Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thank you, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock

Those of us involved with public education advocacy need look no further than the office of Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) to thank him for his support for public schools during his years of service as a school board trustee, member of the Texas House of Representatives, and most recently the Chairman of the House Public Education Committee.  The announcement by the Texas Schools Public Relations Association (TSPRA) that Chairman Aycock is the recipient of the TSPRA 2015 Key Communicator Award only underscores the value of the contributions he has made to public education in Texas.  Sadly for all of us, Chairman Aycock has indicated that he will retire from the House and not seek reelection in 2016.  His positive influence will be missed by all of us - especially by the 5 million plus students in Texas public schools.

Before lamenting his decision and applauding his contributions, I would like to acknowledge a former winner of the award and a dear friend of mine.  Bobby J Rigues, Aledo ISD trustee and the father of the Make Education a Priority (MEaP) grassroots movement, was named the winner of the TSPRA award in 2011.  Bobby J not only founded the movement but worked diligently to secure approval of a resolution supporting MEaP from a majority of school districts across the State of Texas.

As a former school board trustee in Carroll ISD (Southlake), it has been my honor for more than ten years to have served as an advocate not only for the students in my home district but across the entire state.  It has been equally rewarding to have worked with Bobby J, and with insight from Chairman Aycock, to have developed and delivered presentations at various conferences surrounding the passage of House Bill 5 and the need for effective school board governance.  Chairman Aycock was most gracious in answering questions we posed to him and readily provided his perspective on the challenges of public education.

One need only to watch the leadership he provided in the 84th Legislative Session to truly appreciate his contributions.  He was a strong advocate of addressing funding challenges and not waiting for the Texas Supreme Court to act.  At the same time, he continued to keep initiatives related to House Bill 5 at the forefront of discussion among his peers in the House.  In recognizing his contributions, TSPRA made mention of Chairman Aycock’s efforts to not only improve the Texas public education system but to simultaneously defend it from the endless attacks by those who seek to undermine a system required under Article 7, Section 1 of the Texas Constitution.  For those not familiar with this, it states that “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.

Chairman Aycock consistently did his level best to ensure compliance with this requirement and for that we are all grateful.  As I reflected on his contributions, I read one quote that stood out among others.  James B. Crow, Executive Director of the Texas Association of School Boards, acknowledged the Chairman’s efforts very succinctly when he said, “His bravery in attempting to address school accountability, school turnaround measures and school finance in one session will not soon be forgotten.”  

We owe Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock a deep sense of gratitude for consistently keeping the discussion about public education policy as a priority.  He, perhaps more than any other person, demonstrated leadership to keep the focus on the more than 5 million students in the Texas public education system.  Thank you, sir, for your contributions and for making education a priority.

Friday, July 17, 2015

So what happens after NCLB?

As a ten-year former school board member in Carroll ISD (Southlake, TX), I watched with great interest as legislation that was supposed to ensure that kids in public schools had an opportunity to learn turned out to be pretty much the opposite.  Instead of focusing on creativity and learning in the classroom, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) passed in 2002 resulted in students having to take numerous high stakes tests.  And how did they prepare for them?  They took class time so that teachers could "teach to the test".  NCLB had a significant impact not just on the kids but on those who teach kids everyday.  Teachers and administrators found themselves having to do focus their energies toward student preparation to take these tests.
Finally, some sanity.  On July 16, the US Senate (by a vote of 81-17) passed the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), legislation that potentially alters the education landscape dramatically.  Among provisions incorporated were amendments that make career and technology education (CTE) a core subject, opportunities for districts to develop local policies regarding opting out of standardized tests, and a cap on the amount of time spent on tests.  Now that is real change.
The House passed similar legislation (Student Success Act) but only by a vote of 218-213.  It will now be up to a conference committee to define legislation that can be approved in both chambers and then sent on to the President.  There is clearly work still to be done.  What's not so clear is how this administration will respond to the legislation that is working its way through the process.
But why should we even care?  Whether you believe statistics that show the United States as significantly lagging in education compared to the rest of the world (and there is data that suggests just the opposite), it's critical that we get behind legislation that restores opportunities for creativity and real learning in the classroom.  Passage of this legislation could, in fact, stem the tide of an exodus of teachers from the profession, many because they had lost the autonomy and ability to truly impact education under NCLB.  At the core of those in the profession is a desire to make a difference in the lives of students; they now may have a renewed opportunity to achieve that.
Regardless of the data, it is time for us to step up and address the constraints that NCLB imposed on our educational system.  All of us have a responsibility to not only understand why the new legislation is important but to actively participate in an educational system that will create a foundation for the future of all of us.