Tag Archives: NCLB/ESEA

ATPE submits input on T-TESS rules, steering committee members send letter

In public comments submitted today on the proposed Commissioner’s Rules implementing a new teacher appraisal system in Texas, ATPE encouraged newly appointed Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to delay implementation of the rules in order to address several concerns. ATPE expressed particular concern with provisions pushed by the Obama administration in exchange for Texas’s waiver from the burdensome and outdated policies under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), including compelling school districts to use standardized test scores as a measure of evaluating teachers on student growth.

ATPE highlights prominent research that questions the reliance on student standardized test scores (or the use of value-added modeling or VAM) as a measure of student growth and encourages the Texas Education Agency to omit the unproven measure. Such research questions the reliability of VAM for high-stakes decisions affecting educator appraisals, compensation, employment, and preparation program accountability. ATPE’s comments note research published by the American Statistical Association, which issues the following warnings:

  • “limitations are particularly relevant if VAMs are used for high-stakes purposes,”
  • “ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality,”
  • aside from test scores, VAMs “do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes,”
  • “VAM scores and rankings can change substantially when a different model or test is used,” and
  • “effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.”

In addition to citing research warning against the use of VAM, ATPE’s comments address several issues that make the use of VAM impractical, unnecessary, and harmful. Among them is the fact that only about 30 percent of Texas teachers will be evaluated on their students’ test scores since VAM can only measure teachers who teach subjects where a STAAR test is administered. “The potential harm created by this bifurcated system, where teachers of certain tested subjects would be isolated from the majority of their peers, is tremendous and will only serve to alienate teachers in tested subjects or discourage teachers from teaching those subjects.”

As we reported last week, today is the last day to submit comments on the proposed rules, which could be adopted as early as today and after adoption would go into effect on July 1. Among the comments submitted to the Commissioner is a letter authored by six ATPE members who served on two T-TESS steering committees that TEA convened to gather input on the development of the new teacher standards, evaluation system model, and proposed rules. The educators’ letter states: “We ask you to delay implementation in order to reconsider inclusion of value-added data as a means to measure student growth. We are proud that the inappropriate use of standardized tests in the public education system has been recognized and change is underway. Please help us continue that effort for the betterment of the 5 million school children across Texas.”

The group’s letter explains that they understood that the inclusion of VAM was a requirement of the waiver Texas had received from the Department of Education in exchange for needed flexibility under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). “At that time, we were willing to accept that our hands were tied and this was not a topic of debate.” However, the group notes, Texas was freed from waiver requirements last month when Congress passed and President Obama signed into law a new federal education law. Passage of the law negates the need for a waiver and returns the decision making on teacher evaluations to Texas and its local school districts. In light of that development, the group encourages Commissioner Morath “to eliminate the inclusion of value-added data or student standardized assessment results as a means for measuring student growth under T-TESS.”

Both ATPE and members of the steering committees encouraged Commissioner Morath to delay implementation in order to address the piece allowing the use of value-added data, or state standardized test scores, as a measure of a teacher’s performance. Read ATPE’s full comments and the letter from members of the steering committees to learn more.

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.


Exam

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

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 11, 2015

It’s been a gigantic week for education news. Here are this week’s developments:


 

Yesterday, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), previously known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has written about on our blog throughout the process, the compromise ESSA bill passed the U.S. Senate on Wednesday by a vote of 85 to 12. It similarly sailed through the House last week by a vote of 359 to 64. While the ESSA is far from perfect, the passage of the bill is viewed as a victory by ATPE and most education groups, who have waited years for reauthorization, a repeal of unworkable NCLB provisions, and a move away from federal policies and waivers that overemphasized standardized testing and one-size-fits-all approaches to teaching.

Now, the hard work of implementation will begin, and there are many unanswered questions about how the enactment of ESSA will affect Texas education laws and policies. Pre-existing ESEA waivers will become null and void by mid-2016, but what exactly does that mean for Texas? One of the more immediate concerns is what may become of T-TESS, the Texas Education Agency’s new teacher evaluation system that was crafted in large measure to satisfy the requirements of the state’s ESEA waiver. Draft commissioner’s rules to implement T-TESS as early as next month were just released this week; a public comment period will begin today and run through Jan. 11, 2016. We encourage ATPE members to view the draft rules and share feedback with TEA.

JC

Jennifer Canaday

Read more about the ESSA and what it means for Texas in yesterday’s blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Manager Jennifer Canaday, and stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as implementation begins.

Related content: ATPE has been featured in several media stories about the passage of the ESSA. Here are just a couple of recent samples:

  • ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was quoted in this article in the Houston Chronicle.
  • Exter will also be featured on a live call-in radio show with 710am KURV News Talk Radio this afternoon starting at 4:10 p.m. in the Rio Grande Valley.
  • Click here to watch Round Rock ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe and ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, who were interviewed for a story by Austin’s KEYE-TV on Dec. 10.
Stephanie_Stoebe

Stephanie Stoebe


The Senate Education Committee held its first interim committee hearing on Monday. The agenda included two interim charges related to charter schools and inappropriate teacher-student relationships.

Monty Exter

Monty Exter

The committee first heard from the Texas Education Agency on changes to charter school accountability laws after the passage of Senate Bill 2 (2013). That legislation authored by then-Senator Dan Patrick made it easier for charters to expand with agency approval, but also gave TEA the authority to close poor-performing charters more rapidly. The committee also discussed at length the disposition of charter school property after a charter has been revoked. For many years, charter school proponents have lobbied the legislature for facilities funding, complaining that charter holders do not have the ability that school districts have to win voter approval for bonds. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified to the committee that it is difficult to make “apples-to-apples” comparisons between charter schools and traditional school districts. He suggested that the legislature and TEA should take a closer look at per-pupil funding from all available sources, including private foundations that heavily support charter schools.

Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

The Senate Education Committee has also been charged with looking at inappropriate teacher-student relationships, related disciplinary measures, and ways to prevent them “through training and education of school employees.” The committee heard again from TEA staff, as well as from a criminal prosecutor and others whose testimony focused primarily on efforts to collect evidence in investigations of inappropriate relationships. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified that the education community has been working collectively to address the problem, and she urged the legislatures and policymakers to focus on prevention strategies.

To view archived video of the Dec. 7 hearing, click here.


Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees met Monday in Richardson, Texas to address an issue that has occurred with the administration of TRS-ActiveCare. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson, who attended the meeting, reports that Aetna and its contracted third-party administrator, WellSystems, have experienced serious issues with enrollment and billing with ActiveCare. Many school districts have contacted TRS and Aetna regarding billing discrepancies and employees who were not properly enrolled. TRS staff and Aetna have worked to remedy these issues since they came to light in September, however some districts continue to experience problems. According to Sanderson, the TRS board agreed to allow Aetna and TRS staff to continue to work toward a resolution until December 18. If after that time TRS is not satisfied with Aetna’s response to the issue, TRS has the option to issue a new request for proposal to allow other providers the opportunity to administer ActiveCare. ATPE will be providing updates on ActiveCare as they develop.


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting today, Dec. 11. SBEC’s Committee on Educator Discipline also met yesterday afternoon. The full board’s agenda for today included revisiting a controversial proposal to change the requirements for becoming certified as a superintendent in Texas. The revised rule, which ATPE opposed, was struck down by the State Board of Education last month after SBOE members heard testimony from ATPE and other education groups concerned about watering down the certification standards. The SBOE’s veto sent the superintendent certification rule back to SBEC for reconsideration of the issue.

SBEC’s original rule proposal that SBOE rejected contained two pathways to becoming a superintendent. Part (a) was the least controversial aspect of the two parts of the proposal; it related to a recent statutory change calling for the board to allow superintendent candidates to substitute certain managerial experience for academic requirements in the rule. Part (b) of the rule was more objectionable and apparently requested by business stakeholders consulted by SBEC board members; it provided a pathway for individuals with no education-related experience whatsoever to become fully certified superintendents. Today, SBEC responded to the SBOE veto and testimony by removing part (b) from the proposed rule and adopting part (a) only. While neither section retains the requirement for superintendent candidates to hold a principal’s certificate and have prior teaching experience, as ATPE members prefer, the rule as adopted today is an improvement over the original proposal.

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified against the rule again today, urging the board to consider the importance of teaching experience for district leaders. She also pointed out that at least one SBOE member, Pat Hardy, had voiced her opinion that the teaching experience requirement ought to be increased, not eliminated. SBEC members and classroom teachers Suzanne McCall and Brad Allard (who is also an ATPE member) voted no on the proposal and spoke out against the rule today; they shared their strong opinions that classroom experience is essential for success in leading a school district. Allard told his fellow board members, “Until you’ve gone through the grind, you’re not going to understand what’s going on at ground level.” However, other board members disagreed with the need for teaching experience. SBEC member Kathryn Everest, a school counselor, argued that schools are businesses and need leaders with business acumen rather than teaching experience. SBEC member Leon Leal, a business owner who supported both parts (a) and (b) of the proposed rule, explained that he viewed the proposal as a way to help school districts that are struggling financially by giving their school boards more flexibility in hiring superintendents. Leal stated, “The education system is broke in a lot of our districts,” and he urged the board to “allow those districts to have options.”

The amended version of the superintendent certification rule as adopted today by SBEC will now head back to the SBOE in January for another review. Other items discussed at today’s SBEC meeting included changes to the rules for admission to an educator preparation program and disciplinary rules for certified educators. ATPE’s Kuhlmann will provide a detailed update on those matters for Teach the Vote next week.TTV

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.

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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.

Congress passes ESEA reauthorization, advances measure to President

A view of the east steps of the United States Capitol Building.

This morning, Congress passed a rewrite to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The final measure, designated the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), comes after almost a year of negotiations and more than eight years after the body originally intended to rewrite No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which is what the law was dubbed when it was reauthorized under President George W. Bush in 2001. The measure now advances to President Obama who is expected to sign it into law tomorrow.

The ESSA passed the U.S. Senate by a vote 85 to 12. Texas Senator John Cornyn (R) was among the senators voting in favor of the legislation, while Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R) released a statement saying he could not support the measure. The U.S. House of Representatives similarly passed the bill with strong, bipartisan support last week. In the lower chamber, the bill passed 359 to 64 and all but eleven members of the Texas delegation supported the bill (including nine who opposed it and two who did not vote).

After passing both chambers of Congress, the ESSA now advances to President Obama’s desk for his signature. Shortly after passage in the Senate, the White House released a statement advising members of the press that the President will sign the legislation at 10:05 am CST tomorrow, Dec. 10. His remarks and signing of the act can be viewed live at whitehouse.gov/live.

Watch for more information coming soon from Teach the Vote about the groundbreaking new law and how it will impact Texas laws and policies on accountability, testing, educator evaluations, teacher certification, and much more.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 4, 2015

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from Texas and beyond:


This week the U.S. House of Representatives took a major step forward in the longstanding effort to reauthorize the outdated Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The new compromise, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed the House on Wednesday by a vote of 359 to 64.

The ESSA would do away with controversial federal accountability mandates, such as the requirements for Adequate Yearly Progress that have stymied states and school districts for years, forcing Texas and most other states to seek waivers. Under the new law, states would have more authority for creating their own accountability systems and sanctions but would still be required to test students in many grades. The bill aims to drastically reduce the federal government’s control over education policies by preventing federal mandates such as national curriculum standards (e.g. Common Core) and the types of conditional funding grants (e.g. Race To The Top) that have prevailed under the current administration.

During Wednesday’s tally, all of the opposing votes in the House were cast by Republicans, including nine members of the Texas delegation who voted against the ESSA: Reps. Brian Babin, John Culberson, Blake Farenthold, Louie Gohmert, Sam Johnson, Kenny Marchant, Ted Poe, John Ratcliffe, and Randy Weber.

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) quickly issued statements praising the passage of the ESSA on Wednesday. Kline said, “Today, we helped turn the page on a flawed law and a failed approach to K-12 education.” Scott called the vote “an embodiment of what we can achieve here in Washington – a workable compromise that does not force either side to desert its core beliefs.”

The bill as passed by the House represents a compromise between earlier reauthorization bills filed in the House and Senate respectively, but the final negotiated version more closely resembles the Senate’s draft. For that reason, it is expected that the ESSA will receive approval from the U.S. Senate next week, with plans to take up the measure on Tuesday, and be headed to President Obama’s desk for signature in short order. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates from ATPE’s Austin and Washington-based lobby teams.


The Center for Public Policy Priorities has scheduled a free webinar next week to discuss its new Texas Education Scorecard. The interactive web tool is intended to help Texans compare how various counties are faring in areas such as school readiness, education funding, and transitions to college. To participate in the webinar at noon on Wednesday, Dec. 9, click here to register.


Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Monday that he has appointed Josh McGee of Houston, Stephanie Leibe of Austin, and Ernest Richards of Irving to serve on the Pension Review Board. McGee will serve as presiding officer of the board, which reviews all public retirement systems in Texas for actuarial soundness and compliance with state law. Liebe and Richards are both attorneys. The appointment of McGee is controversial because of his position as vice president with the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, an organization that has actively advocated for legislation that many believe would weaken public retirement systems around the country; the foundation staff’s recommendations in many states have included such changes as converting defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution plans. In the governor’s press release about the appointments, Abbott’s office described McGee somewhat differently, as one who “leads the organization’s nationwide efforts to improve retirement security.” The appointment quickly raised eyebrows among ATPE and other stakeholder groups that represent public employees, such as the Texas Retired Teachers Association and the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas. Read more about why the appointment is controversial in Ross Ramsey’s editorial today for The Texas Tribune, which we’ve republished here on Teach the Vote.

The governor’s recent appointments to education-related committees do appear to signal his continuing interest in reform agendas. As we reported last month, Abbott chose Dallas ISD board member Mike Morath, an outspoken proponent of home rule charter districts, to lead the new Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. (As an interesting side note, it was widely reported that the Morath-supported move to try to convert Dallas ISD to a home rule charter district last year was financed by John Arnold, founder of the aforementioned Arnold Foundation.) Abbott also generated unfavorable and national media attention after tapping home-school advocate Donna Bahorich to chair the State Board of Education; Bahorich previously worked as a staff member for Dan Patrick prior to his election as lieutenant governor. The latest appointment of another member of the reform crowd is certain to fuel ongoing speculation on whom the governor might select as a new commissioner of education.


With the holidays right around the corner, next week features a busy schedule of high-profile hearings dealing with education issues.

First, on Monday, Dec. 7, the Senate Education Committee will conduct a public hearing to address two of its interim charges. The committee, chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor, will take up the issues of charter schools and dealing with inappropriate relationships between teachers and students. ATPE will be providing testimony at the hearing and will report on the meeting in detail next week. The Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform and Relief will also conduct an organizational meeting on Monday; no testimony will be taken. Additionally, the TRS Board of Trustees will meet in Richardson, Texas, on Monday; view its agenda here.

On Friday, Dec. 11, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) holds its next regular meeting. (SBEC’s Committee on Educator Discipline will meet on the afternoon of Dec. 10.) SBEC’s lengthy agenda for Friday includes revisiting a controversial proposal to change the requirements for becoming certified as a superintendent in Texas. The revised rule, which ATPE opposed, was struck down by the State Board of Education last month after SBOE members heard testimony from ATPE and other education groups concerned about watering down the superintendent certification standards. Stay tuned for updates from the SBEC meeting next week.

As always, we encourage you to follow Teach the Vote and our ATPE lobby team on Twitter for the latest developments.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 20, 2015

It’s been a busy week for education ThinkstockPhotos-144283240policy watchers in Texas and around the country. Be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and members of our ATPE lobby team on Twitter for the very latest. Here are updates on the week’s big news stories that you might have missed:

 


 

The outdated Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which should have been reauthorized back in 2007, is finally a step closer to being updated. Yesterday, a bipartisan conference committee in the U.S. House and Senate voted 39 to 1 to move forward a negotiated reauthorization bill.

Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided a recap of the conference committee action for our blog both Wednesday and Thursday of this week. The full text of the negotiated bill has not yet been released, but we will provide updates on our blog as soon as that occurs.

The full House will take up the bill on Dec. 2 or 3; there is no scheduled date for Senate floor debate, but leaders expect the discussions to proceed quickly with a goal of getting a bill to the president’s desk by the end of the year.


 

The State Board of Education met this week in Austin. Its agenda included review of a recent SBEC decision to change the qualifications for becoming certified as a superintendent in Texas. ATPE opposed the SBEC rule change, which would allow individuals with no education experience to become certified. Texas law provides for all SBEC rules to be reviewed by the elected SBOE, which may veto a rule by a two-thirds vote. Today was one of those rare occurrences in which the SBOE voted to reject the SBEC rule and send it back to the certification board for further revision.

Monty Exter

Monty Exter

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, the Texas Association of School Administrators, other education group representatives, and education experts testified against the SBEC proposal, arguing that an existing waiver process, tweaked by the legislature just this year, already provides a mechanism for non-traditional superintendents to be hired in exceptional circumstances. The SBOE board agreed, voting 10 to 5 in favor of rejecting the rule and sending it back to SBEC. The motion was made today by board member Thomas Ratliff (R).

SBOE has the statutory power to reject SBEC rules but cannot modify them. The last time an SBEC rule was vetoed was in September 2014, when ATPE also successfully lobbied the SBOE to reject a proposal to water down entrance requirements for educator preparation programs. The SBOE veto today means that SBEC must now choose whether to stick with current rules on superintendent certification or rewrite the rule revision and send it back to SBOE for another review.

This week, the SBOE also considered adopting a new definition to try to qualify those who may sit on panels to review textbooks and instructional materials. As with the review of curriculum standards, the board’s procedures for reviewing and adopting textbooks have faced immense scrutiny over the years, often plagued by disputes over political ideologies. Recent news stories about inaccuracies in adopted texts have also spurred renewed discussion of the SBOE’s review processes. Board member Erika Beltran (D) attempted to craft a definition to ensure that textbook reviewers would meet certain minimum academic qualifications. Unfortunately, SBOE members in favor of specifying a standard for who meets the term “qualified individuals” were short by two votes. This item will come back to the SBOE for second reading and final adoption at the next board meeting. ATPE’s Exter reports that there may be further efforts to put in place some standard for textbook reviewers at that time.


Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

The Board of Trustees for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas also met this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson attended and provided information about the Nov. 19 and 20 meetings, which he described as “fairly uneventful.”

The board heard updates on the status of the pension trust fund and both active and retiree healthcare programs that were discussed in depth last week at a briefing provided to stakeholder groups, legislative members, and staff. The board adopted an incentive pay plan for the TRS executive director, which includes member satisfaction measures, as well as several other metrics that are used to evaluate the director’s performance. A slate of rule changes, including an improvement to the rule that is used to calculate compensation during the final year before retirement, were also adopted by the board.

Sanderson added that there have been problems reported concerning active employee enrollment with Aetna’s health insurance plan. At this week’s board meeting, Aetna representatives presented information on how they are addressing these issues and what their plans are to remedy the problem. The TRS board met in an executive session at length to discuss how they plan to deal with Aetna, but no final decision was delivered. Sanderson says that a more detailed update is expected during the next TRS board meeting in Dallas on Dec. 7.

In related news, the coalition known as Texans for Secure Retirement (TSR) also met earlier this week. The group advocates for the security of pension programs for public employees in Texas, including preventing them from being converted to defined-contribution plans. ATPE’s Sanderson has served as a member of the board for TSR and was selected this week to continue in that role for another year.


 

Announced today was an upcoming hearing of the Texas Senate Education Committee, the first interim hearing to be scheduled this year by one of the state’s education committees. The meeting is slated for Dec. 7 and will be focused on charter schools and inappropriate teacher-student relationships. Here are the two specific interim charges that are to be addressed by the committee, which is chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Pearland):

  • Study the approval, expansion, and revocation of public charter schools in Texas, including the implementation of SB 2 (83R) and other legislation. In particular, examine the issues surrounding the disposition of state property when charters are revoked, non-renewed, or cease to operate. Make recommendations regarding policies to ensure an efficient and effective transfer and disposal of state property that preserves state interest while ensuring that certain investment capital and the bond market supporting charter construction remains robust. In addition, make recommendations if needed to clarify policies regarding expansion of existing high-quality charter schools in Texas. Additionally, examine facility funding for charter schools in other states and make recommendations on facility funding assistance for charter schools in Texas.
  • Study the recent rise of inappropriate teacher-student relationships, the impact of social media interaction between teachers and students, and examine the current efforts by the Texas Education Agency, schools, law enforcement, and the courts to investigate and prosecute any educator engaged in inappropriate relationships. Determine what recommendations, if any, are needed to improve student safety, including increasing agency staff, adjusting penalties, and strengthening efforts to sanction educators’ certificates for misconduct. Study and address the issue of prevention through training and education of school employees.

 

TEA is soliciting input on rules to implement grants for pre-Kindergarten under Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill (HB) 4 that passed earlier this year. Under the program, school districts and charter schools that implement certain quality standards for curriculum, teacher qualifications, academic performance, and family engagement may apply for grant funding starting in 2016. The commissioner will adopt rules to determine parameters for the grant program.

TEA will hold a public hearing to solicit input on the new rules on Dec. 1, starting at 11 a.m. Click here for more details on the hearing and how you may sign up to testify. Through the same link, you may find TEA’s Family Engagement Survey, which is open until Nov. 25. The survey allows you to share input on proposed definitions and strategies for the family engagement component of the pre-K grants. Finally, you may also submit feedback to TEA on draft pre-K guidelines that are posted on the same website. The guidelines address curriculum and are broken into ten domains. Again, the deadline for submitting feedback via email to TEA is Nov. 25.


 

ThinkstockPhotos-162674067-pillsThree senators and three state representatives have been appointed to serve on a new Committee to Study TRS Health Benefit Plans. The committee is tasked with reviewing the healthcare plans administered by TRS and proposing reforms to address their financial solvency, costs, and affordability. The legislatively mandated committee will also look at whether access to physicians and other healthcare providers is sufficient under those plans. Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Straus (R) has appointed Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van) to co-chair the committee, along with Reps. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and Justin Rodriguez (D-San Antonio). Senators appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) for the special committee are Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), who will co-chair it, joined by Sens. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls). The committee will report its findings back to the legislature by January 15, 2017.

ESEA conference committee advances reauthorization bill

This morning, after a fairly brief and largely bipartisan markup where lawmakers considered a handful of amendments, the U.S. House and Senate joint conference committee tasked with negotiating language to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) overwhelmingly passed its conference report (or negotiated bill).

While the report has not yet been released in its entirety, an “ESEA Conference Framework Summary” was released and summarizes the report’s content in major policy areas such as accountability, testing, standards, intervention, and educator support. The majority of the report was agreed upon by the chambers’ respective education leaders (House Chairman John Kline, R-MN, and Ranking Member Robert Scott, D-VA, and Senate Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-TN, and Ranking Member Patty Murray, D-WA) who negotiated a “framework” prior to beginning the conference committee work.

The Capitol Building

A handful of amendments were discussed at today’s markup prior to passing the bill. Seven easily passed with bipartisan support, one was withdrawn by its author, and only two were voted down. The amendments that passed would authorize a study to examine changes to formula funding through Title I, review early childhood education programs, establish limits on aggregate time spent on assessments, provide funding for educating teachers on the appropriate use of student data, provide for dual or concurrent enrollment for English language learners, integrate arts in STEM education, and offer funding flexibility to carry out dropout prevention and re-entry programs.The two amendments not adopted by the committee would have created a clearinghouse for teacher evaluation programs and put a cap on funding at the funding level for fiscal year 2016, respectively.

The report was ultimately passed out of the conference committee overwhelmingly by a vote of 39-1. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who is currently campaigning for the presidency, was the only member of the committee to vote against the measure, and he did so by proxy as he was not in attendance.

Chairman Kline said at the close of today’s meeting that the full report in legislative text form will be available Nov. 30 and that the House will vote on the measure Dec. 2 or 3. Senate leaders did not give a precise date for a floor vote in that chamber, but Chairman Alexander said senators will be given at least a week to consider the report prior to voting.

ESEA conference committee holds first meeting

The U.S. House and Senate Conference Committee to Reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind, held its first meeting this afternoon in Washington, DC. While the negotiations on the bill have largely been conducted prior to today’s hearing, the bill will still make its way through the formal conference committee process for final negotiations before it heads to both chambers for a final vote.

Today’s hearing was mostly pomp and circumstance, with all members of the committee having the opportunity to make opening statements. House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN), who also chairs the conference committee, laid out an anticipated timeline for the conference committee proceedings: the report (or final negotiated bill) will be released at the end of the month and final votes on the measure will take place in both chambers in early- to mid-December. This would allow for President Obama to sign the legislation prior to the Christmas break.

As we previously reported, the conference committee, which does not include a member of the Texas Congressional delegation, was established in late July after the U.S. House passed its version of a bill to reauthorize ESEA, H.R. 5 – The Student Success Act of 2015, on July 8, and the U.S. Senate followed quickly with the passage of S. 1177 – The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 on July 16.

There was large consensus among the committee that while the bill is perfect to none, it is a positive step in the right direction and it is time to act. The major sticking points of the bill have centered on accountability – Democrats want it bolstered, particularly with regard to educating student subgroups, while Republicans want to see more flexibility and control given to states and school districts.

It has been reported that the major policy contentions were resolved prior to today’s hearing. The deal is expected to increase spending levels, with small growth over time, and would be up for reauthorization once again in four years. Also among the expectations for the compromise bill according to reports: annual testing in grades 3-8 in reading and math with grade span testing in science, state-developed accountability systems, state-adopted “challenging” academic standards, interventions designed locally in the bottom five percent of schools and high school “failure factories,” and state-developed educator appraisal systems.

One very controversial piece included in H.R. 5, the portability language that allows Title I money to follow the child from school to school (rather than being sent schools experiencing high concentrations of qualified students), is not expected to be included in the negotiated bill (although a a pilot program could potentially offer some Title I portability at the state level). ATPE opposed the inclusion of this language in the bill via our letter to the Texas delegation earlier this month, and we encouraged Texas Congressmen to weigh in with leadership on their intent to see it omitted.

There are still several big hurdles ahead for ESEA reauthorization. Stay tuned for updates as the process continues.