Tag Archives: Commissioner Williams

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 15, 2016

Here’s what made the news for Texas public education this week:

On Monday, ATPE submitted formal written comments expressing concerns about proposed Commissioner’s Rules to implement a new teacher evaluation system called T-TESS. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided details on ATPE’s input in a blog post for Teach the Vote earlier this week.

ATPE has asked the Commissioner Mike Morath to consider delaying the adoption of the rules to allow time for reconsideration of some aspects of the new system – particularly, a requirement that at least 20 percent of each teacher’s appraisal be based on student growth measures, such as value-added modeling (VAM) using student test scores. With Congress’s recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Texas no longer faces the same pressure from the federal government to emphasize student growth measures in teacher evaluations.

Several ATPE members who served on stakeholder committees making recommendations for the creation of the T-TESS system and the rules to implement it have also shared their input with the commissioner. In a letter to Morath, educators Richard Wiggins, Ginger Franks, Jeremy Wagner, Stephanie Stoebe, Libbie Payne, and Carlos Diaz-Rivera Jr. echoed the concerns about moving forward with an evaluation model that includes the use of VAM and is heavily linked to students’ standardized test scores. “We are proud that the inappropriate use of standardized tests in the public education system has been recognized and change is underway,” the educators wrote to Morath. “Please help us continue that effort for the betterment of the 5 million schoolchildren across Texas.”

Former Commissioner of Education Michael Williams proposed the draft rules late last year for replacing the PDAS evaluation system with T-TESS. If adopted now by Commissioner Morath, the new rules and the T-TESS model would take effect as of July 1, 2016.

Libbie Payne

Libbie Payne

Stephanie Stoebe

Stephanie Stoebe

Related content: ATPE members Stephanie Stoebe and Libbie Payne, both of whom were involved in the efforts to develop a new teacher appraisal system, shared their thoughts on the proposed T-TESS rules in media interviews this week. Watch videos here of Stoebe appearing on KXAN-TV in Austin and Payne appearing on KRIS-TV in Corpus Christi.


An inaugural meeting will take place next week for the new Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. No testimony will be taken during the Jan. 20 meeting. We also reported this week on a new member being appointed to the commission and on Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to appoint Andrew Kim as the commission’s chair. Kim replaces the governor’s original choice to lead the commission, Mike Morath, who can no longer serve in that role since being named as the commissioner of education. The State Board of Education is also hosting a series of community conversations around the state to gather input for the commission. Its next scheduled event is in Austin. Read more about the SBOE events here and check your ATPE member newsletter for links to register.

Have you noticed any changes to Teach the Vote lately? Our 2016 candidate profiles are now featured on the site along with voting records for incumbent legislators. Search for legislative and State Board of Education candidates by clicking on our 2016 Races page. Additional information about the candidates will be added in the coming weeks, especially as those vying for election respond to our candidate survey.

American voting pins

Feb. 1 is the last day you can register to vote in the March primary elections. It’s important for all Texas educators to be registered and exercise their voices at the polls. This is especially true for the March 1 primary elections, since many of Texas’s contested races will be decided through the primaries rather than during the November general election. If you’re already registered, make sure your family members, friends, and colleagues are registered, too! Learn more about how to register to vote here.

Early voting for the March primaries is still a month away, but if you happen to live in San Antonio’s House District 118, you can cast a vote as early as next week! The retirement of Rep. Joe Farias (D-San Antonio) has forced a special election for his seat. Back in Nov. 2015, voters selected Republican John Lujan and Democrat Tomas Uresti to advance to a runoff election. The runoff is scheduled for Jan. 26, 2016, but you may early vote between Jan. 20-22. View additional information on the special election candidates in the Resources section of Teach the Vote.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 8, 2016

It’s a new year with many changes in store for public education. Here’s the latest news:

Monday, Jan. 11, is the deadline for public comments to be submitted on proposed Commissioner’s Rules to implement a new teacher evaluation system in Texas known as T-TESS. Former Commissioner of Education Michael Williams proposed the draft rules for a replacement to the PDAS shortly before Christmas. If adopted, the rules would take effect as of July 1, 2016.

ATPE and others are asking the new commissioner to consider delaying the adoption of the rules to allow time for reconsideration of some aspects of the new system. Specifically, T-TESS calls for at least 20 percent of a teacher’s appraisal to be based on student growth measures; for teachers of tested grades and subjects, the growth measure will be calculated using value-added modeling (VAM) data from student test scores. ATPE has previously shared with lawmakers and policymakers our grave concerns about the use of VAM for high-stakes purposes, especially in light of substantial research calling into question its validity. (Read more about some of the problems with VAM in a formal statement from the American Statistical Association, in our Summer 2014 feature article for ATPE News, and on our blog here and here.)

The decision to incorporate VAM into a new teacher evaluation system for Texas was driven by the state’s desire to win and hold onto a waiver of federal accountability laws from the U.S. Department of Education. The Obama administration offered states waivers from some sanctions and penalties within the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), but strings were attached. In Texas’s case, the NCLB waiver was conditioned on our state’s adopting a new teacher appraisal system that would tie teacher evaluations to student performance data. ATPE members who served on an original stakeholder committee convened to help develop the new system were told that the 20 percent threshold for student growth measures in each teacher’s appraisal was the minimum that the federal government would allow in order to preserve Texas’s waiver.

Since that time, however, the circumstances have changed. Congress replaced the NCLB with a new federal law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December, and that new law means that waivers and the strings attached to them will soon become obsolete. For this reason, ATPE is urging the Texas Education Agency to revisit with stakeholders and put the brakes on wholesale replacement of PDAS with a new system that is based largely on federal parameters that no longer apply.

If you would like to submit your own feedback about the T-TESS proposal in new 19 TAC Chapter 150, Subchapter AA, send your written comments to TEA no later than Monday, Jan. 11.

Before the holidays, Gov. Greg Abbott announced his pick to succeed Michael Williams as Texas Commissioner of Education. Mike Morath was sworn in on Monday as the new commissioner and he shared his desire to hear from stakeholders in an introductory blog post. Members of the ATPE staff expect to meet with Commissioner Morath in the near future and share our members’ priorities and input.CapitalTonightJMCJan2016

Related content: ATPE Governmental Relations Manager Jennifer Canaday appeared on Time Warner Cable’s Capital Tonight program this week to discuss the appointment of the new commissioner along with new laws affecting public education in Texas.


The State Board of Education is hosting a series of community conversations around the state this winter to gather input on accountability and student testing. The meetings are designed to elicit feedback to share with the new Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. We posted the tentative schedule of dates and locations on our blog earlier this week. Registration links for each event will be included in the ATPE member newsletter.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 18, 2015

Here are recent stories that made news in another big week for Texas education:

As we reported last week, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), has been signed into law, officially reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), previously known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

While the ESSA is not a perfect solution, many educators are optimistic that the new law will help reduce the emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing in state and federal policies going forward. Of course, many questions linger, especially here in Texas where plans are already underway to implement a new teacher evaluation system. The new evaluation framework, called T-TESS, has been based largely on criteria linked to the state’s ESEA/NCLB waiver, which will expire formally in 2016. Draft commissioner’s rules to implement T-TESS have been posted recently, and the Texas Education Agency is accepting public comments on them now through Jan. 11, 2016Read more about the ESSA and its potential impact on Texas’s testing and teacher evaluation policies in our blog post from last week.

In the meantime, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is beginning the implementation process for the new federal law and welcoming new leadership. John B. King, Jr. takes over as Secretary with the departure of Arne Duncan this month. ED has established a webpage with ESSA resources here, where you may view the actual text of the bill, read a White House fact sheet on ESSA, or even submit questions to the department about the new law. Publication of a “request for information” in the Federal Register on Dec. 22 also commences a 30-day public comment period on the federal law. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote in 2016 for future updates on ESSA implementation.

The U.S. Department of Education is not the only education agency undergoing personnel changes at the top. Gov. Greg Abbott announced this week that he has selected Mike Morath to become our state’s next Commissioner of Education. Commissioner Michael Williams is resigning at the end of this month. Morath will be relocating to Austin from Dallas, where he has been serving on the board of trustees for Dallas ISD. We wrote about the governor’s pick on our blog earlier this week. For insight into Morath’s priorities as commissioner, check out the KERA News interview that is also featured on The Texas Tribune‘s website here.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote today on a bill that would extend several tax credits for 2015, including the teacher tax deduction for classroom supplies. The deal is part of a major spending bill that was negotiated by congressional leaders earlier this week in order to avoid a government shutdown and fund services through September 2016. The bill includes a variety of tax breaks valued at approximately $600 billion within the $1.1 trillion plan. Under the pending proposal, elementary and secondary school teachers who dip into their own pockets to buy classroom supplies will be allowed to deduct up to $250 from their federal income taxes for those expenditures, and this time the deduction will be made permanent. The U.S. House already approved the spending measure yesterday, and the upper chamber is expected to give it a favorable nod today.

Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

In last week’s wrap-up, we shared a few highlights of actions taken by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) during its Dec. 11 meeting. Of particular interest was an agenda item to re-adopt a rule pertaining to certification requirements for Texas superintendents. SBEC’s original attempt to rewrite the rule was rejected by the State Board of Education (SBOE) after ATPE and other educator groups complained that the rule watered down the standards. In addition to adopting a second revision to the rule last week, SBEC also took several actions relating to educator discipline and educator preparation programs. This week, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, who attended and testified at the lengthy hearing, has provided more detail on the board’s deliberations that day. Read her latest blog post here.

Monty Exter

Monty Exter

The Texas Legislature passed a bill in 2015 that requires school districts to place video surveillance camera systems in certain classrooms serving students in special education programsSenate Bill (SB) 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) takes effect in 2016. With attention turning to how districts are implementing the requirements, NPR News did a feature story about the new law this week. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was quoted in the story, which notes that some Texas school districts could incur millions in costs to comply with the law. The legislature did not provide any additional funding to equip classrooms with the camera equipment that is required. Read the full article here, courtesy of NPR. For additional background information, check out ATPE’s FAQs about SB 507 as compiled by our Governmental Relations and Member Legal Services staffs earlier this year.

The ATPE office will be closed for the holidays from Dec. 21 through Jan. 1, 2016. We will resume normal office hours on Jan. 4, 2016. We at ATPE wish you a wonderful holiday season and look forward to sharing more news with you in 2016. Watch for exciting updates coming soon to Teach the Vote, including profiles of candidates running in the 2016 elections for the legislature and State Board of Education. We’ll see you in the new year!

Holiday Decorations Card


Governor selects Mike Morath to be new Texas commissioner of education

It was announced today that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has tapped Mike Morath to serve as the state’s next commissioner of education. Morath will succeed Commissioner Michael Williams who is stepping down at the end of the year.

Morath is a business executive with a background in finance. He has been a member of the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) board of trustees since 2011. Morath gained notoriety when he joined reformers in voicing strong support for an effort last year to make DISD the first-ever home rule charter district in Texas. That effort, which was underwritten in large part by the Arnold Foundation, failed, as we reported on Teach the Vote. Morath also serves on the advisory board of Texans for Education Reform (TER).

Today’s announcement comes just one month after Abbott also selected Morath to chair the new Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability, which the legislature created to recommend changes to our state’s student testing and accountability systems. The governor’s press release today states that “Morath is a product of Texas public schools” and that he once briefly taught computer science at Garland High School “during a school year when the previous teacher unexpectedly resigned.”

There has been much speculation lately as to whether the governor would select an education insider or a reformer/business leader to head the Texas Education Agency going forward. Morath’s name was not one that was more widely circulated, but his selection sends another signal that Abbott is very interested in the agenda of the education reform and pro-privatization crowd. Morath joins the list of other recent reform-minded appointees we’ve written about on Teach the Vote, such as newly-minted Pension Review Board chair Josh McGee.

As the state’s largest educator association, ATPE looks forward to an opportunity to meet with Morath and share our members’ input and experiences with him. We anticipate that he will want to pursue innovative approaches to regulations dealing with such issues as charter schools, teacher appraisals, and student testing. We hope that Morath will be the type of commissioner who is receptive to educators’ voices in matters of policy and will support local control.

Meet the new education law of the land, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

President Barack Obama today signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which reauthorizes the nation’s primary federal education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Previously called the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act when it was reauthorized under President George W. Bush in 2001, the law sets forth expectations for academic accountability, educator quality, and the use of federal funding for wide-ranging education programs.


ATPE state officers and lobbyists in Washington, D.C. earlier this year for discussions about ESEA reauthorization.

After years of waiting for reauthorization, ATPE and many other educator groups are celebrating Congress’s abandonment of failed NCLB strategies and policies embedded in the Obama administration’s waivers, and we are welcoming the new ESSA with cautious optimism. ATPE is grateful to our Washington-based lobby team for helping us in our efforts to persuade Congress to pass a reauthorization bill this year and for sharing our input on the federal law repeatedly with lawmakers and U.S. Department of Education staff. We also thank our many state officers and staff members who traveled to the nation’s capital over the years to share their stories in the hope of improving the country’s premier education law.

Although viewed as a long-overdue victory by most in the education field, there are some who have criticized the ESSA, saying that it does not go far enough to remove the federal government’s role or that it backs too far away from test-based accountability measures. Presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) voted against the bill, complaining that it represented “the same tired approach that continues to fail our nation’s children.”Sandy Kress 12-10-15 Sandy Kress, who is credited with creating the NCLB plan for President Bush and who shortly thereafter became a lobbyist for the testing industry, called the enactment of the ESSA “pitiful” in tweets this week.

This new “law of the land” for education aims to reduce the federal role in states’ education policies while ensuring accountability for educating students in various subgroups and closing achievement gaps. Ditching the controversial requirements for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the ESSA gives states and school districts more flexibility to create their own accountability systems and interventions for struggling schools. As of next summer, it will nullify the controversial waiver system of recent years that has required many states, including Texas, to pursue reforms not often favored by education stakeholders, such as teacher evaluations tied to student test scores. It also repeals the complex “highly qualified teacher” mandates from NCLB, replacing them with new provisions for “effective” teachers. As for curriculum and related matters, the ESSA requires states to adopt standards but prohibits the U.S. Secretary of Education from dictating what those should be. While Congress avoided putting ATPE-opposed funding portability language into the final bill, the ESSA does include a provision for a school choice pilot program in 50 school districts that would enable state, local, and federal funds to follow students from one school to another. With respect to testing, the ESSA keeps in place many of the existing requirements. States will still be expected to test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8, plus one high school test, but that test that could become the SAT or ACT based on school districts’ discretion.

In remarks during the bill signing ceremony this morning, President Obama called the ESSA “a big step in the right direction,” but added that the hard work would come with implementation. It is worth noting that many of the changes in the federal law will require similar actions by state legislatures and policymakers to be fully effective nationwide. For instance, the 2017 legislative session is the earliest opportunity for lawmakers to choose whether or not to tinker with Texas’s state STAAR testing requirements, which underwent a major overhaul in 2013 via the passage of House Bill 5.

It remains to be seen what short-term impact, in particular, the enactment of the ESSA will have on Texas’s pending effort to adopt a new state-recommended appraisal system for teachers known as T-TESS. The Texas Education Agency’s plans for T-TESS have been heavily influenced by strings attached to the state’s ESEA waiver, including pressure from the federal government to base at least 20 percent of teachers’ evaluations on student growth data. In a statement this week about the passage of the federal law, Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams said that “the rollout of our state’s new teacher and principal evaluation systems will continue, but without federal demands to include student test scores as a mandatory aspect.” Williams is resigning at the end of this month, but has already proposed new commissioner’s rules to implement T-TESS and repeal its predecessor, known as PDAS. Those rules, which were developed before the passage of the new federal law, are currently open for review and public comment through January 11. As drafted, the commissioner’s rules for T-TESS require teacher appraisals to “include the academic growth of the teacher’s students at the individual teacher level as measured by one or more of the following student growth measures: (1) student learning objectives; (2) student portfolios; (3) pre- and post-test results on district-level assessments; or (4) value-added data based on student state assessment results” starting in 2017. The proposed rules also specify that student growth “shall count for at least 20% of a teacher’s summative score.”ATPE_At_the_Capitol_Vertical

The one thing we know for certain is that big changes are on the horizon. As with our efforts to push Congress to reauthorize the ESEA, ATPE will remain heavily involved in the implementation work at the state and national levels. Making sure that the renewed national focus on lessening the outsized role of standardized tests is reflected in our state laws and policies going forward will be a top priority. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates from our lobby team.

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

by Morgan Smith, The Texas Tribune
November 22, 2015



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example: Deputy Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds.

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


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

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 13, 2015

On this Friday the 13th, here’s a look at stories that made education news in Texas this week:

There is talk in the nation’s capital of a compromise that could make it possible for Congress to finally reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), more commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has reported extensively on our blog, the U.S. House and Senate have passed respective bills that would replace the outdated federal accountability act with a new law. Late this week came news that congressional leaders have reached a tentative agreement on legislation to move to the House and Senate floors shortly after Thanksgiving, with conference committee meetings expected to take place next week. A joint statement about the negotiation was dispatched late today.

It’s unclear what will make it into an agreed-upon bill; most of the reauthorization debates have focused on differing expectations over how to measure accountability, particularly for subgroups of students, while at the same time minimizing the federal government’s role in state policy decisions. “Portability,” a House-favored concept that would enable Title I funding to follow each child, has also been a sticking point and something ATPE has urged Congress to avoid. ATPE State President Cory Colby emphasized that in a recent letter to Texas’s congressional delegation encouraging them to take steps to get a reauthorization bill passed this year.

The outdated and onerous accountability and funding provisions of ESEA have prompted most states, including Texas, to seek waivers from the U.S. Department of Education. Our state’s waiver is in jeopardy going forward, however, since the federal government has placed Texas on “high-risk” status for failing to meet certain prescriptive teacher evaluation criteria favored by the Obama administration. Of course, reauthorization of the federal law by Congress, coupled with next year’s presidential election, could render such waivers obsolete.

ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyists will be providing additional information as developments unfold. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote next week for updates.



ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson attended a NoJS Tweet 11-12-15v. 12 actuarial briefing by staff of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Read his new blog post to learn more about the current state of the pension fund as well as the healthcare programs for active and retired education employees and what the legislature must do to keep them solvent into the future.



On Tuesday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released final school accountability ratings for 2015. The ratings are meant to provide analysis on more than 1,200 school districts and charter schools with more than 8,500 campuses represented. TEA reported in a press release that “more than 90 percent of school districts and charters across Texas achieved the rating of Met Standard.”

However, one school district that has not fared so well under the state’s academic and financial accountability systems is La Marque Independent School District, which TEA officials announced this week is facing closure next summer on account of poor performance. The district had already been informed earlier this fall that its school board and superintendent would be replaced under a decision by Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. La Marque ISD was essentially on probation pending the release of new accountability ratings. Now, according to news reports, the district will be annexed by another district that has not yet been named. The district in Galveston County is home to approximately 2,500 students.



Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday that he has tapped Mike Morath to lead the brand new Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. Morath, a business executive with a background in finance, has been a member of the Dallas ISD board of trustees since 2011 and sparked controversy with his support for a recent failed effort to convert DISD to a home rule charter district.

The new state commission is being created pursuant to House Bill (HB) 2804 that the Texas legislature passed earlier this year and is supposed to make recommendations for new statewide student testing and accountability systems. Enabling the commission to comprehensively study accountability concerns over the next year was part of an effort to postpone the implementation of controversial “A through F” ratings of school campuses that were also mandated as a component of HB 2804.

Under HB 2804, the governor appoints four members to the commission, while Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus get three appointments each. The commission will also include the chairs of the Senate and House committees on education and higher education or their designees, along with a member appointed by the State Board of Education. Here are the other individuals who’ve been named to join the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability:

Additional appointments by Gov. Abbott:

  • Andrew Kim, superintendent of Comal ISD
  • Theresa Trevino, an Austin psychiatrist
  • Quinton Vance, superintendent of KIPP Dallas-Fort Worth Public Charter Schools

Appointments by Lt. Gov. Patrick:

  • Kim Alexander, superintendent of Roscoe Collegiate ISD
  • Paul Castro, superintendent of A+UP Charter School in Houston
  • Michael K. McLendon, dean of the School of Education at Baylor University

Appointments by Speaker Straus:

  • Pauline Dow, chief instructional officer for North East ISD in San Antonio
  • Maria Hernandez Ferrier, director of Texas A&M System’s Office of Mexico and Latin American Relations
  • Catherine Susser, a community volunteer and member of the Corpus Christi ISD board of trustees

SBOE designee: Erica Beltran



The State Board of Education (SBOE) and the TRS Board of Trustees are both slated to meet next week in Austin. The SBOE agenda includes an opportunity to review a recent ATPE-opposed decision by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to change requirements for becoming a school superintendent in Texas. In advance of the regular SBOE meetings Wednesday through Friday, the board is also conducting a full-day work session at the state capitol on Tuesday, Nov. 17; the roundtable discussion will focus on digital instructional materials and the use of technology in the classroom. View the complete SBOE meeting agendas here. The TRS board meets Nov. 19-20; view its agenda here. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for reports from the ATPE lobby team on both boards after next week’s meetings, and be sure to follow us on Twitter for even more news.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 16, 2015

It’s been a busy week for Texas public education. Here are this week’s big stories:

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting today, Oct. 16, and acting on several high-profile issues, including certification standards for superintendents. Read our blog post from earlier this afternoon about the board’s decision to allow superintendents to pursue certification despite having no prior experience as a certified teacher or principal.

After hearing testimony from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann and others opposed to the SBEC proposal, the board did vote today to modify its rule so as to require superintendent candidates at least to hold a graduate degree and also require school boards to notify the public of their rationale for hiring any non-traditionally trained superintendents under the new rule. The SBEC rule as adopted today heads next to the State Board of Education for review before it can be implemented.

Read ATPE’s press release on today’s vote.


TOY RevathiATPE congratulates Revathi Balakrishnan on being named the 2016 Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year (TOY).

Revathi is an ATPE member and TAG specialist for Patsy Sommer Elementary School in Round Rock ISD. The TOY Program recognizes educators who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and excellence in teaching and is overseen by the Texas Association of School Administrators.

ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey and State Vice President Julleen Bottoms were among those in attendance at today’s ceremony where the winners were announced.


Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams announced this week his plans to resign at the end of the calendar year. After notifying Gov. Greg Abbott of his decision in writing, Williams notified his staff at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on Thursday morning, Oct. 16, and thanked them for their efforts. Williams cited a desire to return to his home in Arlington from which he has commuted to work in Austin for many years.

An attorney and former member of the Texas Railroad Commission, Williams has held the post overseeing Texas public schools since September 2012, when he was appointed by former Gov. Rick Perry. He previously served under the administration of President George H.W. Bush as assistant secretary of education for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

ATPE issued a written press statement yesterday on the commissioner’s announcement.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced today its plans for implementing House Bill 743 of 2015 to shorten the duration of some STAAR tests. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided an update today on our Teach the Vote blog about the developments. View TEA’s press release about the testing changes here, and view ATPE’s press release on the announcement here.


On Monday, Oct. 12, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released his interim charges for the Senate Education Committee to study this year and next. The topics include such familiar education issues favored by conservative lawmakers as private school vouchers and expanding charter schools. Read the complete list in our Teach the Vote blog post from Monday. Patrick has already directed the Senate Committee on State Affairs to study the practice of payroll deduction for processing of educators’ and other public employees’ voluntary dues payments to professional organizations such as ATPE.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees will be holding a town hall meeting on Thursday, Oct. 22, beginning at 8:30 a.m. to discuss health care issues, including TRS-Care and TRS-Activecare. The meeting will be interactive and anyone viewing through the TRS website will be able to submit questions electronically. ATPE will be participating on a panel to discuss how increased costs and funding deficiencies affect active and retired public education employees. Teach the Vote will provide updates on the event next week.


Are you on Twitter? Follow Teach the VoteATPE, and members of our lobby team to get the latest updates and breaking education news. Here’s a sampling of tweets from this week:


TEA takes immediate steps to shorten STAAR tests in grades 3-8

Female Pupil Studying At Desk In ClassroomEarlier this year, the Texas legislature passed House Bill (HB) 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble), which among other things required that certain state standardized assessments (STAAR tests) be developed such that 85 percent of third through fifth graders will finish an assessment in not more than two hours and 85 percent of sixth through eighth graders will finish in not more than three hours. Prior to this week, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) had taken a position that only the writing test, which is presently being redeveloped anyway, would be able to be shortened in order to meet the requirements of the bill for the current school year.

This prompted a group of stakeholders that included ATPE and was led by Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA) to convene with Rep. Huberty’s office to discuss implementation of HB 743. Following that meeting, Huberty continued to work with Commissioner of Education Michael Williams to find ways to expedite implementation of the bill’s goal to reduce the testing burden on Texas students.

Today, the commissioner sent a letter to Texas superintendents detailing temporary measures that will be taken this year to decrease the length of the various STAAR tests, which will primarily include removing field testing items from the tests. Additionally, the agency formally announced that they will be using this year’s STAAR administration to study how long students are currently taking to complete the tests in order to guide the agency with future test development that meets the requirements of HB 743.

The commissioner’s full announcement can be found by clicking here. Read ATPE’s press release on the announcement here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 9, 2015

Happy Friday! Here’s what is making news this week in the Texas education world.

Commissioner asks feds to reconsider “high-risk” label given to Texas

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has requested that the U.S. Department of Education reconsider its recent decision to place the state of Texas on “high-risk status” relative to an ongoing application for a waiver of federal accountability requirements. Texas has sought and received temporary waivers of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), but the Obama administration has conditioned those waivers on the state’s promising to change the ways it evaluates teachers and principals. Although TEA has developed and is currently piloting new evaluations in several school districts, Texas lawmakers have not been inclined to change state laws that give local school districts flexibility to choose how they will evaluate their educators. That local control approach has not satisfied the federal government, which wants Texas to mandate the use of the new evaluation models statewide. As we reported on our blog last week, Texas’s refusal to meet all of the Department of Education’s appraisal-related conditions has resulted in the new “high-risk” designation.

In a letter yesterday to the Department, Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams wrote, “In a state with over 5 million students, 8,600 campuses, and 1,200 independent school districts and charter schools – including some districts as large as 210,000 students and some as small as 13 – state education policy must strike a balance between meeting the collective needs of the students of Texas, providing the support educators need, and allowing the flexibility districts deserve to respond to the context of their communities. Some districts will want and need an appraisal system with a slightly different focus than the state-recommended systems, and Texas law provides them that flexibility and control.”

Also this week, Williams wrote a letter to school administrators explaining potential consequences of the loss of the ESEA/NCLB flexibility in the future, if Congress fails to reauthorize the long overdue federal statute. “Absent reauthorization, current ESEA requirements would remain in place,” Williams wrote. “As a result, you should be aware that loss of our state’s ESEA waiver would carry some potential consequences for every school district and charter in Texas.”

Senate interim charges begin trickling out

This week, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) began issuing interim charges to Senate committees. The charges, often requested by legislators with input from outside groups, delineate specific issues that the various legislative committees are expected to study and report on prior to the start of the next regular legislative session in January 2017. As of the initial publication of this blog post, interim charges had not yet been released for the Senate Education committee but were expected soon.

Committees that did receive their charges this week include the Senate Committee on State Affairs, which Lt. Gov. Patrick has tasked with studying “Union Dues.” Specifically, the charge calls for the committee to “Examine the practice of using public funds and employees for the payment processing of union dues. Make recommendations on whether Texas should end this practice.” The State Affairs committee is chaired by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), who last session authored a bill that would have banned the practice of payroll deduction for payment of public employees’ voluntary dues to unions and even non-union professional associations such as ATPE. The highly politicized bill fortunately died in the Texas House this spring, but it’s expected to be resurrected by conservative members of the legislature next session.

Governor weighs in on school finance lawsuit

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has submitted an amicus brief to the Texas Supreme Court in the pending appeal of a district court decision finding the state’s school finance system to be unconstitutional. In the brief, Gov. Abbott argues that because of 2015 changes made by the 84th Texas Legislature to both school accountability laws and funding, the school finance case should be further delayed and sent back to the district court where it was initially heard for reconsideration. If the Supreme Court were to agree with Abbott’s plea, another class of students could graduate under a state funding scheme that has already been ruled unconstitutional. Former Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court Wallace Jefferson disagrees with the governor’s assertions and in a response brief states that the premise of Abbott’s arguments is incorrect largely because it is based on flawed funding data. Minor changes were made to education funding and accountability in 2015, but many school districts are still behind 2011 funding levels or are just now reaching those levels nearly five years later.

Commissioner announces plan to increase STAAR passing standards

Earlier this week, Commissioner of Education Michael Williams announced his intentions to set the passing standards higher for STAAR tests in 2015-16. In an Oct. 6 press release, the Texas Education Agency noted, “Each time the performance standard is increased, a student must achieve a higher score in order to pass a STAAR exam.” The cut scores have been scheduled to move up to a second and higher phase of implementation after remaining at the initial phase for the last four years. TEA explained the Commissioner’s plan as follows: “Under new proposed rules from the Commissioner, the traditional phase-in approach would be replaced with a standard progression approach from 2015–2016 through 2021–2022, the year final standards are scheduled to be in place. In other words, rather than larger jumps to more rigorous performance standards every few years, this progression approach would mean smaller, predictable increases every year through the 2021–2022 school year.”

The public will have an opportunity to submit feedback on the proposed increase during a 30-day public comment period that begins Oct. 16. Visit the TEA website for additional information on STAAR testing.