Tag Archives: A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession

Vote for candidates who will prioritize public education

This is the 12th and final post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.

At issue: Over the last dozen days, we’ve written about the specific education issues at stake in tomorrow’s primary elections and why your vote is so important to the future of our state. Here’s a quick recap:

  • Day 1: Vote for candidates who will prioritize education funding. A district judge has ruled our school finance system unconstitutional, saying it fails to fund schools adequately or equitably. Texas is among the 10 lowest states in the nation for per-pupil spending. Despite huge enrollment increases and a projected budget surplus, our funding for public education rests at about the same level it did in 2003. We must elect candidates who will fix our broken school finance system and provide our students and educators with the necessary resources.
  • Day 2: Vote for candidates who will protect your retirement. The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) helps Texas attract and retain high-quality teachers and generates $14.7 billion for the Texas economy. TRS is one of the highest-performing pension plans in the country, and its defined-benefit structure gives educators retirement security. Some legislators and candidates want to private teacher retirement or convert TRS to a defined-contribution structure similar to a 401(k) plan, in which educators’ retirement benefits will not be guaranteed. We must elect candidates who will protect TRS and maintain its defined-benefit structure.
  • Day 3: Vote for candidates who will address standardized testing. Student testing dominates education and has become a giant, profitable industry at the expense of taxpayers. Student test scores are being used to rate schools, justify funding, determine educator pay, and evaluate the effectiveness of teachers and principals. Schools are being shut down or privatized as a result of poor test performance, and students are paying the price for all of the relentless testing that gets in the way of quality instruction. The Legislature took small steps to address high-stakes testing in 2013, but more needs to be done, especially in the lower grades. We must elect candidates who will fight for students, parents and educators, not the vendors who profit off of standardized testing.
  • Day 4: Vote for candidates who will raise the standards for becoming a teacher in Texas. Teacher quality is critical to student success, but Texas has failed to ensure that all teachers have the necessary content knowledge, foundational skills and support they need to be effective in the classroom. Texas must raise its standards for entrance into the profession in order to compete globally and keep up with rising accountability demands on our schools and students. We’ve spent too much time trying to “get rid of bad teachers” instead of nurturing great teachers from the start with initiatives such as new teacher mentoring. We must elect candidates who are willing to invest in teacher quality.
  • Day 5: Vote for candidates who will fight private takeovers of public schools. Well-funded groups want to outsource public education to the private sector at taxpayers’ expense. They argue that “school choice” will improve public education through competition, whether it’s in the form of a traditional voucher, tax credit (sometimes called an “opportunity grant” or “scholarship”) or turning low-performing schools over to private companies to be operated similar to charter schools. In reality, privatization is bad for students, teachers and taxpayers. We must elect candidates who will fight privatization of our public schools in any form.
  • Day 6: Vote for candidates who will insist on class-size limits. Smaller classes have been shown to improve education by increasing the interaction between teachers and individual students, minimizing discipline issues, improving classroom management, boosting teacher morale and producing better educational outcomes for students. State law limits classrooms in grades K-4 to no more than 22 students per teacher, but thousands of schools routinely request class-size waivers each year. Smaller classes cost more money, making class-size limits a frequent target for politicians who want to cut education spending wherever possible. We must elect candidates who will keep classes small for the sake of quality instruction, classroom discipline and student safety.
  • Day 7: Vote for candidates who will make sure teacher evaluation systems are valid, fair and easily understood. Right now the Texas Education Agency is developing a new teacher appraisal system at the behest of the federal government. The new system is expected to include student growth as a significant factor in teacher evaluations, and the state plans to use a controversial statistical analysis tool to hold teachers accountable for how their students perform on state standardized tests, despite the growing backlash against high-stakes testing. With these changes in the works, the Legislature will be forced to address appraisal-related issues in 2015. We must elect candidates who will demand transparency and fairness in teacher evaluations.
  • Day 8: Vote for candidates who will support real solutions for struggling schools. Schools districts that fail to meet accountability targets will soon be graded on an “A” through “F” scale, and low-performing schools in Texas already face harsh sanctions, including closure or private management. Some legislators want to force the schools they deem as failures into a separate “achievement” school district that would be privately managed and exempt from many state laws. We cannot truly help struggling schools and students by labeling entire districts as failures, outsourcing schools to private companies that don’t have to answer to local parents and voters, stripping educators of their contract rights and salary protections, and limiting schools’ access to resources. Schools with the highest needs are also being staffed with the least-experienced educators. We must elect legislators who support adequate and equitable education funding and making sure our most needy public schools have access to necessary resources, including high-quality, experienced educators.
  • Day 9: Vote for candidates who will ensure educators’ access to quality healthcare. State insurance programs for active and retired educators are approaching a funding crisis due to rising healthcare costs and inadequate public education funding. In TRS-ActiveCare, the health insurance program for active education employees, premiums are increasing by 9 to 25 percent each year, with educators bearing the burden for most of the rate hikes. TRS-Care, the health insurance program for retired educators, will run out of funding in 2016 unless the Legislature takes action. We must elect candidates who will address these budget needs and make sure educators have access to quality health insurance.
  • Day 10: Vote for candidates who will give Texas educators a voice in curriculum design. Ideological disputes about curriculum at the State Board of Education (SBOE) and in the Legislature have too often prevented Texas from implementing high-quality standards and giving educators appropriate input on what is taught in our schools. Texas educators should determine the appropriate content and methodology behind what is taught—not politicians or policymakers from outside our state. We must elect legislators and SBOE members who will rely on educator input when curriculum decisions are made, fight nationalization of our curriculum through programs like the Common Core, and be willing to improve the overall structure of our curriculum standards (TEKS) to ensure that they are useful and manageable.
  • Day 11: Vote for candidates who will improve teacher compensation. Teacher salaries help to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, but Texas teacher pay lags behind the national average. Keeping salaries competitive with other professions and private industry is also critical. Differentiated pay, stipends and bonuses are helpful, but we must maintain an adequate base pay structure for all teachers through the state’s minimum salary schedule. Setting a minimum floor for teacher salaries in their first 20 years of teaching fosters retention, directs money to the classroom and helps to stabilize the Teacher Retirement System. We must elect candidates who will stand up for teacher compensation and will protect the integrity of the minimum salary schedule while still giving districts flexibility to customize strategic compensation payments above the state minimums according to local needs.
  • Day 12: Vote for candidates who will prioritize public education. The future of our state is what’s really at stake in the 2014 elections. Our elected leaders must commit the resources necessary to give all children the tools necessary to succeed. In today’s global marketplace, a strong public education system is essential to our state’s economy. We cannot attract profitable industries and businesses to Texas if we are not able to supply the educated workforce that will be needed to support them.

Prioritizing public education means fixing our unconstitutional school finance system: Waiting for protracted litigation to play out is shortchanging our state’s children. It’s time to elect strong advocates who will readily acknowledge the flaws in the system and get busy trying to fix them, rather than siding with defenders of the status quo.

Prioritizing public education means supporting schools and educators, not the big corporations looking to profit off Texas’ 5 million students: Under the guise of accountability and leaving no child behind, business interests have been allowed to profit off the perceived failures of public education for far too long. Billions of dollars have been spent on testing and analyzing data from tests, all geared toward proving the shortcomings of our students and schools so that privatization will look like the only viable solution, taxpayers will demand private school vouchers or rebates, parents will flock to charter schools, virtual education vendors will sell more products, schools will hire fewer teachers and governments will spend less money on public education. It’s time for educators to silence the ill-informed, inflammatory rhetoric of “reformers” whose main objective is to kill public education and privatize our schools.

Tomorrow is the last chance for educators to take a stand for public education in the 2014 primaries: View your candidates’ profiles using our 2014 races search tool, view incumbents’ voting records, read the candidates’ own responses to our issue-related survey, and review additional information collected by the ATPE staff to help you identify and support pro-public education candidates. Also, be sure to share this information with your friends and family. In these elections, you have the power to become the real voice behind public education. Vote your profession.

Vote for candidates who will improve teacher compensation

This is the eleventh post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.

At issue: Teacher compensation plays an important role in efforts to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, as discussed in a recent editorial by ATPE State President Ginger Franks. Nationwide, the average teacher salary exceeds $56,000, while Texas teachers are paid an average of $48,000. If Texas ever expects to become a global education leader, our teacher salaries must be at least equal to and preferably greater than the national average, which means that we still have a long way to go. Keeping salaries competitive with other professions and private industry is also critical to maintaining an adequate supply of teachers, especially in hard-to-staff subject areas like science and math. Studies have shown that funding additional stipends to entice high-performing college students and professionals to teach those subjects is a successful strategy to improve teacher quality. Differentiated pay for educators who undertake advanced training or other professional duties outside their normal instructional activities, such as mentoring a new teacher, can also help with teacher retention.

The state minimum salary schedule for teachers needs to be protected: While differentiated pay and targeted bonuses can and should be used strategically, it is essential that we maintain an adequate base pay structure for all teachers. The state’s minimum salary schedule (MSS), which fosters teacher retention by ensuring gradual pay increases over a 20-year span, has been under attack in recent legislative sessions. Critics of the MSS, including well-funded reform groups like Texans for Education Reform, Texans Deserve Great Schools and Educate Texas, falsely claim that its experience-based formula prevents school districts from adopting their own pay scales and strategic compensation plans that reward the best teachers. We disagree, and we hear frequently from educators who believe that the MSS provides an incentive to stay in the classroom and who would prefer it to be expanded rather than eliminated.

We must elect pro-public education candidates who understand the important function of the minimum salary schedule: Legislators who’ve attempted to repeal the salary schedule dismiss educators’ concerns as “institutional resistance to change” and ignore the fact that the MSS was designed to be merely a floor for teachers’ salaries across their first 20 years of teaching. The MSS was adopted with the intent that districts would pay teachers above the state minimums according to their own locally developed criteria. Most districts do pay above the MSS, with the excess payments often structured as performance-based increases. If the Legislature would comply with its constitutional obligation to adequately fund public education, more districts would probably be able to offer strategic payments above the state minimums. Moreover, in the decades that the school finance system has been in and out of litigation, pay increases for teachers have been few and isolated, but the MSS is what has made it possible to direct funds to the classroom where they are most needed. The MSS also helps stabilize the Teacher Retirement Statement (TRS), which is tied directly to the existing salary schedule.

Your future earnings as an educator depend on the participation of the education profession in this primary election: Too many of our legislators have bought into reformer rhetoric about teacher compensation. Educators cannot afford to remain a silent majority on this issue. View your legislators’ profiles on Teach the Vote to find out how they voted in 2013 on issues such as merit pay (see “Senate Vote #3”) or requiring a state survey of teacher salaries (see “House Vote #4”). Although the March 4 primary elections are only two days away, there is still time for you to talk to your friends and family about what’s at stake in this election. Don’t forget that in 21 legislative races, the November general election will be irrelevant, and the winner will be decided Tuesday. The legislature won’t stand up for better teacher pay unless the members of the education profession send a message now. This Tuesday, vote your profession.

Vote for candidates who will give Texas educators a voice in curriculum design

This is the tenth post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.

At issue: Texas has curriculum standards known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which are adopted by the State Board of Education (SBOE). The TEKS determine what is taught and tested in Texas public schools, and they have an impact on the content that publishers include in textbooks used here and beyond our state. The TEKS adoption process has been controversial in the recent past and marked by ideological conflicts among the elected SBOE members. Often ignoring the recommendations of classroom teachers, the board in the past has appointed “expert” reviewers for proposed changes to the TEKS without setting legitimate qualifications for serving as an expert. The Legislature has also been a venue for heated debates about curriculum, usually involving the role of politics and religious views in curriculum standards and lesson plans.

It’s time for Texas to get serious about curriculum: All of these high-profile disputes over ideology have garnered negative media attention at the national level and left little time to address any structural problems with the TEKS, such as complexity and excessive length. (The more standards that are required to be taught in a course, the less time that can be devoted to any one of them. The more specific the standards are, the less flexibility there is for teachers to individualize lessons.) In fact, the overwhelming nature of the TEKS was the main impetus behind CSCOPE, a curriculum management system that was widely used by Texas school districts before political scrutiny led to its demise last year. The Legislature did try to address TEKS issues in 2013 when it passed House Bill (HB) 2836, calling for a comprehensive study on the number and scope of the curriculum standards and how they relate to state assessments. Despite a unanimous vote in the House and near unanimous vote in the Senate, Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the bill. Find out how your state senator voted on HB 2836: look up his profile using our 2014 Races search tool, open the Voting Record section and review his action on “Senate Vote #7.”

Texas educators should be the ones to determine the appropriate content and methodology behind what is taught in our classrooms – not politicians or policymakers from outside our state: We must preserve Texas teachers’ authority to develop their own lesson plans and customize them to meet the unique needs of their students. It is critical that we elect SBOE members who will seek and respect educator input whenever the TEKS are revised. That’s why ATPE asks SBOE candidates tough questions about the TEKS adoption process and the role of educators in SBOE policy decisions. We must also elect legislators who will maintain Texas’ control of its curriculum standards and will not try to mandate a standardized national curriculum like the Common Core. Finally, we need our elected officials to be willing to address the overall structure of the TEKS, to ensure that the standards are useful and manageable for our teachers and conducive to student learning.

Curriculum-related decisions will be made by elected legislators and SBOE members, and this is your chance to steer them in the right direction by voting in this election: Early voting has ended and the March 4 primary is only days away. There’s a good chance you live in a district where some races will be decided by this primary – not in November’s general election. Look up your legislative and SBOE candidates on Teach the Vote to find out which ones will have your back when it’s time to make critical choices about the curriculum taught in our schools. The “Survey Response,” “Voting Record” and “Additional Information” sections of each profile contain valuable insights to help you identify pro-public education candidates. If educators don’t vote, they’ll be surrendering their voice in curriculum discussions. Please take time to vote your profession on Tuesday!

Vote for candidates who will ensure educators’ access to quality healthcare

This is the ninth post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.

At issue: State healthcare programs for active and retired educators are quickly approaching a funding crisis. Both programs are administered through the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) and are funded in part by appropriations from the Texas Legislature. Throughout the country, healthcare costs have risen in both the public and private sectors. With recent legislatures’ failing to adequately fund public education, an even greater burden has been placed on educators to absorb healthcare cost increases.

The problem for active educators: TRS-ActiveCare, the health insurance program for most active public education employees, is struggling to generate enough revenue to cover its claims.

  • ActiveCare premiums increased by a range of 9 to 25 percent, depending on which plan members participated in, over the last year.
  •  ActiveCare claims last year exceeded its premiums by $142 million.
  • There were 1,732 claims last year that cost ActiveCare over $100,000 each.
  • ActiveCare paid 79 percent of its claims dollars last year on behalf of just 10 percent of enrollees.
  • The trend of rising premiums is projected to continue, and more employees are opting out of comprehensive coverage and seeking cheaper and less inclusive healthcare plans.
  • State funding for ActiveCare has not changed since 2002, despite the rising costs.

The problem for retirees: TRS-Care, the health insurance program for retired educators, has not seen such dramatic premium increases and is benefiting from recent legislative changes. Still, if the legislature fails to address healthcare funding in 2015, here is what is projected to happen to TRS-Care:

  • The retirees’ healthcare plan will run out of funding in 2016.
  • TRS-Care will face a deficit of $1 billion by the end of 2017.
  • Retiree premiums would have to increase by 300 percent in order to keep TRS-Care afloat.

A solution lies in the hands of legislators: TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare will be in jeopardy if the legislators we elect to represent us fail to take action. The 84th Legislature must address the looming crisis by increasing funding, not only for healthcare but for public education in general. Many legislative races are in play this election year, and you have the power to choose pro-public education candidates who will fight for you and make sure you have access to quality health insurance. Use our 2014 Races search feature to view your legislative candidates’ Survey Responses and Voting Records. You’ll be able to gain insight on whether they are willing to support educators and students by providing the necessary appropriations for public education. Please be an informed voter and vote your profession in the March 4 primary.

Vote for candidates who will support real solutions for struggling schools

This is the eighth post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.

At issue: State and federal accountability laws and rating systems subject public schools to strict, sometimes conflicting requirements for meeting student achievement goals. Those that fail to meet accountability targets face harsh progressive sanctions that can culminate in the closure of neighborhood schools. Schools and districts are assigned accountability ratings that have a large impact on local real estate values and the ability to generate property taxes to fund area schools. At a time when our state’s school funding is already deficient, that phenomenon is likely to worsen considering that Texas school districts soon will be assigned “A” through “F” accountability grades. More importantly, what happens to the morale of students, teachers and communities when their neighborhood school receives an “F”? Accountability sanctions that call for the privatization of school operations are especially troubling. For instance, state law allows a board of managers to take over the responsibilities of the elected school board in some instances, and legislators have filed several bills in recent sessions to create a separate school district for all of the state’s low-performing schools. This concept of a “recovery” or “achievement” school district typically hinges on allowing a private charter operator to manage all the schools, replacing most of the staff, eliminating statutory rights and benefits for remaining employees and divesting locally elected school board members of their powers.

Too many of our elected officials favor the wrong approaches: We will never help struggling schools turn around as long as our state’s “interventions” involve labeling entire districts as failures, outsourcing schools to private companies that don’t have to answer to local parents and voters, stripping educators of their contract rights and salary protections, and limiting schools’ access to the resources that will help their students achieve. Over the past decade, Gov. Perry and the legislature allowed hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent on a controversial merit pay plan that yielded little or no positive results at the same time that funding was slashed for needed programs like the Student Success Initiative (SSI), which provides intensive help for students struggling in reading and math. Instead of helping existing schools improve, they’ve allowed substandard alternative schools to proliferate and generate huge profits for private individuals and companies at the expense of students and taxpayers. Legislators and policymakers have also ignored the fact that schools with the highest needs— those that are deemed “low-performing” under the accountability system and those with the highest numbers of minority, low-income and limited English proficiency students—are being staffed with the least experienced teachers and principals, despite our efforts to raise awareness of that problem and propose viable solutions.

There are better ways to help struggling Texas schools: First, we must elect legislators who acknowledge the real harm caused by inadequately and inequitably funding our schools. We need to support pro-public education candidates who are not afraid of being attacked by wealthy PACs and scorecard-wielding “watchdog” groups that want to starve public schools of funding so that they will inevitably fail and be overrun by private schools. Let’s focus on real interventions and infusions of resources where they are most needed. That includes making sure public schools in need have access to high-quality, experienced superstar teachers and school leaders and prioritizing funding for programs that produce real results, like the SSI.

Your vote is your voice, and you have an opportunity to speak up now for students in our highest-need schools: This primary election is going to determine the final outcome of several legislative seats. Many incumbents who have supported public education in the past and candidates running on pro-public education platforms are being targeted by well-funded dark money groups that would just as soon dismantle our public education system and shutter neighborhood schools they deem as failures.

Find out where your candidates stand by viewing their profiles using our 2014 Races search feature on Teach the Vote: Did they vote to cut or increase education funding? Have they shown more support for expanding charter and online schools than for cultivating teacher quality and retention? Take a look at their survey responses, too. Do they favor private school vouchers? Do they believe it’s okay to shut down or let private entities take over public schools? This is your chance to send more pro-public education candidates to Austin. Don’t forget that tomorrow is the last day for early voting and Tuesday is election day!

Vote for candidates who will make sure teacher evaluation systems are valid, fair and easily understood

This is the seventh post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.

At issue: Evaluating teacher effectiveness is arguably the most popular education reform movement in the country right now. Critics of our state’s current teacher evaluation model, the Professional Development and Appraisal System (PDAS), complain that it labels too many teachers as proficient, fails to give them meaningful feedback on how to improve their job performance and lacks an emphasis on student achievement. During the last several legislative sessions, reformers have tried to replace the PDAS with an appraisal system based heavily on the student standardized test performance, despite the growing backlash against testing.

There is no magic tool for quickly and cheaply identifying great teachers: Evaluation reforms being pushed around the country center on the use of value-added modeling (VAM), a system of statistically analyzing students’ test scores over time in an attempt to measure growth in achievement or progress toward a particular target. Individual students’ performance data are then linked to their assigned teachers using state data systems. VAM has been touted as a simple, cost-effective way to measure the effectiveness of teachers, the schools in which they teach and even the educator preparation programs they attended before becoming teachers. However, studies indicate that VAM methodology is not reliable as a measure of individual teacher performance, and researchers have cautioned against using VAM calculations for purposes of high-stakes employment decisions such as teacher compensation or termination.

Changes are coming very soon to educator appraisal laws and rules: Evaluating educators on the basis of student performance is a major reform priority of President Obama’s administration. As a condition attached to the No Child Left Behind waiver granted to Texas last fall, the U.S. Department of Education has given the Texas commissioner of education a May 2014 deadline to develop a new state appraisal system that will include student growth as a “significant” factor in teacher evaluations. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is also developing a new principal evaluation system. With these new systems in development and set to be piloted in the coming school year, the 84th Legislature will undoubtedly be considering major changes to the appraisal laws in 2015. Not only is the design of an appraisal system critical, but also related concerns must be addressed, such as the training and selection of appraisers, the frequency of observations and evaluations, tying professional development to appraisal results, the use of appraisals in employment decisions, and the local costs of implementing a new appraisal system.

The people you elect to the Legislature this year will be making decisions about how teachers are evaluated and how those evaluations are used: It is imperative that educators elect candidates they can trust to make the right call on matters that will profoundly affect the profession as a whole and individual educators’ livelihoods. That is why ATPE asks hard questions of all legislative candidates, including whether a teacher’s evaluation should be based on student test scores and how teachers in subjects or grades with no state standardized test should be evaluated under such a system. Using our 2014 Races search tool to look up candidate profiles, you can find out how your candidates feel about using student test scores in teacher evaluations and look up incumbents’ voting record on a bill relating to teacher appraisal.  (Look for “House Vote #4” and “Senate Vote #5” in the Voting Record section of the candidate’s profile.) There are only three days left for you to vote early, and Tuesday, March 4 is the primary election. Remember that many races will be decided by this March primary if there are no other candidates running in November. If you value your profession, vote your profession!

Vote for candidates who will insist on class-size limits

This is the sixth post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.

At issue: Research shows that smaller classes improve education by increasing the interaction between teachers and individual students, minimizing discipline issues, improving classroom management, boosting teacher morale and producing dramatically better educational outcomes for students. Studies have linked a rise in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to reductions in class size, especially after class-size limits were first adopted in Texas. State law limits classrooms in grades K-4 to no more than 22 students per teacher. However, the law allows schools to request waivers of the 22:1 class-size limit if they have limited facilities, a shortage of teachers or an unexpected surge in enrollment. Although the law has been tightened and made more transparent in recent years, thousands of schools still routinely request class-size waivers each year.

Class-size limits are a necessary and worthwhile expenditure: It costs money to keep classes small, and class-size limits are unpopular among politicians who want to cut education spending wherever possible. Larger classes often require less physical space and fewer teachers. That’s why class size is usually one of the first quality control measures sacrificed whenever money is limited.  Immediately after the drastic education budget cuts of 2011, the number of 22:1 class-size waiver requests more than tripled.

Students deserve more one-on-one instructional time with their teachers, a distraction-free classroom and, above all else, a safe learning environment: Opponents of class-size limits typically argue that school districts should have more “flexibility” and “mandate relief” so that they can staff and fill classrooms as they see fit. They also insist that high-quality teachers should be able to successfully teach a greater number of students. Critics of 22:1 tend to ignore the fact that class size affects not only instruction but also student safety and classroom discipline. Consider the many sad incidents of school shootings reported in the news and the heroic acts of many teachers involved. When teachers are tasked with keeping their students safe, even in potentially life-threatening situations, do we want their classes to be larger or smaller? Despite the obvious safety issue, legislators continue to try to weaken or abolish the 22:1 law every legislative session.

You can help educators and students by voting for candidates who respect the importance of class-size limits: Teach the Vote has many resources to help you find pro-public education candidates. For instance, ATPE asked all legislative candidates in a survey, “Would you vote to maintain a hard cap on the number of students per class, or should school administrators be given more flexibility to increase class sizes?” You can read their responses by visiting our 2014 Races search page, looking up the candidates in your district and opening the Survey Response section in each candidate’s profile. Don’t forget that the early voting period continues through Friday, and election day is March 4.

Vote for candidates who will fight private takeovers of public schools

This is the fifth post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.

At issue: For years now, well-funded political action committees, think tanks and individuals in the business community have been trying to outsource public education to the private sector at taxpayers’ expense. Privatization is popular among school reform enthusiasts because there are billions of dollars at stake. They argue that “school choice” will improve public education through the competitive force of the free market, but time and again research and experience have shown that privatization is bad for students, bad for teachers and bad for taxpayers.

The new threat: Originally conceived as form of payment that the government would give to families to use toward tuition at a private school or to offset the cost of home-schooling, the concept of vouchers has mutated into more complex schemes often called “tax credits,” “opportunity grants” or “scholarships.” Voucher proponents use attractive marketing ideas such as “parent triggers” and “escapes from failing schools” to target families of students with the greatest needs, including the poor, those with disabilities and those attending schools that are struggling to meet accountability targets. The idea of contracting with private entities to manage schools or even entire school districts has also gained traction throughout the country. In Texas, we already have private management boards being appointed to run school districts that fail under the accountability system, and we barely defeated bills in 2013 that would have created an “Achievement School District” for low-performing schools (i.e. a statewide school district that would be operated by private entities).

We cannot afford to let private businesses take over our public schools and profit off the taxes we pay to fund them: Voucher proponents continue to look for clever loopholes in the law and complicated financial strategies to mask the fact that taxpayer dollars would be funneled into the coffers of private entities. Whether a private entity hired to run a school is a for-profit business or a nonprofit organization (that is likely affiliated with a for-profit business), there is no effective way to make sure they comply with state laws, and private companies don’t have to answer to voters the way an elected school board does.

Your vote will help decide whether public education wins or loses next session: If you think your one vote doesn’t matter, consider that past voucher bills have been stopped in the Legislature by a single vote, and past elections have been decided by single-digit margins. Your vote not only matters, it is essential. Before you vote in the March 4 primary election, make a quick visit to our 2014 Races search page to find your legislative candidates’ profiles. Open the Survey Response section and view your candidates’ answers to this question: “Would you vote to spend public tax dollars on a voucher, tax credit or scholarship that allows students to attend non-public schools in grades K–12?” We must elect candidates who will commit to fight privatization of our schools in any form, and we need your help. You can still vote early this week, or vote at your assigned polling place on March 4.

Related Teach the Vote content: Learn why big corporations are so invested in the privatization of public schools.

Vote for candidates who will raise the standards for becoming a teacher in Texas

This is the fourth post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.

At issue: Of all school-based factors that affect student success, research shows that teacher quality is the most important. Despite pioneering the national accountability movement, Texas has lagged behind other states in terms of standards for becoming a teacher. Early on, state leaders embraced the concept of alternative certification pathways, but they failed to take necessary steps to ensure that all educators, regardless of how they become teachers in Texas, have the necessary content knowledge and foundational skills to be effective. In other words, the state’s minimum qualifications for admission to an educator preparation program and subsequent teacher certification have not been high enough to foster a high-quality educator workforce and raise the prestige of teaching. Taking advantage of our relatively low state standards, private educator preparation programs—including alternative certification programs—have flourished, but they have not always prepared their students adequately for the rigors of teaching. Here in Texas, the focus of lawmakers has too often been on “getting rid of bad teachers” on the back end instead of working to create more outstanding teachers on the front end.

It is time to elevate the stature of the education profession to match the high-outcome expectations we have for public school students: Texas must raise its standards for entrance into the profession in order to compete globally and keep up with rising accountability demands on our schools and students. The highest performing countries on international benchmarks have recognized that selective recruitment is essential. Singapore, for example, allows only the top one-third of its college graduates to even apply for teacher training programs. Finland accepts only 10 percent of its applicants for teacher training and then requires them to undergo five years of intensive schooling before they are allowed to teach. In South Korea, where teaching positions are highly competitive, schools recruit the top 5 percent of high school students to enter the education field. All three countries have greatly outperformed the U.S. on international measures such as the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).[1] The lesson for Texas: Educator preparation and certification should never operate as a “volume business,” cranking out new teachers who are ill-equipped to enter the classroom and setting them up for likely failure and frustration in their first few years on the job. The focus must shift from quantity to quality.

Texas also needs to invest in teacher quality: Initiatives for recruiting, training and retaining high-quality teachers are essential to the success of public education, but too often our elected officials have declined to fund those programs. ATPE has been advocating for a statewide, state-funded mentoring program for all new teachers, coupled with a rigorous training program and mentor stipends, incentives for districts to accommodate mentoring during the school day and strict quality control standards. We have provided state policymakers with an outline for the program and even pointed them toward federal funding sources to help defray its cost, but many legislators and statewide elected officials continue to believe it’s too expensive. We disagree, and so do the numbers: It has been estimated that teachers leaving the classroom cost the state of Texas half a billion dollars each year, making it well worth the smaller investment it would take to keep great teachers in the profession.

You can make a difference with your vote: Too frequently our efforts at reforms that would improve teacher recruitment, retention and quality have been thwarted by politicians who want to lower the standards for entrance into the profession and limit funding for public education overall. This is another area where hefty campaign contributions from wealthy businesspeople in the private sector have impeded progress. The only way to combat this problem is by electing candidates who truly understand what’s at stake and are willing to make sometimes hard decisions for the benefit of public education. Before you vote in this important primary election, research the candidates using our 2014 Races feature and find out if they are likely to support teacher quality measures such as mentoring and raising the bar for entrance into the education profession. Be an informed voter and help make a difference on March 4 or during early voting this week by supporting pro-public education candidates.

[1] According to the most recent 2012 PISA report, Singapore and Korea rank among the top five countries overall. Finland fell a bit to 12th on the list in 2012 but remains among the top five countries for reading scores. Meanwhile, the U.S. sits at 36th on the international list. Of course, it’s worth mentioning that the government of Singapore pays its teachers to earn 100 hours of professional development annually; Finland has no standardized testing; and Korea has some teachers earning seven-figure salaries.

Vote for candidates who will address standardized testing

This is the third post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.

At issue: Education in the 21st century has been dominated by standardized testing. The enactment of state and federal accountability laws, including the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, resulted in the growth of an entire business industry surrounding tests. Testing and rating schools based on students’ standardized test scores have become the primary mandates in public education. Schools that fail to meet accountability targets tied to test results face harsh sanctions, which exacerbates anxiety around the high-stakes nature of the tests. Many districts have tied teacher pay and bonuses to test results, and now the federal government is insisting on more reliance on test score data in evaluations of teachers and principals.

The overemphasis on standardized testing is a costly problem: The testing explosion has necessitated more government spending on:

  • Developing, field-testing and administering tests.
  • Buying test prep materials.
  • Remediation programs for students who fail the tests.
  • Administering pre-test “benchmark” assessments at the district level.
  • Training for staff.
  • Investigations of testing improprieties.
  • Hiring of additional personnel needed to administer tests, analyze results and create intervention plans based on those results.
  • And so much more.

Over a two-year period, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) spent nearly half a billion dollars on a contract with test vendor Pearson and was criticized in a state audit for not implementing proper quality controls on the contract. Make no mistake: Testing is big business, especially in a state as large as Texas, and the vendors that profit off testing do not hesitate to make large campaign contributions to candidates who will support the policies that keep them in business.

Progress has been made, but more must be done to address the “test, test, test” approach that is still holding our classrooms hostage to standardized assessments: If you read the Survey Response section of the candidate profiles on Teach the Vote, you’ll see that most candidates believe there is still too much emphasis being placed on testing in schools. The 83rd Legislature was forced to answer the outcry from students, parents and educators over too much testing. They passed House Bill (HB) 5, which greatly reduced the number of required state tests at the high school level, but they were not able to alleviate concerns about standardized testing in grades 3–8. A bill to reduce benchmark testing in those lower grades passed the Legislature unanimously, but was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry. Most incumbent legislators[1] supported another bill that would have allowed some students who achieve satisfactory scores on STAAR tests in certain grades to skip the exams in some other grades; that bill was derailed by conflicting federal regulations. There is still work to be done at both the state and federal levels to alleviate elementary, middle and junior high schools from the intense pressure of relentless testing that interferes with real, high-quality instruction.

Your vote in this primary election will help determine the future of testing in Texas: Let’s elect legislators who will fight for the integrity of classroom instruction and not bow to pressure from big testing companies or the federal government. Search our candidate profiles to see what your candidates have to see about the role of testing. Vote early (through Feb. 28) at any polling location near you, or vote at your assigned polling place on primary election day, March 4. Either way, be sure to vote in this critical primary, since so many election contests will be decided in March rather than in November.

[1] Senators Brian Birdwell and Dan Patrick were the only legislators who voted against HB 866 in 2013. Enter your address in our 2014 Races page to view your incumbents’ profiles and their voting records on testing and other major issues.