Tag Archives: Common Core

From The Texas Tribune: Allegations of Fearmongering in Education Board Runoff

by Kiah Collier, The Texas Tribune
May 17, 2016

Mary Lou Bruner and Keven Ellis are hoping to represent District 9 on the State Board of Education. Northeast Texas voters will pick between the two Republicans in a May 24 runoff election. Whoever wins the nomination will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph in November.

Mary Lou Bruner and Keven Ellis are hoping to represent District 9 on the State Board of Education. Northeast Texas voters will pick between the two Republicans in a May 24 runoff election. Whoever wins the nomination will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph in November.

CANTON — Today’s schoolchildren favor socialism over the free market. Common Core educational standards — banned in Texas — have crept into the classroom. And Texas schools should “teach the knowledge and skills that made the United States the leader of the world,” including cursive, phonics and multiplication tables.

State Board of Education hopeful Mary Lou Bruner’s fear-inducing, back-to-basics talking points have not changed much during a GOP runoff campaign that began after she nearly won a three-way primary to represent northeast Texas on the panel that sets state curriculum and adopts textbooks.

Neither, though, have Keven Ellis’.

Despite finishing a distant second to Bruner in the March 1 primary, when GOP voters demonstrated a strong preference for far-right candidates, Ellis has deliberately stuck to his policy-focused message: He wants to support educators by working with them rather than against them, narrow a curriculum he describes as “a mile wide and an inch deep” and overhaul the current standardized testing regime. That is, when he’s not urging voters to ignore Bruner’s message of alarm.

“You will hear her say that children belong to the parents and not the government — and of course they do — but she has also said that if your children go to school saying things like ‘abortion is wrong’ and they don’t believe in global warming, they could get a visit from the school administrator” and put themselves at risk of being taken away by Child Protective Services, Ellis said earlier this month during a sparsely attended GOP runoff forum in the East Texas town of Canton.

Ellis, a 45-year-old Lufkin chiropractor, who has served for three years on the local school board and is now its president, added that the Texas Legislature has already banned Common Core, and the state curriculum still includes cursive, phonics and multiplication tables.

“It’s all about inciting fear,” he said. “Please see through this.”  

Bruner, a conservative activist who worked in East Texas schools for 36 years as a teacher, counselor and educational diagnostician before retiring in 2009, said there’s plenty of reasons to be afraid of “elites in the federal government that are trying to give us a one-size-fits-all, top-down education system.”

“If that is fearmongering, I wish people had spoken out harder and heavier in Germany before Hitler took over,” she said. “We should be scared when they want to take away from us what our government was built upon and totally revamp it and make it like the socialist and communist countries of the world.”

The 69-year-old from Mineola, who won 48 percent of the March primary vote to Ellis’ 31 percent, also bashed reporters for fixating on her conspiracy theory-laden Facebook posts during the primary campaign. Now mostly hidden from public view, they contended that President Obama worked as a gay prostitute in his youth to pay for a drug habit and that the Democratic Party was behind President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

“They always want to smear my name and start with that before they ask me what I want to do on the State Board of Education,” she said, adding in an interview that “I’m really sick and tired of the way they’ve treated me.”

The GOP forum in Canton was one of just a handful of events during the nearly three-month runoff campaign where both candidates were present. Several local conservative groups, which have overwhelmingly backed Bruner, have not invited Ellis to meet with them or speak at their events, according to Ellis and local activists. One of the groups, though, is currently reconsidering its endorsement of Bruner after she made several inaccurate statements in a speech to East Texas superintendents. 

“That is counter to what we should be about,” said Dwayne “Doc” Collins, a Canton activist who founded five local Tea Party groups and organized the forum. The 70-year-old veterinarian said he’s “going to have to break with a lot of my fellow Tea Partiers” to support Ellis.

Ellis “has a lot of positive things he could bring to the state school board,” said Collins, who has known Bruner for years. “He would be quite a bit more cooperative … less confrontational.”

If that is fear-mongering, I wish people had spoken out harder and heavier in Germany before Hitler took over.— Mary Lou Bruner, Republican candidate for State Board of Education


But many who attended the forum said it was the first time they had even heard of Ellis or knew there was another candidate in the race besides Bruner. Several said they were leaning toward Bruner after hearing from both candidates because she spoke to their concerns — namely Common Core — and demonstrated conviction.

“She was boisterous. She didn’t back down,” said Patrick Wilson, a retiree who now works as a substitute teacher in Canton.

“She’s my gal,” Jon Smith, another local retiree, told The Texas Tribune at the forum. “She wants to get rid of the Common Core that’s starting.”

Almost every other state has adopted Common Core, the K-12 educational standards championed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Officers — and incentivized when the Obama administration tied their adoption to federal grant eligibility. But Texas’ GOP leaders have rejected the standards for a perceived liberal bias, and the Legislature passed a bill in 2013 banning their adoption or use.

Ellis says he is also opposed to Common Core but described it in an interview as a “non-issue” despite the fact that it’s clearly a concern among his would-be constituents.

Meanwhile, he’s hoping Bruner’s “outlandish comments” will help his cause.

Inaccurate statistics Bruner cited earlier this month during a speech to Region 7 superintendents — including the percentage of students enrolled in special education and the number of substitute teachers working in Lufkin schools — have gotten her in hot water with the influential East Texas Tea Party group Grassroots America — We the People, which endorsed Bruner in the primary.

The Smith County-based group has asked her to “produce her sources” and is “reconsidering” its endorsement, Executive Director JoAnn Fleming said in a text message. The group has also said it doesn’t agree with Bruner’s Facebook posts.

While some of the figures cited in the speech, captured in a cellphone video and circulated online in recent weeks, may have been wrong, Bruner said, “Everything I said is basically true,” including that schools are struggling with teacher shortages and so have to use substitutes.  

“Let me tell you what, the superintendents are not all Republicans,” Bruner said. “Many of them are Democrats, and they have an agenda.”

Bruner confirmed she has not received any endorsements from Texas superintendents. More than 70 of them have endorsed Ellis in the race, as well as statewide teacher groups and the Texas Parent PAC. Ellis also has received endorsements from state Rep. Trent Ashby of Lufkin and outgoing House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen, both of whom are key members of the more moderate bloc of Republicans in the Texas House aligned with Speaker Joe Straus

Whoever prevails in next week’s runoff will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph in the November general election. Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said he doesn’t expect Bruner’s comments to hurt her much.

Ultraconservative GOP runoff voters are “going to focus on the bigger picture of going back to basics — having schools that reflect their values and looking to keep Common Core out of Texas,” Jones said. “Perhaps they wouldn’t say that Obama was a former prostitute financing his drug habit, but they do not have a favorable opinion of President Obama and therefore aren’t going to be turned off by that statement.”


Disclosure: Rice University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/05/17/sboe-race-candidates-stick-their-message/.

A week of education-related hearings in Washington, D.C.

ThinkstockPhotos-492905119-USCapIt was a busy week for education in Washington, D.C., as Congress held four hearings on a variety of topics. Two of those hearings were dedicated to oversight as the Department of Education (ED) implements the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), another was focused on President Obama’s education budget proposal, and a final hearing concentrated on the confirmation of current acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King as Secretary of Education.

ESSA Implementation

The Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) kicked the week off on Tuesday with a hearing entitled, “ESSA Implementation in States and School Districts: Perspectives from Education Leaders.” Seven invited witnesses delivered testimony on the topic. The witness list included a governor, two superintendents, two think tank representatives, and two teacher union representatives. All panelists welcomed the new law, specifically with regard to more state-controlled decision making, and expressed the importance of quality regulations delivered under an appropriate timeline.

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) stated that the Committee wants states to have plans ready by July 1, 2017, and one panelist hoped that initial regulations would be finalized by this coming fall. While most panelists agreed with the need for rapid response to the law, there was some concern that moving too quickly could mean states will merely tinker with current systems as opposed to taking the time to really rethink the systems in place. The importance of teacher involvement in the implementation process was also discussed. Watch the full Senate committee hearing here.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce also held a hearing dedicated to ESSA implementation. The hearing took place Thursday morning and was entitled “Next Steps for K-12 Education: Upholding the Letter and Intent of the Every Student Succeeds Act.” This is the second ESSA oversight hearing held by the House (read more about the first hearing here). Acting Secretary King was the only witness at the hearing yesterday morning.

While members did ask King about specific issues pertaining to the new law, Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) kicked off the meeting with comments and questioning on the federal government’s role under ESSA. He specifically pointed to comments made by former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan late last year that seemed to imply ED was already looking for ways around some of the new law’s restrictions that limit the department from intervening in states’ policies. King understood the limitations but also assured members that ED would adequately enforce the civil rights aspects of the law. Watch the full House committee hearing here.

Related content: ED released a fairly extensive document today that addresses frequently asked questions pertaining to ESSA. The FAQ document can be viewed here.

Dr. John King’s Confirmation as Secretary of Education

Since Arne Duncan stepped down from his post as the nation’s top education official, one of his previous top advisers, Dr. John King, has served as acting U.S. Secretary of Education. Following a few months on the job, President Obama decided to put forth the acting secretary as his nominee to officially replace Duncan. Such a nomination requires the approval of the U.S. Senate. The process of confirming acting Secretary King began Thursday with a Senate confirmation hearing in the Senate Committee on HELP.

King was asked to weigh in on some issues of major importance to the education community.

  • On ESSA, King said they have begun the negotiated rulemaking process on several pieces of the law and are listening to stakeholders. On the importance of maintaining the civil rights legacy of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), he said that with the added flexibility under ESSA at the state level, states would have the opportunity to focus on increasing equity.
  • On teacher shortages, King said there is an opportunity to reset our conversations around the teaching profession. He recognized that states have their own specific issues with regard to teacher shortages. He acknowledged that compensation is often low and student growth is quickly rising in many areas.
  • On teacher evaluation, King agreed with Chairman Alexander that evaluation systems are to be designed and implemented at the state level, but he pointed to equity plans and federal Title II dollars that can help states build effective evaluation systems and provide equitable access to teachers.
  • On testing, King said that while test participation is important, it is also important to ensure all tests are necessary and beneficial. He believes thoughtfulness on the part of state leaders and flexibility under the new law will give states the opportunity to address the overemphasis on testing. He pointed to new guidance ED has already released on using state and federal funds to review state’s testing regimes and better understand what is appropriate.
  • On vouchers, King stated that he does not personally believe that programs like the DC voucher program cannot be scaled to a larger level as a solution for creating greater and more equitable access to education. Chairman Alexander acknowledged that Congress was unable to pass voucher and school choice amendments, and he asked that King respect that the body failed to come to a consensus.
  • On charters, King said the key is highlighting innovative practices and scaling up strong charter-management organizations.
  • On Common Core, which he oversaw the implementation of in New York state, King promised to adhere to the spirit of the ESSA law and not intervene with state’s standards adoption.

Dr. King formerly served at ED as the Deputy Education Secretary under Duncan. Prior to joining ED, he was the commissioner of New York state public schools, founded a Boston charter school called Roxbury Preparatory Charter School, and worked as managing director for a charter management organization. He began his education career as a high school social studies teacher.

The HELP committee will meet to vote on his confirmation on March 9.


President Obama’s Budget

Acting Secretary King was also on the Hill Wednesday, this time to defend the president’s budget request for ED. The request is a 1.9 percent increase over the 2016 appropriation, requesting $69.4 billion dollars. King told lawmakers on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce that the K-12 portion of the proposal prioritizes equity and the teaching profession. Chairman John Kline (R-MN), however, was concerned that the proposal flatlines programs like the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).

Other Republicans expressed concern that the proposal would cause budget deficits to rise over the long term. The proposal seeks to considerably expand preschool education; Republican members pointed to the hefty price tag associated, while Democrats defended the expanded programs. King also pointed to high graduation rates and waning drop-out rates across the country saying that the budget seeks to build on progress.

Policies centered on the teaching profession were a hot topic of discussion. Acting Secretary King pointed to a billion dollar proposal called “RESPECT: Best Job in the World.” According to ED, the competitive grant program funds could be used to create advancement opportunities for teachers, provide teachers with flexibility to focus on professional development, or improve working conditions. The program would be focused on supporting “comprehensive, locally-developed, teacher-led efforts in our highest-needs schools.”

The president’s budget proposal faces a long and unlikely road to passage.

Abbott vetoes bill aimed at shrinking curriculum standards

This weekend marked the deadline for Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to sign or veto bills passed by the 84th Legislature. By Sunday, Abbott had vetoed a total of 42 bills. One fairly high-profile education bill was among the group: Senate Bill (SB) 313 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) was an ATPE-supported bill that called for the State Board of Education (SBOE) to review and narrow the content and scope of the foundation curriculum standards that form the basis of STAAR tests.

The curriculum standards, officially known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), have always been a source of controversy. Partly because of political battles among SBOE factions aiming to inject the standards with content deemed to be either liberal-leaning or conservative-leaning, the TEKS have swelled to a point that many educators consider them to be unwieldy. ATPE and others who supported SB 313 hoped that an SBOE review aimed at narrowing the TEKS would provide some relief, but Abbott vetoed the bill on Friday, June 19.

In his official veto message on SB 313, Abbott wrote, “While Senate Bill 313 is intended to provide additional flexibility to school districts when purchasing classroom instructional materials, the bill potentially restricts the ability of the State Board of Education to address the needs of Texas classrooms. Portions of Senate Bill 313 may have merit, but serious concerns were raised about other parts of the bill. I look forward to working with the Legislature and other stakeholders to ensure this issue is vigorously evaluated before next Session.”

The “serious concerns” cited by Abbott were apparently those voiced by a small group of conservatives worried that the bill would open the door for introduction of Common Core to Texas. A number of Tea Party operatives had criticized the bill on that basis, despite the existence of another state law passed in 2013 that already prohibits the adoption of any national curriculum standards in Texas. (In fact, while serving as Attorney General, Abbott issued an opinion emphasizing that school districts in Texas are not authorized to use Common Core under state law. Nothing in SB 313 would have negated that law.) Even the bill’s author told reporters recently that SB 313 had nothing to do with Common Core, and Sen. Seliger reiterated his own opposition to Common Core. Notwithstanding the substance of the actual bill and strong state laws that already keep Common Core out of our state, the perceived link between SB 313 and Common Core became the curriculum bill’s fatal flaw.

Late in the legislative session, some conservative members of the SBOE and leaders of Tea Party groups were already lobbying lawmakers to reject the bill, but SB 313 ultimately passed with only a handful of no votes, as we reported on our blog back on June 1. With passage of the measure, social conservatives opposed to SB 313 shifted their efforts instead toward lobbying Abbott to veto the bill. The leadership of the Texas Republican Party recently adopted a resolution urging Abbott to veto SB 313, complaining that the bill “puts recent conservative curriculum victories in jeopardy, including emphasis on patriotism as required by state law, discussion of the Founding Fathers and documents, American Exceptionalism, America’s rich religious heritage, character education, achievements of Ronald Reagan.” The resolution also claimed that the current TEKS “require students to know specific facts and reflect conservative values of Texas, but forcing the SBOE to remove content and make it more general reflects the philosophy underlying the Common Core standards.”

We’re disappointed in this instance that Gov. Abbott paid more deference to the politically-motivated, fact-challenged paranoia of a few individuals with extreme viewpoints than to the vast numbers of SB 313 supporters who wanted to see something done about the voluminous TEKS our teachers are forced to cover every year despite the limitations of time and testing. The only consolation is that we still have House Bill 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), which the governor did sign into law, and that bill will require the Texas Education Agency to conduct a comprehensive study of the TEKS. We hope that the study will produce the kind of “vigorous evaluation” of the issue that Abbott wants to see and allow the legislature and SBOE to make some positive, lasting changes in 2017.

SBOE and TEA finish up two weeks of marathon meetings

The State Board of Education met from Tuesday, July 15, through Friday, July 18, for its regular July meeting. Here are the highlights:

On Tuesday, the board had a lengthy conversation with a curriculum and standards development specialist. This was the first of several planned interactions intended to help the board do a better job of overseeing the TEKS writing process with the goal of developing more streamlined, teacher-friendly TEKS.

On Wednesday, Commissioner Michael Williams addressed the board. He and the board had a longer than usual discussion primarily due to his recent actions regarding Great Hearts charter school in the Dallas area. During its last meeting the board chose to veto the commissioner’s recommendation to give Great Hearts a new charter to open a school in the Dallas area. Board members based their decision primarily on concerns that were brought to the board about that specific charter operator. In the interim between that meeting and this one, the commissioner chose to use his authority to grant the Great Hearts operating in San Antonio an expansion into the Dallas market. In doing so, the commissioner waived his own rules against granting expansions to a charter operator that had not been operating under a Texas charter for at least four consecutive years and essentially did an end run around the board’s veto.

The board also received a report on the health of the permanent school fund (PSF), which has topped $30 billion, the largest the fund has ever been. The board set the range within which it will pull funds from the PSF over the next biennium. It is the board’s duty to set the rate at which funds are taken from the PSF and sent to the Legislature to be appropriated. A portion of the money taken from the PSF is used to fund the instructional materials allotment and a portion is spent to offset the cost of education generally, decreasing the amount the Legislature has to spend out of general revenue.

On Thursday, the board met as committees. The Committee on Instruction, which is chaired by ATPE Past State President Sue Melton Malone, met an hour earlier than the other committees to host a dyslexia demonstration for the entire board. The Committee on School Initiatives discussed the possibility of the board updating the long-range plan for public education and long range technology plan, neither of which has been updated in more than a decade.

The full board heard public testimony on Friday from members of the public who are concerned about the influence of Common Core on AP History classes. Currently there are no Common Core standards for history.

Watch recorded footage of the board meeting.

This week, July 21–23, the TEA’s charter division has been conducting interviews of charter applicants. Several SBOE members have been present for those interviews.Watch recorded footage of the interviews.

On Friday, TEA will hold a public hearing to take testimony on the new commissioner’s rules regarding charter schools. Senate Bill 2 from last session transferred most of the SBOE’s authority over charter schools to the Commissioner of Education. Watch the hearing live.

Attorney General Abbott issues new opinion regarding Common Core

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has written an opinion relating to the Common Core State Standards, a set of national curriculum standards that several states other than Texas have adopted. In Texas, the State Board of Education (SBOE) is responsible for adopting state curriculum standards, known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

In 2013, the State Legislature passed a bill prohibiting SBOE from adopting the Common Core standards for use in Texas; that bill also stated that school districts “may not use common core state standards to comply with the requirement to provide instruction in the essential knowledge and skills.” ATPE strongly supported the bill, which aligned with our long-standing legislative program position opposing nationalization of curriculum, tests or teacher certification.

In December 2013, Sen. Dan Patrick (R–Houston) requested an attorney general’s (AG’s) opinion to determine whether a school district that uses Common Core “in any way to teach” the state’s mandated curriculum would be violating state law. In his request for the opinion, Patrick claimed that “certain school districts within Texas are currently using Common Core to teach the Texas state standards.” He did not identify particular school districts in his written request, however. Read the entire request by Sen. Patrick here.

In response to Patrick’s request for an AG’s opinion, some school districts expressed concern that the state’s new law had put them in the position of being forced to violate the prohibition merely because of overlaps between the state’s existing standards and Common Core. They worried, in other words, that they would be unable to teach particular segments of the TEKS if those segments happened to match what was also covered in the Common Core standards. In his new opinion, Abbott writes that the districts’ concern was “baseless,” adding that legislators were “aware of the frequent overlap between the TEKS and the Common Core Standards” when they passed the law.

Abbott’s opinion does not directly address any concerns about school districts’ use of instructional materials that might have been developed with Common Core in mind. Instead, it simply reiterates what the underlying law states—that school districts may not use the Common Core State Standards Initiative to satisfy their requirement to teach the TEKS. Read the full opinion here.

Common Core has been the focus of heated political debates around the country. Republicans and Democrats alike have complained about the idea of national standards and viewed Common Core as an illustration of federal government overreach into state policy matters. Indeed, some states have been pressured to adopt Common Core in order to receive waivers of burdensome and outdated ESEA/NCLB federal accountability laws from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Ironically, the Common Core standards were developed not by the Obama administration but rather by the National Governor’s Association; strong supporters of Common Core include high-profile Republican governors and former governors, including New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Florida’s Jeb Bush, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups.

Despite the outright prohibition against Common Core in our state, it remains a popular political talking point. For that reason, it is not surprising that Patrick and Abbott would both choose to weigh in publicly on Common Core at this time, considering that each of them is in the midst of a fierce campaign for higher office this year. Patrick is running for lieutenant governor, and Abbott is running for governor.

ATPE expresses concern over teacher evaluation plans during House committee hearing

The House Public Education Committee held an interim hearing yesterday, May 14, to discuss the state’s new plans for teacher and principal evaluations and other issues relating to teacher quality. The Speaker of the House asked the committee to study these issues during the interim.

Yesterday’s hearing consisted of four panels of invited witnesses, followed by public testimony from several stakeholders, including ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe. Stoebe served on a steering committee of teachers appointed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to give feedback on the new evaluation system and proposed teaching standards. Read more about the steering committee’s work and the state’s plans for the new evaluation system in the upcoming Summer 2014 issue of ATPE News.

The first panel of invited witnesses yesterday consisted of teachers and principals who shared their experiences with innovative instructional practices, such as using flipped classrooms. For the second panel, former Commissioner of Education Jim Nelson appeared on behalf of the Texas Teaching Commission. He explained the commission’s 2012 study of issues relating to the teaching profession and noted that most of the time was spent discussing teacher evaluation and compensation. Representatives of the state’s four largest teacher groups who initially served on the commission withdrew from it in late 2012 because they could not support directions being taken by the commission on several issues, including evaluation. Nelson testified that commission members believe student growth should make up more than 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

Representatives from TEA made up the third panel. Michele Moore, Associate Commissioner for Educator Leadership and Quality, and TEA Deputy General Counsel Von Byer were there to provide updates on teacher quality initiatives and explain the new teacher and principal evaluation system developed by TEA. Legislators on the committee expressed concern regarding the timeline for implementation of the system, which calls for piloting in the 2014-15 school year and full statewide implementation in 2015. TEA staff acknowledged that without a special session, the Texas Legislature would have to change state law to require statewide implementation prior to receiving feedback from the pilot study. TEA also confirmed that the value added-portion of the new evaluation system as proposed will not even be completed until mid-June.

ATPE Governmental Relations Manager Jennifer Canaday testified as part of the fourth panel along with representatives of TCTA, Texas AFT and TSTA. All four invited witnesses stressed concern over TEA’s decision to include a value-added measure at the individual teacher level in the new evaluation plans. Each of the panelists pointed to an abundance of research suggesting VAM is an inaccurate measure of teacher performance for purposes of high-stakes employment decisions. Due to this research, Canaday conveyed that  ATPE had suggested to Commissioner of Education Michael Williams that VAM be used only at the campus level or higher for evaluation purposes, as opposed to the individual teacher or classroom level.

Canaday also explained how the design of the new evaluation system had been dictated by the terms of an NCLB waiver that Texas has been trying to secure from the U.S. Department of Education. In a letter sent to House Public Education committee members on the eve of the hearing, Commissioner Williams insisted that the NCLB waiver was not the reason for the evaluation changes. However, as Canaday explained to legislators yesterday, the federal government, through Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, has demanded that student growth make up at least 20 percent of teacher evaluations and has used the NCLB waiver process as a means of forcing states to adopt controversial reforms, such as tying teacher evaluations to test scores or adopting the Common Core national curriculum.

All members of the panel of teacher group advocates encouraged TEA to continue to negotiate with the U.S. Department of Education and seek an extended timeline in which to work. At minimum, an additional year is needed before statewide implementation so that any data or feedback from the pilot year can be incorporated and changes made where necessary. “We should tell Secretary Duncan that we are Texas and we have 5 million students and we want to get this right,” Canaday told the committee. “We need to be negotiating from a position of strength and asking for an extension of time or different parameters.” Canaday also pointed out that parents would never tolerate the use of controversial VAM methods, which she likened to “secret statistical voodoo” in some instances, to make high-stakes decisions about students, such as determining their class rank or course grades. “If VAM is not good enough for students, why are we insisting that it be used on teachers?” she asked rhetorically.

Additionally, Canaday reiterated ATPE’s belief that in order to improve the profession and better recruit and retain teachers we should raise standards to enter the profession, offer all new teachers mentoring opportunities, pay teachers more professionally and give them career advancement opportunities that don’t necessarily require them to leave the classroom. She also told members about the TELL Texas survey on teachers’ working conditions, which is taking place now and has the potential to generate valuable data that can assist us with teacher retention efforts and improving student achievement without the use of test scores. Canaday urged legislators on the committee to follow up with school leaders back in their districts to encourage full participation in the TELL Texas survey, which ends May 31.

View an archived broadcast of the full hearing here.

Arne Duncan testifies on Obama’s education budget request; distances himself from Common Core

Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified before the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education on April 8 to discuss President Barack Obama’s proposed education budget.

In another bipartisan effort, representatives from both parties criticized the department’s move to increase competitive grant opportunities while decreasing access to more traditional formula grant funds. According to ranking member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), under the requested budget, the Department of Education would increase competitive grants by 6.9 percent while cutting formula grants by 4.9 percent.

Members of the committee were particularly concerned about the effect this move would have on important formula grants like Title I, IDEA (the federal law governing the education of disabled students), and Impact Aid (federal money that is designed to help school districts that suffer due to the presence of tax-exempt federal properties). Secretary Duncan did acknowledge that the proposed budget favors competitive grants more so than in past years, but emphasized that 89 percent of the proposal is dedicated to formula grant funding.

The secretary also made news for his comments at the hearing on Common Core. In what many are considering a change in his messaging, Secretary Duncan distanced himself from Common Core saying that he is a proponent of high standards but that does not necessarily require the adoption of Common Core. His comments followed Republican questioning on the moves the department has made to tie the adoption of the Common Core standards to Race to the Top, a competitive grant program overseen by the Department.

Read Secretary Duncan’s full testimony or watch the archived hearing.


U.S. House markup of charter school and education research legislation

The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a meeting April 8 to mark up two pieces of legislation: House Resolution (HR) 4366, the “Strengthening Education through Research Act” and HR 10, “The Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act.” Both bills easily passed out of the committee with bipartisan support. These bills will likely be up for a vote from the full House sometime after mid-April.

HR 4366 reauthorizes the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA), which is the primary federal law governing education research. The ESRA was first enacted in 2002 and expired in 2008.

HR 10 rewrites the federal charter school law. The bill would authorize a program to support high-quality charter schools at the state and local level (which includes funding for new charter schools and expanding existing ones), a facilities aid program and a program to support successful Charter Management Organizations (CMO).

Click here to learn more about these bills or watch the archived markup.