Thursday, May 13, 2021

More on the Joy of Policy...

It’s beyond special when you discover that one of your former undergraduate students who took your classes 20 years ago—and his other two siblings, too, and who also happens to be related to your husband—that he is a legislator in the Texas State Legislature soon completing his second term.

I always knew that Alex Dominguez would get into politics. Rep. Dominguez represents District 37, part of Cameron County.

He spoke at yesterday’s press conference in support of Rep. Morales’ HB 1504 (see earlier post), after which he took notice and exclaimed, “Dr. V?” (Which is what all of the students at Rice University used to call me when I was a professor of sociology there.)

Then the hugging began!

I'm pretty sure I shed a tear or two. 😢💓😆

-Angela Valenzuela

The Joy in Great Policy: Rep. Christina Morales' House Bill 1504's Call for "Texas-Sized History"

Left to right: Dr. Christopher Carmona, Eliza Epstein, Dr. Liliana Saldaña, Tony Díaz (a.k.a. "El Librotraficante"), Rep. Christina Morales (D-Houston), Dr. Angela Valenzuela, Rep. Alex Dominguez (D-Cameron County), Dr. Valerie Martinez, and Alexzandra Roman.

The joy in great policy really does exist. For that reason, as bad as things sometimes are, I really have so much hope for the future.

Hats off to Texas State Rep. Christina Morales for championing House Bill 1504 that would allow the state's already-approved Ethnic Studies courses to count as a pathway toward high school graduation. As Tony Díaz appropriately framed this, we are calling for "Texas-Sized History" to include Mexican American, African American, Native American, and Asian American Studies.

With significant bipartisan support, HB 1504 cleared out of the Texas House of Representatives yesterday. This reflects not only the ongoing struggle for Ethnic Studies in Texas, but also the very hard work of Rep. Morales who has championed a very-well conceived and written bill since day one. This is what it takes, my friends.

House Bill 1504

It was so very special witnessing yesterday support for Rep. Morales' HB 1504 by a bipartisan, diverse group of fellow legislators. What makes this historic is that this is the first Ethnic Studies bill to ever clear out of the Texas House. (I know, it sounds schizophrenic with anti-CRT bill HB 3979 also clearing the House floor, but this is Texas...)

I myself spoke at yesterday's press conference on behalf of Texas LULAC as a member of the state's Education Committee. Thanks to State Director Rudy Rosales, Chair René Martinez, and fellow member Velma Ybarra for supporting this from the beginning.

Many thanks, as well, to UTRGV Professor Dr. Christopher Carmona, Chair, of the NACCS Tejas Foco to which I also belong for his leadership. Happy to share, as well, Dr. Carmona's press release below that lays out next steps.

-Angela Valenzuela

Historic Ethnic Studies Bill HB 1504 Passes the House of the Texas Legislature: Now to Go All The Way

Texas State Representative Christina Morales (D) filed House Bill 1504, along with joint authors, Representatives Alma Allen (D) and Gene Wu (D), which would make Ethnic Studies count towards high school graduation.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021, it was approved by the Texas House of Representatives. This is the first Ethnic Studies bill in Texas to reach this point. It has also received bipartisan support.

The courses referred to in the bill were approved by both Republican and Democratic Texas State Board of Education Representatives unanimously. The bill also received unanimous support from the House Public Education Committee. State Rep. Dan Huberty, a Republican, has also joined as a co-sponsor of the bill.

TX HB1504 now advances to the Texas Senate Education Committee.

Texas State Representative Morales said, "Research proves that students who study culturally relevant courses are more successful in school and are more likely to graduate. I have been empowered by knowing my history and my family's story. We are uniting to bring this knowledge to more and more of our students in Texas. It is time to unite for Texas-Sized History to give a full picture with more voices."

Please call your state senator or any of the senators on this list to advance this bill through the Senate and make history by having the first Ethnic Studies bill in the State of Texas ever.

Please call the Republicans on the

Senate Committee on Education


The Honorable Larry Taylor

(512) 463-0111

The Honorable Paul Bettencourt

(512) 463-0107

The Honorable Bob Hall

(512) 463-0102

The Honorable Bryan Hughes

Austin, TX 78711

(512) 463-0101

The Honorable Angela Paxton

(512) 463-0108

The Honorable Eddie Lucio, Jr.

(512) 463-0127

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Testimony Against Outcomes-Based Funding based on Students' Test Scores, by Dr. Theresa Treviño of TAMSA

In my previous post this morning, I touch on HB 4545 that in Section 48.1102 seeks to implement outcomes-based funding. I so appreciate Dr. Theresa Treviño's April 6, 2021 testimony on this which explains exactly why we should not go in this direction as a state.

If only these legislators would pay attention to the research on high-stakes testing, and listen to parents, educators and child psychologists like Dr. Theresa Treviño. In the meantime, we as a public need to call whoever represents us in the legislature to register our concerns. 

Thanks to Dr. Treviño for sharing her testimony with me. And thanks to TAMSA for its consistent advocacy against high-stakes testing in the Texas State Legislature.

-Angela Valenzuela

Testimony HB 4545 April 6, 2021

Theresa Treviño, TAMSA: Against HB 4545

Chairman Dutton, members of the House Public Education Committee:

TAMSA greatly appreciates your hard work to help students, especially in this unusual pandemic school year.

Specifically, TAMSA has tracked the state’s NAEP scores for many years. In 2011, a drop in both the 4th and 8th grade NAEP reading scores coincide with the reduction in funds to public education as a whole, a new STAAR testing system, the 83% reduction in the budget for the Student Success Initiative and the abolishment of reading academies. TAMSA believes this bill will help address some of these issues by providing accelerated instruction for students that need the resources to help them attain grade level expectation.

TAMSA is testifying against the bill because of Section 48.1102.

TAMSA strongly opposes any finance system based on performance on standardized testing.

Parents support reasonable assessments that are used as intended - to check where students are in their academic achievement, to aid instruction, and to highlight a student’s strengths and weaknesses. Standardized tests are being used to do a wide variety of things they were not designed to do. They are the basis and constitute almost all of our accountability system. They determine whether students will pass to the next grade or graduate from high school. They determine the “grade” a school and a school district get. Now, this section of the Texas Education Code would codify funding or further limiting funds based on these scores.

Here are just a few reasons why we oppose that plan:

        1. These tests are not measuring what students know. They are designed to sort”

students. If a test question is answered correctly or incorrectly by most students, it is thrown out because it limits that question’s ability to sort.” We are forcing a curve on these tests rather than truly measuring what students have learned. For Texas to base “ratings and funding on a misused assessment is a travesty.

2. The arbitrary setting of cut scores also complicates the issue. With the current

accountability system, the Commissioner will be setting higher cut scores to meet the new performance standards. The cut scores are made after the test is taken and the Commissioner has reviewed the results. This mechanism gives much power to the Commissioner to fund schools in an outcomes-based finance system.

3. Students and schools that struggle most on the state assessments are often those in greatest need of additional funding to compensate for students from families living in poverty, learning a new language, or who have a learning difference. The added stresses of the pandemic only magnify the ones listed. Does this bill intend to fund a school less because it is in greater need?

As a child psychiatrist, I am intimately aware that children develop at their own pace. The three common cognitive measures psychologists assess to understand brain development are processing speed, working memory, and fluid reasoning. A child has no control over how quickly these measures are developed, just as a child cannot control how quickly they will reach their adult height. There is variation among the human population. We assert that tying funding to outcome measures such as test scores would make about as much sense as tying funding of education to height achievement by students.

However, just as one can eat a nutritious diet to achieve his or her full height, interventions do exist to help foster cognitive development from an early age.

Education practices that try to influence test scores, such as test prep, have limited effect  on development of cognitive skills. Improvement on standardized tests scores instead reflect crystallized knowledge, knowledge that comes from prior learning or past experiences. 1 They do not reflect fluid knowledge, the ability to think and reason abstractly and solve problems.  The nutritious diet that Texas students need is one of project-based learning and other hands-on relevant learning. That would be a far better investment than pouring money into standardized tests and funding schools based on how they do on these faulty tests.

A free and public education is a constitutional right for all Texans and the finance of it should not be subject to the whims of a test score or the setting of that score. TAMSA urges the Texas legislature to utilize the dollars allocated to education more prudently by limiting testing to the minimum level required under federal law and utilize more meaningful, age- appropriate tests, lessening the burdens surrounding testing such as high stakes, and resist tying funding to any metric utilizing standardized test scores.

1. Even when test scores go up, some cognitive abilities don’t, cognitive-abilities-dont-1211, April 5, 2021.

Teaching kids to hate America? Republicans want ‘critical race theory’ out of schools

It's annoying that people are legislating against something that they either don't understand or that consists of truths about history and white supremacy that they do not want to confront because it makes them feel uncomfortable. Never mind that knowing the truth sets us all free, while intentionally distorting it serves only to foster baseless fear while rationalizing bigoted policies and practices that Critical Race Theory is actually trying to avoid. The very act of passing anti-CRT legislation is an instantiation of white supremacy.

I see all of this toxic discourse as a red herring, meaning that it's a weapon of mass distraction that keeps us from collectively either addressing or noticing things that really matter right now, including the pandemic, the economy, and serious educational issues like high-stakes testing and the school privatization agenda playing out before our eyes with Texas' HB 3 Read: "Burrows Buries Vouchers in Pandemic Bill." Outcomes-based funding predicated on students' test scores—that everybody should learn about from the Raise Your Hand Texas Website—also spells disaster.

"Red meat," they call it here in Texas. While we're all focused on atrocious bills like HB 3979 about which I have blogged, Texas republicans are getting these other anti-democratic, harmful bills through. 

-Angela Valenzuela

Teaching kids to hate America? Republicans want ‘critical race theory’ out of schools

Alia Wong

May 13, 2021 

Idaho's governor last week signed into law a bill whose purpose, at face value, is noncontroversial. The law prohibits public schools and colleges from teaching that "any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin is inherently superior or inferior." 

The catch? Baked into the legislation is an effort to stamp out conversations about race and equity. A dozen or so states — including Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and West Virginia – have introduced bills that would prohibit schools from teaching "divisive," "racist" or "sexist" concepts. 

Critics warn these measures are part of a larger movement to draw America’s culture wars into classrooms. And this war centers on a once-obscure legal theory about how the legacy of slavery continues to permeate American society today.

"Critical race theory” goes beyond advocating for civil rights or banning discrimination. Proponents see it as a framework to examine how the taint of racism still affects Black Americans and other people of color in matters ranging from who gets bank loans and admission into elite universities to how suspects are treated by police. 

Detractors dismiss critical race theory as a method for “teaching kids to hate their country” or to promote “public school wokeness.”  

But while such talking points play well among conservative media circles, political and legal experts contend they obscure more meaningful discussion about the role systemic racism plays in the American experience.

The bills seeking to prohibit the instruction of “divisive concepts” seldom mention critical race theory directly, but in many cases legislators have cited it as a driving force behind the measures.

In an April Facebook post promoting a bill in Rhode Island that has since stalled in committee, state Rep. Patricia Morgan, a co-sponsor, wrote, "Critical Race Theory must be stopped." After quoting Martin Luther King Jr., she went on to say, "Our state must reject the neo-racism and race-shaming of Critical Race Theory. We have no time to waste in rooting out this disturbing, divisive and false ideology."

While discussing a new civics education initiative in Florida's public schools, Gov. Ron DeSantis said, "There’s no room in our classrooms for things like critical race theory. Teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other is not worth one red cent of taxpayer money." 

Overall, such legislation would better enable opponents to ensure that so-called ideology doesn't fester in institutions such as schools, Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, has said in his newsletter. "Our movement to abolish critical race theory indoctrination in public schools," he wrote in one issue, "has caught fire."

The bills' language reflects many conservatives' view that critical race theory portrays the United States as a racist country, that certain people are "inherently oppressive" and that those people are accountable for the sins committed by their predecessors. In their interpretation, the theory seeks to make particular individuals – namely, white people – feel uncomfortable and guilty about their race.

This was the premise of former President Donald Trump's executive order banning diversity trainings for federal workers – a directive that garnered lawsuits, was blocked by a federal judge and was eventually rescinded by President Joe Biden.

"They were teaching people that our country is a horrible place, it’s a racist place," Trump said during the first presidential debate. "And they were teaching people to hate our country." 

History of schoolhouse culture wars

The ideas behind critical race theory were developed in the 1970s by a group of legal scholars who became “interested in how anti-discrimination law wasn’t addressing the persistent inequalities they were seeing,” said Adrienne Dixson, a professor of critical race theory and education at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

The recent wave of attention on critical race theory didn’t start with Trump but rather became “crystalized” during his administration, Dixson said. Former President Barack Obama's election "was shocking and traumatic for people who always imagined the U.S. as a white nation,” she added, and since then, there’s been “a profound ignorance about what critical race theory really is.”

Adrienne Dixson is a professor of education policy and critical race theory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Interest in the topic has grown over the past year, fueled in part by Black Lives Matter activism following the murder of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer. Google search trends show a spike this spring.

In some states, political debates have erupted over the role and design of racial justice-minded education. In March, activists launched a national, largely conservativegrassroots organization called Parents Defending Education aimed at resisting what members believe are activists and ideologues "pumping divisive, polarizing ideas into classrooms," according to the group's literature.

Much of the group's advocacy focuses on challenging curricula based on the 1619 Project, a series of stories by The New York Times in 2019 that frames U.S. history within the context of slavery. (A separate series of state bills have also sought to punish schools for incorporating the project into lesson plans.)

A recent poll by Parents Defending Education found more than two-thirds of respondents "opposed schools teaching that America was founded on racism and is structurally racist." Close to 3 in 4 respondents said schools shouldn't teach students that white people are inherently privileged and people of color inherently oppressed.

The group has taken to filing federal civil rights complaints against districts that say structural racism plays a role in schools. The complaints in cities such as Columbus, Ohio; Hopkins, Minnesota; Webster Groves, Missouri; and Hillsborough, North Carolina, contend such admissions amount to districts violating federal anti-discrimination law, which should void their federal funding.

"We would like the Department of Education to investigate these incidents in order to determine whether these allegations are true — and if so, how best to remedy the situation to prevent future discrimination by that district," Nicole Neily, president of Parents Defending Education, told USA TODAY in March.

Legislating critical race theory

Educators who study critical race theory see value in teaching about America's history with slavery and discrimination. But Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the right-leaning Fordham Institute, is concerned about the growing trend of “anti-racism” lessons in schools.

Pondiscio doesn’t oppose the founding principles of critical race theory. But he says teachers can better combat systemic racism by setting high expectations for all students, using a rigorous and rich curriculum and focusing on literacy – not ideologies. 

“Whenever you have a phenomenon like this that people don’t fully understand, it’ll be ripe for demagoguery,” he said in an interview.

Legislation targeting critical race theory isn’t the answer, he added.

Robert Pondiscio is senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

“People make the assumption that you can pass a law and it changes what gets taught,” he said. “That's not how it works.”

The legislation also raises free-speech concerns, said Emerson Sykes, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

"The underlying impetus for these bills is antithetical to the free-speech values that many of these legislators claim to hold dear," he said, adding that the ACLU is in the process of evaluating its litigation options in response to the bills.Sykes said the proposals are a form of prior restraint – "censorship before someone has even had the opportunity to speak" — and called inserting schools into controversial political debates and mandating that teachers take a side is "hugely problematic."  

The politics of public school wokeness

The pushback has received its own pushback, prompting some of the bills – including New Hampshire's – to stall or die in committee. Others are proceeding at full speed.

Iowa's Department of Education had to postpone a conference related to social justice and equity in schools in anticipation of that state's bill being signed into law, Iowa Public Radio reported. Officials decided to put off the event until the fall.

In Idaho, Republican representatives said they wouldn't support a bill related to educators' salaries unless it also included lines reflecting the state's critical race theory-related legislation and banned schools from incorporating social justice into their teaching. 

Non-legislative efforts to oppose critical race theory in schools have unfolded as well, including political task forces, campaign initiatives and school board debates.

In Anchorage, Alaska, the school board's move to adopt anti-racism policies drew criticism from one member who argued the measures would usher critical race theory into lesson plans. In California, activists launched a fight against both critical race theory and ethnic studies in schools. In April, they sued the San Diego Unified School District, claiming it's unlawfully training educators in critical race theory.  

In Texas, critical race theory's potential as a political lightning rod became clear following a Dallas-area school district's efforts to soothe feelings after a viral TikTok video showed a group of white teens shouting racial slurs.

School board meetings grew heated after the Carroll Independent School District created a diversity council that drafted a plan aimed at making its classrooms anti-racist. At one meeting, a Black student and member of the new diversity council was booed after testifying "my life matters," according to the Dallas Morning News.

This month, opponents of the plan won a handful of seats – including the mayor's office and positions on the school board – in an election that garnered record-high voter turnout.

Their victory was described by The Federalist, a conservative online magazine, as a harbinger of "a new cultural Tea Party." It marks "an escalating movement to reclaim K-12 schools infected by the racism of critical race theory," the publication wrote. 

In that kind of political climate, critical race theory has become a rallying cry to stoke conservative voters' fears, said the University of Illinois’ Dixson — even though the theory was originally intended to advocate for the same principles the legislation attacking it purports to promote.

“What critical race theory doesn’t do is indict entire races of people and blame the inequality on all white people,” Dixson said. “I don’t know that any school teaches critical race theory in the way that these [legislators] interpret it.”

Contributing: Jessica Guynn