Tag Archives: ESEA waiver

Updates from the Texas Education Agency

Several news reports and announcements came out this week from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Here’s a rundown:


The big news concerning TEA this week continues to be the agency’s arbitrary cap on students receiving special education services; a story first reported by the Houston Chronicle’s Brian Rosenthal. In response to attention from the U.S. Department of Education, TEA sent a letter to the department insisting the agency “has never set a cap, limit or policy on the number or percent of students that school districts can, or should, serve in special education.” The agency argued schools had simply misunderstood policy relating to the state’s reporting system for special education services.

“The allegation that the special education representation indicator is designed to reduce special education enrollment in order to reduce the amount of money the state has to spend on special education is clearly false,” an agency staffer wrote to federal regulators. “Allegations that TEA issued fines, conducted on-site monitoring visits, required the hiring of consultants, etc. when districts provided special education services to more than 8.5 percent of their students are entirely false.”

“The Education Department will carefully review the state’s response and, after the review is concluded, determine appropriate next steps,” a department spokesperson told the Texas Tribune Wednesday.

The agency has nonetheless vowed to stop enforcing the 8.5 percent “target.” The decision comes after Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) wrote TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, expressing the concerns of the Texas House of Representatives over school districts excluding eligible children from special education services in order to comply.


Superintendents and school board members from eleven districts have been ordered to attend a class on how to fix their problematic schools. The districts include Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth, all of which contained several campuses designated as “improvement required” in the 2016 TEA accountability ratings.

Districts are required to submit turnaround plans for schools that fail to meet minimum standards for two consecutive years. It’s up to the education commissioner whether to approve those plans, and in the event they’re disapproved, the commissioner can replace the entire board or shut down the school.

According to the agency, the eleven districts in question submitted plans the commissioner deemed insufficient to fix their problems. The order for district officers to attend a two-day training session marks a clear crackdown, and appears in keeping with Commissioner Morath’s initial promise to get tough on failing schools.

Read more in this article from The Texas Tribune republished on our blog this week.


Earlier this week, the agency identified 300 “Title I Reward Schools” as part of the conditions for the state’s waiver from the U.S. Department of Education for certain provisions under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), otherwise known as No Child Left Behind. Title I campuses are those which serve at least 40 percent low-income students, and the rewards are broken down by “High-Performing” and “High-Progress” schools.

The agency defines a high-performance reward school as “a Title I school with distinctions based on reading and math performance. In addition, at the high school level, a reward school is a Title I school with the highest graduation rates.” A high-progress school is defined as “a Title I school in the top 25 percent in annual improvement; and/or a school in the top 25 percent of those demonstrating ability to close performance gaps based on system safeguards.”

The distinction is given to both public schools and charter schools. The full 2015-16 list is available here.



The agency released preliminary 2015-16 Texas Academic Performance Reports (TAPR) on Thursday. Part of TEA’s statutory reporting responsibility, TAPR “combine academic performance, financial reports, and information about students, staff, and programs for each campus and district in Texas.”

The preliminary statewide numbers indicate 62 percent of STAAR takers in all grades “met or exceeded progress” in all subjects, while 17 percent “exceeded progress.” Students posted a 95.7 percent attendance rate and 2.1 percent high school dropout rate for the 2014-15 school year. The Class of 2015 graduated 89 percent of students, up from 88 percent graduated by the Class of 2014. Roughly 68 percent of 2015 graduates took the SAT or ACT, and scored an average of 1394 and 20.6, respectively. Of students who graduated with the Class of 2014, 57.5 percent enrolled in a Texas institutional of higher education.

Broken down by demographics, Texas’ 5.3 million students are 52.2 percent Hispanic, 28.5 percent White, 12.6 percent African American and 4 percent Asian. A total of 59 percent are economically disadvantaged, 18.5 percent are English language learners (ELL) and 50.1 percent are considered “at risk.”

Texas schools employ around 347,000 teachers, with an average of 10.9 years of experience. The average teacher’s salary is $51.891, with the average beginning teacher earning $45,507 and teachers with more than 20 years earning just over $60,000.

Statewide, regional, district and campus-level reports are available via the TEA website. Districts are allowed to appeal their preliminary ratings, and final ratings are scheduled to be released by December 2, 2016.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 2, 2015

October and the weekend have arrived! Here are education stories that made the news this week.

ATPE representatives visited the U.S. Department of Education this summer to discuss the state's ESEA waiver

ATPE representatives visited the U.S. Department of Education this summer to discuss the state’s ESEA waiver request. Texas received an extension of the waiver this week but learned that our state has been placed on “high-risk status.”

In 2013, Texas asked the U.S. Department of Education to waive certain outdated accountability provisions in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The federal government granted us flexibility on a temporary basis, conditioned on Texas’s agreeing to change the way it evaluates educators. As TEA has been developing and piloting a new state-recommended system for evaluations of teachers and principals (T-TESS and T-PESS), the state has sought and received short-term extensions of the waiver. Now, the feds are giving Texas a January 2016 deadline to show that it is prepared to meet the Obama administration’s demands on requiring all schools to use the state’s new evaluation model and base personnel decisions upon it. Commissioner of Education Michael Williams says it’s not that simple though. Read more in our blog post earlier this week about the state’s commitment to local control. Also, view ATPE’s press release about the news.


If you plan to submit written feedback to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) about its troubling plan to allow superintendents to become certified despite having no master’s degree or prior experience as an educator, the public comment period ends Monday, Oct. 5. ATPE has been a vocal opponent of the proposed rule change and submitted formal written comments to the board yesterday. Read more about the proposal that’s on the agenda for SBEC’s next meeting on Oct. 16 and view our complete written comments in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post from yesterday. Click here for more details on how you may submit your own comments to SBEC via e-mail between now and Monday.


From Washington, D.C., it was announced today that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will step down in December. That’s one of many education news highlights you’ll pick up when you follow Teach the VoteATPE, and members of our lobby team on Twitter and other social media sites. Here’s a recent sampling:



Texas receives conditional approval of ESEA waiver extension

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) notified Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams today that Texas’s request for renewal of flexibility under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) had been approved on a conditional basis.

Texas received word earlier this year from ED that the Department needed additional information on the state’s waiver extension plan. The Department’s interest primarily pertained to the state’s “final guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems consistent with all requirements.” It was apparent at the time that ED was particularly concerned with a lack of requirement that all districts implement the state-recommended evaluation system. When Texas formally submitted the state’s waiver renewal application to ED in June, TEA did not change course and continued to allow districts to implement a locally-developed evaluation system in lieu of the state-recommended system, which is consistent with current Texas law.

Today, ED granted Texas its waiver extension through the 2015-16 school year but placed Texas on “high-risk status” and made flexibility beyond this school year dependent on Texas meeting two conditions: (1) all districts must be required to use the state-recommended evaluation system(s) that is consistent with federal waiver guidelines and (2) all districts must use the results of those evaluations to inform personnel decisions.

Commissioner Williams responded to the development by welcoming the approval of the waiver for the 2015-16 school year but maintained the state’s commitment to the option of locally-developed evaluation systems.

“Throughout the waiver application process, I have made it clear to federal officials that I do not have nor will I ever seek the authority to compel local school districts to use one uniform teacher and principal evaluation system statewide,” said Commissioner Williams. “Our state believes strongly in local control of our schools. As a result, we will continue discussing this specific point with the U.S. Department of Education, but they should not expect any shift in Texas’ position.”

Commissioner Williams also acknowledged that the state’s new state-recommended evaluation system is set to roll-out statewide during the 2016-17 school year. The teacher and principal evaluation systems, T-TESS and T-PESS, are currently in the refinement year of a pilot phase, with 256 Texas districts and approximately 2,000 campuses implementing the systems this school year.

“I believe a majority of our school districts representing roughly 85 percent of the state’s student population would make use of these new appraisal systems,” said Commissioner Williams. “However, that choice will be made at the local level, not by the federal government.”

Texas has until January 15, 2016, to show compliance with the above conditions or ED will deny the state’s waiver for the 2016-17 school year. Texas may also appeal its “high-risk status” but must do so by October 9. Commissioner Williams stated he would seek the Department’s reconsideration of the state’s status.

Visit TEA’s website to learn more about the state’s waiver request and read all related materials. The full press release from TEA on today’s development can be found here.

Texas submits ESEA waiver renewal application

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced today that Texas has formally submitted the state’s waiver renewal application. The application requests an extension of its waiver from certain accountability laws under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), more commonly known as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

As previously reported on Teach the Vote, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams in January requesting additional information on the details of the state’s waiver extension plan, specifically with regard to “final guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems consistent with all requirements.” The Department of Education was critical of the state’s progress toward a federally acceptable principal and teacher evaluation system. Texas is currently piloting its new evaluation system, T-TESS, in districts throughout the state; that system largely matches up with federal waiver guidelines and the timing of the development of the system was in conjunction with the state’s decision to seek a waiver.

Of primary concern to the Department of Education, it appeared, was the fact that Texas gave no indication it would require every district in Texas to implement the state-recommended evaluation system, which would be departure from current practice in Texas and would require a change in Texas law. In the waiver renewal application Texas does not change course, still allowing districts to develop a local evaluation system in lieu of the state-recommended system. (However, most districts use the state-developed plan and TEA admits in its application that “Due to the cost-effectiveness of using the state system, desire from districts for a better measure of teacher effectiveness, and historical precedent, TEA anticipates that most districts will want to use the newly approved teacher evaluation standards, observation instruments, Goal-Setting and Professional Development Plan self-assessments, student growth measures, and related tools and training.”)

With the announcement of the application submission, Commissioner Williams issued the following statement: “Our waiver renewal application stays within the parameters of existing state law, keeping central our state’s best interests and the principle of local control. There is no time frame for a decision. However, I anticipate it will take some time for the U.S. Department of Education to review our state’s renewal application, as well as the applications of many other states seeking a waiver extension. As a result, there should be no immediate impact to our school districts and charters heading into the next school year. In the coming months, Texas Education Agency staff will provide additional information to federal officials to answer any questions regarding our application.”

Visit TEA’s website to read Texas’s ESEA waiver renewal application or for more information on Texas’s ESEA waiver. Teach the Vote also offers a resource page for information and developments on the state’s new evaluation system.