Category Archives: teaching

From The Texas Tribune: Many Texas students will return to classrooms Tuesday. Little will be normal.

As students across Texas return to schools for in-person classes, there will be masks, distancing and lunches eaten at desks. Many students will remain at home, joining in on laptops and phones.

Students sit distanced from one another in the lunch room at Jacob’s Well Elementary School in Wimberley. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

On a normal first day of school, Texas children would wake up early to cram into school buses, eager to huddle and chat with their friends in the hallways before streaming toward their classrooms.

On Tuesday, as many of the state’s biggest urban and suburban districts return for their first day of in-person instruction, there is anxiety mingled with that excitement. Many parents will not be allowed to walk their kindergarteners inside for their first day. Teenagers will be shooed away if they congregate around their lockers. Meals will be grab-and-go, often eaten in classrooms instead of raucous cafeterias. Students and teachers will wear masks, trying to stay as far apart from one another as possible even as they come together for the first time in months.

Many kids will not be entering their schools at all. Some of the state’s biggest districts, including Houston and Dallas independent school districts, will not open their classrooms for in-person learning until late September or October, and they may even ask the state for more time if the virus isn’t under control.

In-person instruction will look very different from campus to campus. Some districts will bring students back in phases, starting with those who most need in-person education, like students with disabilities or those learning English. In San Antonio’s North East ISD, no more than five students will be in each classroom this week. Other districts are welcoming back all students who opted for in-person instruction at the same time.

Only about half of Seguin ISD’s students are expected to head into classrooms Tuesday morning for the first day of in-person instruction. They will walk past thermal scanners, which can measure the body temperature of about 30 people at a time and detect fevers that may be signs of illness. Middle and high school students will sit in desks spread apart, in many cases less than 6 feet with dividers, and younger students will be separated by dividers at large round tables.

Most teachers will be simultaneously instructing 12 to 16 students in their classrooms and more at home tuning in from cellphones or laptops. Some teachers will sit in empty classrooms and broadcast lessons to 20 or 30 students. A small number who have health conditions or young children received waivers to teach virtually from their homes.

“Things are ever changing. The one thing I’ve appreciated that stayed constant was the interest in students returning has been at 50%,” Superintendent Matthew Gutierrez said of his 7,200-student district east of San Antonio. “I believe that we can safely social distance at that number in our buildings.”

Parent interest in in-person instruction varies greatly across the state. In some hard-hit parts of the state, like Mercedes ISD in South Texas, the vast majority of parents are opting for virtual learning. In Texarkana’s Bowie County, where coronavirus cases have stayed relatively low, most Maud ISD parents have already sent their kids to school in person.

Local health authorities continue to clash with school districts over whether it’s safe to open, concerned that Labor Day festivities could lead to higher case numbers, as Memorial Day did this spring. Fort Bend County health officials sent Katy ISD a letter in late July urging it not to open classrooms or start extracurricular activities “before late September in the vast majority of cases,” until the “effect of the Labor Day holiday can be determined.”

Katy ISD, which has schools in Fort Bend, Harris and Waller counties, plans to reopen classrooms Tuesday.

When schools were forced by the pandemic to hurriedly switch to virtual learning in the spring, most Texas districts didn’t require teachers to conduct live virtual lessons, but more are attempting that type of instruction this year. That means many teachers will have to simultaneously instruct two groups of students: those in front of them, and those watching from their iPads and laptops.

In Seguin ISD, most of the lessons will also be recorded for students who couldn’t find time to log in and watch live, important in a district with 71% low-income students, Gutierrez said. “You have parents that have multiple jobs. They’re shift workers. To expect that our students are going to go through their entire day at home alongside the face-to-face learners is really unreasonable when they don’t have that support, that structure or that supervision at home. They would be missing out on instruction.”

He acknowledged that those students will be missing out on the benefits of live instruction: having a teacher correct their pronunciation of a challenging word or being able to ask questions about a complex math problem in real time.

Austin ISD starts virtually Tuesday and plans to open classrooms in early October. Eight-year-old Isla Arb will start third grade at Graham Elementary School online Tuesday and will continue virtually to avoid endangering her grandmother, who has cancer, said her mother, Katie Arb. Both Katie Arb and her husband work full time, so they hired another mother to watch Isla and her 4-year-old sibling on weekdays. They’re paying her about $15 per hour, as well as paid sick leave and vacation, replacing some of the pay she had received as a dental hygienist before the pandemic.

“The bulk of her responsibilities are going to be to keep the 4-year-old away from our 8-year-old,” Katie Arb said.

Isla is excited about getting to wear a unicorn onesie to virtual school every day at the messy desk in her bedroom. But she got quiet when she thought about her classmates and teachers returning to campus in October. “I don’t want them to get coronavirus,” she said sadly.

Even students who return to Austin ISD’s campuses will effectively be learning virtually. When she goes back to school in early October, Austin ISD high school theater teacher Rachel Seney will sit in a classroom, with a mask on, leading a virtual class through musical numbers or dramatic exercises. Students spread 6 feet apart will sit in front of her on their laptops, each one completing assignments or watching a different teacher deliver instruction.

Students will spend nearly the entire day, including lunch, in one classroom, a plan intended to reduce the public health risks during a pandemic. If one child or staff member gets infected, it will be easy to trace exactly who they were in contact with — meaning there’s no need to shut down entire campuses or districts.

Seney, who teaches at predominantly white and high-income Anderson High School, said she sees the model as more equitable since all students end up learning virtually in some way. “You’re not teaching equitably if you have some students in front of you and some students online. Now that some schools have started going back and are using that model, I’m already seeing it’s not happening,” she said. “It’s not really effective.”

Her sister Blair Seney will be doing just that at Cypress Falls High School in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, miles away in Harris County’s suburbs. A special education educator, she helps modify assignments or provide extra time on testing for students with disabilities alongside a primary classroom teacher.

“We’re expected to teach at the same time the kids that are in the classroom who don’t have access to technology and the students at home who are on the computer,” Blair Seney said. She has been a constant agitator for more safety requirements in schools and more flexibility for teachers terrified to return in person. In August, she stood in the back of a school board meeting with a sign that said, “Your attendance is required at my funeral,” while her mother, also a teacher at the school, spoke at the public hearing. That month, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD teachers unsuccessfully sued the district, asking not to be required to report to their campuses for training.

About 42% of students have decided to attend school in person, according to a district survey. Often, Blair Seney pulls students into her office, a tiny storage closet with no ventilation, for one-on-one assistance. “I’m not sure how that’s going to work,” she said. “It is definitely a thought that’s keeping me up at night, trying to figure out how we’re going to make all this work.”

Health precautions vary among districts and schools. Under Gov. Greg Abbott’s order, everyone over the age of 10 must wear a mask. But guidance from the Texas Education Agency leaves districts largely on their own to design protections against a virus that spreads undetected in as many as 40% of those who have it. In many districts, maintaining 6 feet of distance among students will simply not be possible.

“It’s very scattershot,” said Monty Exter, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators. “There’s a huge variation in the policies that are being put in place within districts to protect the health and safety of educators, from physical structures to logistics to access to [personal protective equipment]. Absolutely there have been districts that say, ‘Here’s your two gloves and your mask, that’s all you’re getting.’”

In Houston-area Humble ISD, where kids have been back in classrooms since late August, “it has been surprisingly normal,” said Timbers Elementary School fifth grade teacher Stacey Ward. “Question mark?”

The 10- and 11-year-olds who tramp in for Ward’s science and social studies classes have been surprisingly compliant about wearing their masks, though she sometimes has to remind them, with a single word — “mask!” or “nose” — to ensure the fabric covers their noses, too. Every other student sits behind a plexiglass barrier, spaced out as far apart as possible, but with 18 to 20 students per class, it has not been possible to keep 6 feet among them.

Instruction stops five minutes early so kids can wipe down their desks. Ward collects their books at the end of the day. There is no sharing of supplies.

And Ward has made one more adjustment. Typically, when students enter or exit her classroom, they get three options: high-five, hug or handshake.

This year, she’s pivoted: “Now, it’s an elbow, a knee or a foot,” she said in a phone interview after her fourth day of in-person school. Elbow bumps are the runaway favorite.

Afterward, the students know to take a squirt of hand sanitizer. “It’s normal to them now,” she said.

ProPublica’s Mollie Simon contributed reporting.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Professional Educators has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article, “Many Texas students will return to classrooms Tuesday. Little will be normal.” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Master Teacher rule fix opens for public comment

After months of advocacy by ATPE, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) tentatively agreed upon a proposed rule that will eliminate the expiration date of “Legacy Master Teacher” certificates, allowing certificate holders to maintain their teaching assignments obtained by virtue of their Master Teacher certificate. This proposed rule opens for public comment today, August 21, through September 21, 2020. If you’re interested or have a stake in the issue, please share your voice! Find the public comment notice and link to submit a comment here.

Here’s some history on the topic and advocacy ATPE has done:

The 86th Texas legislature passed House Bill (HB) 3, an enormous school finance package that provided billions in funding to public schools across the state. The bill created the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA), a program designed to provide funding to districts tied to a teacher “designation” based on his or her performance. The highest designation under this program was labeled “Master Teacher.” In order to avoid confusion with existing certificates for Master Reading, Science, Math, and Technology Teachers, HB 3 repealed of the authorizing statutes for all the Master Teacher certificates.

That repeal took effect September 1, 2019. The implementation of the repeal meant that the SBEC could no longer issue or renew Master Teacher certificates and that the certificates would now be called “Legacy Master Teacher” certificates. Master Teachers were faced with the prospect of losing both their certificate and their assignment. It was a tricky situation that needed to be solved.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testifies at the July SBEC meeting.

ATPE has advocated on behalf of Master Teachers over the past year to solve this issue. We have worked with TEA staff and SBEC board members and have provided testimony at the October 2019, December 2019, February 2020, May 2020, and July 2020 SBEC meetings in support of a fix. In January, we submitted public comment on the four-year rule review of the chapter in the Texas Administrative Code that formerly housed the Master Teacher certificate rules, imploring SBEC to take action.

ATPE also secured a letter from Chairman Dan Huberty that was delivered to SBEC members at the very moment ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier was testifying at the February 2020 SBEC meeting. The letter explained that the intent of the repeal was only to avoid confusion with the new and unrelated master teacher designation created by HB 3 as part of the TIA; the repeal was not meant to harm the employment prospects of current educators. In April, ATPE sent a letter letter to Gov. Greg Abbott expressing our appreciation for his interest in the issue.

Through these efforts, we have reached the final stages of fixing this unintended consequence for nearly 5,000 Texas educators. After public comment, the rule will be up for final adoption at the October SBEC meeting and, if approved, will also be reviewed by the State Board of Education. If ultimately approved, the rule is expected to take effect by the end of the 2020 calendar year.

Teachers and suffrage: Remembering the 19th Amendment a century later

After decades of organizing, advocacy, and lobbying at both the state and federal level, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on May 21, 1919, and the U.S. Senate on June 4, 1919. It took over a year to secure the approval of the 36 state legislatures necessary to ratify the amendment and formally add it to the U.S. Constitution, securing women’s right to vote. Texas was the first southern state to ratify the 19th Amendment on June 28, 1919. On August 18, 1920, after an intense showdown, the Tennessee House of Representatives provided the final (and narrow) approval necessary for the amendment’s ratification.

One hundred years later, the legacy of the 19th Amendment is marred by current voting rights struggles that still hinder ballot access for many communities across America. Let’s take a look back at the incredible influence of teachers on the history of the 19th Amendment and reflect on where we stand today.

In many ways, the entree of women into the teaching profession lit the fire for women’s equality. Dana Goldstein writes in her New York Times bestselling book The Teacher Wars that the taxpayer friendly truth that women could be paid less than men helped to secure a legislative appropriation for the first common schools and teacher training schools in Massachusetts. As public schooling grew across the United States, more and more women gained education, small salaries, independence, and community through the profession of teaching. Through their work, female teachers realized their lack of equality in the workplace, and some began to push for equal higher education, equal pay, access to positions typically held by men, and the right to vote.

Susan B. Anthony. Source: Library of Congress

Susan B. Anthony taught school for 10 years before returning home after becoming frustrated with a stagnant salary and no chance of promotion to headmaster. In 1853, Anthony made a speech at the New York State Teachers’ Association condemning the gender-based wage gap that caused the female-dominated profession of teaching to be less lucrative. As Anthony grew in influence and activism, she catapulted into the women’s rights movement alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but both of their efforts slowed as the Civil War bloodied the nation.

While women’s suffrage and abolitionist movements had been linked since the beginning, the eventual extension of voting rights to Black men over white women through the 15th amendment in 1870 created racial and gender-based divisions between white and Black suffragists. Stanton and Anthony split off from other suffragists to fight for a federal amendment to secure women’s voting rights. This strategy was at the expense of Black voices and causes in order to appease anti-Black leaders who would need to approve the amendment. By 1890, suffragists reconciled their differences enough to create the National American Women Suffrage Association. They employed both federal and state-level strategies as suffragists worked the entire country, priming it for the eventual ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Reconstruction-era Black women entered into teaching with extremely high stakes for educating newly freed Black children and adults. Through Reconstruction and beyond, Black female educators were often also poets, journalists, writers, and lecturers, and many traveled the country to promote education, economic freedom, and political empowerment for Black women and men. These educators included Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Charlotte Forten Grimke, Angelina Weld Grimke, Mary Church Terrell, Mary Talbert, Frances Barrier Williams, Anna Julia Cooper, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Septima Clark.

Ida B. Wells. Source: Library of Congress

After losing her parents to yellow fever, Ida B. Wells became a teacher to take care of her siblings. During her time as a teacher, she eventually owned two newspapers and worked as a journalist and publisher. Wells was an advocate on issues such as school segregation, lynching, and voting rights and formed several organizations, including the Alpha Suffrage Club in Chicago (1913). The Alpha Suffrage Club secured voting rights for Black women in Illinois in 1913, ahead of the 19th Amendment.

The cause wasn’t just for white and Black women; educators of all backgrounds joined in the battle for suffrage. Frederick Douglass is a well-known abolitionist and community educator who strongly believed in the power of reading, literacy, and education as tools of freedom. He was an active supporter of women’s suffrage until his death in 1895. Mabel Lee, a Chinese immigrant in America and fighter for women’s suffrage, founded a Chinese Christian Center in New York that offered vocational, English, and kindergarten classes. Zitakala-Ša (Red Bird), a member of the Yankton Daxota Sioux, was a music teacher and advocate for Indigenous people’s rights, including citizenship and the right to vote. Jovita Idár, a Mexican-American Texan, was a teacher before working for, and eventually running, her father’s newspaper. Idár was an activist who wrote about racism, women’s suffrage, and encouraging women to vote.

After the 19th Amendment, also known as the “Anthony Amendment,” was ratified in 1920, individual states could still keep people of color from accessing the voting franchise through intimidation, “grandfather clauses,” poll taxes, literacy tests, and violence. The last state laws prohibiting Native Americans from voting weren’t overturned until 1962. Chinese women were excluded from voting until the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943. It wasn’t until 1965 and later in 1975 (when literacy tests were banned) that federal voting rights legislation was passed to override the inequalities perpetuated by the states.

However, in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder gutted the voting rights so many have fought to secure for a fair seat in our democracy, creating lasting impacts across the country. The Shelby ruling eliminated the requirement that local officials obtain federal approval before changing their voting rules and practices, a tenant of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. A study by Dr. Desmond Ang of Harvard University showed that after the ruling went into effect, minority voter turnout took a sharp downturn. Texas was one of the states that immediately took advantage of the ruling, enacting a voter ID law praised by then-Attorney General Greg Abbott. Some states enacted similar voter ID laws while others purged their voter rolls.

Much work is yet to be done at the intersection of education and voting. With historic turnout and impact in recent elections, teachers have shown elected officials that we are as tenacious as ever in our beliefs on the importance of education, equality, and respect for the teaching profession. No matter how you vote this November, let’s honor the work of women before us by voting.

The National Park Service has classroom lessons available on women’s history in their Teaching with Historic Places series, including specific lessons about Mary McLeod Bethune and Mary Ann Shadd Cary. The National Women’s History Museum’s “Crusade for the Vote” project also has lesson plans on a variety of topics as well as an interactive timeline. Find even more resources and information at the Library of Congress.

ATPE survey, TEA data show pandemic-related decline in student engagement

This spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic sent our educational system into triage mode, Texas educators were asked by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to document “student engagement” using crisis codes in the state’s Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS). The data collected by the agency was released yesterday, but take it with a big grain of salt. The term “engagement” might be a misnomer based on TEA’s definitions, and ATPE’s own survey of Texas educators indicates we have a lot of work to do on re-engaging students.

Student engagement as we familiarly know it typically refers to factors such as attendance, participation in lessons, timely completion of assignments, and students’ attitudes toward learning. For reporting purposes during the crisis, TEA defined an engaged student as one who was responsive and completing assignments, which is rather vague. For example, secondary students in multiple classes were considered engaged if they were completing assignments in any core content area. Therefore, an “engaged” middle school student could have completed some assignments in an ELA course but in no other courses. An “unengaged” student was defined as responsive but not completing assignments, regardless of the underlying reason for the student’s lack of engagement. An “uncontactable” student was defined as not responsive at all.

As defined, the TEA crisis codes seemed to measure whether students were present as opposed to their true engagement. Additionally, these definitions leave out students who may not regularly complete assignments as part of their schooling, such as those who receive special education services.

The student engagement data newly released by TEA, which is still being updated by districts through July 16, showed that 88.72% of students were “engaged.” The agency reported that approximately 11% of students either were not engaged for some time or their school districts lost or had no contact with them. For context, this amounts to approximately 609,000 Texas students who severely lacked the emotional, academic, and social stability traditionally afforded by schools and educators this spring. That’s a disturbing number, even under TEA’s rudimentary definitions of engagement, but input we’ve solicited from ATPE members suggests a much larger number of students became less engaged once schools were forced to shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The recent ATPE Membership Survey conducted June 5-19, 2020, included a question on student engagement that we believe provides much more insight about how students were participating and learning during remote instruction this spring. When asked how engaged their students were during remote instruction, just over 65% of ATPE members surveyed said their students were “slightly less engaged” or “much less engaged” on average as compared to their level of engagement during previous in-person instruction. This information was provided by 3,250 survey respondents.

ATPE 2020 Membership Survey results on student engagement during the pandemic-related school shutdown

The misnomer of “engagement” as loosely defined by TEA is even more problematic when applied to the agency’s disaggregated PEIMS data, which are presented in such a way that suggests students of color, low-income students, and students in younger grades were not as “fully engaged” in school this spring as other students. Whether or not these subpopulations of students were engaged is more accurately framed, we believe, by the barriers students may have faced both in accessing school materials and having the necessary instructional support at home. (Having a stable home setting and parents or caregivers who are present make a difference.) Through TEA’s “Strong Start” resources, districts are being encouraged to collect some survey data from families and educators related to barriers as they plan for the upcoming school year.

Where do we go from here? Evidence is mounting that the “COVID slide” will be steep and likely even steeper for students of color, low-income students, and younger students who may not be developmentally ready for remote instruction. With an upcoming school year that will include an even greater emphasis on remote instruction and no plans as of yet from TEA to halt state testing and accountability mandates, it is more important than ever to gather information on the barriers students face and make concrete plans to address them. TEA has said the state intends to use federal emergency dollars to improve connectivity and access to digital devices for students, but these will be of little use if a child has inadequate instructional support at home or no place to call home at all.

Including teacher voices to gather their experiences with students during remote learning and their take on how to improve access to education during a crisis is crucial. ATPE has urged the state and school districts to solicit feedback from educators, including classroom teachers, as they develop plans for the next school year.

An ATPE member told a story of sitting with their student (virtually) to talk through their parents’ loss of income, their fears about the pandemic, and adjusted assignment expectations since the student was now working at a job, too. This is not necessarily “completing an assignment,” but it is engagement and it is at the core of the work that educators do. If you can’t engage a student and have a meaningful relationship, their basic needs will not be met (remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?), and they will never get to a place of learning .

Read this reporting by the Texas Tribune to learn more about the “COVID slide” and the engagement data recently released by TEA.

Setting the record straight on the myth of “temporary” teacher retirement

After representatives affiliated with a national teachers’ union held a conference call with Texas reporters last week, at least one news story sparked confusion and a flurry of inquiries by reporting that it would be possible for teachers to retire “temporarily” during the coronavirus pandemic and later return to their previous jobs.

“Many teachers are capable of temporarily retiring,” the media report stated, erroneously adding that Texas teachers could “sit out a year or two, still get paid, and come out of retirement after COVID is under control.” The staff of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) asked ATPE and other stakeholders to help them clear up the confusion. The simple fact is that “temporary retirement” is not an option for educators under Texas law!

TRS had this to say in a statement responding to the June 24 news story:

“There are no provisions in the law that allow a teacher to ‘temporarily retire.’ A news article published on June 24 by a north Texas media outlet stating as much is mistaken. While the law allows a retired teacher to return to employment without restriction after a 12-month break in service, the teacher’s retirement annuity amount would be fixed as of the retirement date. Any employment after retirement does not increase the annuity amount.”

Exactly what is the law, and what considerations should educators be aware of as they are making retirement decisions in the wake of COVID-19? The first step is considering whether or not an educator is eligible to retire.

Educators who began teaching prior to 2007 and have not had a break in employment since then may be eligible to retire and receive a regular pension if they are at least 65 years of age with five or more years of employment, or they meet the “Rule of 80.”  The Rule of 80 is met when an educator’s age plus their years of service credit equal 80 or more. (For example: 50 years of age plus 30 years of service credit equals 80.)  Those educators who have not worked continuously since 2007 must meet the rule of 80 and be at least 60 years of age to retire, or they may retire at 62 years of age if the educator had not earned five years of service credit prior to 2014 or has not worked continuously since 2014.

Educators who are not eligible for full retirement may still be eligible for early retirement, but they are subject to early retirement penalties. To be eligible for early retirement, an educator must either be  55 years old with five years of service credit or have at least 30 years of service credit without having met the Rule of 80. The penalty for early retirement can be as much as a 53% reduction of your standard annuity if you are between ages 55 and 64 and have between five and 19 years of service credit, but do not meet the Rule of 80.

Additional factors to consider include the fact that the amount of your pension is greatly impacted by your pre-retirement years of service, TRS’s lack of an automatic cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), and the impact of the retire-rehire surcharge.

The amount of an educator’s annual annuity is determined by taking the average of their highest three to five years of salary and multiplying that figure by a percentage, which for those receiving a regular retirement, is determined by multiplying their years of service by 2.3. For example, a teacher with 20 years of service credit would have 46% applied to their salary figure; if their highest average salary amount is $60,000, the educator would be eligible to receive an annuity of approximately $27,600 per year. A teacher whose highest average salary was also $60,000 but had 30 years of service credit would be eligible to receive approximately $41,400 annually.

Once you retire, you cannot earn additional service credit and your annuity cannot be recalculated, even if you go back to work after sitting out a year.

In addition to lost credit for service worked after retirement, the unpredictability of a COLA is another factor that can make early retirement less attractive. A fixed annuity with no regular COLA built in, and the possibility of only infrequent one-time COLAs, tends to lose its purchasing power over time due to inflation. Locking in the amount of your annuity much earlier than you might have otherwise planned to retire may magnify this effective decrease in your annuity’s value over time, on top of the other reductions discussed above.

Finally, although you can retire and then return to work after sitting out for 12 months, those retired educators who do return to work on more than a half-time basis will be subject to retire-rehire surcharges. The amount of the pension surcharge is equal to the amount of both member and state contributions on the compensation paid, which is currently 15.2%.  A health benefit surcharge is also due for TRS-Care, which is currently $535. While the educator’s employer can choose to cover these surcharges, they often pass them on to the retiree.

As you can see, an educator’s decision to retire early, with the intention of making it a “temporary” retirement in which the educator would sit out a year or two before returning to the classroom, comes with many significant financial consequences. ATPE urges educators to carefully consider these factors before they take an action that could permanently and negatively impact their future standard of living and their ability to truly and fully retire at a later date.

Note: There are a number of variables that affect an educator’s annuity, including start date, breaks in service, total years of service, retirement age, and other individual benefit decisions. Figures cited in this blog post are used for illustrative purposes only. Texas educators should contact TRS directly for assistance calculating the individual pension benefits they are eligible to receive.

Surveys illuminate parent and teacher worries in light of COVID-19

With numerous unknowns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to be able to gauge how parents, families, and educators feel about the current state of emergency learning and potential paths forward. A few recent surveys shed a little light on views of the general public, teachers, and parents about education in light of the pandemic.

Families and educators alike are adjusting to new realities, and perceived needs for improvement, in areas such as communication, are rising to the surface. There appears to be widespread worry about students and opposition to an extended year calendar. The coming school year is set to look quite different, potentially with fewer students and teachers in the classroom as some sit out the return to school awaiting the development of a vaccine.

Here’s a closer look at findings of the recent surveys:

Learning Heroes Parent 2020 Survey

Learning Heroes conducted their nationwide annual public school parent survey this spring and gathered important information about how parents are dealing with the pandemic. The research entity partners with multiple national organization such as PTA and the National Urban League “to inform and equip parents to best support their children’s educational and developmental success.” The Parents 2020 survey was conducted in English and Spanish and with a focus on low-income parents and parents of color. The survey found that while parents are mostly hopeful and grateful, 65% are also anxious/worried. Parents are most worried that their kids are missing important social interaction at school or with friends. They are more concerned with too much screen time for their child than being able to pay their bills and having enough food. The survey found that 56% of a child’s awake time involved a screen.

There is a disconnect between parents and teachers that shows the importance of effective communication channels. Parents feel more appreciation for teachers, but only 33% of parents say they have regular access to the teachers, unfortunately. Furthermore, 47% of parents feel that personal guidance for how to best support their child is extremely helpful, but only 15% have received this resource. Eighty percent of parents find texts and phone calls to be the most effective, but the main communication channel seems to be email. Even though parents feel more connected to their child’s education than ever before, they still have an overinflated view of their child’s abilities, with 92% believing that their child is learning at or above grade level. (NAEP Scores for 2019 suggest the actual percentage of students performing at or above grade level is closer to 37%.)

The way remote learning meets or doesn’t meet parents’ expectations likely translates into parents’ feelings about the coming school year. Parents with higher income and reliable internet who feel prepared to support learning consider the remote learning environment to be better than expected. Parents of elementary school children, those missing technology, and the ones with annual incomes below $37,000 feel remote learning is harder than expected. Only 23% of parents say they are using resources they find on their own, mostly from general websites such as YouTube. Parents are looking forward to being more engaged in their child’s learning into the next school year, hoping to get a better understanding of what they are expected to learn and finding more time to talk to their children about their assignments. Perhaps longing for a sense of normalcy, parents favor making summer school courses available so students can catch up rather than starting the school year early. Even more parents don’t want the 2020-21 school year to extend into the 2021 summer.

USA Today/Ipsos Public Polls of Parents and Teachers

USA Today and Ipsos conducted two public polls, one surveying the general public and parents of K-12 students and another one targeting K-12 teachers.

Both surveys found that less than half of the respondents are in favor of resuming school resuming before there is a vaccine. A broken line of communication also surfaced in these two polls, with both parents and teachers expressing that the other has struggled to support their child’s online learning. Similar to the overinflated view of mastery found in the Learning Heroes survey, parents conveyed that their kids have adapted well to online learning. In contrast, teachers said online and distance learning have caused their students to fall behind.

The general public, parents, and teachers mostly support a return either to five days of in-person schooling per week, or returning to school in-person two to three days per week with distance learning on other days. As in the Learning Heroes survey, there is less support for starting school earlier in the summer and continuing into the following summer. When school does resume, 59% of respondents said they would likely pursue at-home learning options.

In general, the majority of both parents and teachers are worried about their students. Parents and teachers agree that social distancing won’t be easy for kids. Just as 68% of parents said their child would find it difficult to follow social distancing guidelines, 87% of teachers said its likely they will have difficulty enforcing social distancing. The majority of teachers plan to wear masks and the majority of parents plan to have their kids wear masks.

We may see a wave of retirement in the coming months, the surveys suggest, as teachers report working longer hours than they did before. Even fewer teachers believe they are paid fairly compared to the time before COVID-19. One in five teachers say they would leave their job if schools reopen, including 25% of teachers over the age of 55.

Related: ATPE wants to hear from you! Educators are invited to take our COVID-19 Educator Impact Survey between now and June 3, 2020. Find out more here.

From SXSW EDU: Growth mindset holds promise in education

When SXSW EDU was cancelled back in March 2020, those in the education community were disappointed to miss out on a week-long learning adventure in Austin, Texas. The annual event brings together masses of educators for a huge education conference that often brings about innovative and forward-thinking ideas. On May 5, by special invitation, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier attended the rescheduled and now-virtual SXSW EDU 2020 keynote address on growth mindset in education entitled “A Science of Human Motivation for the Next Decade.” Here are some takeaways from the event:

Keynote speaker Dr. Carol Dweck is a psychologist and professor at Stanford University. She is a pioneer in mindset research, who explains that growth vs. fixed mindset is about the differing beliefs that our talents and abilities are either static or can be developed. Having a growth mindset impacts peoples’ ability to accept challenges and learn, which is crucial for students and for our future workforce. Data show that students with a growth mindset have better academic outcomes, including in reading. Interventions with students to foster a growth mindset can lead to these results, but such interventions can be costly and labor-intensive. Furthermore, teachers must also have a growth mindset in order for growth mindset interventions to work.

Dr. Mary Murphy is a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University. She explained in her SXSW EDU remarks that those in power, such as teachers and professors, are “culture-creators” and the “setters” of mindsets. Students who believe their professors or teachers ascribe to certain stereotypes (e.g. “Asians are good at math,” or “women are bad at science”) become subject to “stereotype threat,” which causes under-performance of the negatively stereotyped group. For instance, a study of STEM college courses revealed that professors with a fixed mindset doubled the achievement gap between their white and black students.

Murphy explained that mindsets can be communicated through language and other cues. A teacher with a fixed mindset might say to a student, “It’s okay. You’re just not a math person.” On the other hand, a teacher with a growth mindset might say, “Mistakes are opportunities to learn.” True growth mindset classrooms involve growth of the teacher as well as of the student, and they are not any less rigorous than other types of classrooms as they involve plenty of critical feedback and opportunities for improvement.

Dr. David Yeager, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, talked about growing growth mindset teachers. He built upon Murphy’s explanation of the importance of teacher language and shared about a study that involved providing growth-mindset language to students. Students who had a note on their assignment that said, “I’m giving you these comments because I have high standards and know you can meet them,” demonstrated reduced racialized gaps in performance. Yeager warned against using false growth mindset language, such as simply encouraging students to “try harder” without showing them a path or providing help.

Learning about growth mindset and implementing practices related to growth mindset are possible for adults as well as students. In fact, as we have seen from the research, a student learning to adopt a growth mindset could be zapped of the benefits if adults in the room have a fixed mindset. During the coronavirus pandemic, many teachers have found new ways to implement growth mindset techniques, such as virtual office hours and increased opportunities to give students ownership over their work and the content (e.g. recorded video lessons that students can pause and rewind and repeat).

As an association supporting the state’s largest community of educators who are dedicated to elevating public education in Texas, ATPE has long advocated for laws and policies that will position our members to inspire student success. A major piece of our work involves developing Texas’ future education workforce. ATPE strongly supports educator preparation that requires comprehensive pedagogical training and includes research-based strategies, one example of which would be fostering growth mindsets. For those already in the profession, ATPE supports quality professional development to continue the growth and learning of all personnel.

Learn more about SXSW EDU Online here.

ATPE continues advocacy for Master Teacher fix

While it is not uncommon for Texas teaching certificates to come and go as they keep up with the needs of an evolving education system, the legislature’s abrupt decision in 2019 to eliminate prestigious Master Teacher certificates caught many by surprise. To address this issue, ATPE’s lobbyists have been working diligently with state leaders and officials to ensure that the expertise and value of Master Teacher certificate holders is upheld.

Under House Bill (HB) 3 passed by the 86th Texas legislature in 2019, Master Teacher certificates can no longer be issued or renewed, effective September 1, 2019. The bill also repealed the authorizing statutes for those Master Teacher certificates, which were offered in Reading, Mathematics, Science, and Technology, essentially wiping them from existence. Master Teacher certificate holders will now find their certificates marked with a “legacy” notation, as designated by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC).

This change has left many of our state’s nearly 5,000 Master Teachers perplexed as to the status of their certificates and their teaching assignment prospects. Once their Master Teacher certificate expires, will they be able to continue teaching in their current position? Take the popular Master Reading Teacher certificate as an example (82% of Master Teachers hold this certificate). First issued in 2001, this certificate was designed for those who wanted to go above and beyond – only obtainable by educators who had already been teaching on a standard certificate. Because the certificate is EC-12, in some cases it allows an educator to obtain a teaching assignment for which they wouldn’t otherwise be eligible if they held only their underlying standard certificate. Teachers in this situation who want to maintain their current assignments must either pay to take a test for earning an appropriate credential, request permission to remain in their assignment on an expired certificate, or find another job.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testifies before SBEC, Dec. 6, 2019

ATPE has been working with SBEC, the Texas Education Agency (TEA), members of the legislature, and state leaders to remedy this issue for several months. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier submitted written testimony at an SBEC meeting on October 4, 2019, written and oral testimony at the December 6, 2019 SBEC meeting, and written and oral testimony at the February 21, 2020 SBEC meeting. ATPE also submitted public comments on the rule review of Chapter 239, Student Services Certificates, which is where the original Master Teacher certificates were housed in the Texas Administrative Code.

These efforts have led to important developments, including a letter of intent being shared by House Public Education Committee chairman and HB 3 author Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) and a decision to add a discussion item to the agenda for an upcoming SBEC meeting on May 1, 2020, aimed at finding solutions to the Master Teacher issue. (The May 1 SBEC meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. and will be broadcast here. ATPE will also provide updates on the meeting here on our Teach the Vote blog.)

In unexpectedly dramatic fashion, Chairman Huberty’s letter in response to ATPE’s advocacy was delivered into SBEC members’ hands as ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier was delivering her testimony on the Master Teachers issue during the February SBEC meeting. The letter stated that the intent of the elimination of the Master Teacher certificates was to avoid naming confusion with the newly created “master teacher” designations under the state’s new Teacher Incentive Allotment, also included in HB 3.

“Our intent was never to abandon the expertise of these highly trained educators,” Huberty wrote in the letter. “Holders of legacy master teacher certificates should be entitled to maintain their existing assignments without interruption, additional cost, or the need to seek additional certifications.”

Responding to the requests from ATPE and the letter from Chairman Huberty, SBEC members voted to create a separate agenda item for the May SBEC meeting to discuss options for Master Teacher certificate holders. ATPE has also sent a letter letter to Gov. Greg Abbott expressing our appreciation for his interest in the issue.

Master Teacher certificate holders underwent time-intensive, rigorous, and often costly educator preparation programs in order to receive this extra credential. Their roles are content-specific and include teacher mentoring duties as they support the other professionals on their campus. Master Teachers are also highly educated, with 67% having either a master’s or doctorate degree. In many cases, the Master Teacher certificates (especially the Master Reading Teacher certificate) are highly prized, and at least in the early days of the certificate, were accompanied by stipends. Furthermore, Master Reading Teachers’ focus on literacy is crucial to the reading success of the state and is directly related to many of the aims of HB 3.

As this issue progresses, ATPE will continue to work carefully to preserve the hard work and expertise of Master Teacher certificate holders and share updates here on our advocacy blog.

Another poll shows strong support for public education

On the heels of a voter survey conducted by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune regarding state funding for public education (republished on Teach the Vote here), the Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT) Foundation has also released a new statewide poll this week about Texans’ attitudes toward public education. Both polls show support for public schools and educators with a desire for increased funding of public education.

The RYHT Foundation poll found that 77 percent of Texans express trust and confidence in their teachers, and 70 percent believe that teacher pay is too low. The poll also showed that 60 percent of the Texans responding were concerned that our state’s standardized tests may not effectively measure student learning. Half the respondents said they were not confident that Texas’s “A through F” accountability grading system accurately represents school quality. The poll also asked respondents about the top challenges they believe teachers are facing, the biggest problems affecting the public schools in their communities, and what their feelings are about wraparound supports for students, such as mental health services.

In a press release from RYHT, Foundation President Shari Albright said, “We’re pleased to be the first organization in the country to commit to an annual statewide poll about public education issues.” Albright added, “We thought it important to provide this service to Texans on an annual basis, both to understand the challenges and help find ways to improve our public schools.”

Read complete results and additional information about the new RYHT Foundation poll here.

Educator resources for Holocaust Remembrance Week and related legislation

Hamburg classroom in 1933

First grade pupils study in a classroom in a public school in Hamburg, Germany, June 1933. Jewish pupil Eva Rosenbaum (with the white collar) is seated in the center desk on the right. On Dec. 12, 1938, Eva left for England on the second Kindertransport. —US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Eva Rosenbaum Abraham-Podietz. Photo sourced from the USHMM Website.

For those of us who are old enough, we may have heard stories from our grandparents or parents about the unimaginable death and sadness of the Holocaust. My grandfather was a Belgian paratrooper for the Allies and told us painful, often angry accounts of his time before and during service. I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. a couple of summers ago. While I traversed the permanent exhibit, I came across photos and descriptions of teachers who had lost their lives due to their profession, which had become politicized, and due to their commitment to their students, often taking great risks to hide children. As a former teacher, this hit home particularly hard. While we mourn the victims of this tragic time in our past, it is important that our students know the significance of the Holocaust as we say, “Never again.”

This week in Washington, DC, the U.S. House passed H.R. 943, referred to as the “Never Again Education Act” to provide grants and resources for Holocaust education programs. The legislation by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) has numerous bipartisan co-sponsors, including the following members of the Texas Congressional delegation: Reps. Colin Allred (D), Brian Babin (R), Joaquin Castro (D), Dan Crenshaw (R), Henry Cuellar (D), Lizzie Fletcher (D), Bill Flores (R), Sylvia Garcia (D), Vicente Gonzalez (D), Lance Gooden (R), Kay Granger (R), Will Hurd (R), Sheila Jackson Lee (D), Kenny Marchant (R), Michael McCaul (R), Pete Olson (R), Van Taylor (R), Marc Veasey (D), Filemon Vela, Jr. (D), Randy Weber (R), Roger Williams (R), and Ron Wright (R). ATPE members can follow this bill’s progress on Advocacy Central.

In 2019, the 86th Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 1828 by Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio), which directs the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (THGC) to provide materials for a statewide Holocaust Remembrance Week, beginning with this school year (2019-2020). Governor Greg Abbott (R) chose this week of Jan. 27-31, 2020, for Texas to observe Holocaust Remembrance Week, due to January 27th’s significance as International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the day that the most infamous concentration camp, Auschwitz, was liberated by Allied troops.

As also featured on the ATPE blog, the THGC has listed Holocaust Remembrance Week resources on its web page for this week and future Holocaust Remembrance Weeks. Additionally, Texas is home to several Holocaust Museums:

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website also has several resources specifically for teachers, students, and an online exhibition.