Things were certainly heated in Washington, D.C. last week—June 16–19—as ATPE State President Ginger Franks, Vice President Richard Wiggins, Executive Director Gary G. Godsey and Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg brought Texas weather (98 degrees) and hot issues to the Texas congressional delegation and U.S. Department of Education.
Our team attended meetings with key Texas Congressmen who serve on the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce as well as majority and minority staff members of other Congressmen on the committee. We met with the two Texas Senators, Sens. Cornyn and Cruz, and Texas Congressmen serving on the House Ways and Means committees, which oversees the Social Security system.
We focused on educating Congress about the recent federal requirement that Texas institute a new principal and teacher evaluation system (that accountability based on student test scores) as a condition of receiving a waiver from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The waiver exempts Texas from accountability sanctions from the outdated accountability standards under current law; the outdated accountability standards are a result of more than a decade of Congressional gridlock and inability to update the ESEA. The DOE is using this inaction to force states to adopt several “reforms,” including the teacher evaluation piece, in exchange for flexibility under current law.
ATPE has worked hard with Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams and the Texas Education Agency to create an evaluation system primarily based on recently adopted state standards of practice for what an educator should know and be able to do. On the test score portion of the evaluation, ATPE recommended using student scores aggregated at the campus level so that all educators are held accountable for every student on the campus, instead of using classroom scores at the individual teacher level. We have also asked for an extension of the pilot program’s timeline so that the program’s first year can be properly evaluated prior to full implementation of the system in all districts.
During our meeting with the DOE, we were pleased to hear that the department has recently decided to consider requests for more flexibility, and we are hopeful Commissioner Williams will request and receive more time. We also hope that the Commissioner will continue conversation about using campus scores, which we believe are more accurate and create a sense of campus collaboration instead of competition, anger and fear of the unknown.
Our message to our Congressmen was to please help us persuade the DOE that Texas does need that flexibility and that we would prefer to handle our own state-level teacher evaluation system. In addition, we advocated for changes to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), a Social Security provisions that effects public servants who don’t contribute to Social Security for at least thirty years. The formula used for the WEP is arbitrary and is not proportional to the number of years paid in, unlike the formula that applies to all other Americans who are covered by Social Security.