Archives for category: Texas

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.

Writing in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a group of Texas pastors expressed their support for public education and their strong opposition to vouchers for religious institutions. They believe in separation of church and state.

 

They wrote:

 

Speaking passionately and personally, we pastors are for Texas children, and we are alarmed at the language and legislation coming from some of the most powerful people in our land. It attacks neighborhood and community schools and the dedicated, faithful educators who nurture and instruct our children.

 

The Texas Senate recently passed Senate Bill 4, providing tuition tax credits to donors giving scholarships to private schools. These are plainly private school vouchers.

 

The lieutenant governor’s hand-picked advisory board issued a letter calling every public school classroom “a Godless environment.”

 

We are offended. Several of our spouses and many of our members work in public schools, and many of our children attend them. We are certain they take God with them.

 

We see first-hand the dedicated servants committed to the moral, ethical and emotional well-being of children as well as their academic preparation. We know the love with which counselors, administrators, classroom teachers and other staff work with the broad range of students.

 

They encourage all, fretting over those with particular challenges, pouring their hearts, their hours, their energies into the precious lives of children, no matter their native ability, economic background or ethnicity. Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., also an Episcopal priest, points out that objects — like chewing gum — may be kept out of schools, but not God. God is the creator of heaven and earth.

 

Pickpocketing public coffers while simultaneously attacking public schools — anchor of the common good — seems to us inadequate leadership.

 

We applaud the 12 senators who opposed the disappointing voucher legislation, and we urge our representatives in the Texas House to defeat vouchers. Here’s why:

 

Our state Legislature has repeatedly rejected private school vouchers because they divert public money to religious schools in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits any establishment of religion.

 

This time the ruse is not to give religious schools money directly but simply to allow a reduction of funds in the public treasury to be diverted to private schools.

 

Religious liberty is at stake. The separation of church and state is intended not to protect the state from the church, but to protect the church from the state.

 

With Thomas Jefferson, we believe it is sinful and tyrannical for government to compel people to pay taxes for the propagation of religious opinions with which they disagree, or even with which they agree. Authentic religion must be wholly uncoerced.

 

Faith should be dependent on the persuasive power of the truth it proclaims and not on the unwanted, and unneeded, assistance of the Texas Legislature.

 

George W. Truett, pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist Church for the first half of the 20th century, said on the steps of the nation’s capital: “Religion needs no prop of any kind from any worldly source, and to the degree it is thus supported, it is a millstone hanged about its neck.”

 

As a practical matter, vouchers channel public monies to private schools with no public accountability. Private schools could use public money to discriminate on race, gender, religion and special needs.

 

Private schools define and meet their constituency’s needs, but public money must come with public scrutiny.

 

Vouchers have always been defeated in Texas because they neglect the lawful, public system and, thus, violate the Texas Constitution.

 

Article 7, Section 1, says: “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.”

 

Texas benefits from a robust economy, yet hovers near the nation’s bottom in per-pupil spending. We feast at bounty’s table while some children subsist on crumbs.

 

Education is God’s gift to all persons. Education is a core component of democracy.

 

We pray the Texas House will defeat vouchers by whatever name.

 

Let us, rather, defend and protect public education in Texas, and let us affirm and support those who shape children on our behalf.

 

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/other-voices/article20059371.html#storylink=cpy

 

 

Writing in the Houston Chronicle, Chris Ladd describes a voucher proposal that just passed the State Senate as the most sweeping privatization plan in the nation. He calls it “neo-Confederate.” It is a stunning editorial that should be read by everyone who thinks that public education is a public responsibility and that public money should not be funneled to religious institutions. Hopefully, good common sense  will prevail in the state House, but one never knows.

 

Ladd writes:

 

Texas’ legislature is poised to deliver a massive gift to the state’s religious fundamentalists. The Senate has passed the boldest school privatization program in the country, a pilot program that would finally neuter the “godless” public schools. This is what happens when you place a mildly deranged radio host in a state’s most powerful elected office.

 

Sending public school students to private religious schools may not seem like a ticket to a well-educated citizenry prepared for 21st century demands. That’s ok. Those are not the goals of this program. Legislators are looking for ways to further cut taxes and rescue Texas children from the godless influence of science, history, and empirical knowledge.

 

There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about school vouchers. Thirteen states plus DC already have programs that let students attend private institutions with public funding under some limited circumstances. What makes Texas’ proposal special is its ambitious scope and its potential to remove the last major edifice of public capital in Texas…..

 

So, let’s review. Texas’ proposed school reform would, at least on a limited scale for now, allow taxpayers to opt out of paying taxes to public schools in order to direct their contributions to EAO’s. Those entities would decide which students to fund in private schools, with no constraints on sending students to religious academies and no oversight on which students they fund.

 

If expanded, this offers Texas’ religious fundamentalists a huge achievement. They could finally destroy their most hated public institution – the schools. This proposal would gradually starve the public schools of their revenue stream, further cutting the amount that the state pays after years of careful under-funding. Meanwhile it would leave the public schools trapped under their existing infrastructure and mandates, a trap that would finally finish off the beast.

 

Undersized vouchers would fail to deliver enough funding to support a competent private education. Affluent families would get to take the money and run, receiving a state subsidy which they could combine with their family’s own contributions to pay for a reasonably good private education. Middle income families who can’t afford to pay above the voucher value would be left in the lurch, trapped between a collapsing public school system and a collection of cheap, storefront Christian madrassas.

 

A new generation of young people will be spared from learning about their history or discovering anything about the natural world that might challenge their religious assumptions. They’ll be ignorant, bigoted, and reliably pious, which this legislature will see as a big fat win.

 

The roots of this concept are perhaps even worse than the shape of the plan itself. In response to the Supreme Court’s decision striking down racial discrimination in schools, Georgia passed a constitutional amendment in 1954 allowing their legislature to privatize the entire school system. They never took that radical step, but the law remained in place until Georgia introduced a new constitution in 1982.

 

One of the architects of Texas’ current plan is Arthur Laffer, a man who has manufactured a successful career out of being wrong about everything. He became famous for formulating what George Bush, Sr. famously called “voodoo economics.” Laffer most recently used his policy voodoo to rip the bottom out of Kansas’ state finances. People are still listening to this guy because results don’t matter in politics.

 

It isn’t clear whether the current proposals can gain enough support to pass in this session. The Senate has already approved the plan, but its future in the House is uncertain.

 

What is clear is that Texas’ experiment with radical Neo-Confederate government is reaching a crucially painful stage and there is no relief in sight. This disastrous and bizarre proposal may fail this year, but there is nothing to stop it from emerging again and again until it, something even worse, finally passes. Elections have consequences and there are no signs of Texas elections delivering sanity any time soon.

I am a native Texan, and I have many wonderful friends in Texas. So it pains me to write this. There are a bunch of people with some crazy ideas in Texas. Unfortunately, a significant number of them are elected officials.

Do you think that pre-K is Godless socialism? Do you think that Texas should secede to form a Christian nation? Are you suspicious of the U, S. military invading Texas? Do you think the state should pay for religious education?

I went to public schools in Houston during the Red Scare of the 1950s. I thought my home state had left those days behind. Guess not.

Dr. Mark Henry, superintendent of the Cypress-Fairbanks school district in Texas, says it is time to save students from failing charter schools.

Dr. Henry proposes:

“I have an even better prescription that Texas should try. In my solution, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD will create “The Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Opportunity School District” to take over and manage failing charter schools.

“Around 8.2 percent of public school campuses are classified as failing, but nearly 17 percent of charter schools are designated as failing. In fact, within three years of being included on the low-performing list, only seven out of approximately 8,500 traditional public schools are still designated as failing. If you are mathematically inclined, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all Texas public school campuses are rated IR or AU for more than three years.

“It seems that public schools are doing a great job of addressing low-performing schools without the added bureaucracy of another state agency. But there does appear to be a need to help charter schools, when nearly 1 in 5 are considered failing.

“CFISD is recognized as one of the most effective school districts in the state when considering academic achievement and financial efficiency. We don’t pick and choose our students; we educate all students within our borders. The principles we practice should be quite useful in assisting the great number of failing charter schools. We feel that with more funding, less regulation and our processes, we can give thousands of students trapped in failing charter schools hope for a better tomorrow.

“The proliferation of failing charter schools is the “civil rights issue of the 21st Century.” CFISD sees an opportunity to rescue these students and generate additional dollars to help offset the current underfunding (less operation funding than charters) that we receive. It is a win-win! Students at the failing charter school will benefit by receiving a quality education and CFISD students will benefit with more funding.”

When I read this brilliant parody of the “reformers'” favorite reform, I concluded their days of hoaxing the public are numbered.

Texas is the home of high-stakes testing, and it is also home to some independent school boards who are sick of high-stakes testing. After 20 years or more of using testing to reward, punish, and shame students, teachers, principals, and schools, those closest to the schools know that this strategy has failed. Parent pressure forced the state legislature to back down on plans to expand the number of high-stakes tests from 5 to 15. Almost every school board in the state adopted resolutions opposing the testing regime.

 

Now the Arlington, Texas, school board has passed a resolution calling on the legislature to let local school districts devise their own accountability plans and specifically, to de-emphasize the importance of high-stakes testing. The district has created its own accountability plan, and only two of its 28 measures are test-baed. This may upset the battalion of lobbyists for Pearson, but it reflects the will of the people.

 

Here is the letter that accompanied the resolution (which is linked inside the letter):

 

On behalf of the Board of Trustees and the Arlington ISD, I am writing today to share information about the resolution regarding high-stakes assessments that the Board approved on April 16. The resolution urged the 84th Texas Legislature to end high-stakes assessments and to empower local school board to create and implement local accountability systems using standard measures of student success.

 

Accountability and assessment is a key point within the district’s legislative agenda. While an effective, efficient and equitable academic accountability system is necessary to carry out the mission and objectives of the Texas public education system, Texas’ current accountability system is too complex for school districts to drive continuous improvement for districts and campuses. Assessments should provide standard measures while allowing local superintendents and school boards to control how to respond to those measures but should not cause undue stress to students and families or teacher dissatisfaction and burn-out.

 

With the adoption of the Achieve Today. Excel Tomorrow. strategic plan, the district developed a comprehensive local accountability system. In that system, only two of the 28 measures are related to high-stakes STAAR testing. Other items included in that system are participation and success in rigorous courses, percent of graduating seniors taking and performing well on a college-bound assessment, percent of students on track to graduate on time, college enrollment and success, extracurricular and co-curricular participation, facilities, customer service, and effectiveness of leadership development. Each year, the Board receives a report on the districts’ success relative to the local accountability system. Last year’s report is available online.

 

We will continue to work with legislators throughout the session to encourage local control in establishing a sensible local testing system and setting an accountability system that works for the local community and best serves our students.

 

Sincerely,
Bowie J. Hogg
Board President

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