Category Archives: Commissioner

ATPE settles lawsuit over state’s teacher evaluation system

ThinkstockPhotos-487217874_breakingATPE and other parties to a lawsuit over the state’s new recommended teacher appraisal system known as T-TESS have reached a settlement agreement.

ATPE and three other teacher associations sued the state in April 2016 alleging that new commissioner’s rules to implement T-TESS violated state laws and were against public policy. Through the Office of the Attorney General, which represented the Texas Education Agency in the lawsuit, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has agreed to revise the rules in exchange for the four teacher groups’ suspending their legal challenges.

The terms of the settlement agreement call for removal of language in the commissioner’s rules that require districts to employ four specific student growth measures in evaluating teachers under the T-TESS model. One of those four criteria was “value-added data based on student state assessment results,” often called Value-Added Measurement or Value-Added Modeling (VAM). ATPE has long criticized the use of VAM for high-stakes purposes based on concerns about the validity and fairness of the controversial model.

‘VAM attempts to use complex statistical calculations on students’ standardized test scores in previous years to predict how well a student should perform on future tests; the resulting test performance of an individual student – not accounting for myriad outside factors – is supposed to magically show whether that student’s most recent teacher was effective or not,” said ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday at the time the lawsuits challenging the rules were filed.

ATPE Member Legal Services Director Donna Derryberry described the compromise struck this week as one that “will give districts more local control over their appraisal process” without being required to use VAM. “This is a great victory for all Texas teachers,” added Derryberry, “and ATPE is proud to have been instrumental in this settlement.”

TEA wants your input on ESSA, comments due Friday!

tea-logo-header-2This is the final week for educators, parents, and taxpayers to submit their thoughts on best practices for implementing the new federal education law in Texas. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Commissioner of Education Mike Morath launched a survey tool last month, asking the public to share input on how the state should implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The survey is scheduled to close this Friday at 5 pm and can be accessed here.

In a press release announcing the survey, Commissioner Morath noted that the new federal education law, which replaces the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), returns a good portion of control back to states when it comes to the role previously played by the federal government in public education. As Texas begins to look at how its public schools will operate in light of the shift, input is specifically sought around “accountability, funding, school improvement, and grant-making systems.”

U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe new federal law requires that educators and other education stakeholders be involved in developing the plan that will ultimately be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) for review, but this may be the only chance for many to provide input. As educators and parents, your hands-on input is valuable; make your voice heard today!

The survey asks respondents to give input on a series of issues that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) will weigh as they determine how to navigate new stipulations and flexibility under the law. Among the input sought, stakeholders are asked to share thoughts on how Texas should measure school quality or school success, support the educational success of students with varying backgrounds, increase student access to effective educators, prepare students for college and career, and support struggling schools. The survey also allows respondents to submit any additional input on the state’s ESSA plan that is outside of the information sought.

TEA intends to consider data from the survey as the state develops its ESSA plan. The state must submit a final plan to the federal government by July 2017.

Commissioner adopts final DOI rules, incorporates ATPE recommendations

Throughout the past year, ATPE has reported on the implementation of a new law that allows school districts to exempt themselves from several state laws governing public education. The law, which was incorporated into last year’s House Bill 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), sets forth limited parameters for so-called “Districts of Innovation” (DOI) that have met minimal accountability standards and allows them to claim exemptions from various laws.

Earlier this year, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath proposed a set of rules to implement the new DOI law. ATPE submitted input on the proposed rules and testified at a public hearing back in April. Today, Commissioner Morath released his final adopted rules for DOIs, incorporating some recommendations from stakeholders and ignoring others. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) received and responded to comments from several groups representing educators and school boards, individual school districts pursuing DOI status, and Raise Your Hand Texas, the advocacy group that was behind the push to enact the DOI law last year.

ATPE’s formal comments to TEA included a request that the rules clearly state that civil immunity protections in the Texas Education Code will continue to apply to innovation districts. The agency responded that it agreed with ATPE’s position and in order to address our concern has added the immunity statutes to the list in commissioner’s rules of laws that DOIs are prohibited from exempting. This ATPE-advised change will help ensure that educators maintain their immunity protections and will not face increased liability risks and insurance costs as a result of working in a DOI.

The adopted DOI rules take effect Sept. 13, 2016. For more on DOIs, be sure to check out ATPE’s DOI resource page here.

Final rule for video surveillance of special education classrooms

ThinkstockPhotos-126983249_surveillanceThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) has finalized a Commissioner’s Rule implementing Senate Bill 507 in 19 TAC Chapter 103, Health and Safety, Subchapter DD, Commissioner’s Rules Concerning Video Surveillance of Certain Special Education Settings, §103.1301, Video Surveillance of Certain Special Education Settings. The rule will be published in the August 12, 2016 issue of the Texas Register, and will become effective on August 15, 2016.

As we’ve reported on previously (here, and here, for instance), the 2015 bill by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) mandated that certain classrooms serving students in special education programs be equipped with video surveillance systems, requiring districts to maintain the video footage on file. The agency worked closely with a diverse stakeholder group, including ATPE, in developing the rule. (Read ATPE’s written comments on the original proposed rule here.)

Stakeholder recommendations resulted in several changes to the regulation, including instances where the rule was made less broad or more specific as to which classrooms and classroom educators will be affected by a request for video surveillance under the new mandate. Examples of these changes were often as simple as changing “a” to “the” in some sentences. For example, in the following section the change of this one word narrowed the scope of the bill from any staff member working in a special education setting to only staff members associated with a classroom where a request for a camera had been made:

§103.1301. (b)(2)
Staff member means a teacher, related service provider, paraprofessional, or educational aide assigned to work in the [a] self-contained classroom or other special education setting. Staff member also includes the principal or an assistant principal of the campus at which the [a] self-contained classroom or other special education setting is located.

The final rule text can be viewed here. The red double underlines in the document represent changes made from the original rule proposal based on public comments received by the agency.

Note: The agency is still waiting for an Attorney General’s opinion related to notice and implementation time-frames that school districts must comply with under the bill.

Commissioner recognizes first batch of Districts of Innovation

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) today announced that eight school districts have become Districts of Innovation (DOI) under a new law passed in 2015. Included in last year’s House Bill 1842, the law allows acceptably performing school districts to propose local innovation plans and claim exemptions from numerous state laws in the Texas Education Code. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has proposed rules to implement the DOI statute, which have not yet been finalized. ATPE testified at a public hearing and submitted written comments on the proposed rules, urging the commissioner to address concerns about consequences of the broad waiver authority being sought by some districts through their innovation plans.

Canton ISD, El Paso ISD, Mabank ISD, Palmer ISD, Point Isabel ISD, San Antonio ISD, Spring Branch ISD, and Victoria ISD were recognized in today’s TEA press release for having submitted their adopted five-year innovation plans to the commissioner. Commissioner Morath stated in today’s press release, “This initial wave of notifications is just the beginning of what will be many districts that elect to go through this innovative process.” The press release explains that DOIs cannot exempt themselves from some laws such as those dealing with curriculum, assessments, or the state accountability system.

TEA has established a new webpage with a list of school districts that have completed the DOI process and links to their innovation plans. You can also visit ATPE’s updated DOI resource page to learn more about the law, read examples of how some districts are using the DOI statute to take advantage of regulatory exemptions, and find out how you can help influence the DOI process in your school district.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 20, 2016

Important runoffs are happening in some parts of the state. We’ve got your election news and more in this week’s wrap-up:


Early vote pic from EAToday, May 20, is the last day to vote early in primary runoffs for Republican and Democratic races in which no candidate earned more than 50 percent of the votes on March 1. Polls close at 7 p.m. tonight. Several legislative and State Board of Education (SBOE) seats are up for grabs on Tuesday’s runoff election day.

Read our early voting blog post for a list of districts that have runoffs, tips on where to find your polling places, and more. Don’t forget to check out the runoff candidates’ profiles, including voting records and survey responses, using our 2016 Races search page.


Hotly contested runoffs capture attention of voters, political action committees, and media

Whether or not you live in SBOE District 9, chances are you’ve heard about the high-profile runoff contest taking place in that northeast corner of Texas. In the open seat to replace Thomas Ratliff (R), who is not seeking re-election, candidates Mary Lou Bruner and Dr. Keven Ellis are vying for the Republican nomination. Bruner attracted early attention from local and national media with her Facebook claims (as reported by The Texas Tribune and others) that President Obama had been a gay prostitute and drug addict. Those early Facebook posts have since been shielded from public view, but candidate Bruner has continued to shock voters with questionable assertions about public schools, including accusations about the number of substitutes holding teaching positions in a local school district and the percentage of students in special education.  Earlier this week we republished a story from The Texas Tribune about a meeting with area school superintendents who challenged Bruner on her dubious claims.

Following that meeting, an influential Tea Party group announced this week that it was retracting its earlier endorsement of Bruner. Grassroots America – We the People said in a statement, “We are all disappointed to have to take the strong measure of withdrawing our endorsement for a candidate. Since the institution of this organization in 2009, we have never had to take such an action; however, this organization requires accountability and personal responsibility from the candidates it endorses…. Unfortunately, once we viewed the raw, unedited video of Mrs. Bruner speaking to Region 7 Superintendents on May 4th and read her written statement, we had no choice but to start the process of reconsidering the endorsement.”

The fact that another Texas Tea Party group recently chose not only to reject Bruner but even to endorse Dr. Keven Ellis in this race underscores the serious concerns that many have expressed about Bruner’s ability to serve effectively on the SBOE. The publishers of the Texas Tea Party Voter Guide stated that Bruner “has gone too far and is making us all look like idiots. If she gets elected she will do more damage to the conservative movement than anything she might accomplish, so we are supporting Keven Ellis.” Interestingly, Ellis also earned the endorsement of Texas Parent PAC.

Bruner earned 48.4 percent of the vote in the March 1 primary compared to Ellis’s 31.05 percent. However, both candidates were relatively unknown at that time, and media interest in the race has put it on the radar of more voters and education stakeholders throughout the state. With Ellis appearing to capture increasing support from such diverse interests, this race will certainly be one to watch on Tuesday.

Also in the spotlight are runoffs for Senate Districts 1 and 24. SD 1 is an open seat, where incumbent Sen. Kevin Eltife (R) is not seeking re-election. Republican candidates and current state representatives David Simpson and Bryan Hughes are locked in a tight race with dueling endorsements, matching pleas for smaller government, and efforts to appeal to education voters. Simpson received the coveted endorsement of the pro-public education group Texas Parent PAC and is airing radio ads in which he touts his support for school funding and opposition to cuts to the public education budget. Hughes, meanwhile, is the only non-incumbent senator to be formally endorsed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), after Patrick originally stated that he would not get involved in the primary races. Education reform and pro-privatization groups such as the Texas Home School Coalition and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility (Empower Texans) have backed Hughes, but he’s also using campaign ads to try to appeal to retired educators by featuring photos of his meetings with local retired teachers. This is a winner-take-all race on Tuesday since no Democrats or third-party candidates have filed to run for the open seat; Tuesday’s winner will take office in January 2017.

SD 24 is another open seat race worth watching on Tuesday night. State representative Susan King (R) and Dr. Dawn Buckingham (R) are vying for this Senate seat currently held by Sen. Troy Fraser (R), who announced plans to retire. This race featured a crowded six-person field in the Republican primary on March 1. King earned 27.25 percent of the vote, while Buckingham brought in 24.76 percent. Expect another close match-up in Tuesday’s runoff for the Republican nomination. The winner will face Democrat Jennie Lou Leeder in November.

A few of Tuesday’s House runoffs are also winner-take-all races, in which the primary winner will face no opposition in November. In HD 5, Republicans Cole Hefner and Jay Misenheimer are in a runoff to determine who will succeed Rep. Bryan Hughes (R). HD 73 features a runoff between Rep. Doug Miller (R) and challenger Kyle Biedermann (R). In HD 120, the winner of the primary runoff between Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D) and Mario Salas (D) will decide who takes this House seat previously held by Ruth Jones McClendon (D) in January 2017; this is despite the fact that another, separate election is taking place this year to determine who fills McClendon’s vacant seat for the remainder of this year. HD 139 is another open seat for which both regular and special elections are taking place in 2016. After a vacancy was left for the House seat of Sylvester Turner (D), now mayor of Houston, Jarvis Johnson (D) won a special election earlier this month to serve out the remainder of Turner’s term, but Johnson faces a runoff on Tuesday against Kimberly Willis (D) for the upcoming full term to begin in January 2017.

Check out profiles of these and other runoff candidates using our 2016 Races search page.


Related: Supreme Court’s school finance ruling highlights importance of 2016 elections

Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

A week has passed since the Texas Supreme Court ruled that our state’s school finance system meets the constitutional minimum standards. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson writes about why your vote is the only thing left to compel legislators to take any action to improve the way we fund our schools. Josh also explains why discussions of two legislative committees this week about the possibility of new spending restrictions are another cause for concern. Check out his latest blog post here.


Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

FEDERAL UPDATE

It was a busy week for education in Washington, D.C., as discussions continued over how to implement the nation’s new federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has written an update on ESSA, including the latest debates over the law’s “supplement not supplant” language, as well as new legislation relating to school nutrition. View Kate’s blog post here.

 


RULEMAKING UPDATE

In his first few months on the job, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has put forth administrative rules pertaining to a number of controversial topics. First, the commissioner finalized rules begun by his predecessor to implement the state’s new recommended teacher appraisal system known as T-TESS. ATPE has filed a legal challenge against the T-TESS rules, arguing that they violate existing state laws, the Texas Constitution, and public policy expectations. That petition has been referred to the State Office of Administrative Hearings so that an Administrative Law Judge can decide the merits of ATPE’s case. In the meantime, be sure to check out our T-TESS resource page on ATPE.org to learn more about the new evaluation rules and how they might affect you.

Related: The Hawaii State Board of Education voted this week to remove student test scores from its teacher evaluation system. Hawaii was one of several states that had incorporated student growth measures into a new teacher evaluation system in recent years, partly in order to satisfy criteria for an NCLB waiver. Texas’s T-TESS rules were similarly design to match NCLB waiver conditions that are no longer applicable, which ATPE cited in our requests for Commissioner Morath to revise T-TESS and reconsider the student growth measure language in the rules.

Commissioner Morath has also proposed rules for Districts of Innovation (DOI), implementing 2015 legislation that allows acceptably-rated school districts to claim exemptions from numerous education laws. ATPE has submitted comments on the proposed rules, urging the commissioner to address serious concerns about implications for educators’ and school districts’ immunity protections in school districts that claim entitlement to blanket waivers of all exemptible laws in the Texas Education Code. We’ve got updated information on some of the districts that are pursuing DOI status on our comprehensive DOI resource page on ATPE.org.

Also in the works at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) are rules to implement a 2015 law that requires video surveillance equipment in certain classrooms serving students in special education programs. Yesterday, TEA officials held a public hearing on proposed commissioner’s rules for implementing Senate Bill 507. ATPE previously submitted written comments on the proposed rules, which have not yet been finalized. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these and other rules as developments occur.

Related: The Texas Tribune hosted an interview with Commissioner Morath on Tuesday. The event was sponsored in part by ATPE. View video from the event here.


Next week, the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability meets Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Austin. View the commission’s agenda here. We’ll have more on the meeting next week, along with complete results of Tuesday’s big runoff election day, here on Teach the Vote.

ThinkstockPhotos-485333274_VoteIf you live in a runoff district, don’t forget to go vote early today or vote on Tuesday!

ATPE files T-TESS legal challenge, asserts that new evaluation rules violate state law

ThinkstockPhotos-487217874_breakingThe state’s largest educator association is filing a petition today with the Texas Commissioner of Education legally challenging his recent adoption of rules creating a new state-recommended teacher appraisal system. The Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE) asserts that Commissioner Mike Morath’s rules for the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) violate state laws and the Texas Constitution and are contrary to public policy.

View a copy of ATPE’s press release here. Below is additional background information about the legal challenge.

State laws call for the commissioner to recommend a system for annual teacher appraisals with certain criteria, but school districts are allowed to adopt their own appraisal systems instead and are also permitted to evaluate some experienced teachers less frequently. In challenging the new T-TESS rules, ATPE contends that the commissioner has mandated certain actions that exceed what state law requires for teacher evaluations and has improperly limited the local discretion school districts are afforded under the Texas Education Code. The new rules also restrict teachers’ ability to request a second appraisal, which is a right ATPE says teachers are entitled to by law.

The commissioner’s rules require that all teachers participate in certain elements of the appraisal process every year, despite exemptions that are carved out in state law allowing less-than-annual evaluations for some veteran teachers who have not shown job-related deficiencies. The evaluation components in the new rules that are required every year also include a controversial new student growth measure. Commissioner Morath is requiring all teachers to be evaluated based on student growth, and recommending value-added measures (VAM) as one of four such evaluation components in the new rules. ATPE believes VAM amounts to “junk science,” as its attorneys contend in the petition filed today.

JC

Jennifer Canaday

‘VAM attempts to use complex statistical calculations on students’ standardized test scores in previous years to predict how well a student should perform on future tests; the resulting test performance of an individual student – not accounting for myriad outside factors – is supposed to magically show whether that student’s most recent teacher was effective or not,” said ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday. “At best, VAM is an estimate or projection of a possible outcome. We are very disappointed that the commissioner is endorsing this complicated, extremely limited, assessment-based guesswork as a reliable and definitive formula for measuring a teacher’s value.”

Numerous academicians and researchers have questioned the reliability and validity of VAM, especially for use in high-stakes decisions, including the American Statistical Association, which warned that VAM has several significant limitations. ATPE has long questioned the fairness and efficacy of using VAM for teacher evaluations, particularly when the vast majority of teachers teach subjects or grade levels that have no state standardized tests and most policymakers have expressed a desire to place less emphasis on standardized tests.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has even acknowledged some of the drawbacks of VAM and maintains that it should be used to provide feedback to teachers within a formative appraisal process. In its “TEA Student Growth Overview — January 2016,” the agency wrote that VAM scores don’t account for teacher behaviors, since they are derived solely from test scores, and they provide feedback that is “less insightful at the instructional level.” ATPE points out that while VAM might potentially provide some limited feedback to a small group of teachers about how well their students are performing on tests, the difficulty with incorporating VAM into teacher appraisals lies in how schools are actually using those appraisals.

“If T-TESS were merely a formative tool to help teachers grow, we’d be having a different discussion,” notes Canaday. “However, schools are using T-TESS and similar appraisal systems to make high-stakes decisions about teacher compensation and employment. When teachers’ paychecks and contracts are dependent on the outcome of these appraisals, the validity and integrity of the appraisal process matters greatly.”

Canaday explains that to avoid having two discrete evaluation systems in use at the same time, most school districts employ only one appraisal system, and the majority of districts will opt to use the state-recommended model rather than developing their own. The problem with incorporating elements that TEA might expect districts to use as formative tools, such as VAM, is that the same evaluation instrument is being used for summative scoring of teachers and then making high-stakes employment-related decisions based on those evaluations scores.

“There’s a big difference,” Canaday says, “between districts saying, ‘This is an instrument that might provide slightly beneficial feedback to you as a teacher of a tested subject,’ and telling teachers, ‘This is the instrument that will be used to determine whether you still have a job next year.’”

TEA began developing T-TESS in conjunction with its request for a waiver of federal accountability requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). In 2013, the Obama administration offered Texas its requested flexibility in exchange for a promise to adopt a new teacher evaluation system that places more emphasis on student growth measures. T-TESS was designed to fit the parameters of the NCLB waiver and has been piloted in several school districts around the state ahead of its full implementation during the next two school years. In December, Congress repealed NCLB and replaced it with new federal law, making the conditions attached to the state’s old NCLB waiver no longer a concern. ATPE and individual educators involved in the development of T-TESS urged the commissioner to reconsider the design of the system in light of the recent changes in federal law, but Morath has moved forward with rolling out the new T-TESS rules as previously planned. The final rules were adopted this month and are scheduled to take effect in July, although the student growth elements of T-TESS are not required to be used until the 2017-18 school year.

“At a time when the federal government has taken important steps to decrease the focus on testing, there are widespread reports of flaws in the testing system, and parents are increasingly opting their children out of taking the tests, it makes no sense that Texas policymakers keep looking to test scores to determine if students, teachers, and schools are making the grade,” says Canaday.

ATPE_At_the_Capitol_VerticalThe Texas Education Code provides a mechanism for appeals of agency actions to the commissioner, who has primary jurisdiction under state law, after which point a lawsuit may be brought in district court if necessary. ATPE hopes that Commissioner Morath will take necessary steps to revise the T-TESS rules to comply with state laws, ensure that all teachers are evaluated fairly, and recommend a transparent and easily understood appraisal process that truly helps teachers improve their skills in the classroom.

From The Texas Tribune: Texas Education Chief Morath to Focus on Teachers

by Kiah Collier, The Texas Tribune
January 17, 2016

Texas' new education commissioner, Mike Morath, attended a keynote luncheon titled "Education Freedom and the American Future" on Jan. 7, 2016 at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation's annual policy forum. Photo by Shelby Knowles/ Texas Tribune.

Texas’ new education commissioner, Mike Morath, attended a keynote luncheon titled “Education Freedom and the American Future” on Jan. 7, 2016 at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation’s annual policy forum. Photo by Shelby Knowles/ Texas Tribune.

Mike Morath, a 38-year-old North Texas businessman-turned public education devotee and school choice advocate, is Texas’ new education commissioner. Gov. Greg Abbott last month named the sophomore Dallas school district trustee to head the massive Texas Education Agency, lauding him as a “proven education reformer” and “change agent.”

Known for his controversial — and ultimately unsuccessful — effort to free the Dallas school district of most state controls, Morath’s appointment was a tip of the hat to the school reform movement, a diverse group of homeschoolers, business-backed accountability groups, charter school advocates, and voucher proponents.

Meanwhile, teacher and school groups — offended by Morath’s effort to turn the Dallas school district into a home-rule district — have mostly decried his appointment to a position overseeing the state’s more than 1,200 school districts and charter schools.

But in a wide-ranging interview with The Texas Tribune this month, Morath spoke passionately about empowering — and learning from — teachers and principals. One of the first big things on his to-do list, he said, is soaking up “the knowledge and wisdom of the practitioners of the field.” He also said he wants to focus limited state resources on struggling schools while leaving high performers alone.

Morath said he has no plans to implement any of the reform policies he pushed in Dallas statewide, contending that the state is too diverse for any one-size-fits-all approach — aside from its accountability system. He said he will spend much of his first year on the job developing rules for legislation passed last year that made big changes to the state’s accountability system — greatly reducing the weight standardized test scores are given in measuring public school performance — and also requires school campuses be publicly labeled with A-through-F letter grades based on academic performance.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Texas Tribune: What is on your to-do list? And what’s your general, 30,000-foot-view vision for the job?

Mike Morath: There’s much that I have to learn about the agency, in particular — so much that I have to learn from superintendents. But generally, I think the three priorities that I want to spend most of my attention on are this accountability system — the framework for outcomes discussions for our schools and for our students is pretty critical, so I want to spend a lot of time around that. I want to make sure that the agency is as effective a resource as possible in the area of supporting educators — you know, we live and die with the efforts of our teachers. They are the lifeblood of our school systems, and so: Are there ways for us to better support educators around the state — and how? And then, last, just the agency itself — blocking and tackling of the efficiency of the agency, the culture of the agency in terms of being of service to school systems around the state, having a mindset that focuses on improving performance rather than compliance.

TT: When you talk about better supporting teachers, what do you mean?

MM: Certainly the professional development and resources that we offer and make available for them, providing the best-in-class instructional materials for them. One thing that I think is important is simply stability. Teachers get yanked around a lot because we change this standard and we change this instructional practice or we change this or that and so is there a way that we at the agency can say, “Let’s try to go in one direction for five years so our teachers are not toyed with in that fashion.”

TT: Before Gov. Abbott appointed you to head the Texas Education Agency, he had appointed you to head a special legislative commission that will recommend new ways to assess students and hold schools accountable. What were you planning to bring to the table in terms of school accountability? And what approach will you take in developing this new, A-through-F accountability system?

MM: This is the big conversation. If we want to improve outcomes (for students), we need to have some sort of shared framework — a common vocabulary, if you will — to discuss outcomes. Otherwise, we don’t know whether we’re improving outcomes. In order for us to get there, there are three pretty critical ingredients. It’s got to be clear — people have to understand what it is. It has to be fair to account for the diversity of the state of Texas. And it has to be sort of precise or nuanced enough to differentiate between ‘good, better, best’ kind of performance. Specifics I’m not prepared to talk about today, but that’s the general framework through which we need to look at that discussion.

TT: As far as student assessment goes, what can you say about the state’s current testing regime, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR? Do you agree with your predecessor’s decision to increase passing standards despite stagnant performance on that exam?

MM: I absolutely support the direction that the agency has been going.

I think I need to have a lot more conversations with educators around the state. We want these assessments to be helpful for teachers, for principals, for school district officials, for school board members, for parents. If they’re not helpful, then what can we do to make them more helpful? And perhaps they are helpful, they’re just not helpful for everybody right now, so there’s a lot of nuance that has to be learned.

TT: In announcing your appointment, Gov. Abbott described you as a “change agent” and “proven education reformer,” referring to your work as a trustee on the Dallas school board. Are there any policies you pushed in Dallas that you think should be implemented statewide?

MM: The diversity of the state of Texas is such that I don’t think it’s wise to think of anything being deployed statewide, with the exception of a broadly understood outcomes framework. The way that you achieve those outcomes is going to have to be adapted to the conditions of local communities all over the state, so I’m certainly very proud of certain things that we’ve done in Dallas, and I think that those are replicable, but not necessarily everywhere.

TT: There were a lot of mentions — even by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — at a recent policy forum about your age and how young you look. Your detractors note you have only served one full term on a school board. What do you say to people who think you’re too young, too inexperienced to do this job?

MM: Clean living and a pure heart keeps me looking young. [Laughs.]

I think I’m going to have to prove it in my job performance, so let me let my work speak for itself. And if they’re right, then hopefully they’ll find somebody better than me, and if they’re not right, then our kids will benefit. I have a variety of things that I could say as to why that’s not necessarily true, but what I say isn’t important, it’s the actions that I take to try to help kids in this state.

TT: Did serving on the Dallas school board prepare you sufficiently for this job?

[Pauses.] Yes. [Laughs.]

TT: What things did you learn in that role that will help you in this one?

MM: I learned massive volumes of things in that role. (Dallas ISD is the) second largest school system (in the state) — about 225 campuses that range from a few low-poverty to a large number of high-poverty campuses, different academic focuses, different grade configurations, all kinds of logistical issues, all kinds of community communications issues.

TT: The state’s K-12 student population has become increasingly poor and diverse in recent decades. How should the state address this trend?

MM: The future of the state is delivering great results for brown and black kids, period. So we need to focus on delivering great results for brown and black kids while ensuring great results for everybody.

TT: What’s the biggest problem with the state’s education system?

MM: There’s not an answer to that question. Again, I think you have to have a comprehensive framework. Anybody that tells you that there is a silver bullet — that you do this and our schools will get better, you do this and our kids will get better — I don’t think they know what they’re talking about. You have to have a comprehensive, thoughtful, long-term approach. You have to move with a burning sense of patience on behalf of our kids.

TT: You’ve talked about the need for the state to focus resources on low-performing schools. Can you elaborate on that?

MM: The state is not all-powerful and has limited resources — the state agency, in particular — and so we need to try to get out of the way of all of our school systems that are getting results and focus our effort on the schools and the systems that are truly struggling.

TT: I have to ask about the mountain climbing. (In announcing Morath’s appointment, Gov. Abbott specifically mentioned Morath’s experience leading climbs as a reason he would be good for the job.)

MM: I love climbing. So much of what I do is too complicated to see results in a very clear period of time, but with mountain climbing, it’s simply you and God’s creation, and it’s extremely painful and very rewarding. It’s a religious experience.


This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2016/01/17/q-mike-morath/.  The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

ATPE submits input on T-TESS rules, steering committee members send letter

In public comments submitted today on the proposed Commissioner’s Rules implementing a new teacher appraisal system in Texas, ATPE encouraged newly appointed Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to delay implementation of the rules in order to address several concerns. ATPE expressed particular concern with provisions pushed by the Obama administration in exchange for Texas’s waiver from the burdensome and outdated policies under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), including compelling school districts to use standardized test scores as a measure of evaluating teachers on student growth.

ATPE highlights prominent research that questions the reliance on student standardized test scores (or the use of value-added modeling or VAM) as a measure of student growth and encourages the Texas Education Agency to omit the unproven measure. Such research questions the reliability of VAM for high-stakes decisions affecting educator appraisals, compensation, employment, and preparation program accountability. ATPE’s comments note research published by the American Statistical Association, which issues the following warnings:

  • “limitations are particularly relevant if VAMs are used for high-stakes purposes,”
  • “ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality,”
  • aside from test scores, VAMs “do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes,”
  • “VAM scores and rankings can change substantially when a different model or test is used,” and
  • “effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.”

In addition to citing research warning against the use of VAM, ATPE’s comments address several issues that make the use of VAM impractical, unnecessary, and harmful. Among them is the fact that only about 30 percent of Texas teachers will be evaluated on their students’ test scores since VAM can only measure teachers who teach subjects where a STAAR test is administered. “The potential harm created by this bifurcated system, where teachers of certain tested subjects would be isolated from the majority of their peers, is tremendous and will only serve to alienate teachers in tested subjects or discourage teachers from teaching those subjects.”

As we reported last week, today is the last day to submit comments on the proposed rules, which could be adopted as early as today and after adoption would go into effect on July 1. Among the comments submitted to the Commissioner is a letter authored by six ATPE members who served on two T-TESS steering committees that TEA convened to gather input on the development of the new teacher standards, evaluation system model, and proposed rules. The educators’ letter states: “We ask you to delay implementation in order to reconsider inclusion of value-added data as a means to measure student growth. We are proud that the inappropriate use of standardized tests in the public education system has been recognized and change is underway. Please help us continue that effort for the betterment of the 5 million school children across Texas.”

The group’s letter explains that they understood that the inclusion of VAM was a requirement of the waiver Texas had received from the Department of Education in exchange for needed flexibility under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). “At that time, we were willing to accept that our hands were tied and this was not a topic of debate.” However, the group notes, Texas was freed from waiver requirements last month when Congress passed and President Obama signed into law a new federal education law. Passage of the law negates the need for a waiver and returns the decision making on teacher evaluations to Texas and its local school districts. In light of that development, the group encourages Commissioner Morath “to eliminate the inclusion of value-added data or student standardized assessment results as a means for measuring student growth under T-TESS.”

Both ATPE and members of the steering committees encouraged Commissioner Morath to delay implementation in order to address the piece allowing the use of value-added data, or state standardized test scores, as a measure of a teacher’s performance. Read ATPE’s full comments and the letter from members of the steering committees to learn more.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 18, 2015

Here are recent stories that made news in another big week for Texas education:


As we reported last week, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), has been signed into law, officially reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), previously known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

While the ESSA is not a perfect solution, many educators are optimistic that the new law will help reduce the emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing in state and federal policies going forward. Of course, many questions linger, especially here in Texas where plans are already underway to implement a new teacher evaluation system. The new evaluation framework, called T-TESS, has been based largely on criteria linked to the state’s ESEA/NCLB waiver, which will expire formally in 2016. Draft commissioner’s rules to implement T-TESS have been posted recently, and the Texas Education Agency is accepting public comments on them now through Jan. 11, 2016Read more about the ESSA and its potential impact on Texas’s testing and teacher evaluation policies in our blog post from last week.

In the meantime, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is beginning the implementation process for the new federal law and welcoming new leadership. John B. King, Jr. takes over as Secretary with the departure of Arne Duncan this month. ED has established a webpage with ESSA resources here, where you may view the actual text of the bill, read a White House fact sheet on ESSA, or even submit questions to the department about the new law. Publication of a “request for information” in the Federal Register on Dec. 22 also commences a 30-day public comment period on the federal law. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote in 2016 for future updates on ESSA implementation.


The U.S. Department of Education is not the only education agency undergoing personnel changes at the top. Gov. Greg Abbott announced this week that he has selected Mike Morath to become our state’s next Commissioner of Education. Commissioner Michael Williams is resigning at the end of this month. Morath will be relocating to Austin from Dallas, where he has been serving on the board of trustees for Dallas ISD. We wrote about the governor’s pick on our blog earlier this week. For insight into Morath’s priorities as commissioner, check out the KERA News interview that is also featured on The Texas Tribune‘s website here.


The U.S. Senate is expected to vote today on a bill that would extend several tax credits for 2015, including the teacher tax deduction for classroom supplies. The deal is part of a major spending bill that was negotiated by congressional leaders earlier this week in order to avoid a government shutdown and fund services through September 2016. The bill includes a variety of tax breaks valued at approximately $600 billion within the $1.1 trillion plan. Under the pending proposal, elementary and secondary school teachers who dip into their own pockets to buy classroom supplies will be allowed to deduct up to $250 from their federal income taxes for those expenditures, and this time the deduction will be made permanent. The U.S. House already approved the spending measure yesterday, and the upper chamber is expected to give it a favorable nod today.


Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

In last week’s wrap-up, we shared a few highlights of actions taken by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) during its Dec. 11 meeting. Of particular interest was an agenda item to re-adopt a rule pertaining to certification requirements for Texas superintendents. SBEC’s original attempt to rewrite the rule was rejected by the State Board of Education (SBOE) after ATPE and other educator groups complained that the rule watered down the standards. In addition to adopting a second revision to the rule last week, SBEC also took several actions relating to educator discipline and educator preparation programs. This week, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, who attended and testified at the lengthy hearing, has provided more detail on the board’s deliberations that day. Read her latest blog post here.


Monty Exter

Monty Exter

The Texas Legislature passed a bill in 2015 that requires school districts to place video surveillance camera systems in certain classrooms serving students in special education programsSenate Bill (SB) 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) takes effect in 2016. With attention turning to how districts are implementing the requirements, NPR News did a feature story about the new law this week. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was quoted in the story, which notes that some Texas school districts could incur millions in costs to comply with the law. The legislature did not provide any additional funding to equip classrooms with the camera equipment that is required. Read the full article here, courtesy of NPR. For additional background information, check out ATPE’s FAQs about SB 507 as compiled by our Governmental Relations and Member Legal Services staffs earlier this year.


The ATPE office will be closed for the holidays from Dec. 21 through Jan. 1, 2016. We will resume normal office hours on Jan. 4, 2016. We at ATPE wish you a wonderful holiday season and look forward to sharing more news with you in 2016. Watch for exciting updates coming soon to Teach the Vote, including profiles of candidates running in the 2016 elections for the legislature and State Board of Education. We’ll see you in the new year!

Holiday Decorations Card