Archives for category: Texas

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.”

Texas is gifted with some superintendents who are visionaries. They know that what the feds and the legislature now mandate is not good education. They want something better to prepare students to live in the world. They were leaders in the pushback against high-stakes testing in Texas. And they continue to write their vision for the future.

Jeffrey Weiss of the Dallas Morning News is live-tweeting their conference this year, and I thought you would enjoy reading his latest report. One of the speakers he enjoyed most was George Couros from Canada, who believes that students should be able to use their smartphones and computers during exams. The line of the day: “If I can look up the answers to the questions on your test on Google, your questions suck.”

Another speaker talked about a program with no grades. It reminded me that when I attended my college reunion, I learned about courses where students are not graded, which encourage them to take risks, to explore their interests without fear of ruining their grade point average. I thought about it and wished I had had that opportunity.

You can’t’ make this stuff up. Governor Greg Abbott selected a homeschooling mom to chair the State Board of Education in Texas.

 

The Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group, warned that Bahorich would “put culture war agendas ahead of educating more than 5 million Texas kids.”

 

“If Gov. Abbott wanted to demonstrate that he won’t continue his predecessor’s efforts to politicize and undermine our state’s public schools, this appointment falls far short,” Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said in a statement. “The governor has appointed as board chair an ideologue who voted to adopt new textbooks that scholars sharply criticized as distorting American history, who rejected public education for her own family and who supports shifting tax dollars from neighborhood public schools to private and religious schools through vouchers.”

 

Even Republican State Board member Thomas Ratliff called the move a mistake.

 

“Public school isn’t for everybody, but when 94 percent of our students in Texas attend public schools I think it ought to be a baseline requirement that the chair of the State Board of Education have at least some experience in that realm, as a parent, teacher, something,” Ratliff argued.

Jimmie Don Aycock, a Repubilcan legislator from Killeen, Texas, has decided to retire from the House of Representatives in the state legislature. This is a great loss for the state’s children, because Aycock has been a great friend and defender of public schools. As chair of the House Education Committee, he tried to get a new funding formula that would fairly distribute state monies, without waiting for a court to declare the state’s formula to be unconstitutional. He has delayed, diverted, and stopped many efforts by ideologues to harm public education, whether by vouchers, parent trigger, or other devious means that would siphon money away from the public schools.

Before entering the legislature, Jimmie Don Aycock was a veterinarian and a rancher. He was also a graduate of his local public school in Bell County, and he served on the local school board. He will be fondly remembered by parents, educators, and perhaps even students, as the author of SB5, the bill that reduced the number of end-of-course exams required for high school graduation from 15 to 5.

Even if the children never heard his name, they have benefited from his wisdom and care for them. He is admired by both parties as a statesman, a man who really does put children first. One of his Democratic colleagues said that “he’s the kind of guy you’d buy a used car from, and wouldn’t look under the hood.” Certainly the children of Texas and public schools benefited from the fact that a member of the dominant party in red state Texas was their champion.

Will anyone else in the Texas legislature take on Jimmie Don Aycock’s role as a defender of the precious democratic institution of public education? Will anyone else take the lead to stop the evisceration and privatization of public education? The Lt. Governor, former radio host Dan Patrick, is an outspoken proponent of vouchers. Until now, a bipartisan coalition of big-city Democrats and rural Republicans have defended their community’s public schools. Will another Jimmie Don Aycock rise from the ranks?

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Aycock when I spoke in Austin to a combined meeting of the Texas Association of School Administrators and the Texas School Boards Association. He is a respected and beloved figure in Texas. With all the honors being heaped on him, this may not mean much, but I place him on the blog honor roll as a hero of public education in the nation.

Jason Stanford, long-time observer of politics in Texas, explains here how Pearson lost its nearly $500 million contract, retaining only a $60 million sliver.

After decades of having a lock on the state testing contract, the pushback against high-stakes standardized testing became overwhelming. Local school boards passed resolutions against it; parents organized protests against it. The legislature even passed a law barring lobbyists “from serving on state boards and commissions dealing with accountability.” The target was Sandy Kress, architect of NCLB and Pearson lobbyist.

Once the political aura surrounding Kress and Pearson turned sour, people started questioning the pedagogical theory that measuring the children against the wall makes them taller. Texas rolled out the a new test a few years ago to make all the kids “college and career ready,” huge cuts to state education funding notwithstanding. Since then, test scores have been flat and have largely correlated to parents’ income and differences in school funding.

The legislature saw no problem in cutting school funding by more than $5 billion while awarding Pearson a contract for nearly $500 million. It saw no problem in demanding higher test scores while removing funding. But the public got fed up. It is, says Stanford, the “end of an error.”

The Texas Legislature is so far out of touch with the needs of children and public schools that we can only hope the legislative session ends before any of the proposals for “reform” are enacted. The Texas Observer here gives an excellent overview of what is happening in Austin that might land on the heads of kids and public schools.

Throughout the legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has painted a dire portrait of hundreds of Texas public schools.

Currently, Patrick remarked during a March press conference, almost 150,000 students languish in nearly 300 failing schools across the state. He vowed to fix the problem.

The measures he championed include red-meat education reform proposals with appealing names: rating schools on an A-F scale; a state-run “opportunity school district” to oversee low-performing schools; a “parent empowerment” bill making it easier to close struggling schools or turn them into charters; expanding online classes (taxpayer funded, but often run by for-profit entities); and “taxpayer savings grants”—private school vouchers, effectively—to help students escape the woeful public system.

Patrick has long fought for many of these, but now that he holds one of the state’s most powerful offices it seemed, going into the session, that his reform agenda would be better positioned than ever before.

The president of Texans for Education Reform, Julie Linn, certainly believes so. She boasted in a January editorial about the potential for success under Patrick’s leadership. “The momentum is in place to make 2015 a banner year for education reform in Texas,” Linn wrote.

Teacher groups and public school advocates have a different take. As they see it, Patrick’s agenda is not a recipe for well-intended reforms but an attack on chronically underfunded public schools.

“There is a concerted, well-funded attempt to dismantle public education,” Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, executive director of the public school advocacy group Pastors for Texas Children, told the Observer in March. Johnson blamed elected officials who aim to “demonize and blame teachers and schools for the social ills and pathologies of our society at large.”

Patrick’s education proposals tap the reform zeitgeist that has increasingly gained political favor, both in Texas and nationally, during the last decade.
Patrick’s education proposals tap the reform zeitgeist that has increasingly gained political favor, both in Texas and nationally, during the last decade. From President Obama to presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz, education reform has created odd bedfellows, obscuring policy fault lines between Democrats and Republicans like perhaps no other issue.

Reform critics, though, point out that test scores have always closely tracked family income rather than school quality. They note how schools with high rates of poverty are more likely to be low-performing if the state uses test scores as the primary measuring stick. “The real problem,” Johnson said, “is that we don’t have the political will to assign those schools the resources they need.”

Regardless of where you stand in the debate, with less than two weeks left in the 84th Legislature we can begin to gauge the success of Patrick’s reform agenda, much of which is being carried by his successor as chair of the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood).

Note how politicians like Dan Patrick, now in the powerful position of Lt. Governor, are quick to bash the public schools after having defunded them by billions of dollars. Patrick, a former radio talk show host of the right, loves vouchers. He apparently does not care that sending public money to religious schools does not improve educational opportunity, although it does weaken public schools.

Every proposal under consideration–like the parent trigger–has failed to make a difference anywhere. Every one of them is straight out of the far-right ALEC playbook.

A-F grading of schools, a Jeb Bush invention, is a typical useless reformster proposal. The letter grades reflect the socioeconomic status of the students in the school. Imagine if your child came home from school with a report that had one letter on it; you would be outraged. That is how crazy it is to think that an entire school can be given a letter grade; it is pointless and it does nothing to make schools better. Kids from affluent districts are miraculously in A schools, kids from poverty are in low-rated schools. What is the point of the grading other than to stigmatize schools that enroll poor kids and are typically under-resourced? I guess the point is to label them as failures so they can be privatized or the kids can get vouchers to go to backwoods religious schools where they will have an uncertified teacher and learn creation “science.”

Texans are a hardy bunch. Those who are fighting for public education have a steep uphill climb. But they won’t give up. They launched a bipartisan coalition to block the testing Vampire that was eating public education, and they can work together to save public education for the state’s children. It won’t be easy. But it matters to the future of the state.

Parents in Texas rose up to fight the over testing of their children and to send a message to the Legislature. Testing is not teaching, but the Legislature seemed to think that the way to fix the schools was to add more tests while slashing billions in funding.

Reacting to parent groups like TAMSA (Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessmentt), the Legislature dropped a proposal to require students to pass 15 tests to graduate (it remains five). Almost every school board in the state passed a resolution ahAinst high-stakes testing.

And now the State Education Department (headed by a non-educator) has acted: it switched testing vendors, taking most of the state testing away from Pearson and giving it to ETS.

Jeffrey Weiss of the Dallas Morning Mews asks the key question:

“Whether students, teachers or school officials will notice the change is a question state officials declined to answer Monday.”

Does it really matter which vendor administers too many tests? Does it matter who writes theultople-choice question? Will the stakes change?

Pearson just lost most of its Texas testing business.

For the first time in three decades, a new company is poised to develop and administer the state-required exams Texas students begin taking in the third grade.

The state is in negotiations with Educational Testing Service, or ETS, to take over the bulk of the four-year, $340 million student assessment contract, the Texas Education Agency announced Monday. Company Vice President John Oswald said ETS is “privileged and honored” to land the work. Final contracts are still being negotiated.

The London-based Pearson Education has held the state’s largest education-related contract — most recently, a five-year, $468 million deal to provide state exams through 2015 — since Texas began requiring state student assessments in the 1980s. Under the new agreement, the company would still develop the state’s assessments designed for special needs and foreign students. That portion of the contract is worth about $60 million.

Here is the puzzling question: Why did it cost $468 million for a five-year contract with Pearson when New York State pays Pearson “only” $32 million for a five-year contract? Does New York have smarter negotiators? Does Pearson have better lobbyists in Texas than in New York? Does New York get Texas’s used questions? True, Texas has more children than New York, but not 15 times more. Can anyone explain?

Based on the failure of the Achievement School District in Tennessee and the phony Recovery School District in Néw Orleans, the Texas senate approved legislation to create a state takeover district of low-performing schools.

Not sure if this is a hoax or a fraud, but there is no evidence that such districts make any difference, although they are typically profitable for charter chains.

Buckle your seat belts, it’s gonna be a rough ride.

 

NPR reports that Governor Gregg Abbott has asked the Texas National Guard to monitor the activities of the U.S. military in Texas because there are a number of wing nuts who believe that President Obama plans to invade and take control of Texas.

 

Don’t be fooled! The training exercises by Green Berets, Special Forces, and Navy Seals is only the beginning of the long-planned invasion, they say.

 

“You see, there are these Wal-Marts in West Texas that supposedly closed for six months for “renovation.” That’s what they want you to believe. The truth is these Wal-Marts are going to be military guerrilla-warfare staging areas and FEMA processing camps for political prisoners. The prisoners are going to be transported by train cars that have already been equipped with shackles.

 

“Don’t take my word for it. That comes directly from a Texas Ranger, who seems pretty plugged in, if you ask me. You and I both know President Obama has been waiting a long time for this, and now it’s happening. It’s a classic false flag operation. Don’t pay any attention the mainstream media; all they’re going to do is lie and attack everyone who’s trying to tell you the truth.

 

“Did I mention the ISIS terrorists? They’ve come across the border and are going to hit soft targets all across the Southwest. They’ve set up camp a few miles outside of El Paso.

 

“That includes a Mexican army officer and Mexican federal police inspector. Not sure what they’re doing there, but probably nothing good. That’s why the Special Forces guys are here, get it? To wipe out ISIS and impose martial law. So now you know, whaddya say we get back to the party and grab another beer?

 

“It’s true that the paranoid world-view of right-wing militia types has remarkable stamina. But that’s not news.
What is news is that there seem to be enough of them in Texas to influence the governor of the state to react — some might use the word pander — to them.”

 

You can’t make this stuff up.

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