Tag Archives: Jimmie Don Aycock

House Public Education Committee convenes first meeting

HPE02-21-17

The House Public Education Committee met at the Texas State Capitol on Feb. 21, 2017. The committee heard invited testimony only.

The House Public Education Committee held its first meeting of the 2017 legislative session today, Feb. 21. Newly-appointed chair Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) began the hearing by appointing state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) chair of the Subcommittee on Educator Quality, where he is joined by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) as vice-chair and Reps. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas), and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston).

Chairman Huberty kicked off the hearing by noting the committee’s efforts to address school finance during the interim. After the Texas Supreme Court ruled the current system “lawful but awful,” according to Huberty, the committee spent much of 2016 working on fixes under the leadership of then-outgoing Public Education Committee chair Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) and Appropriations chair John Otto (R-Dayton).

Notably, Huberty vowed the committee would get to work on school finance early, and suggested the topic would be the focus of hearings during the next two to three weeks.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath briefed the committee on agency operations and priorities. The agency currently serves roughly 5.3 million students and oversees $56 billion in funds. About 348,000 teachers are employed across 8,685 campuses. Texas boasts an 88 percent high school graduation rate, despite serving a student body that is almost 60 percent economically disadvantaged.

Morath highlighted a brief list of priority initiatives, including an agency “lesson study” initiative – a professional development tool used to develop best approaches to individual Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) components – as well as high-quality pre-kindergarten, math innovation zones, and rolling out the “A through F” accountability system.

Chairman Huberty pressed the commissioner on several areas of recent interest, beginning with informal “caps” on special education enrollment unveiled by a Houston Chronicle investigation. Morath told the chairman the special education performance indicator at issue had “outlived its usefulness.” House Bill 363 filed this session by Huberty would require TEA to cease using the indicator. Morath assured the chair, “If for some reason it doesn’t pass, we’re going to do it anyway.”

Chairman Huberty also asked the commissioner about TEA’s interaction with testing vendor Educational Testing Service (ETS) over faulty STAAR tests. Morath said the agency has imposed financial penalties on ETS. Continuing on the testing subject, Huberty prodded Morath on efforts to shorten the STAAR test as required by Huberty’s House Bill 743 from the 2015 legislative session. Morath indicated the process of creating a shorter test has cost the agency more than anticipated, and teachers may not have been provided adequate practice time with testing changes.

In response to Huberty’s inquiry regarding Districts of Innovation (DOI), Commissioner Morath testified that 105 districts have applied for DOI status thus far. According to the commissioner, the most popular exemptions are from teacher certification requirements, the first day of instruction, and class-size limits.

With regard to charter schools, Morath told the committee the state currently hosts 178 public charter entities, which operate a total of 603 campuses and serve roughly 245,000 students – about five percent of the total student population. A total of 22 entities have had their charters revoked, and seven have been non-renewed.

Chairman Huberty pointed out the state has not reached the charter cap and is not in danger of doing so. Rep. VanDeaver, a former superintendent, noted that in districts forced to pay recapture such as Houston ISD, the state pays more to educate a student in a charter school than in a public school.

Finally, the committee received a briefing from Comal ISD Superintendent Andrew Kim, who chaired the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. The 15-member commission was convened as a result of House Bill 2804 in 2015, and delivered a report to the legislature in August 2016, which included nine final recommendations for new systems of student assessment and public school accountability. You can read the commission’s full report here.

Chairman Huberty concluded today’s hearing by announcing that the committee will begin school finance discussions at the next meeting. The committee will hear from school districts when it meets again next Tuesday, and school finance bills will be posted for hearing the following week. Once those bills are voted out, Huberty said the committee will take up accountability issues, including A through F.

Dan_Huberty_HD127_2016pic

Rep. Dan Huberty

Related: House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Huberty will be one of our legislative panelists for ATPE at the Capitol, our upcoming political involvement training event exclusively for ATPE members on March 5, 2017.

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 17, 2016

These are stories making news this week in the Texas education world:


Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board is meeting this week and tackling some difficult decisions about funding active and retired educators’ healthcare needs. Inadequate funding from the legislature over a period of many years has created a looming problem that must be solved. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson is attending the meetings this week and has provided a summary of the changes that are in store for TRS members. Click here to check out Josh’s latest blog post on TRS developments.


ThinkstockPhotos-481431733As we have been reporting on Teach the Vote recently, there were some very close races in the May 24 primary election runoffs that resulted in recounts. In House District 54, a recount was sought in the race to succeed Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), the popular chairman of the House Public Education Committee who did not seek re-election. Killeen mayor Scott Cosper (R) defeated Austin Ruiz (R) on runoff election night by 43 votes. Yesterday, we learned that the recount request by Ruiz has confirmed Mayor Cosper to be the winner of the Republican nomination. Cosper, who was endorsed by the outgoing Aycock and by Texas Parent PAC in the primary, will next face Democrat Sandra Blankenship in the general election in November.

We reported earlier this month on another recount in which Rep. Wayne Smith (R-Baytown) lost to challenger Briscoe Cain (R) in House District 128. With recounts completed, attention turns now to the general election. Keep up with Teach the Vote in the coming months for information about contested races for the Legislature and State Board of Education in November.

 


Monty Exter

Monty Exter

Earlier this week, the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability held yet another work session to try to reach consensus on recommendations for the 85th Legislature. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided an update on this week’s meeting and has been reporting on some of the issues that commission members are grappling to address. Testing concerns have been of particular interest to many commission members, education stakeholders, and the media, especially in light of several glitches that plagued this year’s administration of the STAAR tests to students. Meanwhile, State Board of Education (SBOE) members are also encouraging the public to share their feedback on testing and accountability. Click here to read more about the SBOE public survey that is open through June 30.

 


Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann contributed a blog update this week on the meetings held by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) last week. The board held both a work session to explore the role of educator preparation programs (EPPs) and trends in educator certification, along with its regular board meeting on Friday, June 10. Read Kate’s latest blog post to learn more about the actions taken by the board and some significant agenda items that were postponed.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-100251374Next week, ATPE staff and state officers will be in the nation’s capital advocating for federal education priorities. They will be meeting with members of Texas’s congressional delegation to urge action on Social Security legislation, discussing policy issues with U.S. Department of Education officials, and attending a hearing on the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for updates from our team in Washington, DC.

From The Texas Tribune: Amid STAAR Upheaval, Panel Working on Fixes

Tribune_STAAR_Classroom_jpg_312x1000_q100

As displeasure with Texas’ standardized testing regime mounts, all eyes are on a special panel the Legislature created last year to figure out whether to scrap the widely reviled STAAR exam.

The 15-member Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability, scheduled for its second-to-last meeting Monday, has been studying alternatives to the high-stakes tests, which state law requires 5th and 8th graders and high schoolers to pass to move to the next grade level or to graduate. The panel includes a diverse mix of educators, elected officials, business leaders and anti-testing activists.

Its work couldn’t be better timed, with parents and school officials up in arms over wide-ranging problems reported with this spring’s STAAR administration — issues that prompted Education Commissioner Mike Morath on Friday to waive the requirement that 5th and 8th pass the tests to move on to the next grade. The panel first convened in January, the month after Congress passed a new federal law giving states far more freedom to determine what their testing and accountability systems should look like. And many educators, parents and elected officials agree that major overhauls are necessary, even if they don’t entirely agree on what they should be.

Commission members have expressed high hopes for devising meaningful changes to a system that assesses students and holds them and schools accountable. Many view that system as unnecessarily stressful, overly punitive and developmentally inappropriate. Their recommendations are due to Gov. Greg Abbott and the Legislature by Sept. 1.

“I really am excited about the potential for this,” said commission member and Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, in an interview ahead of the panel’s April meeting. “It’s really a varied group with a lot of different experiences and backgrounds on there, and it’s what I had envisioned as far as having a meaningful dialogue of stakeholders that bring their own perspectives to it and try to come up with some type of consensus.”

Teacher, school and parent groups also have been excited by the opportunity to make big changes. But some say their hope for revolutionary reform has waned over the months — particularly after the panel’s May meeting, when members struggled to hammer out a list of recommendations. Several panelists said it will be crucial to make progress at Monday’s meeting, as they are set to finalize their guidance at a meeting in July.

Monty Exter, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said it quickly became clear after the panel’s first monthly meeting that it was not looking to eliminate statewide testing and that it would likely keep STAAR, or something like it, in the lower grades.

“I do think they will reach consensus around some areas,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s probably going to be groundbreaking.”

The federal government has required states to assess students in grades 3 through 8 annually and once in high school since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 — at least if they want to receive federal funding. Many other states are also tinkering with their testing plans amid pressure from parents to reduce testing time and make the overall experience less taxing.

The commission has coalesced around some larger concepts, such as the importance of accounting for improvement in student scores; that exams should be more developmentally appropriate and diagnostic rather than summative; and that there should be multiple different measures of student performance with consequences for poor outcomes falling more heavily on teachers and administrators than on students. But they have struggled with specifics, getting hung up on recommendations that would cost districts a lot of time or money or pose other problems.

Scott Placek, an Austin-area lawyer representing a group of parents who recently sued the state over STAAR, said they are concerned by the interest panelists have expressed in having a series of smaller assessments throughout the year rather than one big, end-of-year exam. (Education Commissioner Mike Morath also has expressed support for the concept.)

“Some of the things that have been discussed in terms of more continual assessment, more data-driven assessment, you know, it’s concerning to parents who I think believe the system is already too data-driven,” said Placek, adding that his own son struggled with STAAR. 

“I think that parents were initially very supportive of the idea of re-examining assessment,” he added. “I think as the work of the commission has gone on, that’s sort of shifted to caution and suspicion.”

Comal ISD Superintendent Andrew Kim, the panel’s chairman, said he’s tried to remind the panel that many of the things under discussion — including smaller, diagnostic assessments throughout the year — have been tried and rejected before.

“This is a very complex topic,” he said. “There’s not, in my opinion, one silver-bullet solution that’s going to meet the needs of various constituents out there in our state, and … it probably merits further discussion going forward even beyond the commission.”

He also said that there’s a desire among educators to not “throw the baby out with the bathwater” or risk overcorrecting the problem.

Taylor, too, said he’s “not huge on reinventing the wheel.” Still, he foresees a potentially “massive” impact from the commission’s work, including possibly getting rid of the five end-of-course exams high schoolers are supposed to pass before they can graduate and instead using an exam like the SAT or ACT. Nearly half of all states now require students to take either of these two college entrance exams in lieu of, or in addition to, some other type of test, according to a 2015-16 Education Week survey.

“I don’t want this to just be an exercise of what ifs,” Taylor said.

Panel member Theresa Treviño, president of the influential anti-testing group Texans Advocating For Meaningful Student Assessment, said the recommendations the panel will make “are probably not as grand as I would have hoped” but that she still thinks they will make an impact.

“I think it’s going to be more than a tweak, which is what I was really afraid of,” she said. “I’m hoping that with this next meeting we can sit down and hammer out those recommendations that could make a bigger difference and they don’t have to be huge.”

Commission member and outgoing House Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said striking an appropriate balance has been challenging but that he thinks the commission will produce recommendations to “get rid of some of the craziness” that has created such a stressful testing environment, including some high-stakes provisions. 

Even if the panel does recommend big changes, some teacher and school groups worry they may fall victim to House-Senate gridlock next year, with leadership already publicly butting heads over public education priorities. 

“The work of the commission will have a challenging road ahead of it in the 85th session,” said education lobbyist David Anderson.


Last week, after House Speaker Joe Straus directed representatives to study improvements to the state’s school funding system, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — a vocal school choice proponent — issued a news release that praised Straus’ move but also said it “must be packaged with education reform.”

Amy Beneski, a lobbyist for the Texas Association of School Administrators, said that even if the recommended changes are smaller, they still could make a huge difference.

“The bottom line is, the majority of people I’ve ever talked to aren’t happy with the current system, and that’s not going to change,” she said. “We’re just going to have to keep plugging away. This is hard work.”

 


Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators and the Texas Association of School Administrators have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/06/11/amid-staar-upheaval-panel-working-fixes/.

From The Texas Tribune: Allegations of Fearmongering in Education Board Runoff

by Kiah Collier, The Texas Tribune
May 17, 2016

Mary Lou Bruner and Keven Ellis are hoping to represent District 9 on the State Board of Education. Northeast Texas voters will pick between the two Republicans in a May 24 runoff election. Whoever wins the nomination will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph in November.

Mary Lou Bruner and Keven Ellis are hoping to represent District 9 on the State Board of Education. Northeast Texas voters will pick between the two Republicans in a May 24 runoff election. Whoever wins the nomination will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph in November.

CANTON — Today’s schoolchildren favor socialism over the free market. Common Core educational standards — banned in Texas — have crept into the classroom. And Texas schools should “teach the knowledge and skills that made the United States the leader of the world,” including cursive, phonics and multiplication tables.

State Board of Education hopeful Mary Lou Bruner’s fear-inducing, back-to-basics talking points have not changed much during a GOP runoff campaign that began after she nearly won a three-way primary to represent northeast Texas on the panel that sets state curriculum and adopts textbooks.

Neither, though, have Keven Ellis’.

Despite finishing a distant second to Bruner in the March 1 primary, when GOP voters demonstrated a strong preference for far-right candidates, Ellis has deliberately stuck to his policy-focused message: He wants to support educators by working with them rather than against them, narrow a curriculum he describes as “a mile wide and an inch deep” and overhaul the current standardized testing regime. That is, when he’s not urging voters to ignore Bruner’s message of alarm.

“You will hear her say that children belong to the parents and not the government — and of course they do — but she has also said that if your children go to school saying things like ‘abortion is wrong’ and they don’t believe in global warming, they could get a visit from the school administrator” and put themselves at risk of being taken away by Child Protective Services, Ellis said earlier this month during a sparsely attended GOP runoff forum in the East Texas town of Canton.

Ellis, a 45-year-old Lufkin chiropractor, who has served for three years on the local school board and is now its president, added that the Texas Legislature has already banned Common Core, and the state curriculum still includes cursive, phonics and multiplication tables.

“It’s all about inciting fear,” he said. “Please see through this.”  

Bruner, a conservative activist who worked in East Texas schools for 36 years as a teacher, counselor and educational diagnostician before retiring in 2009, said there’s plenty of reasons to be afraid of “elites in the federal government that are trying to give us a one-size-fits-all, top-down education system.”

“If that is fearmongering, I wish people had spoken out harder and heavier in Germany before Hitler took over,” she said. “We should be scared when they want to take away from us what our government was built upon and totally revamp it and make it like the socialist and communist countries of the world.”

The 69-year-old from Mineola, who won 48 percent of the March primary vote to Ellis’ 31 percent, also bashed reporters for fixating on her conspiracy theory-laden Facebook posts during the primary campaign. Now mostly hidden from public view, they contended that President Obama worked as a gay prostitute in his youth to pay for a drug habit and that the Democratic Party was behind President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

“They always want to smear my name and start with that before they ask me what I want to do on the State Board of Education,” she said, adding in an interview that “I’m really sick and tired of the way they’ve treated me.”

The GOP forum in Canton was one of just a handful of events during the nearly three-month runoff campaign where both candidates were present. Several local conservative groups, which have overwhelmingly backed Bruner, have not invited Ellis to meet with them or speak at their events, according to Ellis and local activists. One of the groups, though, is currently reconsidering its endorsement of Bruner after she made several inaccurate statements in a speech to East Texas superintendents. 

“That is counter to what we should be about,” said Dwayne “Doc” Collins, a Canton activist who founded five local Tea Party groups and organized the forum. The 70-year-old veterinarian said he’s “going to have to break with a lot of my fellow Tea Partiers” to support Ellis.

Ellis “has a lot of positive things he could bring to the state school board,” said Collins, who has known Bruner for years. “He would be quite a bit more cooperative … less confrontational.”

If that is fear-mongering, I wish people had spoken out harder and heavier in Germany before Hitler took over.— Mary Lou Bruner, Republican candidate for State Board of Education

 

But many who attended the forum said it was the first time they had even heard of Ellis or knew there was another candidate in the race besides Bruner. Several said they were leaning toward Bruner after hearing from both candidates because she spoke to their concerns — namely Common Core — and demonstrated conviction.

“She was boisterous. She didn’t back down,” said Patrick Wilson, a retiree who now works as a substitute teacher in Canton.

“She’s my gal,” Jon Smith, another local retiree, told The Texas Tribune at the forum. “She wants to get rid of the Common Core that’s starting.”

Almost every other state has adopted Common Core, the K-12 educational standards championed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Officers — and incentivized when the Obama administration tied their adoption to federal grant eligibility. But Texas’ GOP leaders have rejected the standards for a perceived liberal bias, and the Legislature passed a bill in 2013 banning their adoption or use.

Ellis says he is also opposed to Common Core but described it in an interview as a “non-issue” despite the fact that it’s clearly a concern among his would-be constituents.

Meanwhile, he’s hoping Bruner’s “outlandish comments” will help his cause.

Inaccurate statistics Bruner cited earlier this month during a speech to Region 7 superintendents — including the percentage of students enrolled in special education and the number of substitute teachers working in Lufkin schools — have gotten her in hot water with the influential East Texas Tea Party group Grassroots America — We the People, which endorsed Bruner in the primary.

The Smith County-based group has asked her to “produce her sources” and is “reconsidering” its endorsement, Executive Director JoAnn Fleming said in a text message. The group has also said it doesn’t agree with Bruner’s Facebook posts.

While some of the figures cited in the speech, captured in a cellphone video and circulated online in recent weeks, may have been wrong, Bruner said, “Everything I said is basically true,” including that schools are struggling with teacher shortages and so have to use substitutes.  

“Let me tell you what, the superintendents are not all Republicans,” Bruner said. “Many of them are Democrats, and they have an agenda.”

Bruner confirmed she has not received any endorsements from Texas superintendents. More than 70 of them have endorsed Ellis in the race, as well as statewide teacher groups and the Texas Parent PAC. Ellis also has received endorsements from state Rep. Trent Ashby of Lufkin and outgoing House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen, both of whom are key members of the more moderate bloc of Republicans in the Texas House aligned with Speaker Joe Straus

Whoever prevails in next week’s runoff will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph in the November general election. Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said he doesn’t expect Bruner’s comments to hurt her much.

Ultraconservative GOP runoff voters are “going to focus on the bigger picture of going back to basics — having schools that reflect their values and looking to keep Common Core out of Texas,” Jones said. “Perhaps they wouldn’t say that Obama was a former prostitute financing his drug habit, but they do not have a favorable opinion of President Obama and therefore aren’t going to be turned off by that statement.”

 


Disclosure: Rice University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/05/17/sboe-race-candidates-stick-their-message/.

TEA holds public hearing on innovation district rules

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) held a hearing yesterday to take public testimony on the commissioner’s proposed rules for the implementation of House Bill (HB) 1842 dealing with Districts of Innovation (DOI). HB 1842 by House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) was passed by the legislature in 2015 and addressed several aspects of the state’s accountability system for schools. The provision allowing for innovation districts, which had been proposed through a stand-alone bill last session that did not pass, was added to HB 1842 as a late addition by a conference committee that was tasked with ironing out differences in House and Senate versions of the bill.

The new law allows certain acceptably rated school districts to create innovation plans and claim exemptions from various statutes in the Texas Education Code (TEC) that they feel would otherwise impede their planned innovations. After seeing the written innovation plans that have been developed by some districts, ATPE has expressed grave concerns about the massive exemptions being claimed by some districts and the rights that educators, students, and parents could lose as a result. (For instance, Spring Branch ISD’s Board of Trustees just voted last night to approve a new innovation plan in which the district exerted its right to “exemption from all permissible provisions of the TEC as allowed in the statute.”)

ATPE and the other statewide teacher groups each testified at yesterday’s public hearing that the commissioner’s rules should require districts to explicitly state which sections of the Texas Education Code they intend to exempt themselves from and why those exemptions would be necessary to effectuate the district’s specific innovation plan. ATPE also opposed allowing districts to exempt themselves from any part of the DOI statute itself, such as the provision that requires plan amendments to be sent to a district level planning committee or its equivalent. In addition, ATPE raised concerns over the possibility that districts could potentially waive statutes that deal with the state’s school finance system, including the recapture provisions in Chapter 41. We also asked the commissioner to amend the proposed rules by adding more statutes to his list of non-exemptible sections of the TEC; specifically, ATPE believes that educators’ rights and remedies currently found in Chapter 21 (such as contract rights and the requirement to hire certified teachers) should not be subject to waivers.

In addition to educators, who are concerned about the wholesale loss of educator, student, and parental rights in innovation districts that exercise their waiver authority, the primary opposition to the new law comes from the travel industry. Several school districts are considering using the innovation district law to exempt themselves from the mandatory uniform school start date law found in the TEC. During yesterday’s hearing, a number of representatives of that industry testified that travel and tourism interests could lose hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs if a significant number of districts move back their school start dates.

Stay tuned for more on innovation districts as the TEA rulemaking process continues.

Related content: Watch a quick video interview with ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter about the types of laws that can be waived by innovation districts using this new law.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at an April 25 hearing on proposed rules for innovation districts.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at an April 25 hearing on proposed rules for innovation districts.

From The Texas Tribune: Outspoken Education Board Candidate Headed to Runoff

by Kiah Collier, The Texas Tribune
March 1, 2016

Right to Left, Top to Bottom: Georgina Perez, Dakota Carter, Mary Lou Bruner, Joe Fierro, Jr., Jasmine L. Jenkins, Keven M. Ellis

Top row, left to right: Georgina Perez, Dakota Carter, Mary Lou Bruner. Bottom row, left to right: Joe Fierro, Jr., Jasmine L. Jenkins, Keven M. Ellis.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.

An East Texas Republican who once claimed President Obama used to be a gay prostitute appears headed for a May 24 primary runoff in the race to represent District 9 on the State Board of Education.

And at least one political scientist believes Mary Lou Bruner could fare even better there than she did on Tuesday.

The 68-year-old retired schoolteacher, who garnered national attention during the campaign because of her over-the-top Facebook posts, was near the 50 percent mark early Wednesday morning in her three-person GOP primary race.

She appears poised for a runoff with Lufkin chiropractor and school board president Keven Ellis, who raised and spent more money than Bruner during the campaign but trailed her by 17 percentage points with 95 percent of precincts reporting. (Bruner had secured about 48 percent of the vote to Ellis’ 31 percent.)

The third candidate in the race, Hank Hering, a friend of Bruner’s, was running third early Wednesday morning. (Bruner told the Tribune she would’ve endorsed Hering in the race if she hadn’t run.)

While runoffs can be toss-ups regardless of what happens in the regular election, Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said Bruner will probably have an edge in May because the movement conservatives backing her are more likely to show up to vote than the more moderate Republicans who are backing Ellis.

Ellis describes himself as a conservative Republican, but — with endorsements from Republicans like outgoing House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen — was seen as the establishment candidate in the race. That has been a difficult label to overcome for candidates up and down the ballot this election cycle with voters showing overwhelmingly preference for outside-the-box over run-of-the-mill.

If Bruner clinches the party nomination, it all but ensures she will win in November, as District 9 is considered safe for Republicans. Whoever prevails in the District 9 GOP primary race will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph, a secondary education professor at Sam Houston State University who is unopposed in her primary.

Observers say her election would reignite the divisiveness on the 15-member education board, which is in charge of crafting curriculum and textbooks for the state’s more than 5 million public schoolchildren. The panel has become more harmonious in recent years as the cadre of fervent right-wing conservative conservatives who used to dominate the board has diminished, with some members retiring or being voted out.

One of those members lost to the current District 9 representative, Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant, one of the board’s more moderate Republican members who decided not to seek re-election.

Observers also have predicted an increase in divisiveness if Democrat Georgina Perez represents District 1 on the education board, which she will after her primary win Tuesday.

Perez, 41, avoided a runoff in the three-person primary race. Finishing behind her were Joe Fierro Jr., a longtime Army soldier, and Lynn Oliver, a retired public school teacher who now lectures in the Department of English at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

There is no Republican running for District 1.

In District 6, Democrats Jasmine L. Jenkins and R. Dakota Carter are headed for a runoff.

Carter, 28, is a child and adolescent psychiatry resident at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. Jenkins, 32, is a former bilingual fourth-grade teacher who now works for a tutoring and test preparation company in Houston.

Whoever prevails will face Republican board chairwoman Donna Bahorich in November. She has no primary opponent.

Neither do five other board members up for re-election — Tom MaynardBarbara CargillMarty RowleySue Melton-Malone and Ken Mercer — although some will face Libertarian and Green Party challengers in November.


Disclosure: Rice University has been a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/03/01/state-board-races-head-to-runoff/.

State testing commission meets for the second time, hears from public

The Commission on Next Generation Assessments  and Accountability met at the Capitol in Austin on Tuesday, Feb 23. The commission heard from three invited panels and then took a little over an hour to hear public testimony.

The meeting kicked off with the appointment of commission member Stacy Hock to serve as vice-chair of the commission. Next, the commission heard from the outgoing chair of the House Public Education Committee and author of the bill that created to the commission, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen). The first panel of invited witnesses consisted of Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes, and Chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission Andres Alcantar.

Commissioner Morath spoke about the foundational nature of the state’s curriculum standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), both within our education system generally and as they relate to the assessment system. He also spoke about the role of the College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRs) within the TEKS and how Texas was first out of the gate nationally when it first developed the CCRs. He also spoke on the different levels of cut scores as they related to college readiness. Morath generated the most reaction, however, with his closing remark about transitioning away from the current assessment system to a system of small, formative assessments given throughout the year. Morath expressed that he envisioned such an assessment system as being most effectively delivered in a digital format, from which data could be pulled at the end of the year to create a summative result without the need for an additional summative test. Such a system, if correctly implemented, could address many of the issues various stakeholders have with the current system.

Commissioner Paredes spoke next on the Closing the Gaps initiative which began in 2000 and just completed in 2015, plus the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s new initiative known as “60/30,” which is just kicking off and seeks to raise the percentage of the eligible Texas population with a post-secondary degree of certification to 60 percent by the year 2030, slightly less than double the current percentage. Paredes also talked to the commission about the TSI, the Texas-specific college entrance exam that came out the Texas Success Initiative. The TSI is based directly on the CCRs and has the benefit of pinpointing very granular areas where a student may be lacking skills, which can greatly cut down on time spent remediating students. Finally, Paredes pointed out that despite the benefits of having the CCRs, they should only be looked to as a proxy because the truth is that whether or not a student is college ready is entirely the purview of the college faculty teaching freshman level classes, and that there is a wide range of rigor in the reality that isn’t necessarily reflected in the standards.

The second panel consisted of Matt Lisk, Executive Director of College Readiness Assessments, College Board, and John Clark, Lead Account Strategist, ACT, Inc. Client Relations. They spent their time extolling the virtues of and answering questions about the respective companies’ testing products.

The third panel included Karen Rue, Superintendent, Northwest ISD and Dawson Orr, Department Chair, Southern Methodist University, both speaking on behalf of the Texas High Preforming Schools Consortium. They, too, began their presentations by referencing the fundamental nature of the TEKS, but from the perspective that the sheer breadth of TEKS precludes covering them at any depth. The pair spent most of their time trying to describe and convince the commissioners and lawmakers present of the value of what they termed “community-based accountability.” While the promises and high-level theory of such a model sounded very promising to many in the audience and some on the dais, there was definitely some skepticism on the part of some of the commissioners and lawmakers as to the feasibility of what they view as essentially a system of self-rating.

ThinkstockPhotos-111939554Finally, the panel heard from roughly 20 witnesses during the public testimony portion of the agenda. By and large these testifiers were individual parents and educators. They gave the commission a much needed window into some of the shortcomings of the current system where theory meets reality. Of particular impact was testimony about the true logistics of teaching to the test. Issues mentioned included problems like the 26-line first draft writing test that in no way reflects how anyone in the real world writes. Another concern was the 10-line short answer section where students find it very difficult to completely answer the highly valued questions in the limited and rigidly enforced space allotted. One teacher testified that an example of her teaching to the test was to spend time working with her students on writing small so that they could fit more into the box. Another testifier brought up the effect that the vast number of multiple choice questions was having on a student’s ability to synthesize original thought from whole cloth, without being presented multiple choice options . Parents often pointed out how otherwise successful hardworking and sometimes exceptional kids were having their self-worth and futures crushed under the weight of repressive and unforgiving testing. The witnesses described that particularly for those students with learning disorders, those who suffered from severe test anxiety, or those who were part of the large and growing population of English Language Learners,  the test was much less a measure of their subject area knowledge and more a reflection of their disabilities or circumstance. The commission uniformly thanked those who provided public testimony for adding a much needed perspective to the conversation.

Commission meetings are live-streamed as they are happening and available for viewing from an archive about a week later. The most current meeting is not yet available in the archive for viewing but we will post a link in this post when it is. Future meeting dates for the commission include: Wednesday, March 23, 2016; Wednesday, April 20, 2016; Wednesday, May 25, 2016; and Wednesday, July 27, 2016.

You can read more on the Commission for Next Generation Assessments and Accountability at https://tea.texas.gov/2804commission.aspx

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 29, 2016

You’re almost out of time to register to vote in the upcoming primary election. Read about the voter registration deadline, along with other election news and education stories from this week.


ThinkstockPhotos-481431733Monday, Feb. 1 is the last day you can register to vote in the upcoming March 1 primary elections. Click here to check the status of your voter registration through the Secretary of State’s office. For anyone not already registered, learn more about the voter registration process here.

Now more than ever, it’s critical for educators to show up at the polls in March. Many of the state’s most high-profile election contests will be decided in March through the primaries, making the November general election insignificant in many of those races. Voter turnout has been woefully low in recent years, but the 2016 races are too important for educators to ignore. Read more about why it’s so important for educators to exercise their right to vote in this recent letter from our allies at Friends of Texas Public Schools. Also, take a few minutes to visit the website of our partnership with TexasEducatorsVote.com and take the educator’s oath to show your commitment to participate in the elections.

Don’t forget about the great election resources available here on Teach the Vote. Search for legislative and State Board of Education candidates using our 2016 Races page, and then check out the candidates’ voting records and responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey. If candidates in your area have not yet taken our survey, please encourage them to do so and share their views on public education with thousands of potential voters.


HD118map-smallerVoter turnout was extremely low in Tuesday’s special election runoff for House District 118, where former Rep. Joe Farias (D-San Antonio) stepped down from his seat leaving a vacancy. It’s reported that a total of only 3,601 voters in the San Antonio district went to the polls in the special election that wrapped up this week. Voters chose John Lujan (R) to fill the HD 118 vacancy for the remainder of this year. Lujan defeated Tomas Uresti (D) by a margin of only 161 votes, and overall turnout in the runoff was just over four percent of the registered voters in the district. Lujan and Uresti are among four candidates who are vying for the seat in the regular 2016 election. Access profiles of them on Teach the Vote’s 2016 Races search page.

In related news, a legislative resignation could prompt yet another special election in Bexar County. Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D) this week submitted an official letter of resignation from her House District 120 seat effective Jan. 31, 2016. McClendon has been a longtime supporter of public schools and educators. She has held the seat since 1996, but has faced serious health challenges in recent years, including a battle with lung cancer. McClendon had already announced her intent not to run for re-election in 2016, but her early resignation creates an opportunity for Gov. Greg Abbott to call yet another special election for a House seat in the San Antonio area. The governor has not yet made any official announcement. Six candidates are already vying to assume the HD 120 seat in the 2016 open race, and their profiles are also available here on Teach the Vote.


The Senate Education Committee is planning a Feb. 10 meeting in McAllen, Texas. The agenda includes a briefing on English Language Learning and monitoring legislation to address training support for counselors, advising courses for middle school students, and placement of video cameras in some special education classrooms. Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) of nearby Brownsville vice-chairs the committee and was the author of last year’s Senate Bill 507 requiring the addition of cameras in certain classrooms. Limited public testimony will be allowed at the McAllen hearing.

The House Public Education Committee has scheduled an interim hearing for Feb. 9 in Austin. The purpose of this meeting is, in part, to review the state’s current education policies and initiatives regarding middle grades and make recommendations on strategies to help students in middle grades prepare for future success. The committee will also review current public education programs that address the needs of high performing students, including consideration of whether the state’s accountability system should include a separate indicator for the academic performance of high achieving students. Limited public testimony will be allowed.

JD_Aycock
Related content:
 The Coalition for Public Schools is partnering with other groups to host a series of community meetings in different parts of this state during the interim. House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), pictured at right, is a featured speaker at some of the coalition’s events. Read our blog post from earlier this week to learn more about how you can participate.

 


SBOE logoThe State Board of Education has been meeting this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended the meetings and contributed information for this report. On Tuesday, the board heard hours of public testimony on possible revisions to 19 TAC Chapter 110, which includes the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) in elementary, middle, and high school grades. No action has been taken at this point.

On the board’s action agenda this week was an opportunity for the SBOE to decide which vendors should oversee the state’s high school equivalency assessments, often known as GED tests, in Texas. SBOE members voted to award contracts to three companies: GED Testing Service, Data Recognition Corporation, and Educational Testing Service (ETS). As the Texas Education Agency noted in a press release issued today, the decision by the board “marks a shift from the use of a single testing provider to three.”

The SBOE also had an opportunity once again to review proposed changes to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) rules for becoming certified as a superintendent. SBEC’s original proposal to remove many of the prerequisities for superintendent certification was opposed by ATPE and rejected by the SBOE in November 2015. As a result, SBEC had to take the issue up again and pass a newer, slightly less controversial rule revision in December, which was once again submitted to the SBOE for review this month. At this week’s meeting, SBOE members opted to take no action on it, which means that the SBEC rule as most recently revised in December will now go into effect.

This morning, the board also had a chance to recognize the Texas Teachers of the Year and Superintendent of the Year. Revathi Balakrishnan, who is the 2016 Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year and an ATPE member in Round Rock ISD spoke to SBOE members about the need to give teachers time to teach. She was joined by Mary Ann Whiteker, Superintendent of the Year from Hudson ISD, who spoke about difficulties surrounding the emphasis on STAAR testing.


School Choice Week has been observed around the country this week and will spill over into the first part of February. Supporters of private and home schools are expected to attend a rally at the Texas State Capitol today. While organizers of the annual event are again predicting a crowd of “thousands,” similar rallies in recent years instead have drawn hundreds, even during a legislative session year. It’s reported that featured speakers for the event will include Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), who has sponsored voucher legislation, and Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who also spoke at last year’s rally.

In Washington, D.C., a congressional hearing entitled “Expanding Educational Opportunity Through School Choice” that was originally scheduled for Jan. 26 but postponed on account of weather is now slated for Wednesday, Feb. 3. At the same time, lawmakers in several states are grappling with the issue of private school vouchers and related proposals to privatize public education. Read our blog post from yesterday to find out more about what’s being proposed in Tennessee, North Carolina, Indiana, and Virginia.

You can also read why vouchers are such a pivotal issue in the 2016 elections right here in Texas and why it’s so important for educators to help decide who goes to Austin for the 2017 legislative session. As we noted in yesterday’s blog post, vouchers passed the Senate last year and were blocked in the House. A shakeup in the composition of the legislature could produce dramatically different results the next time around. Keeping enough pro-public education legislators in the House will be essential, and there are a handful of Republican primary races in the Senate that could also have an impact on the legislative landscape and the likelihood of a voucher bill passing next year.

Related content: Did you know that Teach the Vote offers valuable insights on candidates’ views about “school choice” issues? Our candidate profiles include information on major endorsements, indicating those running for legislative seats who have been endorsed by groups that openly support private school vouchers and home schooling initiatives. Plus, you can find out how your legislators voted on bills calling for private school vouchers and other privatization proposals. Visit our 2016 Races search page to read about the candidates in your area.

From The Texas Tribune: Who Will Be the Next Texas Education Chief?

by Morgan Smith, The Texas Tribune
November 22, 2015

 

commissioner_jpg_800x1000_q100_TexasTribunephoto_Nov2015

Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to appoint a new commissioner of education.

A few days after Michael Williams announced he would step down as the state’s top education official in January, he described the post as the most challenging job he’s ever had.

“There is more concern and interest in what we do at [the Texas Education Agency] than anything else I’ve ever done,” said Williams during an interview at the Texas Tribune Festival in October.

His 30-year-long resume in state and federal government includes prosecuting members of the Ku Klux Klan as a U.S. Department of Justice attorney and over a decade on the Texas Railroad Commission.

Leading the Texas Education Agency — which involves overseeing the state’s approximately 1,200 school districts and charter schools — is a role that requires both diplomacy and policy chops.

Williams’ successor in the governor-appointed position will inherit an ongoing state funding lawsuit brought by two-thirds of Texas school districts, an uneasy gridlock with the federal government over teacher evaluation policy, and an agency still recovering from drastic 2011 cuts to budgets and personnel. All those problems must be tackled while balancing the demands of state lawmakers, school leaders, and, of course, the governor’s office.

As Gov. Greg Abbott ponders possibilities to fill the job, he will be doing a balancing act of his own among the wide-ranging, though sometimes overlapping, factions within the education community.

So who might be among his choices for the next education commissioner? Let’s take a look.

A reform champion: With his education platform, Abbott has strived for the support of the homeschoolers, business-oriented accountability groups, charter school advocates, and voucher proponents who make up the education reform movement. So any appointee he selects is likely to at least be palatable to those groups, if not one of their own.

Examples: Chris Barbic, founder of the Houston-based Yes Prep charter school network; Mike Feinberg, co-founder of KIPP Public Schools and superintendent of KIPP Houston; Former Texas House Public Education Chairman Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington.

Complications: Asking someone to move from the innovation-focused environment of charter schools and business to a regulation-laden agency may be a hard sell. And some options — particularly Grusendorf, a harsh critic of public schools who has continued to be an outspoken proponent of school choice since losing his seat in 2006 — may be polarizing.

A veteran school administrator: In its day-to-day function, the agency’s biggest constituents are the school officials who weigh in on and carry out its policies throughout the state. Having a leader who has already earned their respect while coming up through their ranks could be a big help. But anyone Abbott selects from this crowd is also going to need a track record of playing well with the reform movement.

Examples: Former Spring Branch ISD superintendent Duncan Klussman; Grand Prairie ISD superintendent Susan Hull; Hutto ISD superintendent Doug Killian; Alief ISD superintendent HD Chambers; Dallas ISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa.

Complications: In most cases, superintendents of large to mid-sized Texas school districts would be taking a pay cut to lead the agency. A choice from within the ranks of school administrators may also carry the perception that Abbott isn’t pushing hard enough for school reform.

A politico: Appointing a former lawmaker with an education background has two primary advantages: direct experience with statewide policymaking and (ideally) good relationships with the current elected officials who will be passing the laws that the agency is charged with implementing. Some in this category could also walk the line between the establishment and reform camps.

Examples: Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, who announced he’s not running for re-election in May; former Senate Education Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano; Former state Rep. Dee Margo, an El Paso Republican who since leaving the House has led El Paso ISD’s Board of Managers; Grusendorf.

Complications: Once an elected official has made the decision to leave public service, it may be difficult to persuade him or her to return, especially to a job as grueling as running the education agency.

An agency insider: Why not eliminate the learning curve and appoint someone from within who can immediately begin making changes that advance the governor’s priorities?

Example: Deputy Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds.

Complications: If Abbott selects from within, he could lose the opportunity to make an appointment that would immediately put his own stamp on the agency.


 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2015/11/22/who-will-be-next-texas-education-chief/.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 23, 2015

From elections to TRS, here are the Texas education stories you may have missed this week:


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released its final set of financial accountability ratings for school districts and charter schools today. The agency reports that nearly 98 percent of the state’s districts and charters achieved successful ratings for the 2014-15 year under what’s known as the School Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST). View TEA’s press release about the ratings here.

In other news from TEA, a new evaluation report was shared this week on implementation of a major academic accountability overhaul by the legislature in 2013. House Bill 5 (2013) carried by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) made sweeping changes to the state’s curriculum and graduation requirements, including creating new endorsement areas for high school students. The new report outlines the extent to which school districts have offered the new endorsements and how schools have communicated information about the graduation requirements to students and their parents. Read more in TEA’s press release from Oct. 21.


Early voting has begun for the Nov. 3 election and will continue through next Friday, Oct. 30. Registered voters statewide have the opportunity to weigh in on seven proposed constitutional amendments, and many voters have bond proposals and other local matters on their ballots. In the San Antonio area, voters in House District 118 are choosing a new state representative to replace Rep. Joe Farias (D), who is retiring. Read more in our blog post from earlier this week, and if you live in HD 118, be sure to check out our new profiles of the special election candidates on our Resources page.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees held a town hall meeting yesterday, Oct. 22, to discuss healthcare concerns for active and retired educators. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson sat on one of the panels for the day-long, interactive event and wrote this report for Teach the Vote.


Don’t forget to follow Teach the VoteATPE, and members of our ATPE lobby team on Twitter for breaking news and other updates such as these: