Archives for category: Texas

This may seem unthinkable, but Pearson–the mega-giant British publisher of tests and textbooks–might lose its $500 million dollar testing contract for the state of Texas. So says the British publication,
The Telegraph. The entrepreneurs and profiteers of education are worried about the future. How sad. Will they buy each other up? Will they make money or lose money? So many problems when you live or die by profit margins. So many lobbyists to hire. So many campaign contributions to make. Welcome to the new and tawdry world of the education industry.

 

 

Katherine Rushton writes:

 

Most people have, at some point in their lives, felt a bout of nerves as they awaited a crucial set of exam results. Pearson’s chief executive, John Fallon, could be forgiven for having the same feeling.
Next month, the London-listed education giant will face its own version of this peculiar kind of torture, as it learns whether Texas plans to renew its contract for Pearson to provide testing in schools. The deal is a valuable one, worth around $500m (£310m) over five years. It is also a matter of particular strategic importance.
Texas is amongst America’s biggest and most influential states when it comes to education spending – the linchpin in the North American market, which accounts for 59pc of Pearson’s revenues and 66pc of its profits. And it has a long history of doing business with the British company, whose chief executive cut his teeth in the US textbook market, and whose former boss, Dame Marjorie Scardino, is herself American.
If the educational testing business were an election, this would count as Pearson’s safe seat. Yet there are signs Pearson may be about to lose its grip on its traditional stronghold. An audit of the Texas Education Agency recently found problems with the way the Pearson contract was tendered and managed.

 

Pearson has had other setbacks, like the loss of the Apple-Pearson iPad deal in Los Angeles.

 

The e-industry is facing difficulties, says Rushton:

 

“In this transition from print to digital, we don’t have all the infrastructure, but directionally things are moving the right way,” a Pearson spokesman said.
“There are short-term headwinds and long-term opportunities. It is not going to be a clear, straight path. It’s hard work. It’s a case of trial and error as you innovate. The question is, ‘How quickly do you learn?’”….

 

Some analysts argue that Dame Marjorie carefully timed her exit at the end of 2012. Pearson expanded enormously under her tenure, using a series of acquisitions to develop digital products and expand in emerging markets, notably China.
Mr Fallon, these analysts argue, is now unfairly having to grapple with a ragtag bag of companies, shouldering the blame for a combination of changing market dynamics and decisions taken by his predecessor.
Others claim Dame Marjorie is the one being scapegoated. They argue that the FTSE 100 business she led for 16 years is wobbling because of much more recent decisions, and that Fallon has lost key staff and contracts because of a reduction of investment in digital projects.
Whichever interpretation one adopts it is clear that Pearson’s troubles are not all of its own making. Its current turbulence started at a time when the tectonic plates of the education industry were already shifting rapidly. Part of this is down to a redrawing of the battle lines between established rivals. In America, McGraw-Hill Education has lately sharpened its focus on digital products under new chief executive David Levin, the former boss of UBM.
News Corp’s education division has also upped its game, under the guidance of Joel Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor.
But there are also a number of new rivals bearing down on the sector: Some of these are start-ups. We are in the midst of an unparalleled splurge in investment in new digital education businesses. In 2008, venture capital firms ploughed just $200m into the sector. This year, that sum is on course for $1bn.
Meanwhile, established technology giants like Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Samsung are all making inroads into the industry, in the hope that they will build loyal audiences to sell other products to down the line. “We’ve handed education to the big software and hardware providers,” says a senior industry figure. “Google is slated to have 20m teachers working on Google apps, and it’s all free. The margins are different because the motivations are different. Google can give away education because it is securing customers for the future.”
At the moment, the big technology companies tend to partner with the traditional players – Apple was supposed to provide the iPads for LA’s $1bn digital project, for example, but Pearson was responsible for the content. However, we have already seen this story play out in other industries. It is only a matter of time before these technology giants start producing their own content, and try to disintermediate the traditional publishers altogether.
“Partnering with one of these guys is like going to bed with a serial rapist,” one senior source says. “It is only a matter of time.”
He identifies Amazon as the biggest single threat. Its motivation is clear. The more educational content it provides, the more likely it is users will become dependent on its ecosystem and use it for future purchases.
Organisations that are not trying to make money arguably pose an even greater challenge, however. In 2011, Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla, ring-fenced between $1.5bn and $2.5bn to fund education projects. The endowment, informally dubbed the Zuckerberg fund, is a relatively low-key operation at the moment, but industry figures speculate that he will end up tackling education, in much the same way as Microsoft founder Bill Gates established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to improve world health.
Those sorts of initiatives should only ever be welcomed, but they do not make life easier for traditional education companies.
One former Pearson executive argues that “for-profit” organisations in education are “seriously under threat”, and could end up losing their footing altogether.
But the Pearson’s spokesman feels differently. “The private sector has a pivotal role to play,” they say.
Either way, Pearson has reached a crucial moment in its trajectory. Fallon has to whip the ragtag bag of businesses he inherited into a smart, digital company. Otherwise, the venture capital firms could soon start circling and pick-pick-pick it away.

 

A coalition of pastors in Dallas has issued a stirring call for public support of public schools.

This comes at a time when billionaire John Arnold has been organizing a campaign to turn Dallas into an all-charter district.

Leading pastors in Dallas–George Mason and Frederick Haynes, joined with four others–wrote an opinion piece, in which they said that public support for public schools is vital and that “choice” is illusory. .

They write:

Eighty-four percent of children in this country attend public schools. Slightly more than 60 percent (over 3 million of our 5 million Texas public school students) are identified as poor. These children in our public education system are our neighbors, and we are called to love them by providing a vibrant and thriving school system. That’s why Dallas-area pastors are calling on elected officials and leaders in the business, faith, parent, labor and neighborhood communities to support the public schools of greater Dallas…..

By investing in public education, we invest in the future of 5 million Texas schoolchildren. This basic investment is the key to a child’s future economic mobility, the financial stability of Texas families and the state’s long-term economic prosperity. Dallas residents know the direct correlation between education achievement and economic viability.

We must prioritize the adequate funding of our institutions of public education for the benefit of all Texans. The past two sessions of the Legislature have seen contentious fights over public education policy. Because public education is such a sound investment in our children’s future, one wonders: What’s the dispute?

There are two competing visions for public education: one weakens the public portion, and one strengthens it. On one side, there is a drive to defund public education, de-professionalize teaching, misuse test scores to declare schools as failing, and institute paths to privatize schools in the name of school reform. These privatization schemes take the form of private school vouchers, for-profit virtual schools, and corporate chain charter schools that do not serve all students equally.

The other vision, a vision which we embrace, is to provide adequate funding for all schools, raise the bar with higher standards and more respect for the teaching profession, focus on a rich instructional program instead of a narrow overemphasis on testing, and engage community partners in support for neighborhood schools and the children and families they serve.

Those advocating privatization have attacked the public school system and falsely labeled neighborhood schools failures. This arbitrary judgment has been exposed as a cynical strategy to divert public education money for private purposes, and has brought advocates like us to the fight against privatization and in support of initiatives that tell the true story about the value of our public schools.

The “choice” that corporate chain charters and private schools claim to offer parents and students is illusory. It is really these private operators who exercise their own freedom to choose which students they will recruit and retain and which students they will exclude or filter out. And the latter group will disproportionately include Hispanics, African-Americans, English language learners, students with disabilities and students who are at risk because of disciplinary or academic difficulties. These children are our neighbors, too.

We join with Dallas community leaders and parents who understand that we must keep our attention upon the real and pressing — and constitutionally mandated — need for full funding for public education. Dabbling in political diversions that are peripheral to the adequate education of all the children of Texas is dangerous and foolhardy. This is not the time to divert funding away from our neighborhood schools, which provide a place of refuge and support for all Texas children, no matter their background, situation or educational need. More important, it is the loving thing to do.

George Mason is senior pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church. Reach him at gmason@wilshirebc.org. Frederick Haynes is senior pastor at Friendship-West Baptist Church. Reach him through the church at friendship west.org/main/contact-us.

OPEN LETTER: Other signers
Joe Clifford, senior pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Dallas
Bryan Carter, senior pastor, Concord Baptist Church, Dallas
Joel Sanchez, preaching minister, Skillman Church of Christ, Dallas
Andy Stoker, senior minister, First United Methodist Church

Tom Ratliff, a member of the Texas state Board of Education, wrote this article for the Longview News-Journal. It is a warning to parents not to assume that charter schools are better than public schools. On average, he says, the opposite is true.

 

Public schools ranked higher for financial accountability:

 

During the 2012-13 school year (the most recent year of the rating), Texas’ traditional public schools far outperformed charter schools in both academic and financial measurements. Don’t take my word for it, look at the information straight from the Texas Education Agency:
Financial accountability: bit.ly/1rIFYsm
Academic accountability: bit.ly/1pXZ3RZ
To summarize these reports, I offer the following:
The FIRST rating is the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas and, according to the education agency, is designed to “encourage public schools to better manage their financial resources in order to provide the maximum allocation possible for direct instructional purposes.” I think we all agree, that’s a good thing to measure.
According to the agency, the FIRST rating uses 20 “established financial indicators, such as operating expenditures for instruction, tax collection rates, student-teacher ratios, and long-term debt.” How did the schools do? Glad you asked.
Traditional ISDs: 89 percent ranked “superior” and 1.2 percent ranked “substandard.”
Charter schools: 37 percent ranked “superior” and 20 percent ranked “substandard.”
Yes, one out of five charter schools ranked “substandard” on how they spend the tax dollars supporting them, while almost 9 out of 10 ISDs ranked “superior”.

 

And public schools outperform charter schools academically too:

 

Let’s shift our attention to academic performance. If the academic performance is good, the taxpaying public might be more understanding of a low rating on a financial measure. Unfortunately, the charters do not compare well there, either, under the 2014 TEA Accountability System.
Traditional ISDs: 92.6 percent met standard, while 7.4 percent did not.
Charter schools 77.7 percent met standard, while 17.3 percent did not.
Again, almost one out of five charter schools failed to meet the state’s academic standards.

 

And then Tom Ratliff asks the best question of all:

 

“Where is the outrage from groups like the Texas Association of Business or the Austin Chamber of Commerce?” Those groups rarely miss an opportunity to criticize the shortcomings of traditional ISDs. Why not express concerns when numbers like these relate to charter schools? If these numbers were attributable to ISDs, you can bet those groups would be flying planes around the Capitol and holding press conferences like they have in the past. A little consistency would be nice when asking for taxpayer-funded schools to perform as expected.”

 

Ratliff points out that his father wrote the original charter law. It is refreshing to see a policymaker looking at the data and seeing that competition does not translate into better education or more accountability. By the way, Tom’s father Bill Ratliff –former Lieutenant Governor of Texas–is already a member of the blog’s honor roll for his willingness to speak up and think for himself. A good Texas family.

A teacher in Texas wrote this comment, which depicts (to me) a system where data matters more than teachers or learning or children, either the system is on autopilot or is run by people who confuse numbers with learning.

“They recruited from NC and from Spain (for bilingual teachers) this year because they did expect vacancies. I think it’s important to mention that all are not based on EVAAS because not everyone has those standardized scores. They are also based on Stanford testing in 1st and 2nd grade and for classes like PE, a district made assessment. I teach Kinder and am still waiting to find out what growth they calculated for my scores last year (and yes, they were bubble-in multiple choice tests). No one could explain to me how it was going to work, what percentage growth was required to be considered effective and how that was going to be calculated– so I’m very anxious about it. I was rated highly effective in the professional and instructional areas but who knows. We are supposed to use 2 different assessments for more validity but that doesn’t happen-they end up using the reading and math versions of the same test given the same week. I did wonder how many vacancies they had to start the new school year yesterday?”

Morgan Smith wrote the best article I have seen so far on the decision by Judge John Dietz ruling that school funding in Texas is inequitable and unconstitutional. This article includes links to the decision and findings.

I repeat what the judge said last year because it is so simple yet eloquent as an explanation of our civic duty to our children. Note also that the judge ruled against the appeals of charter advocates and referred them to the Legislature:

“Though Dietz made no public remarks on Thursday, his decision is a reprise of an earlier oral ruling in February 2013. From the bench at the time, Dietz discussed what he called the “civic, altruistic and economic” reasons for supporting public education.

“We realize that others provided for us when we were children. We realize that children are without means to secure their education. Just as others provided for us when we were in school, now is the time when we provide for others,” he said, going on to describe the societal benefits of a well-educated population: lower crime rates, fewer people who need public assistance and a greater state income.

“The judge ruled against the two parties in the lawsuit that did not represent traditional school districts. He held that the issues raised by Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education — a group representing parents, school choice advocates and the business community that alleged that the current system was inefficient and overregulated — were better solved by the Legislature. He also ruled against the Texas Charter School Association, which argued that the state cap on charter school contracts and charters’ lack of access to facilities funding was unconstitutional.”

Joe Smith, a retired superintendent in Texas, has an influential blog, where he pointed to “the enormity” of the decision.

This is the best story yet on the Texas story today, in which Judge John Dietz said that the current funding system was inequitable. Of course, his decision will be appealed as some folks would rather not pay more money to educate the children of Texas. The story appears in the Texas Tribune.

Here is a great quote from the decision and the article:

“As he presented his ruling, Dietz discussed what he called the “civic, altruistic and economic” reasons for supporting public education.

“We realize that others provided for us when we were children. We realize that children are without means to secure their education. Just as others provided for us when we were in school, now is the time when we provide for others,” he said, going on to describe the societal benefits of a well-educated population: lower crime rates, fewer people who need public assistance and a greater state income.”

State Commissioner of Education Michael Williams issued a statement I response to court ruling that held state funding inadequate and unconstitutional. Be it noted that Commissioner Williams is not an educator. He is an ally of the Bush family, a real good tie in Texas. In his last post he regulated the oil and gas industry.

TEA News Releases Online Aug. 28, 2014

Statement of Commissioner Michael Williams regarding ruling in school finance case

AUSTIN – Commissioner of Education Michael Williams issued the following statement regarding today’s ruling in the school finance case:

“Today’s decision is just a first step on a very familiar path for school finance litigation in Texas. Regardless of the ruling at the district court level, all sides have known this is an issue that will again be resolved by the Texas Supreme Court. Texas is committed to finding solutions to educate every student in every classroom. However, it should be our state leaders making those decisions, not a single judge. Any revisions to our school finance system must be made by members of the Texas Legislature. The Texas Education Agency will continue carrying out its responsibilities in providing funding for our public schools based on the current system and ultimately the legislative decisions made at the end of this legal process.”

http://www.tea.state.tx.us/news_release.aspx?id=25769815887

Here is a good article explaining Judge John Dietz’s decision that school funding in Texas violates the state constitution.

“State District Judge John Dietz decided in favor of the more than 600 school districts who sued the state. They argued the Legislature has consistently underfunded schools while imposing new and expensive academic requirements for students.

“In his ruling, the judge also pointed to inequities in the system that leave some lower-wealth school districts with far less money to spend on their pupils than their wealthier counterparts across the state.

“The court finds that the Legislature has failed to meet its constitutional duty to suitably provide for Texas public schools because the school finance system is structured, operated and funded so that it cannot provide a constitutionally adequate education for all Texas schoolchildren,” Dietz wrote in his 21-page final judgment in the case.

“The court enjoins further funding under the system until the constitutional infirmities are corrected.”

“Dietz also said lawmakers erred by sharply limiting the taxing ability of school districts, which amounts to an illegal statewide property tax.

“Schools will not be immediately affected, as Dietz put the ruling on hold until July 1. The decision is expected to be appealed directly to the Texas Supreme Court, which last ruled on school finance in the fall of 2005. That order forced the state to revamp its method of funding education so that it was less reliant on local property taxes.

“If the high court affirms Dietz’ new ruling, it would force the Legislature back to the drawing board. That would probably not occur until after the upcoming legislative session in January.

“The judge originally found the funding system unconstitutional in February of 2013 after a 12-week trial pitting the state against school districts – including dozens from North Texas. But he withheld his final decision in the case after legislative leaders indicated they would address the issues raised by Dietz during their 2013 session.

“Lawmakers did increase school funding by $3.4 billion in the current biennium. However, that did not make up for the $5.4 billion that was cut in 2011 to offset a severe shortfall in state revenue. Lawmakers also dropped 10 of the 15 high school tests that were slated to be required for graduation.

“Additional hearings were held by Dietz earlier this year to decide whether the actions of the Legislature would temper his earlier decision.

“They didn’t.

“In his original ruling, the judge suggested it could take an extra $2,000 per child to meet all state standards – a total price tag of $10 billion to $11 billion a year.

“Education costs money, but ignorance costs more money,” he summed up. “It is the people of Texas who must set the standards, make sacrifices and give direction to their leaders about what kind of education system they want. The longer we wait, the worse it gets.”

Judge John Dietz ruled that the state of Texas is failing to provide adequate funding to its public schools and is violating the state constitution. He also ruled that school choice and vouchers are not a substitute for needed funding.

The Legislature cut school spending by $5.3 Billion in 2011 and never restored the cuts after the economy recovered.

In a recent article in the Houston Chrinicle, we read that business is mighty disappointed in the schools. They say they aren’t getting the trained employees they need. They think the schools are too easy. Some want more money spent in the schools that do well, as a reward.

No one seems to care that the Legislature slashed $5.3 Billion from the schools in 2011 and–despite a good economy–never restored it.

Here’s a challenge for those Texas businessmen who claim they can’t find workers because of the schools. Visit your local school. Spend a few days there. Ask them about their needs. Take the high school math test. Publish your scores.

If public schools are “failing,” find out who cut the budget and insist that it be restored as soon as possible. Nobody gets healthier on a starvation diet.

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