Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Crash Test

Even after this legislative session, there will be plenty of work still to be done in the area of testing and accountability.  Texas is nevertheless trending in the right direction.  For many of us in Texas, as well as outside of Texas, this has been over a decade-long struggle of educating policy makers and our communities of the harmful effects of this system.    Below are key quotes from the May, 2013 issue of the Texas Monthly, summarizing the status of end-of-course testing in Texas where this blog is mentioned (albeit obscurely) as part of what is framed as an unraveling of test-based accountability in Texas:
Longtime observers of education policy are openly speculating that we are seeing the beginning of the end of the accountability movement, right here in the state where it was born. There is no question that the Legislature, which wraps up its current session on May 27, will roll back at least some of the accountability system in Texas. The question is, How far will it go? And how far should it?

He’s even begun to take sharp criticism about his motives, from legislators like San Antonio representative Mike Villarreal, who pointed out that since Pearson is a member of the Texas Association of Business, Hammond arguably should be considered a de facto lobbyist for Pearson. Of course, Hammond lobbies on behalf of the business community in general, which has a vested interest in maintaining a good public school system, but it’s hard to think of a company that the TAB has done more for this session than Pearson. When I asked him about the accusation, Hammond pushed back. “I take great exception to anyone who would impugn my integrity,” he told me. “I have a thirty-year record of being for education reform that goes back to when I was a freshman in the Texas House.”

Kress gave me a report highlighting how well Texas has fared in recent years on the NAEP in comparison with the other mega-states: California, New York, Florida, and Illinois. Yet the report also shows that Texas exempts students at a much higher rate than any of these states (on the fourth-grade reading test, for example, Texas’s exemption rate was twice the national average and six times higher than California’s). Exempting students from the test is meant to be done as a last resort; other remedies, such as longer testing times, one-on-one testing, and simpler tests for some students, are supposed to be used first.

Two decades ago Texas became ground zero for the accountability movement in public education. Now, after a revolt by teachers and parents who claim that High-stakes testing is ruining classroom instruction, the Legislature is poised to undo many of its own reforms. Does anyone have the right answer?
Photo illustration by Darren Braun
During his first run for the White House, George W. Bush called it the Texas Miracle. High-stakes testing in the public schools, along with other measures meant to hold teachers and principals “accountable” for the performance of their students, had closed the achievement gap between Anglo and minority students and boosted overall scores in reading and math. On the campaign trail, Bush touted the reforms—first passed by the Legislature in 1993, a year before he was elected governor—as a blueprint for the nation. And indeed, just a year after he arrived in Washington, the Texas model went nationwide when Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law, in January 2002, requiring all states to create their own testing programs. At the signing ceremony, Bush singled out Rod Paige, his secretary of education, whose success as the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District had provided the inspiration for the accountability movement in Texas.
After eleven years of this unprecedented experiment in American pedagogy, during which time student assessment grew into a $1.7 billion industry dominated by a handful of corporations, nobody is talking about miracles anymore. Not in Washington, where the Obama administration has been forced to grant waiver after waiver as NCLB’s ambitious 2014 deadline for states to reach “100 percent proficiency” in math and reading approaches. (In 2011, 48 percent of the nation’s schools failed to meet the law’s benchmarks.) And certainly not in Texas, where the Houston school district’s putative academic successes, including its astonishingly low dropout rate, have been debunked as statistical chicanery. Across the state, a long-simmering anti-testing movement has finally exploded into a full-fledged revolt. And it hasn’t happened only among teachers and administrators, who have argued for years that testing takes up too much time and energy. It has flared up in the demographic that animates public policy more than any other: suburban parents.

Continue reading here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Texas Considers Backtracking on Testing

This piece is both about Texas backing off of testing while simultaneously backing down from its more rigorous curriculum  that helps students to be college ready— that is, four years of high school math, science, language arts and social studies.  It's analog  is California's a-g curriculum that prepares students for entrance into the University of California system.  

The rationale is to give students more "choice."  However, given that access to choice options within the curriculum together with choice  itself varies by race, class, and other factors like being able to access the curriculum because you speak the language and understand the culture of the school and district, this direction in policy will predictably  and unfortunately continue to stratify opportunities and outcomes within our public school system.   Accordingly, the closing quote  by a  at Texas high school student is quite appropriate:

“If they are allowed the option to not take a harder math class, of course they’re not going to do that,” said Anthony Tomkins, 18, a senior at Akins who plans to attend Texas A&M. “So forcing it upon us in the long run is actually a good thing.” 

 It goes to show that many of our students do know what is up; and the struggle for equity continues.


Texas Considers Backtracking on Testing

Students at Akins High School in Austin. The principal, Daniel Girard, said he worries that if the state cuts back on standards, “some adults may not push kids on the potential that is there when it’s not required by the state as a graduation plan.”

AUSTIN, Tex. — In this state that spawned test-based accountability in public schools and spearheaded one of the nation’s toughest high school curriculums, lawmakers are now considering a reversal that would cut back both graduation requirements and standardized testing.

In the state that spawned test-based accountability in public schools, some parents and educators believe it has resulted in limited flexibility. 

The actions in Texas are being closely watched across the country as many states move to raise curriculum standards to meet the increasing demands of employers while grappling with critics who say testing has spun out of control. 

The Texas House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill this month that would reduce the number of exams students must pass to earn a high school diploma to 5, from 15. Legislators also proposed a change that would reduce the required years of math and science to three, from four. The State Senate is expected to take up a similar bill as early as this week. 

The proposed changes have opened up a debate in the state and beyond. Proponents say teachers will be able to be more creative in the classroom while students will have more flexibility to pursue vocational or technically oriented courses of study. 

But critics warn that the changes could result in the tracking of children from poor and minority families into classes that are less likely to prepare them for four-year colleges, and, ultimately, higher-paying careers. 

“What we all know is when you leave it up to kids and schools, the poor kids and kids of color will be disproportionately not in the curriculum that could make the most difference for them,” said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit group that advocates for racial minorities and low-income children. 

Texas is currently an outlier in both the number of exit exams it requires students to pass and the number of courses its default high school curriculum prescribes. 

Legislators raised the number of high school exit exams to 15 from 4 in 2007, a year after they passed a law to automatically enroll all high school students in a curriculum that mandates four years of English, science, social studies and math, including an advanced algebra class. (Students may enroll in a less rigorous course of study with the permission of their parents.) 

Texas now requires more than double the number of end-of-course exams used in any of the eight states that currently mandate that students pass such exams, according to the Education Commission of the States. And only two other states and the District of Columbia set similar graduation requirements, according to Achieve, a nonprofit organization that works to upgrade graduation criteria. 

Here in Texas, the backlash has been fiercest among parents and educators who believe testing has become excessive, particularly after a period when the state cut its budget for education.
On a recent afternoon, Joanne Salazar pulled out a copy of a testing calendar for the school in Austin where her daughter is a sophomore. “Of the last 12 weeks of school, 9 are impacted by testing,” Ms. Salazar said. “It has really started to control the schedule.” 

Test critics also argue that standardized tests stifle experimentation in the classroom. “It turns our schools into these cookie-cutter manufacturing plants,” said Dineen Majcher, president of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, a grass-roots group. 

Some educators say the tests do not account for students who learn at different paces. “We expect every student to perform at certain levels with the same amount of time,” said H.D. Chambers, superintendent of the Alief Independent School District west of Houston. “That’s fundamentally flawed.” 

But at a time when about half of the students who enroll in community colleges in Texas require remedial math classes, Michael L. Williams, the state’s commissioner of education, called the proposed changes “an unfortunate retreat.” 

“What gets tested gets taught,” Mr. Williams said. “What we treasure, we measure.”
Champions of more stringent graduation requirements say they also help push students — particularly those who do not come from families in which college attendance is assumed — to achieve at levels they might not have considered on their own. 

Since the tougher recommended curriculum was signed into law, the proportion of Texas high school graduates taking at least one Advanced Placement exam who were from low income backgrounds rose to 45.3 percent in 2012, from 30.5 percent in 2007. 

But some argue that the current recommended curriculum could drive more students to drop out if they struggle with advanced courses. (The graduation rate in Texas actually rose from 63 percent in 2007 to 72 percent in 2011, the most recent year for which state education agency data is available.) 

Defenders of the current curriculum come from “the elitist in our society who devalue blue-collar work and believe every student must get a four-year college degree,” said Daniel Patrick, a Republican senator from Houston who has sponsored Senate versions of the education bill.
Representative Jimmie Don Aycock, the Republican from Killeen who sponsored the House bill (which passed 147 to 2), said the revised curriculum would give students more options, including community colleges or technical schools. “I don’t want them to have to choose up or choose down,” Mr. Aycock said, “but choose what’s right for them.” 

Some business leaders say that without advanced requirements, students will not be prepared for the kinds of jobs employers need to fill. “The jobs of today require higher level skills,” said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Business Association. 

Josh Havens, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry, said the governor favored a curriculum that required four years of math and science and “does not support efforts that lessen the accountability and academic rigor that prepares our students for career and college.” 

Senator Leticia R. Van de Putte, a Democrat from San Antonio, said she was proposing an amendment that would require four years of math and science, although allow students to substitute more applied courses for advanced algebra or subjects like physics. “This allows for relevance and flexibility while maintaining high rigor,” she said. 

But some principals and guidance counselors, along with civil rights groups like the League of United Latin American Citizens, fear that low-income and minority students could slip through the cracks.
“It puts more of the onus on the school to make sure that kids are taking the most rigorous courses possible,” said Daniel Girard, principal of Akins High School in Austin. With large class sizes and shrinking budgets for guidance counseling, he said, “some adults may not push kids on the potential that is there when it’s not required by the state as a graduation plan.” 

One morning last week, several high school seniors, all from low-income families, gathered in the Akins guidance office beneath dozens of college pennants hanging from the ceiling. 

Nathaniel Buescher, 18, is considering offers from Columbia, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Texas and Yale. His mother immigrated to the United States from Mexico without a high school diploma, and his father never attended college. But his elder sister and brother both advised him to “take the hardest classes that are available.” 

Proponents of the changes in the default curriculum say students can continue to select the most advanced classes. But those who want to take math or writing classes geared toward technical careers will be able to do so. 

“There is a fundamental policy disagreement between those that think kids can’t make choices and will take the easy way out,” said Hector L. Rivero, president of the Texas Chemical Council and a member of Jobs for Texas, a coalition of employers and industry trade groups, “and those of us who believe that kids can make the right choices given the right support and direction.” 

Even some students say, though, that standards help guide their choices. 

“If they are allowed the option to not take a harder math class, of course they’re not going to do that,” said Anthony Tomkins, 18, a senior at Akins who plans to attend Texas A&M. “So forcing it upon us in the long run is actually a good thing.” 

Friday, April 05, 2013

Boom! Texas House Slams the Door on Private School Vouchers

Boom! Texas House Slams the Door on Private School Vouchers

Sen. Dan Patrick, along with Lt. Gov Dewhurst and Gov. Rick Perry have been the leadingvoices  this legislative session  behind the voucher agenda.  Yesterday, theirs was a decisive, brilliant and courageous knockdown spearheaded through an amendment to SB1 by Representative Abel Herrero (D-Robstown). So proud of Representative Herrero for valiantly drawing the line in the sand between those that support public education and those that do not—which is how he argued on the House floor what support for vouchers represented.

House Goes Big Against School Vouchers

House Goes Big Against School Vouchers

by Published on
Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Robstown)
Patrick Michels
Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Robstown) defends his anti-voucher amendment in the Texas House.
House Speaker Joe Straus has made it clear that his chamber won’t be passing any school voucher bills this session.

But just to be sure, Rep. Abel Herrero figured he’d seal the deal. He attached an amendment to the budget this afternoon guaranteeing Texas can’t spend public money on private schools.

As Herrero took the mic to explain his amendment, there wasn’t much to suggest it would start one of the day’s biggest fights. This was a simple proposal, Herrero said: “You cannot direct public funds for the use of school vouchers.”

Rep. John Otto, who was controlling the debate on education spending from the front mic, said he wouldn’t take a position on this one. “Vote your district,” he told lawmakers.

The meaning soon began to sink in. Power-walking back to his desk, Rep. Kenneth Sheets summed up what many Republicans were probably thinking at that moment: “I hate this amendment,” he said to no one in particular.

The Senate’s new education committee chair Dan Patrick (R-Houston) has promised his chamber would be friendly to vouchers this session, just one piece of his ambitious school choice agenda.
In the House, though, the dynamic seems about the same as it was in 2007, when school vouchers were last seriously debated, and shot down by a coalition of Democrats and rural Republicans. Neither Straus nor any other House leader has suggested voucher proposals would get too far the Lower Chamber. They may not even get a floor vote.

So Herrero’s amendment this afternoon was a rare opportunity to let pro-voucher conservatives let their tea party flags fly—and make some other Republicans squirm a little. Caught between their hometown school community on one side, and conservative purity tests on the other, voting either way was a lose-lose for some Republicans.
Rep. Scott Turner (R-Frisco) with other voucher advocates
Patrick Michels
Rep. Scott Turner (R-Frisco) and other voucher advocates line up against Herrero’s amendment.
A huddle of hard-line conservatives gathered around the back microphone, pressing Herrero on his amendment. One member called his amendment “a back-door way of cutting off school choice.” Herrero assured the House only vouchers—not charter schools or transfers between districts—would be barred.

After Herrero said he sends his own children to private schools, Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball) told him she was “surprised” that he didn’t want low-income students to get the same opportunities his kids would have.

Freshman Rep. Scott Turner (R-Frisco) took his turn next. “If the focus is the children,” he said, and not “the institution of education,” Turner said the right thing to do is let parents choose a private school for their kids. He asked Herrero how the Democrat would propose to help “children trapped in failing school.” Better funding for their schools, Herrero suggested.

“What we’re doing now is not working,” Turner said, raising his voice. “Even if we fully fund it, it’s not going to bring us the results that we want.”

As time ran out for the debate, lawmakers began hollering for a vote—and it wasn’t even close. Herrero’s amendment passed by a 103-43 margin, a cold splash of reality for tea party Republicans and other voucher-backers. The vote seemed to kill vouchers this session. The only faint hope for voucher supporters is that Dan Patrick might deliver them a miracle.

Patrick Michels is a reporter for the Texas Observer and a former legislative intern. He has been a staff writer and web editor at the Dallas Observer, and a former editor of the Texas Independent. He has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University, a master's in photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin, and is a competitive eating enthusiast.

House rejects school vouchers as it approves budget bill

Big news in Texas!


House rejects school vouchers as it approves budget bill

American-Statesman Staff 

The Texas House loudly voiced its opposition to state support for private school vouchers and scholarships during a daylong budget session, signaling deep disagreement with Gov. Rick Perry and other Republican leaders over diverting public money to private schools.

The House’s $193.8 billion version of the two-year state budget cleared the lower chamber Thursday night on a vote of 135-12 after less than 12 hours of debate, brief by historical standards. During the day, the House approved, then retracted, a small step toward expanding Medicaid, and it voted decisively to trim the sails of the University of Texas System Board of Regents in its power struggle with UT-Austin President Bill Powers.

On a bipartisan vote of 103-43, the House approved an amendment precluding the use of state dollars for a private school voucher or scholarship program.

“That was a pretty clear message today,” said House Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen.

That message was that the House wouldn’t embrace the private school scholarship concept being pushed by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Perry. Patrick’s bill would allow for state tax credits to offset donations from businesses to a private school scholarship program for students who attend low-performing public schools.

Aycock’s committee would appear to be an insurmountable obstacle for Patrick’s legislation, since only one committee member voted against the amendment from state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown.

“The House has traditionally been very hesitant to spend taxpayer money to send kids to private schools, and I think this reflected that long-standing opinion in the House of Representatives,” Aycock said. “It’s widespread: R’s and D’s, minority groups. It’s just a strongly held position in the House.”

State Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, voted against the amendment along with fellow Central Texas GOP members Jason Isaac of Dripping Springs, Tony Dale of Cedar Park and Tim Kleinschmidt of Lexington.

“I believe in the individual child, that every child learns differently, and every child should be put in a learning environment that is best suited for them, and sometimes that’s not a public school,” Gonzales said.
Two other Republicans, Paul Workman of Austin and Marsha Farney of Georgetown, joined all the area Democrats in favor of the measure.

Among amendments adopted early in the day, several would dramatically constrain the ability of the UT System Board of Regents to spend money, including a ban on paying for investigations of campuses and their executive management.

The amendments, approved with no discussion and little dissent, signal heavy support in the House for Powers. Many lawmakers contend that the regents’ decision to commission an outside investigation of UT Law School funds is a pretext for ousting Powers, who was previously law dean.
Tea party Republicans who targeted spending they deemed unnecessary gained little traction Thursday for amendments that would divert $215 million from a variety of programs to funds that serve retired teachers.

State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, for example, targeted a pot of state money used to attract film productions and digital gaming companies to Texas.

“I believe that our teachers are more important than supporting Hollywood and the video game industry. Period,” Leach said.

But critics questioned the motives of the tea party freshmen because they hadn’t signed on to legislation that would help retired teachers. The Texas Retired Teachers Association informed members Wednesday that the group didn’t support the tea party efforts.

Representatives initially voted 86-57, with little discussion, to approve an amendment by Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, to set parameters for Medicaid expansion – if Texas chooses to pursue that option – including requirements for health savings accounts and cost-saving strategies such as co-pays, deductibles and premiums.

Burnam said his amendment was intended to “keep the conversation going to see if there is something we can accomplish, because it is insane, it is fiscally irresponsible not to figure out how we can get this money.”

Republicans grew increasingly uneasy about seeming to support the health care overhaul many call Obamacare, and several hours later the House voted 93-54 to reconsider the amendment, prompting Burnam to withdraw it from further consideration.

“I think there was lot of confusion,” said Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, who requested the new vote. “I just want to rewind and go over.”

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Lawmakers Examine High-Stakes Testing in Lower Grades

Lawmakers Examine High-Stakes Testing in Lower Grades

Good developments in policy right now in the Texas State Legislature.

Key points:

Elementary and middle school students currently take a total of 17 state exams before high school. They are tested each year in grades three through eight in reading and math, plus there are additional exams in science or writing or social studies, depending on the grade. At the urging of some parents and educators, several lawmakers have proposed either eliminating testing in lower grades altogether or to dropping the number of tests to as few as 10. To avoid the risk of losing federal funding, both proposals would require a waiver under No Child Left Behind’s accountability requirements.

But for parents concerned about the effects of high-stakes testing on young children, that is not enough, said Susan Kellner, the vice president of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, a statewide grassroots organization.

“The issue is that No Child Left Behind requires 14 tests between the grades of three through eight, and really that limits what these bills can do,” she said.

Some lawmakers, like state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble, are attempting to get around those requirements by passing laws that would require state education officials to request a waiver from the federal government.

Monday, April 01, 2013


This is very insidious. The way the community colleges are being set up for "school closure."
Sanctioning community colleges is growing beyond San Francisco,
however - 27 districts in California (25% of the state total) are
currently on the list.  Two have "Show Cause" orders that threaten
closure, in addition to SFCC.  The accreditation commission is not a
public agency, but a self-perpetuating private one, overseen by the
Western Association of Schools and Colleges.  It is funded by
educational institutions, which have no input or oversight rights.

What gives its recommendations power is the U.S. Department of
Education, which will only fund financial aid at accredited
institutions.  Particularly for community colleges, whose student
body is drawn overwhelmingly from working class communities,
accreditation therefore becomes a life or death issue.  During the
Obama administration, the department has put pressure on
accreditation commissions to take a harder line on sanctions,
concerned that students aren't receiving an education that enables
them to get jobs and repay student loans.


By David Bacon
Truthout Report

SAN FRANCISCO, CA  (3/18/13) - On March 14, the day before the
Trustees at San Francisco Community College District handed in the
report that may decide the life or death of California's largest
community college, student and faculty marchers headed downtown to
City Hall.  A sinuous line of hundreds of chanting, banner-waving
people stopped traffic on Mission Street, the main artery through the
city barrio. Their mood combined equal parts of desperation at the
prospect of the closure of the school, and anger and defiance at the
kinds of changes that authorities are demanding to keep it open.

Shanell Williams, urban studies major and president of the Associated
Students at SFCC, told a rally at the march's starting point on the
college's Mission campus that the required changes are part of a
larger effort to turn students into commodities, and move towards the
privatization of education.  "Next year students will be affected by
the Student Success Act," she warned.  "Every student will have to
have an education plan, there will be repeat limits, and a 90-credit
cap on the Board of Governors fee waiver [that allows poor and
working class students to petition to waive tuition fees].  Now is
the time when they need more student services and support from the
administration, but they're cutting part time counselors and taking
other actions that will be even greater barriers."

Closing San Francisco Community College became a possibility last
spring when the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior
Colleges sent a team to San Francisco, as part of a 6-year
accreditation cycle.  The district, the largest public school system
in California, had been warned earlier about deficiencies and knew
there would be problems.  With 85,000 students and 1650 faculty, and
an annual operating budget of $200 million, SFCC had never been
sanctioned.  But under the impact of cuts in state funding, last year
it had a deficit of $6 million.

In July, commissioners released a set of findings that found the
district deficient in 14 areas, and put it on "Show Cause" status,
the most serious sanction short of shutting down the college
entirely.  The commission gave the college credit for a very diverse
faculty and high-quality libraries and counseling.  Commissioners
said, however, the college's governance, planning and leadership were
inefficient, and that it had not documented adequately a set of
assessments called "Student Learning Outcomes."

 Continue reading here.