Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Board Governance and Student Achievement (Part two of a series)

I recently has an opportunity to sit down with my Congressman, Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-TX),  to discuss public education and to better understand his position on matters critical to the continued expansion of opportunities for students in public schools.  The discussion touched on a number of topics, including community engagement (see my prior post) and enhancing relationships with our policymakers.

Through the discussion, there was one theme that resonated with him, that of school board governance and ethics.  I was pleased to hear that since promoting effective school board governance is one of the three pillars of Make Education a Priority (MEaP), a soon-to-be non-profit organization.  MEaP was launched in 2010 as a grassroots effort focused primarily on funding issues related to budget cuts in the Texas Legislature.  Over time, with the support of more than 60% of the 1000+ school districts in Texas, MEaP has continued to be a strong public education advocate.

There now is a great opportunity to focus on the more than 7,000 elected school board trustees in Texas and to provide a vehicle through which these trustees can bond together to advocate for the students in their districts.  But to do so effectively requires that trustees and superintendents must work together toward common goals as an effective leadership team with one singular focus – student success. 

The Texas State Board of Education has adopted a document called the Framework for School Board Development, a document that outlines five key principles: vision, structure, accountability, advocacy, and unity.  Backed by statue and taken individually, each of these principles brings about a critical focus for trustees elected by their communities to serve the students in their districts.  Together, they form a powerful platform to guide decisions and actions by trustees with one singular focus – student success.

In our conversation, Congressman Marchant was adamant that the key to success in public education lies in effective school board governance and ethics, the process we follow to achieve student success.  I noted in a prior post that TEA Commissioner Morath will be more focused on outcomes than process.  Governance is the vehicle that will guide the process to achieve the desired and intended outcomes.  School boards and superintendents that promote and practice good governance truly will demonstrate an ability to Make Education a Priority.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

School Choice ... What Can We Do?

Much has been written and spoken lately about the notion of school choice, but what is consistently overlooked is the fact that a successful public education system is, in fact, a system of choice.  Conversations about school choice generally focus on everything but public schools but consider the following.  

In general, our perception of public education at the national level is that it is inadequate and faces daunting challenges. We feel a little better about what's going on in the State and in our districts but where the light shines brightest is on the local campus where our children go to school.  And that shouldn't be a surprise since, for the most part, we are engaged as parents and community members and have the first hand opportunity to witness the tremendous success of our public schools.

There will always be naysayers, and big money promoting other than a system of public schools has found its way into the discussion through a number of highly visible foundations and individuals.  But the biggest don't always win; there are many more cases where a concerted, coordinated effort by a large number of people has been able to win out over the proverbial 300 pound gorilla.  So my challenge to you is to look at school choice in a different light.

Public schools are all about school choice:
  • We can choose to actively involve ourselves in the efforts of our children;
  • We can choose to engage with our schools and help them become better;
  • We can choose to support out teachers and administrators;
  • We can choose to encourage and support partnerships with local businesses; or
  • We can choose to do nothing and stand by as others tear down an outstanding public education system.

  • The choice really is ours.  It is unacceptable for a child not to have access to a quality education, one that is required by Article 1, Section 7 of the Texas Constitution, which states, "A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of 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".  

    If we choose to do nothing to ensure a quality public education system, we need to understand that there are consequences.  Sadly, the consequences are most dire for those whose schools, teachers and administrators are not supported by parents, community members and local businesses.  The choice is ours … let’s choose to support public schools and Make Education a Priority.

    Tuesday, January 19, 2016

    How Important is Community Engagement? (Part one of a series)

    Education of our students isn't solely the responsibility of the schools. Successful schools and districts benefit from support and engagement from a multitude of sources, including parents, local businesses and other community members. It is only through support from a cross-section of these stakeholder groups that students will be given access to the quality public education to which they are entitled, and for which the State of Texas is bound by its constitution.

    Make Education a Priority (MEaP), an organization founded in 2010 by an Aledo ISD school board trustee, has defined “Foster Public Engagement with Public Schools” as one of its three core objectives as advocates for public education.  Specifically, the goals relating to this objective are:
    • Strengthen interactions between communities, students, and schools to bring about true engagement;
    • Encourage business and industry partnerships with public schools; and
    • Advocate public education awareness through social media and events.

    This effort is more than simply putting words on paper.  Over the past nearly six years, MEaP has consistently focused on engaging local school board trustees in an effort to promote engagement at the local level.  Of note, a resolution supporting MEaP has been adopted by more than 600 districts across the State of Texas, precedent setting in bringing about a unity of purpose in support of the more than 5 million public education students in Texas.

    Beginning with a formal announcement of these initiatives in early February, MEaP will work closely with districts in promoting community engagement programs.  In addition, MEaP will provide a framework for building partnerships between local businesses and the districts in their area.  This latter effort builds nicely on the foundation created by passage of House Bill 5 in the 83rd Legislative Session.

    In future blogs, I'll offer my thoughts on two other critical aspects contributing to a quality educational opportunity for the 5.2 million Texas public education students.  Efforts to promote community engagement, combined with these additional objectives, will be critical to building an advocacy platform that looks toward the 85th Legislative Session that convenes in January, 2017.  We’re proud to focus our advocacy efforts to Make Education a Priority.

    Thursday, January 14, 2016

    A Conversation with Commissioner Morath and SBOE Chair Bahorich

    Those who follow Texas government and public education policy are well aware of two recent appointments by Governor Abbott that will have an impact on the more than 5 million Texas public education students.  On January 6, Bobby J Rigues, founder of the Make Education a Priority (MEaP) grassroots movement, and I met with newly appointed TEA Commissioner Mike Morath and State Board of Education Chair Donna Bahorich to discuss public education and to share our views with them.

    Bobby and I are both advisory advocates for MEaP (along with three other individuals who are passionate about public education) and felt that it was important to understand the priorities and focus of these two individuals.  We are very appreciate that Commissioner Morath and Chairwoman Bahorich found the time to meet with us and to share their perspectives.

    So what did we learn?  First and foremost, both are focused on a collaborative effort to work with trustees, school administrators and others involved with public education.  Starting the dialog through this meeting was just the first step for us in bringing about a greater focus to our advocacy efforts.  Incidentally, as we formalize the MEaP structure and make a formal announcement in early February, collaboration with policymakers will be one of our watchwords.

    Second, I anticipate a very lively discussion about the concept of “school choice”.  There clearly is positioning by some policymakers to pursue the adoption of school vouchers and other options where they believe students are not being given access to a quality education.  In my opinion, this is running from the problem instead of tackling it head on to bring about positive and constructive change.  (But that’s a discussion for another blog). 

    Third, “data drives decisions”.  We spent much of the time with the Commissioner talking about his use of data in making decisions, whether relating to teacher evaluations, selection and adoption of curriculum, or the overall assessment of public schools performance.  I certainly agree with the need and use of data but remain concerned that data is not generally and consistently available to those who make decisions.  As a former trustee, serving my district for ten years, there were times when it was difficult to find the underlying data, but I believe that recognition of the importance of data by the Commissioner will foster positive changes in this area.

    The bottom line is that Commissioner Morath and Chairwoman Bahorich are both committed to public education.  And while the way that we get there may not always be in sync with our views, the very fact that they are willing to engage in open discussions is a very positive sign for us.  Now it is up to all of us as education advocates to Make Education a Priority.

    Tuesday, January 12, 2016

    Robotics - The Next "Sport"?

    Well, at least the Texas University Interscholastic League (UIL) believes that it should be.  As most of us know, the UIL is an organization that oversees athletic programs across the State of Texas.  They set the standards by which programs are run, help define athlete eligibility, and sponsor a wide range of state championships for both boys and girls athletics. 

    The UIL also has extensive involvement in academics programs; according to their web site, the UIL "offers the most comprehensive program of acadmic competition in the nation", and to that we can now add robotics.  On December 10, the UIL announced that it will host the first statewide robotics competition from July 28-230, 2016.  The release can be found by clicking here.
    This effort is also supported by National Instruments, headquartered in Austin.  In a separate release, National Instruments highlighted their role in making the first statewide robotics championships a reality.  NI’s efforts are truly a reflection of the business community commitment that is required to continue to drive successes in our public schools, and their efforts are to be commended.

    For those who have always thought that the UIL is all about athletics, this program is a great example of their focus on academics, and how the combination of athletics and academics ensures that students have opportunities to succeed regardless of their interests and aspirations.  

    Additional information on UIL academic programs can be found at http://www.uiltexas.org/academics.

    Tuesday, January 5, 2016

    Are Charter Schools a "Gravy Train"?

    I recently read an article published by Aljezeera America in which they cited a number of reasons that some believe charter schools to be a “gravy train”.  Referencing research done by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at University of Colorado Boulder, they note a number of concerns frequently cited by those opposed to charter schools, namely inequities between salary structure between administrators and teachers, and the opportunity for companies to achieve significant profits at the expense of classroom investment.  Click here to read the article itself.

    Lost in this debate about so called “privatization and profiteering”, however, is the real issue that should be discussed, namely how charter schools do or do not offer enhanced educational opportunities for students.  For my part, and not to diminish the concerns outlined above, there is not enough discussion and focus on the impact of charters as publicly funded entities that are not governed by locally elected boards of trustees. 

    Do children attending charters have the same opportunities and are charters held to the same accountability standards as traditional public schools?  The answer to the first question is “maybe” but the answer to the second question clearly is “no”.  That fact alone should be cause for concern as we strive to address the challenges in educating today’s youth.  For publicly funded schools, it’s time to level the playing field and to hold all public education entities to the same standards and expectations.