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 http://bit.ly/1KfcRWM 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.