The Texas Senate Education Committee met twice this week for the first time this session, signaling things are picking up in the Texas Legislature. ATPE weighed in on two measures the committee took up this week: a measure termed the “Tim Tebow bill” and a bill pertaining to district partnerships with charters.
Senate Bill (SB) 1882 by Sen. Jose Menendez relates to a school district partnering with a public charter school to operate a district campus and share teachers, facilities, and other educational resources. ATPE shared several concerns with the bill, which included lack of clarity on which entity would serve as the educators’ employer and the fact that a law is not needed to enable districts to form this type of partnership. Another concern was addressed by Senator Menendez in a newer version of the original bill; under the proposed committee substitute, neighborhood schools would still have first access to their neighborhood school regardless of the fact that a charter operator took it over.
Senator Menendez’s comments included his intent to continue working to address the issues expressed by stakeholders, calling for “a community solution.” That includes ATPE’s concern regarding the ambiguity with regard to who would employ educators. ATPE shared that if a district teacher becomes an employee of the charter, it would affect their rights and benefits, as charter employees don’t have the same rights and benefits as traditional public school employees.
The broader issue ATPE has with this bill does not have to do with opposition to locally developed partnerships between high-quality charters and districts, but with the fact that the bill only serves to incentivize this means of focusing attention on a school while not doing the same with others. Many innovative approaches or effective turnaround models, including this one, can be adopted by a board currently and has been done in various districts. This bill, however, would offer an accountability pause when this is used as a turnaround model in unacceptably rated schools and financial incentives when this sort of partnership is developed on any campus. Ultimately, this could serve to lessen the value and utilization of other models or innovative options that might be very well-suited for a particular school or community.
The committee also heard testimony on SB 640 by Sen. Van Taylor, a bill that would allow home-school students to participate in UIL activities, a bill termed the “Tim Tebow bill.” ATPE opposed the legislation, pointing to a number of positions in the ATPE Legislative Program that contrast with the idea of home school students selectively choosing aspects of the public school system in which they want to participate. Home-school parents and students were present to testify in both support and opposition. ATPE’s full testimony can be read here.
The Texas Legislature is picking up speed rapidly. Stay tuned for more from the Senate Education Committee next week!
Houston ISD trustees admonish TEA for delaying campus turnaround plan implementation. Graphic by Todd Wiseman / The Texas Tribune
The superintendents and elected school boards of 11 Texas districts — including Dallas, Houston and Fort Worth — have been ordered by the state education agency to attend two-day training programs to learn how to fix their failing schools.
Deputy Commissioner of Education A.J. Crabill sent letters to the 11 school boards Oct. 10 saying they need additional governance training because their districts submittedunsatisfactory plans for turning around floundering campuses. All 11 superintendents and boards have agreed to the training, with several members expressing frustration about what they saw as an unfair and vague request.
The letters were sent about two months after TEA released 2016 accountability ratings showing that 467 campuses statewide — including 42 in the targeted districts —were labeled “improvement required,” a decrease from 603 campuses last year. The notices were sent to Brazosport, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Fort Worth, Hearne, Houston, Lubbock, Midland, Nacogdoches, Tyler and Waco.
State law requires districts to submit detailedplans in the spring to fix problems at schools labeled “improvement required” for two or more consecutive years. The districts are supposed to include parents and the community in drafting the proposed fixes.
Morath has the final say on approving the plans — by mid-to -late June, according to a TEA timeline — so districts can start implementing them the following school year.
But forthe11 school districts, that implementation will have to wait until board trustees and superintendents attend a two-day, 24-hour governance training session.
In the letters, Crabill said he wasn’t sure the plans the districts submitted would address problems — including low test scores, low graduation rates, high dropout rates, and poor college readiness — within two years. The training sessions will help trustees identify and fix weaknesses in their plans, the letter said.
If Morath decides not to approve a plan, he can replace the board of trustees, replace the principal of a school or shut the school down completely, Crabill wrote.
Houston Independent School District’s board of trustees told Crabill it will likely vote to attend the training. But it also admonished the agency for leaving little time to actually turn around its schools. The commissioner said he would respond to the plans in June, and now may not approve them until trainings are completed in December.
“Our ability to make significant changes to the plans for these seven schools at this date may be somewhat limited,” the Houston board wrote Oct. 25. “Since TEA has missed its own published deadline for responding to the turnaround plans by four months, we ask that you provide us with specific concerns that TEA may have with the plans for these seven schools, so that we may begin considering how to make any appropriate adjustments in a way that will cause the least disruption during the school year.”
At an Oct. 27 Dallas Independent School District board meeting, a few trustees said the request for training was too vague.
“While I don’t have a problem with training, I do have a problem with a demand that I implement what it is we are going to be trained on, when I don’t even know what it is,” said trustee Joyce Foreman. “We need to know the specifics of what is wrong. We need to know specifics about the training. We need to know specifics of why these eight schools.”
The commissioner did approve campus turnaround plans in other districts around the state, TEA spokesperson Lauren Callahan said. She could not say what the difference was between those plans and the ones the commissioner flagged.
After receiving a flood of questions from district officials across the state, Crabill included a few key explanations in a follow up email to all 11 superintendents. He slashed the training from four days to two, after trustees said it was too hard for them to fit into their schedules. He presented six different dates and locations for the training, in Kilgore, Waco, Fort Worth, Midland, El Paso and Houston, on weekdays and weekends between Nov. 9 and Dec. 17.
All trustees and superintendents from all 11 boards must attend the entire workshop, Crabill said.
“This is a team event so just like in other team events, the whole team has to win together. Completion means that all trustees and the superintendent were present at the same workshop for the entirety of the workshop,” Crabill wrote.
Though all 11 boards have agreed to attend the training, it is not clear whether all trustees will show up.
A veteran Lubbock board trustee said he voted yes to the resolution agreeing to training – but now he’s not sure whether he will actually attend. He called the demand for governance training “unprecedented” in his 14 years on the board.
He said he is not sure whether he can get away from his day job for two 12-hour days. Districts have to cover the cost of any travel required for board members to attend the training session.
TEA does not have a plan in place in case board members don’t show up, Callahan said. “So far, TEA is receiving confirmation that board members will attend and complete the training. As a result, discussions on failure to participate have not been necessary,” she wrote in a statement Tuesday. “Any talk of penalties is premature.”
Read related Tribune coverage here:
Education Commissioner Mike Morath on Tuesday outlined plans to crack down harder on chronically low-performing schools, saying he wants to cut in half the number of them that end up on the state’s failing list over the next five years.
I’m Wondering Why
The Rhetoric about Public Schools Doesn’t Add Up
by Andra Self
Lately, much of what is said by some state leaders about schools just doesn’t add up. Inconsistencies and conundrums in their statements are leading many Texans to ask questions. Here are a few examples.
Why Not Brag?
We all know that Texas is a state that loves to brag. We brag about everything being bigger and better in Texas. We brag about how we compare to other states. But somehow, when it comes to schools, some state leaders don’t take the opportunity to brag, and I wonder why. Recently, U.S. News & World Report released its list of the best high schools in the nation. Of the top 10 high schools, four are public high schools in Texas. That is certainly brag-worthy!
For the past few years, Texas has been ranking in the top handful of states on graduation rates. In fact, Texas African American students rank first when compared to their peers in other states. Graduation rates for Hispanic students are also best in the nation. White students’ graduation rates are outdone by only one state. Texas graduation rates are something to brag about, and it seems odd that some state leaders aren’t bragging.
Why the Stance on Tests?
At the same time that state lawmakers are passing laws that allow a student to graduate without passing all the tests (Senate Bill 149), those same leaders are embracing test results to rate schools A through F (Senate Bill 6).
On one hand, the tests have lost support, while at the same time the tests are considered a reliable tool for ranking schools. It seems strange that the tests are suspect in one context, yet valid measures in another.
Why a New Bureaucracy?
Some lawmakers are focused on what to do about “failing schools” and are creating a new statewide bureaucracy to take troubled schools away from their local districts. However, years of data from the Texas Education Agency show that local districts have a laudable track record on turning around schools that receive the lowest ranking.
In fact, districts move 80 percent of schools out of that category in the first year after receiving substandard rankings. A new bureaucracy is not needed.
Why Not Tell the Truth About Choice?
Some politicians push for “school choice”—but in truth, parents already have many choices and are exercising those choices: In addition to Texas public schools, parents can consider private schools, public charter schools, virtual schools, and homeschooling.
Furthermore, there are often many choices within the public school system: magnet schools, transfers within districts, and transfers to other districts. School choice already exists.
Why No Adequate Funding?
The number of students in Texas is growing by approximately 80,000 each year. We topped 5 million students recently. Schools are caught in a squeeze between rising student numbers, increased daily costs (e.g., electricity, transportation, food, supplies), and unfunded mandates from state government.
However, the Legislature cut school funding by $5.4 billion in the session before last and now appears unresponsive to the judge’s ruling that public school funding should be improved. The state has plenty of dollars to fund schools, but some lawmakers seem inclined to withhold those much needed dollars.
Vouchers are designed to allow students to attend private schools using public tax dollars, and some lawmakers are going through all sorts of gyrations to find ways to divert funding from public schools to private schools. They want to take dollars away from the many students who attend public schools (almost 94 percent) to pay for the few (about 7 percent) who attend private schools—schools that will have no accountability for tax dollars or academic achievement.
Why Not Support Public Schools?
As you see, much of the rhetoric simply does not add up. Texas public schools are doing better than ever before. They deserve our applause and support.
Some lawmakers are working hard to support public schools, and we deeply appreciate that. Others, however, are denigrating this state’s public schools with statements not based on facts or needs. As we move forward in the future, it’s critical that all Texas lawmakers work together to Stand Up for Texas Public Schools.
Andra Self, a Lufkin ISD trustee, is 2014-15 president of TASB.
Views and opinions expressed in guest posts are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of ATPE. Reprinted with permission from the July 2015 Texas Lone Star magazine, published by the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB). Copyright 2015 TASB. All rights reserved.
The House Public Education Committee is meeting now to hear several bills, including Senate Bill (SB) 6 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) calling for public school campuses to be rated with “A through F” accountability grades. While the bill contains improved language supplied in a Senate floor amendment by Sen. Jose Menendez (D), many educators remain opposed to SB 6 and giving letter grades to campuses. Read more about SB 6 here.
Below are the other bills slated to be heard by the House committee today:
HB 233 by Rep. Jessica Farrar (D) relating to school social work services in public schools.
HB 1231 by Rep. Allen Fletcher (R) relating to the membership of school district and open-enrollment charter school concussion oversight teams.
HB 1783 by Rep. Joe Moody (D) relating to the right of a school employee to report a crime and persons subject to the prohibition on coercing another into suppressing or failing to report information to a law enforcement agency; creating a criminal offense.
HB 1935 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to additional state aid for tax reduction provided to certain school districts.
HB 2017 Rep. Rick Miller (R) relating to permissible locations of open-enrollment charter schools created by institutions of higher education.
HB 2151 by Rep. Tracy King (D) relating to consideration by the board of trustees of a school district of parental complaints concerning student participation in extracurricular activities.
HB 2156 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) relating to requirements for providers of certain technology services in public schools.
HB 2218 by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D) relating to instruction regarding mental health, substance abuse, and youth suicide in educator training programs.
HB 2593 by Rep. Four Price (R) relating to the method of determining the average daily attendance in certain school districts.
HB 2928 by Rep. Ryan Guillen (D) relating to enrollment in public schools by a child without a parent, guardian, or other person with legal control of the child under a court order.
HB 3260 by Rep. Abel Herrero (D) relating to a study and report regarding the use of open-source instructional materials at public schools.
HB 3281 by Rep. James Frank (R) relating to public school accountability.
HB 3282 by Rep. Ron Simmons (R) relating to the establishment by the commissioner of education of an autism program to provide applied behavior analysis services to students with autism spectrum disorder and to the coordination of autism services in this state.
HB 3417 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D) relating to providing for endorsements for public high school students enrolled in special education programs.
HB 3546 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R) relating to the provision of credit by examination for public school students.
HB 3815 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R) relating to instruction in positive character traits in public schools.
HB 3896 by Rep. Sylvester Turner (D) relating to access to school textbooks.
HB 4047 by Rep. Alma Allen (D) relating to the extension to open-enrollment charter school employees of certain rights granted to school district employees. This bill was filed at the request of ATPE.
Later today, the committee is also slated to vote on a number of pending bills that have already been heard. These include two bills of great concern to the education community. First, House Bill (HB) 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) deals with the ability to convert public school districts to home rule charter districts that are exempt from many of the laws applicable to other public school districts. Deshotel’s bill changes the name of the privatization mechanism under existing law to “local control school districts” and does away with the requirement in current law for at least 25 percent voter turnout in an election to convert a school district to a “local control school district.” Also scheduled to be voted out today is HB 1536 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D) calling for creation of a statewide Opportunity School District for certain low-performing schools.
Both of these bills, HB 1536 and HB 1798, would facilitate alternative management of public schools by private entities, and they are being pushed forward by the wealthy lobbying group, Texans for Education Reform (TER). The bills promote ineffective school turnaround strategies and eliminate important quality control measures that exist for most other public schools, such as elementary school class-size limits and requirements to hire certified teachers. The alternative management structure envisioned by both HB 1536 and HB 1798 would remove the governing authority of locally elected school board members, which serves to diminish true local control in the long run. Also, neither bill would provide for increased resources or even encourage a reallocation of resources to ensure that the campuses that are struggling the most will receive the most support, which is essential to any successful turnaround effort. For these reasons, ATPE urges members to ask their state representatives and especially members of the House Public Education committee, to vote against HB 1798 and 1536 today.
Fortunately, another TER-backed bill, HB 2543, is not expected to be voted upon by the House committee today. HB 2543 is Rep. Marsha Farney’s (R) bill to do away with the minimum salary schedule for teachers. We appreciate all the ATPE members who’ve been calling their state representatives to oppose this bill.
The committee will review strategies for improving student achievement at “chronically underperforming schools.” In addition to looking at school turnaround methods, committee members will discuss issues surrounding “alternative governance of underperforming schools.” ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter will be testifying at the hearing.
Tomorrow’s meeting is in response to an interim charge issued by Lt. Gov. Dewhurst directing the committee to review certain issues in anticipation of the 84th legislative session next year. Watch live or archived video of the hearing here.
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