Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Setting Kids Up for Success

I've followed Sir Richard Branson on Twitter for a long time and consider him to be one of the great thought leaders among those I follow.  In a tweet just before Christmas, he shared an article about what psychologists believe to be 11 elements that help drive the success of our children.  As a parent (and grandparent), I took some time to reflect on this article and feel pretty good that we did what we could to provide a foundation for my own children's success.

Of the 11, there are a couple that truly stand out for me.  Number 3 is to set high expectations.  Without a doubt, most of have high hopes for our children but do we always set high expectations?  It's not enough simply to hope that our kids will succeed; we have to walk the walk and help them do so.  Setting high, yet realistic and attainable, expectations is an import part of what we do as parents.

Number 6 is to teach our kids math early on.  With two young grandchildren, I am constantly amazed at how well our public education system in Texas is teaching this.  It's not just about adding and subtracting but also extends to positive outcomes across other subjects.  While reading is called out specifically here, I've seen how having basic math knowledge, even for a five year old, is impacting her ability to analyze and decide on courses of action.

The other one is number 9, valuing effort over avoiding failure.  In a testing-centric world, we are more focused on outcomes than we are the process that leads to those outcomes.  President Theodore Roosevelt once said, "It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed."  It's time that we acknowledge the value of effort as being equal to, and perhaps more important than, a test score.  Test scores are simply a measurement; to use them as a single criteria in determining success of an individual (or school in the case of the proposed A-F campus grading system in Texas) is unfair to students and those who work so diligently to ensure student success. 

The Facebook post can be found at  If you are not already doing so, take some time to follow Branson and other thought leaders.  Like me, you won't always agree with their posts but part of educating ourselves is opening our minds to what others have to say on a myriad of topics.  Happy New Year! 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Who Should Oversee Charter Schools?

As I continue my quest to better understand the charter school environment, one of my associates shared with me an article about a stance taken by the Kentucky Education Commissioner regarding oversight of charter schools.  His argument is that local school boards should authorize charter schools and that these schools should be overseen by the state board of education.

The recent appointment of Mike Morath as the TEA Commissioner provides an opportunity for public education advocates to share their views on public and charter school governance.  We should take the time to understand the implications of charter schools and how they fit into an overall public education strategy supporting the needs of 5.2 million Texas public education students.

The article relating to the stance of the Kentucky commissioner can be found at

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

ESSA and Local Control - What Does it Mean?

In a blog posted on December 12, I provided an overview of ESSA as shared by TASB Governmental Relations.  While there are certainly positive aspects to this important legislation, there are also a number of issues that still need to be addressed.  But that’s a topic for another blog.  Instead, my focus here is on how ESSA expanded local control by local school boards, an important element in their ability to govern based on the needs of their students.

Public schools are local; the closer people are to their schools, the higher opinion they have of them. While they may be unsure of other schools, people know more about their local schools and are often passionate about supporting them. Public schools are governed by locally elected school boards that oversee management of the schools.  School board trustees are a bridge between the community and the schools and need the flexibility to act in the best interests of the community and schools.

In the last few decades, public schools came more and more under the control of the federal government. With the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation fourteen years ago, the federal government gained a heavy hand in determining how schools measured student performance, how they fixed struggling schools and how they determined that teachers were qualified to teach.  While local school districts had lost various aspects of local control before, this top down approach was a cookie cutter approach which applied to all schools and took away even more local control. School districts implemented the legislation, often with difficulty and great cost, and the next few years were focused on high stakes testing and accountability measures – often to the exclusion of creativity in the classroom and often punitive.

However, passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which re-authorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, scales back the role of the federal government in education for the first time since the 1980’s. The law affirms the importance of local governance but also protects the federal government’s interest in Title I for disadvantaged students. It also lessens the impact of standardized testing and one-size-fits-all mandates.  It appears that Congress and the White House now have an appetite for handing back local control to states and districts.

Under ESSA, there will still be required testing, but states have wide discretion about setting goals and standards, holding schools and districts accountable, and deciding how to intervene in low-performing schools. States and school districts must continue to ensure equity for all students.  And while tests will still count, there are other, multiple academic indicators as well – something local parents and communities have long been asking for. Many parents have complained about the overuse of standardized testing and the high stakes that have come with the testing. Local communities have opinions about what kinds of schools they want -- perhaps the federal government heard those voices decided that the pendulum should swing back to more local governance.

Passage of ESSA is good news for schools and communities and will usher in a new era for public education. School board trustees will have an opportunity to engage their communities about the changes and to seek their input about their dreams and goals for their public schools.  Schools must continue to ensure equity, accountability and excellence, and now there will be more flexible – and local – ways to achieve those goals!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What Do We Know About Charter Schools?

Much has been said and written recently about the dramatic growth in charter schools and the resultant impact on public education in the U.S., but many of us don't have a full and comprehensive understanding of charter schools, their structure and the "product" they deliver.  Although having served as a school board trustee for ten years, I count myself in that crowd.

There is a strong charter schools push at both the federal and state levels, including a proposal for significantly more federal funding ($253.2M requested by Education Secretary Arne Duncan) and a push to expand the number of charters in Texas.  In doing research on charter schools as part of my public education advocacy efforts, I came across an interesting social media post that I share below.

The article, highlighting several different aspects (and concerns) relating to charter schools can be found at  For those of us engaged in public education advocacy for the $5.2 million public education students in the State of Texas, this should be required reading.  Understand that there are some positives relating to charter schools but, unfortunately, there are also many negatives.  It's time for all of us to become aware of how they are structured and who the real "winners" are.  Hint: it's not always the kids!.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What if ISD's Were Funded Like Charters?

I recently read an interesting article posted by Raise Your Hand Texas relating to funding of charter schools.  Quoting from the RYHT post on December 7, "... the charter school finance report (was) commissioned by Raise Your Hand Texas to analyze the financing of Texas open-enrollment charter schools, and compare funding to that of Texas public school districts".  The report was commissioned in the Spring of 2014 through Moak, Casey & Associates (MCA).  Click on charter school finance report to access the executive summary of the report.

As I read through the executive summary, I was probably most surprised by the finding that, if ISD's were funded like charters, they would receive an additional $4.7B in funding.  Especially in light of the ongoing school finance litigation now before the Texas Supreme Court, this should be an eye-opening finding for all parties.  Imagine what the 1000+ school districts in Texas could do for the 5.2 million public education students if a different funding model (and revenue source) was in play!

Part of the mystique about charter schools is how little the public knows about the role and structure of charter schools in Texas.  While certainly acknowledged as public schools, they do not face the same requirements relating to accountability as public ISD's do.  They also have the benefit of being able to select (and deselect) their student population.   

I encourage public education advocates and stakeholders to learn more about charter schools.  This is not about denying those who attend charter schools the opportunity for a quality public education.  But it is about leveling the playing field and holding charters to the same system and standards as public ISD's in the State of Texas.  

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Thoughts on Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

So what's changed from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind) to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)?  Without question, this is much more than a change in name.  With the signing of the Act by the President last week, ESSA sets a different tone for accountability in our schools.

As I scanned the wealth of information published by a very diverse group of sources, I found one summary, in particular, to be a very good read.  As a former school board trustee, I am privileged to have access to information published by the Governmental Affairs arm of the Texas Association of School Boards.  This week's update on issues relating to public education in the State of Texas included an excellent summary of ESSA.  

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the Act is that the federal government will play a lesser role in decisions made at the state and local level.  States and local districts will have much more discretion when it comes to  accountability and interventions. One specific statement in this summary, noting that the authority of the Secretary of Education is limited, can only be positive for students in Texas.
It's important that trustees, and for that matter all education advocates, parents and other stakeholders, become familiar with ESSA and how it will impact the learning opportunities of our children.  Because the Act was only authorized for four years, giving the next administration the opportunity to put their stamp on how this evolves, we all must remain diligent in pursuit of efforts to ensure that the needs of the students are the top priority.  

As a final comment, note the voting summary of the Texas House delegation.  Take time to meet with your legislators, especially if they cast a NO vote, to understand their position and provide input on the continued importance of a positive focus on public education.