Sunday, January 31, 2010

Even without federal funds, school reform goes on

This is good for getting a sense of some of the events in education leading up to the 2011 legislative session that brought massive cuts to public education.


Even without federal funds, school reform goes on

Published 06:30 a.m., Sunday, January 31, 2010
Amid the furor over the decision by Gov. Rick Perry not to pursue federal education grant funding under the Race to the Top competition, we need to remember that there is plenty of work to be done in Texas by Texans to properly implement new breakthrough legislation passed by the 82nd Texas Legislature as well as other pending enhancements to student achievement, without the burden of more federal guidelines.

So let's take stock of what we've accomplished lately and what's next in public-education reform in Texas.

First, our organization, the Texas Institute for Education Reform, made good progress on its objectives during the 2009 legislative session. The centerpiece of the work of TIER and our coalition, the Texas Coalition for a Competitive Workforce, was House Bill 3, a hard-fought overhaul of the Texas school accountability system. The bill was more than 200 pages in length, and there are many moving parts, but the major breakthrough from which all else flows is that for the first time in Texas a high school diploma at the recommended curriculum level will represent “post-secondary readiness,” defined as a melding of college and 21st-century career readiness without the need for remediation.

Second, this may appear elemental, but it is big. What follows is that from this graduation standard there will be benchmarked standards at every grade level, assessments that are vertically scaled so that we can track each student's pathway toward the ultimate exit standard, and accountability on the part of educators for student progress along the “ramp” to this post-secondary readiness objective.
Third, it is one thing to have such standards and accountability in place in the law, but quite another to properly implement them. And that is the phase of our work in which we have been heavily engaged since the end of the legislative session last June. In fact, we and our coalition partners are busy with the following agenda for our program of work over the interim period leading to the next legislative session:

• • Working closely with the Texas Education Agency, the commissioner of education, the State Board of Education and other appropriate officials to ensure that the discretionary aspects of the reforms embodied in HB 3 are implemented in accordance with our recommendations and legislative intent.

• • Assisting the appropriate officials in their work to upgrade the state's education data systems in order to provide the necessary infrastructure to accommodate the enhanced accountability system.

• • Working with the TEA to ensure appropriate standards for use of the new Texas Projection Model, which tracks student growth toward proficiency on the post-secondary readiness “ramp.”

• • Assisting the TEA in developing more rigorous and relevant career and technology courses that will improve the options for students who choose to pursue a high school pathway to industry or commercial certification.

And fourth, while implementation of new legislation is important, we are also working hard on other policy developments with a view toward the next legislative session as well as policy enhancements through the various rule-making authorities in the interim:

• • We will work closely with the Texas Charter Schools Association to develop policy to strengthen charter schools as competitive alternatives by closing ineffective charters, providing equitable funding for successful charters and increasing or eliminating the cap on charters.

• • We will continue to advocate for measures that enhance educator quality, partly through implementation of new legislation and partly through working with the TEA, the State Board for Educator Certification and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to develop rules that will lower barriers to entry; more properly evaluate and compensate teacher effectiveness; assess and improve teacher preparation and professional development programs; identify, remediate or remove ineffective educators; and improve the quality of campus leadership.

• • We will be actively engaged as a policy resource on such interim legislative study issues as expansion of prekindergarten and public school finance.

If all this seems ambitious, it is. But we must pursue these policy deliberations and enhancements with all deliberate speed, and we cannot delay them any longer, because to do so would be a disservice to our kids and our future.

And while all this is proceeding at the state policy level, there is an important point to note about federal initiatives. The thrust of the majority of public-education policy pronouncements of the secretary of education are consistent with TIER's objectives, and the administration should be applauded for adding its voice and encouragement in support of states that are working to improve their standards.

This is a never-ending battle, and we must win. It's the civil rights campaign of the 21st century.
Windham is chairman of the Texas Institute for Education Reform (

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