is changing the local education landscape. Their locations and students are changing the local debate over school choice.
Scores of charter schools already operated here when Choose to Succeed went looking for its high performers. It lured four new networks — IDEA, BASIS, Great Hearts and Carpe Diem — and helped the established KIPP to expand.
When classes start next month, those five charter networks will have about 8,500 students, more than the enrollments of some smaller local school districts….

If they grow as planned, almost 40,000 students will be in Choose to Succeed-launched schools a decade from now, more than in 13 of Bexar County’s 16 independent school districts….

Great Hearts is known for a liberal arts curriculum built around “the Great Books.” Before graduation, every student acts in four plays (two of them by Shakespeare), sings in a choir, learns a musical instrument, paints, draws, sculpts and takes Latin, Greek and two years of calculus, among other requirements. High school students participate in two-hour Socratic seminars, and every senior defends a thesis before a faculty panel. Uniforms are blue and white; high school boys wear neckties.
Great Hearts Monte Vista was the network’s first venture out of its based in Phoenix. It opened last year and now teaches grades kindergarten through 10 at leased facilities at Temple Beth-El and Trinity Baptist Church.
Monte Vista is an affluent neighborhood, but the school’s location close to downtown and on bus lines makes it accessible to an economically diverse community, said Roberto Gutierrez, senior vice president of advancement for Great Hearts Texas.
Last year, however, only 14 percent of Great Hearts Monte Vista’s 572 students were considered economically disadvantaged. Hawthorne Academy and Cotton Elementary, nearby San Antonio ISD campuses, have economically disadvantaged rates of 89 and 97 percent, respectively.
The disparity is central to what detractors of Great Hearts claim is its tendency to exclude low-income families. More than half of Arizona’s public school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, but only two of 19 Great Hearts schools in the Phoenix area participated in the National School Lunch Program and received federal Title I funding for at-risk populations.
In five years, the network hopes to have 6,000 students in six schools here. Great Hearts Northern Oaks will open to about 640 students in grades kindergarten through seven.
NEISD Superintendent Brian Gottardy drives by the construction site every day.
“If they’re a public school and they’re using public tax dollars and the North East Independent School District is at 48 percent economically disadvantaged population, then a public charter school located in the heart of our district … should educate a diverse population,” Gottardy said. “They need to educate the masses just like we do.”
Great Hearts picked its Northern Oaks site based on available land and the cost to build a campus for 13 grades with parking and athletic facilities, but future campuses around Loop 410 and downtown will attract people from all parts of the city, Gutierrez said. The network will advertise in Spanish on the South and West sides, he said.
The CEO of Great Hearts Texas, Dan Scoggin, said he knows the impression that opponents have of Great Hearts: prep schools of tie-wearing students discussing Plato and Aristotle.
“There has been this narrative built that the charter school movement is just only exclusively for low-income kids,” Scoggin said. “Great Hearts also serves middle-income families who we feel are deeply underserved because they don’t have access to a college prep education in a public school setting.”
Both low-income and middle-income kids “don’t have options, in many cases,” he said.
When BASIS San Antonio opened in the Medical Center two years ago, it attracted families interested in its rigorous science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum. The network opened BASIS San Antonio North last year near Loop 410, just inside Alamo Heights ISD.
Both schools started with grades five through eight and will become high schools, adding a new grade each year. Students begin Latin in the fifth grade and can choose other languages, including Mandarin, in the seventh. They must rack up at least eight Advanced Placement courses and six AP exams by the end of their junior year.
The network will seek a charter amendment to enroll grades kindergarten through four so it can shift both schools to elementary and middle grades and build a high school between them by 2017, near Castle Hills, said Peter Bezanson, CEO of BASIS’ for-profit management company….

Last year, 10 percent of BASIS San Antonio students were economically disadvantaged, compared with 58 percent at the closest Northside ISD elementary school. At BASIS San Antonio North, 12 percent were economically disadvantaged, compared with 21 percent at Alamo Heights ISD’s Cambridge Elementary.
Brian Woods, superintendent of Northside ISD, and Kevin Brown, the Alamo Heights ISD superintendent, echoed Gottardy’s concerns about charter networks serving relatively affluent populations. Woods said their projected ramp-up could create “further socioeconomic stratification in the city.”
“Schools that receive public funds ought to work to the good of all the kids in the community,” Woods said. “And if you can’t show that you’re doing that, then I’m not sure that you should be eligible to receive public funds.”

In recent weeks, as Congress debated different issues in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a dozen or more of the national civil rights organizations issued statements supporting annual testing and opposing opting out of the tests.

But some city and state locals disagree with their national representatives. In Seattle, the NAACP local took issue with the pro-testing statement and issued its own strongly critical statement about the damage done by standardized testing. The Seattle chapter opposes high-stakes testing and supports opting out.

In Texas, the largest group affiliated with LULAC, the Latino organization, opposed the national organization’s stance.

The national League of United Latin American Citizens supports high-stakes testing, but their Texas chapter does not.

“LULAC began in Texas, and Texas LULAC has consistently been against high-stakes testing,” says University of Texas professor Angela Valenzuela. “The national organizations do not at all reflect the studied opinion of LULAC in our state.”

Valenzuela is a former education committee chair for the group’s Texas chapter and was also part of the Latino-led resistance to standardized testing in the 1990s, when the state first began denying high school diplomas to students for failing state tests. That policy prompted a lawsuit from Dr. Hector P. Garcia’s American GI Forum on behalf of poor students of color almost 20 years before affluent Anglo parents rallied state lawmakers to their cause.

Valenzuela’s own children opted out of tests in the early 2000s, and she knows of other Latino students who avoided the tests out of protest, without a large movement behind them, and graduated anyway. But challenging schools and facing threats from officials is a lot to ask of parents who may be poor or don’t speak English.

Anecdotally, opt-out activists say their growing movement is getting less white, but it will always be easier for affluent parents to take part.

[Ruth] Kravetz, who helped organize this year’s opt-out drive in Houston, says black or Latino parents account for about 70 percent of those she knows opted out this year. It’s “crazy talk,” she says, to call the testing in Houston’s schools today a civil right; she expects next year’s opt-out effort will draw even more working-class parents as more people realize it’s their best chance at change.

In June, Community Voices for Public Education joined dozens of civil rights and education groups in a letter highlighting the broad local support for opting out. “High-stakes standardized tests, rather than reducing the opportunity gap, have been used to rank, sort, label, and punish Black and Latino students, and recent immigrants to this country,” they wrote.

“Had you talked to me three years ago, I would’ve said there’s no way that opting out is something that can make things better. I would say we have to change minds and change laws. But at this point, it looks like they’re going to be over-testing our children until all our schools are closed,” Kravetz says. “You can’t operate like testing people is going to make them not be poor.”


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