Friday, June 12, 2015

Reflections on the 84th Legislature - Part Two

 Continuing from my last blog, let's continue to look at some of the hits and misses of this session.

There is no question that SB 149 (Seliger) was a significant hit for students.  Students who fulfill all of the graduation requirements but fail up to two EOC exams now at least have the hope that there is a way to graduate.  While not a "slam dunk" by any stretch of the imagination, this legislation does offer an alternative for these students. 

The validity and reliability of assessment instruments was a focal point, as were discussion about the length of time required for a test to be completed.  Specifically, 85% of students in grades 3-5 should take no more than 120 minutes; grades 6-8 should take no more than 180 minutes.  With the tests are still at the root of this discussion, there is at least a glimmer of hope that the dialog about testing that began in the 83nd session will continue to result in changes to philosophies and implementation of assessment tests.  My hat is off to TAMSA for continuing to push the meaningful assessment dialog.

The failure of supporters, despite a strong push from the Lt. Governor, to pass legislation in support of vouchers, taxpayer savings grants or similar proposals that would divert funds from public education, is a "hit" for public education.  I saw an editorial recently that provided a perspective that I had not seen addressed very much, namely that the shift of dollars toward private schools may not yield the results sought by those entities.  The point made was that, through a transfer of dollars, private schools open themselves to intervention from the very entities that fund them. 

With the lack of accountability in charters and private schools as one of the main criticisms, this may resolve itself.  Nevertheless, any program that diverts dollars most certainly represents a "miss" for public education.  Expect this to continue to be a major focus in the 85th session.

Parent trigger and opportunity school legislation discussions, while not moving forward this session, will remain discussion topics.  The real "miss" of each of these pieces of legislation is that they fail to put in place any plans to address the symptoms that result in failures on these campuses.  Much has been written about the fact that many of these campuses are predominantly minority students.  It's time to figure out how to provide these students with equal opportunity, not deny them.  You might look for a recent TED Talks presentation by a principal of a Philadelphia public school, found at and how she chose to address issues on her campus.

Ultimately, and in the spirit of HB 2804, I would give this legislative session a grade of a C-.  Until funding is restored to an adequate level and as long as vouchers, among other damaging subjects, remain topics of discussion, it will be very difficult for the Legislature to ever earn anything higher than a C.  Is that what we want from our representatives in Austin? 

Anticipating that the Governor will not call a special session, now is the time for public school advocates to start the process of advocating for students across the state.  This is not the end of the road; it is the beginning of efforts on the part of trustees, administrators, businesses, pastor groups and many others to position public education at the forefront of discussions in the 85th Session.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Reflections on the 84th Legislature - Part One

As we look back on the 84th Legislative Session, we can now assess whether this group of legislators focused on the needs of public education.  Sadly, what we find is that the House did, but the Senate seemed more preoccupied with issues that they considered of greater importance, including open carry, private schools, vouchers, etc.  And the actions of both Chambers are clearly a reflection of leadership.

Rather than continue to hammer away at how leadership supported or didn't support public education, I think it is time to reflect on some of the hits and misses of this session.  Among the hits was funding, although at a somewhat modest level, of pre-K education.  I know that some have questioned whether pre-K has merit, including challenges that ultimately offended pastors and clergy across the state.  Speaking on a personal level, as a grandfather of a 4 year old and a 6 year old, there is no question in my mind that both are and were far better equipped to enter kindergarten than if they had not experienced the many disciplines, including social interaction, that a pre-K program afforded them.

A second, although not an "out of the park" hit, is the recognition of the need for incremental funding of public education.  To their credit, both chambers recognized the importance of funding enrollment growth, although total funding may not keep pace with enrollment growth.  This benefits not only those who are a part of that enrollment growth, but also those who have been in the system since fewer resources have to be diverted or allocated across a larger number of students. 

Although the House, under the leadership of Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, actually discussed legislation that would have significantly increased funding, the Chairman felt that the legislation (HB 1789) had little chance of passage in the Senate.  Sadly, the withdrawal of this bill left a void in what had been at least a modest hope for public school districts.  Nevertheless, additional resources approved as part of the budget will offer some opportunity beyond what public education had going into the session.  And now the courts await.

And what about another bill that fell short of what had been pushed by public education and other groups, namely to look at individual campus assessments and how those are derived?  On the positive side, HB 2804 did at least reduce the importance of STAAR test results to a point where the accountability tests account for only 55% of the overall rating.   But the negative for me is the imposition of an A-F rating at individual campuses.  See my prior blogs on this subject.

I could go on ... and will ... in a subsequent blog.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

An Open Letter to Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock

Dear Rep. Aycock,

It is with great sadness that I heard the news yesterday that you do not intend to run for another term.  This truly is an announcement that will have far reaching potential implications over the next couple of years.  Thank you for your continued support of the 5.2 million public education students in the State of Texas.

As I reflect on the impact of your announcement, several things come to mind.  First and foremost is how you always kept the needs of all students as a top priority in your discussions.  Students, parents, educators and others who support public education truly appreciate your efforts in making certain that Texas has a sound public education system.  Your quote about the importance of focusing on good policy, not party extremes, is truly a reflection of your commitment to service. 

I think back fondly on a couple of meetings in your office.  During the 83rd Legislative Session, my fellow trustee Bobby J Rigues (Aledo ISD) and I were privileged to present at three Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) training sessions on the impact of House Bill 5, major legislation sponsored by you.  You were gracious enough to meet with us to provide the backdrop that led to this important legislation, focusing on the topics of curriculum, assessment, and accountability, as well as community and student engagement.  We walked away with a clearer understanding of the why behind the what.

Even more impactful to me personally was a meeting we had with you earlier this year as Bobby and I developed another TASB presentation to discuss the role and importance of governance in how trustees oversee district operations.  After a brief Q&A video session, your invitation to sit and talk for an additional 75 minutes was invaluable in understanding your views on public education.  I'm deeply honored to have had that opportunity to talk.

Your sponsorship of HB 1759 was an effort that was truly appreciated by advocates of public education.  Rather than wait for the courts to decide the public school funding issue, you made a sincere effort to address concerns addressed and now pending before the Supreme Court.  More importantly, your actions started the dialog and brought renewed hope among those of us in public education. 

Suffice it to say that public education will lose one of its greatest champions with your retirement.  Thank you, Chairman Aycock; I wish you the very best.  All of us who support public education are deeply indebted to you! 

Warmest regards,
Craig Rothmeier

Advocacy Advisor - Make Education a Priority