Category Archives: Turnaround

Commissioner update on STAAR glitches, SpEd plan, NAEP

The State Board of Education (SBOE) kicked off its April meeting Wednesday with an update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath.

Morath informed the board that the agency will seek an amendment to the state’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in order to implement changes to the accountability system under House Bill (HB) 22 passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. The agency released its accountability framework on Tuesday.

Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting April 11, 2018.

With testing week underway, Morath updated the board on a recent glitch with the STAAR exam. According to the commission, the failure of a single server caused a roughly 20-minute disruption in the exam. No data were lost, although 40,000 students were affected and forced to log out, then log back in, while taking the exam online. Some 1,000 school systems had one or more students affected, and it appears the glitch was largely confined to those taking the English I end of course (EOC) exam, although exceptions have been reported. Roughly 460,000 tests have been taken online so far.

SBOE Member Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth) suggested the board avoid scheduling meetings during testing week in the future, as it makes it nearly impossible for educators to get time off to attend board meetings or to testify before the board. TEA staff indicated they are aware of the scheduling conflict and are working toward avoiding such a situation in the future.

The commissioner next proceeded to run down the state’s recent results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Texas saw a slight decline in 4th grade math proficiency this year and has experienced a downward trend in 8th grade math since 2011. The state has been a middling performer in 4th grade reading and saw a slight recent dip. Scores on 8th grade reading have been similarly flat, with a slight recent decline. Morath called the NAEP scores “somewhat disappointing nationally.”

“It does appear that accountability matters a great deal, and resources appear to be a factor,” Morath added.

Member Hardy pointed out that Texas has different demographic challenges than other states; in particular, it is home to a high percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged. Hardy suggested this makes for apples-to-oranges comparisons to other states when it comes to national test scores. Morath conceded Hardy’s point, but noted that “life doesn’t grade on the curve.” The commissioner warned the real world deals in absolutes, and suggested it’s important to celebrate success where appropriate while continuing to pursue improvement.

Finally, Morath updated the board on the agency’s corrective action for special education. A January letter from the U.S. Department of Education found Texas was deficient in three areas of special education: Child find, providing a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), and compliance monitoring.

According to the commissioner, the core corrective action response will be provided to the federal government for compliance purposes, while a strategic plan for the state will focus on broader reforms. The commissioner identified five key components of the strategic plan: State monitoring, identification, evaluation, and placement; training, support, and development; student, family, and community engagement; and support networks and structures. The final corrective action response is due to the federal government April 23.

Responding to funding questions from Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), Morath indicated the agency has already begun making staffing changes with federal funds available to the agency under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The agency has already hired 34 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in order to begin implementing the necessary changes. The nature of the plan calls for spending shifts in allocation. The state is allocated roughly $100 million in IDEA funds each year, all of which Morath said are being “re-tooled” concomitant with the corrective action plan.

Asked by Ellis how formula funding under the Foundation School Program (FSP) would be affected by the plan, Morath said the special education formulas are “quite sophisticated,” making it hard to give a specific number. As a ballpark estimate, Morath estimated the plan would add another $5,000 for each new special education student. The agency estimates another 200,000 students could enter the system, which would translate to about $1 billion in additional FSP funding. Morath noted the figures are only rough estimates, and actual funding would depend upon which services are provided to each child under his or her individualized education program (IEP).

Member Sue Melton-Malone (R-Waco) asked about training provided to educators under the plan. The commissioner said the agency is preparing to launch a statewide professional development network involving summer programs and ongoing training. This training will be primarily targeted at mainstream setting educators.

On a separate note, Member Lawrence Allen, Jr. (D-Houston) voiced concern to Commissioner Morath over the board’s lack of oversight of contracts between school districts and charter schools as a result of Senate Bill (SB) 1882 passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. This bill provides financial incentives and a pause in accountability ratings for districts to contract with a charter holder, nonprofit or higher education institution to operate a campus under a “partnership” model in which the district surrenders control entirely to the operator. As ATPE has warned, this has potentially troubling implications for school staff and students in the feeder pattern.

While the SBOE has the final authority to approve new charters, it has no formal input regarding these arrangements. Rather, each contract must be approved by the commissioner. Agreeing with Allen, Member Hardy warned that charters may be less faithful to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which are required curriculum approved by the board.

The board is scheduled to consider a variety of items Wednesday, including potential action regarding the creation of a Mexican American Studies class. Continue to check TeachTheVote.org for further updates from this week’s SBOE meeting.

Guest post: I’m Wondering Why—The Rhetoric about Public Schools Doesn’t Add Up

I’m Wondering Why
The Rhetoric about Public Schools Doesn’t Add Up

Andra Self

           Andra Self

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.

Why Vouchers?

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.

Big developments on education bills in the Texas House today, including a defeated “local control school district” bill

We reported yesterday on many of the education bills that are still in motion at the state capitol. A number of high-profile bills were acted upon today by the Texas House, and we’ve provided a few updates below on these topics:


State budget

Negotiators on the budget bill, HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R), may be nearing a compromise, according to media reports. As we reported yesterday, the main sticking points are differences between the House and Senate on how to approach tax cuts. Watch for updates tomorrow.

School finance

We also reported yesterday that HB 1759 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) was not yet listed on a House calendar and in danger of dying. Because of strict end-of-session deadlines, the school finance overhaul bill must be heard by the House no later than tomorrow, May 14. We can now report that HB 1759 has been placed on the calendar for possible floor debate tomorrow, if time permits.

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

HB 2804 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) is still on the House calendar today but hasn’t yet been heard. Aycock’s HB 1842 relating to sanctions and interventions for low-performing schools was approved on second reading yesterday. It was brought up today, May 13, on third reading. An amendment was added without a record vote that stripped ATPE-supported language from the bill allowing for use of a community schools model for school turnaround.  The House finally passed HB 1842 as amended by a vote of 143 to 1, with Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R) casting the lone vote against the bill.

“Local control school districts”

Today the House considered HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D), a bill to make it easier for school districts to be converted to home rule charter districts using the proposed new moniker of “local control school districts.” The high-profile school deregulation bill is one that has been backed by Texans for Education Reform (TER) and opposed by ATPE and other educator groups. After three hours of debate, the bill failed to pass by a vote of 59 to 76. Prior to the final vote on the bill, several floor amendments were considered. Rep. Roberto Alonzo (D) offered a floor amendment to require local control school districts to comply with class-size laws, but the amendment was defeated by a vote of 73 to 67. The House approved an amendment by Rep. Donna Howard (D) to increase transparency in petitions to convert a school district to a local control district, but rejected an amendment by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D) to ensure that teacher contract rights would be preserved in local control school districts. The defeat of the bill is a significant blow to education reform groups that have proposed a host of bills to strip educators of their salary protections and contract rights, exempt schools from quality control measures such as class-size limits, and remove transparency and accountability to local voters.

Based on preliminary reports, these are the state representatives who supported educators by voting to kill this bill today: Allen, Alma(D); Alonzo, Roberto(D); Anchia, Rafael(D); Ashby, Trenton(R); Bell, Cecil(R); Bernal, Diego (D); Burns, DeWayne (R); Canales, Terry(D); Clardy, Travis(R); Coleman, Garnet(D); Collier, Nicole(D); Cook, Byron(R); Craddick, Tom(R); Cyrier, John (R); Darby, Drew(R); Davis, Yvonne(D); Farias, Joe(D); Farney, Marsha(R); Farrar, Jessica(D); Frullo, John(R); Giddings, Helen(D); Gonzalez, Mary(D); Guerra, Bobby(D); Gutierrez, Roland(D); Harless, Patricia(R); Hernandez, Ana(D); Howard, Donna(D); Israel, Celia (D); Johnson, Eric(D); Kacal, Kyle(R); Keffer, Jim(R); King, Ken(R); King, Susan(R); Landgraf, Brooks (R); Larson, Lyle(R); Longoria, Oscar(D); Lucio III, Eddie(D); Martinez Fischer, Trey(D); Martinez, Armando(D); McClendon, Ruth Jones(D); Metcalf, Will (R); Miles, Borris(D); Minjarez, Ina (D); Moody, Joe(D); Munoz, Sergio(D); Murr, Andrew (R); Naishtat, Elliott(D); Nevarez, Poncho(D); Oliveira, Rene(D); Otto, John(R); Paddie, Chris(R); Phillips, Larry(R); Pickett, Joe(D); Price, Four(R); Raney, John(R); Raymond, Richard(D); Reynolds, Ron(D); Rodriguez, Eddie(D); Rodriguez, Justin(D); Romero, Ramon (D); Rose, Toni(D); Sanford, Scott(R); Schubert, Leighton (R); Sheffield, J.D.(R); Simpson, David(R); Smithee, John(R); Spitzer, Stuart (R); Thompson, Ed(R); Thompson, Senfronia(D); Turner, Chris(D); Turner, Sylvester(D); VanDeaver, Gary (R); Walle, Amando(D); Workman, Paul(R); Wray, John (R); and Wu, Gene(D).

These representatives voted in favor of the TER-backed reform bill, HB 1798: Anderson, Doc(R); Anderson, Rodney(R); Aycock, Jimmie Don(R); Bohac, Dwayne(R); Bonnen, Dennis(R); Bonnen, Greg(R); Burkett, Cindy(R); Burrows, Dustin (R); Capriglione, Giovanni(R); Dale, Tony(R); Davis, Sarah(R); Deshotel, Joe(D); Dutton, Harold(D); Elkins, Gary(R); Faircloth, Wayne (R); Fallon, Pat(R); Fletcher, Allen(R); Flynn, Dan(R); Frank, James(R); Galindo III, Rick (R); Geren, Charlie(R); Goldman, Craig(R); Guillen, Ryan(D); Huberty, Dan(R); Hughes, Bryan(R); Hunter, Todd(R); Isaac, Jason(R); King, Phil(R); Klick, Stephanie(R); Koop, Linda (R); Krause, Matt(R); Laubenberg, Jodie(R); Leach, Jeff(R); Lozano, Jose(R); Meyer, Morgan (R); Miller, Rick(R); Morrison, Geanie(R); Murphy, Jim(R); Parker, Tan(R); Paul, Dennis (R); Pena, Gilbert (R); Phelan, Dade (R); Riddle, Debbie(R); Rinaldi, Matt (R); Schaefer, Matt(R); Schofield, Mike (R); Shaheen, Matt (R); Sheets, Kenneth(R); Simmons, Ron(R); Springer, Drew(R); Stephenson, Phil(R); Stickland, Jonathan(R); Tinderholt, Tony (R); Turner, Scott(R); Villalba, Jason(R); White, James(R); White, Molly (R); Zedler, Bill(R); and Zerwas, John(R).

NOTE: If your state representative is not listed above, he or she may have been absent at the time of the vote. Keep in mind that the list above is not an official record of the vote.

Epi-pens

SB 66 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) regarding school usage of epinephrine auto-injectors, also known as epi-pens, was passed by the House today. The House added one floor amendment and then approved the bill unanimously. Next, the Senate must decide whether to accept the House changes to the bill or send it to a conference committee.


Your outreach to legislators on these education bills is making a difference, and ATPE encourages you to keep it up! Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates and follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for even more information about pending legislation.

House committee discusses school turnaround

The House Education Committee met for six hours Tuesday to hear testimony and discuss options to “turn around” under-performing schools. The committee heard from four panels including campus level educators, major corporate advocacy groups and the Texas Education Agency. It was the chairman’s intention to discuss ways to address persistent poor performance other than changes in governance.Despite this, home rule and legislation aimed at creating an “Achievement School District” was discussed at some length.

ATPE offered testimony that praised the committee for looking at ways to improve outcomes at campuses labeled under-performing that did not include novel forms of governance, as research indicates that governance changes have little or no positive effect on student learning. We instead asked the committee to pursue methods that have been shown to have dramatic positive impacts over time, such as improving Texas’ pre-K laws, using widespread dual language immersion to overcome challenges facing a growing LEP population, protecting and strengthening existing class-size laws, and adding meaningful levels of resources to recruiting, training and retaining teachers. We noted that the last suggestion is particularly important since teachers are the delivery method for any program Texas students currently or could eventually take part in.

Watch video of the hearing here.