Thursday, February 25, 2016

Make Education a Priority Announces as a Non-Profit!

I was privileged to be a part of the announcement on February 10th that Make Education Priority (MEaP) is becoming a 501(c)(3) organization, advocating for public education not just within the State of Texas but at a national level as well.  This action is an affirmation of the purpose and goals of a grassroots organization first envisioned by our CEO, Aledo ISD trustee Bobby J Rigues, in 2010. 

Make Education a Priority will focus on three primary strategies. 
  • Promote engagement in our communities.  MEaP will endeavor to strengthen the interactions among all public education stakeholders, including communities, business and industry, students, and our schools. 
  • Focus on effective school board governance.  With more than 7000 trustees across the State of Texas, MEaP will focus on advocating to school board trustees the value of governance and an effective “team of eight” relating to vision, structure, accountability, advocacy and unity.
  • Building relationships with policymakers.  MEaP will promote and support public awareness of the impacts and effects of legislation on our public schools and will advocate for increased stakeholder involvement in the legislative process. 

Public education is a part of the conversation across our communities.  In many cases, the public schools in a community are the core of the community and there is a great opportunity to leverage these conversations in support of the more than 5.3M students in Texas, 93% of whom are a part of the public education system.  Through conversation and actions, Make Education a Priority will continue to advocate for those students and to ensure that their well-being and the quality of their education remains at the forefront.  

For further information about Make Education a Priority, visit, and follow us on Facebook (makeeducationpriority) and Twitter (@schoolpriority).

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Conversation with Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock

I recently had the opportunity to attend a luncheon hosted by Pastors for Texas Children and the Coalition of Public Schools at which Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, chairman of the House Public Education Committee, was the invited speaker.  I was encouraged by the number of people who attended and pleased by the cross section of stakeholders in public education that this audience represented.

Rep. Aycock shared his perspectives on public education and I thought that this was an appropriate medium to pass along some of his observations.  With an ever expanding student population, growing at a rate of more than 80,000 students each year, we now have more than 5.3M school age children in our schools, 93% of whom are enrolled in public education.  60% of the student population is below the poverty level and almost 20% of this population has a language other than English as their primary language.  The diversity of this population represents one of the biggest challenges we face, namely how to achieve a common goal of post-secondary readiness with different starting points and different paths toward that goal.

His message centered not on an argument of public vs private schools or charter schools but on the need to achieve a level of quality that provides every student with the opportunity to grow and develop into a contributing member of our society.  This does not suggest a continued “test and punish” strategy but one that recognizes the value of assessments as a resource in helping students along the road to success.  He also reinforced the need for the State, in his words, to provide a “publicly operated, publicly funded public school.”  But he acknowledged, as do those of us who are advocates for public education, that this is not solely a responsibility of the State of Texas. 

It is up to all of us as community members to engage with our schools; at the same time, it is up to the schools to engage with the communities they serve.  This bilateral engagement model is absolutely critical to student success.   As examples to support this, he discussed what has been called a “step up”, namely an effort to involve higher education with public school campuses, a key tenet of House Bill 5 that he championed in the 83rd legislature.  He also referenced the tremendous success achieved at Reagan High School in Austin, where the combined efforts of all stakeholders turned around a chronically underperforming campus.

Rep. Aycock acknowledged the number of advocacy groups who speak in support of public education but he challenged those of us who are advocates to come together as a single voice when talking about public education with community members, business partners and policymakers alike.  We are fortunate that public education is a discussion topic, regardless of your position on issues such as privatization and vouchers.  The bottom line is that we must do what is best for the students, to raise the level of awareness at all levels of what is required to achieve student success.  And, for our part, that is what Make Education a Priority is all about.   

Monday, February 22, 2016

What Can You Do to Support Public Education? Vote!

People ask me all the time what they can do to support public education.  Some of these people are actively involved with their local campus and many are members of their school’s PTA.  Many also participate in booster club and other activities that support the local schools, including fund raising to supplement funds received from the state.  While these are all to be applauded, support of public education requires greater participation at the ballot box.

There is a concerted effort on the part of many candidates challenging incumbents, particularly in the Texas House of Representatives, to push for dismantling of public education today.  Hiding behind the false premise that our schools are failing, these individuals advocate for vouchers and other programs that would shift dollars from the legacy public education system into other avenues for educating the more than 5.3M students in Texas schools, 93% of whom attend public schools.

We would be foolish to deny that there are schools and even districts that have been consistently underperforming and failing to meet the needs (and expectations) of our students.  But to suggest that we solve the problem by shifting dollars to other options actually fails the students even more.  Not all students will be able to avail themselves of other school choice options (by the way, public education is also part of school choice) since the dollars moved would not totally support the costs of education.  Those who are unable to do so would then be faced with the compounding prospect of limited resources to help them close the gaps in achievement.

So what can we do?  Reagan High School (Austin ISD) is a classic example of how community members and the businesses within a community can come together to tackle a consistently underperforming (what some might label as “failing”) campus.  While change did not occur overnight, the combined efforts of these community members, teachers and staff, and the students themselves turned around the campus to the point that it is now considered to be a high performing campus.  It can be done but requires the commitment and passion of all stakeholders.

The other critical immediate and impactful action is to vote and to encourage others to vote.  Look at the candidate’s positions on education and challenge them to tell you how they will vote relative to education issues.  Do they favor a shift of dollars or are they willing to commit to an investment in public education that will generate the returns required to ensure our liberties and the long term economic viability of the state?  Will they commit to making the hard decisions, often in the face of pressure from leadership in their respective chambers, that ensure that public education can achieve the aspirations of our students?

Regardless of your position on these issues, the bottom line is that, as a society, we all must exercise our right to vote.  Those who don’t vote have no right to stand on the sidelines and criticize the decisions being made.  For my part, I will support legislators that Make Education a Priority.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Districts of Innovation

House Bill 1842 was passed by the 84th Legislature, legislation that, according to James B. Crow, Executive Director of the Texas Association of School Boards, “gives school districts most of the flexibilities available to open enrollment charter schools”.  In an article published in the December, 2015 Texas Lone Star, he highlights the opportunity that locally elected boards now potentially have in many areas, including an opportunity to address the topic of unfunded mandates, long a topic of discussion among Texas school board trustees.  

The article can be found by clicking here.  In addition, a link to a Q&A prepared by TASB Legal can be found by clicking on this link.

This legislation does not waive a district’s obligations relating to academic and financial accountability, nor does it change the roles of trustees and superintendents.  What it does potentially do, and I say potentially since specific rules are still to be released by the commissioner of education, is to create opportunities in several areas, including:
·            Site based decision making;
·            Uniform school start date;
·            Class size caps; and
·            Required minutes of instruction time
The bottom line is that this legislation brings about the opportunity for greater local control, again a key element of the advocacy efforts of the more than 7000 school board trustees in the State of Texas.  

As noted in a prior blog following my discussion with Commissioner Morath, his intent is to focus extensively on outcomes, not the process to achieve these outcomes.  HB 1842 is all about process.  It is incumbent upon trustees to learn more about HB 1842 and how the increased flexibility can contribute to increased student opportunities.  In short, it provides greater flexibility for the locally elected board of trustees to Make Education a Priority.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

When Did Public Education Become the Enemy?

I came across an interesting article published in a Nebraska newspaper and written by a superintendent asking this very question.  The points he made in that article resonate with what is happening in the State of Texas as well so I wanted to share some of the pertinent facts about the successes in Texas public schools.

Like Nebraska, the public education system in the State of Texas is under attack on several fronts, not the least of which is coming from some government leaders in Austin.  But the reality is that the vast majority of Texans are strong supporters of their local public schools, the very schools where their children are enrolled.  Admittedly, there are pockets of concern and it is true that all children are entitle to receive a quality public education. 

Where I differ is in how we address those gaps, believing that funding is one element that will help address shortcomings.  I’m also smart enough to know that throwing money at an issue won’t necessarily solve the problem.  The solution lies in an overall engagement model that starts with funding but then permeates through parents, community leaders, businesses and, most importantly, the students themselves.  And that’s a story for another blog, one already published and a topic about which additional blogs will be posted.
Consider these facts:
-       Texas leads the nation in graduation rates at 88.3% of incoming 9th graders graduating on time. (Friends of Texas Public Schools –
-       Texas 4th graders scored well against other states’ 4th graders 0n the NAEP (National assessment of Education) test.
-       African American students ranked 2nd in the nation.
-       Hispanic students ranked 4th in the nation
-       Eighth grade Hispanic student ranked 4th in the nation.
-       Eighth grade African American and White students ranked 6th in the nation. (Texas Education Agency -
-       Texas ranks 45th in per pupil funding at $9500/student, compared to a national average of $10,700.  (US Census Bureau -; Education Week 2015 Quality Counts Report –
-       Texas public school enrollment has grown by more than 500,000 students over the past eleven years.  (Texas Education Agency –

So what does all of this tell us?  The numbers tell a very different story than that being told by those who are focused on tearing down public education in the State of Texas.  Local districts are working with the resources they have to deliver an outstanding product.  Sure, there is always room for improvement but to constantly focus on the deficiencies instead of celebrating the successes does a disservice to all involved with public education.  Now, more than ever, it is important that we all understand the facts and that we continue to Make Education a Priority.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

How Do We Measure Success in Public Education?

Truth About Schools ( recently posted an article that addresses a key opportunity to measure outcomes in public education.  The article, “To Measure What Tests Can’t, Some Schools Turn to Surveys”, found here, touched on the use of surveys as a way to complement the use of test scores and other measures.  

What I found truly interesting is the parallel between this article and thoughts recently shared by newly appointed TEA Commissioner Mike Morath with MEaP Advocacy advisor Bobby J Rigues and me relating to the five indices used to evaluate a teacher’s performance.  His thought is that up to 15% of the teacher’s performance assessment would be based on student input, so the approach certainly is being discussed.  And why shouldn’t student input be a part of the framework for evaluation?

The article highlighted a waiver granted by the Department of Education to nine of the largest school districts in the State of California.  Under this waiver, 60% of the evaluation of the districts is tied to traditional academic assessments, with 40% tied to a number of other factors, including absenteeism, suspension and expulsion rates.  But they didn’t stop there.  They also decided to look at, and survey, four other attributes: growth mindset, self-efficacy, self-management and social awareness.   In short they wanted to better understand how the students perceive education and to encourage them to be accountable for their individual learning.

It’s not my intent here to simply report on the article but I believe that those of us involved in advocacy for public education need to seek insights from others on what we must do to practice continuous improvement in our public education system.  Asking those who are most impacted, namely the students, is one way to help us Make Education a Priority.

Legislation passed in Texas over the past two legislative sessions has altered the landscape of accountability and how we measure success.  Beginning in 2013 with passage of House Bill 5, legislation that first introduced a community engagement element, districts were tasked with defining metrics by which the public that they serve could have input on the activities and direction of the district.  HB 2804, passed in the 2015 session, now assigns 10% of the overall accountability rating to the community engagement element.  This can only be a positive as we go forward and help set the direction of an individual district based on a strategic plan (if one exists) complemented by giving the community the opportunity to weigh in on the evolution of accountability in their district.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Make Education a Priority … From Grassroots to Non-Profit

With its legacy as a grassroots movement in Aledo ISD, under the vision and leadership of Aledo trustee Bobby J Rigues, Make Education a Priority is set to launch a broader set of initiatives in support of public education.  In response to funding concerns in 2010, Bobby began a letter writing campaign to state legislators that quickly grew into a statewide movement.  Within just a few short months, resolutions were adopted by more than 600 districts across the state, each articulating a message to Make Education a Priority. 

With over 5.2 million public school students (and growing at a rate of 80,000 students per year) positioned to inherit our great State of Texas, it is critical that we work together as advocates for public education and provide achievement opportunities for all students.  Make Education a Priority is committed to the advocacy for public education, with efforts focused on three main areas:

  • Foster Public Engagement with Public Schools
  • Promote Effective School Board Governance
  • Enhance Relationships with Policymakers
Through the creation and growth of partnerships and expanding the conversation to communities, businesses, school trustees, policymakers and the public at large, Make Education a Priority strives to increase the overall awareness through advocacy for public education. The objective is to keep the discussion about the importance of public schools in the forefront for all stakeholders to ultimately enhance educational opportunities for all students.

The challenges related to funding, accountability, curriculum, safety and other elements of our public school system have resulted in the formation of numerous advocacy groups.  Make Education a Priority is positioning itself as an organization that will help formulate an approach to the public that recognizes the importance of each of these groups and defines the interdependence between the groups in crafting a positive public education “brand” in the minds of all stakeholders. 

Join Make Education a Priority on February 10 as we enter the next stage in our growth as a public education advocate.  The media event will begin at 1 PM at the Aledo ISD administration building, 1008 Bailey Ranch Road, Aledo, TX 76008.  We hope you can join us for this exciting event.  For additional information, please contact Bobby J Rigues at 817.992.4454.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

School Choice … Are All Schools Held to the Same Standard?

As most of us engaged in public advocacy know, the obvious answer to this question is no.  In general, those who operate outside of the structure of the public education sector (as defined by being governed by locally elected trustees) are not held to the same level of accountability.  There is a strong push (again) in the Texas Senate, led by Lt. Governor Patrick, for vouchers that allow the transfer of public funds to private schools.  Part of the argument centers around the need to provide a path to a quality public education for students who are “trapped” in a failing school or district and it’s tough to argue against that intent.

The problem as I see it is that these private schools, as well as for-profit charter schools, are not held to the same level of accountability as the schools in the more than 1,000 Texas public school districts.  So if we consider for a moment that there is a need to allow for transfer of funds to other than public ISD’s (I’m not saying that there is!), how do we ensure that we, as taxpayers, are getting the return on our investment in these schools without having some way to measure it?  More importantly, how are we focusing on the needs of the students?

Think about it for a moment.  The 84th Legislature passed a bill that will lead to assigning an A-F grade to all schools beginning with the 2016-2017 school year.  But how do we measure that?  The legislature has outlined a number of variables but much of this evaluation hinges on STAAR results.  More importantly, if we accept that a campus level grading system is logical (again, I am not saying that it is!), how do we know if private schools and charter schools are failing their students?  Without a formal accountability system to measure and evaluate performance, consistent with that imposed on public ISD’s, there simply is no way to do so.  Therein lies the problem.  If all schools are not held to the same accountability standards, how can a parent make an informed choice if they decide to look at options other than their local district?

Remember, school choice does include public schools.  But in order to evaluate how well public schools are doing as compared to other options, we have to have a clearly defined way to determine which option is best suited for individual students.  If we don’t have those parameters, we can have no assurance that the quality of the education in options outside of public education is any better.  Simply moving the problem won’t solve the issue; in fact, moving the problem actually compounds the challenge of addressing quality in our public schools.  Let’s tackle the problems together and Make Education a Priority.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Advocacy is the Key to Student Success (Part three of a series)

In parts one and two of this three part series, I shared my views on community engagement and effective school board governance, the first two objectives defined by Make Education a Priority.  In this final chapter of the three-part series, I'll address the importance of an organized and consistent advocacy effort with the policymakers who largely define the direction of public education in the State of Texas.

Recall that, in a previous blog, I highlighted the positives of a recent conversation with the newly appointed Commissioner of TEA, Mike Morath, and the Chairwoman of the State Board of Education, Donna Bahorich.  I anticipate that our initial conversation has established a foundation for future dialog and that, through these conversations, we will be in a better position to continue to focus on how we define the importance of public education in the State of Texas.

In addition to these discussions, it’s important that we initiate conversations with our elected officials in Austin, specifically those in the House and Senate.  While much of that focus should be on members of the respective Public Education Committees, we should always ensure that those who serve as our local elected officials in our home districts understand the importance of a sound and quality public education system.

Specifically, MEaP has adopted the following as goals in support of enhancing relationships with policymakers:
  •         Build mutually beneficial relationships between policymakers and local school districts;
  •         Advocate  for school board trustee engagement with policymakers; and
  •         Create public awareness concerning the effects of legislation on our public schools.

Individually, each of these goals is a daunting task but community engagement and engagement by 
the more than 7000 public school trustees in Texas offer us a great start in initiating the dialog with policymakers.  Although we are still a year away from convening of the 85th Legislative Session, it is not too early to start the conversation.  Changes in makeup of this group of legislators will certainly have an impact but now is the time to share our views with both candidates and incumbents.

One of the challenges we face is that, all too often, community members and trustees don’t engage until action (or inaction) by the legislature impacts our local districts.  If we are to succeed and, in essence, become a successful education “lobby”, we must begin now and we must focus not just on students in our local districts but on those across the state.  It is the responsibility for all of us to Make Education a Priority with policymakers.