SBOE Recap: Reading Between the TEA Lines

Image reads: Eyes on the Board

The regular January meeting of the State Board of Education began Tuesday, Jan. 30, in Austin with new Chair Aaron Kinsey presiding. It was a long four days of rule-making, and our recap highlights a few choice bits of the agenda: 

All Things HB 1605  

Day 1 began by tackling rule-making and processes to implement HB 1605, the curriculum and instructional materials behemoth bill from the 88th Legislature.  

The board took up a suite of related items to HB 1605: 

  • A new chapter of rules regarding the responsibilities of publishers, including a parent portal (TAC Chapter 67) 
  • The quality rubrics for the K-12 mathematics and K-8 England Spanish language arts and reading 
  • The suitability rubric applicable to all grades and subject areas 
  • The process by which the TEA will conduct the new review and adoption process 

HB 1605 requires that all materials approved through the new instructional materials review and adoption (IMRA) process be made available to parents through a parent portal. The board engaged in further discussion regarding the timing of fulfilling certain requirements of the portal, such as when materials  had to be available for parents to access.  

There is one notable change that our members will be interested in. While this bill was in the legislative pipeline, all Texas educator organizations advocated for a provision to exclude teacher-developed materials from the portal. In other words, if a teacher writes their own curriculum, they cannot be compelled to make it accessible through the parent portal. The SBOE adopted an amendment to ensure that this teacher protection is codified in rule as well as the law. 

The SBOE has chosen to first review K-8 English language arts and reading, K-6 Spanish language arts and reading, and K-12 mathematics. The application is now open to be a part of this inaugural IMRA review. We encourage our members with the relevant experience to apply; IMRA quality reviewers will be compensated.  

Texas AFT has repeatedly asked TEA to center current practitioners in its IMRA review process, and, on paper, this seems to be the case. However, staff alluded to beginning this initial review in May when teachers are still teaching, so we will have to monitor the rollout of this process to ensure that TEA upholds its stated intentions. 

The Westbury High School Mixed Choir and Jazz Band from Houston ISD perform for the State Board of Education on Friday, Feb. 2 

TEA Annual Report 

In his standing address to the SBOE on Wednesday, Commissioner Mike Morath used his time to unveil the 2023 TEA Annual Report. As is often the case, the more significant information is what is not in the report.  

According to the report, while Texas students have made up the pandemic’s lost ground in reading, the mathematics learning loss persists. In reality, and despite the STAAR redesign and online testing requirement, students showed encouraging gains in math in 2023.  

The report also highlights the infusion of school safety dollars without addressing the overall lack of investment in education by the Legislature. Meanwhile, it touts the increase in identification of students needing special education services without mentioning the skyrocketing costs of those services to districts, currently $2.1 billion annually.  

Most gallingly, the report touts the passage of HB 1605 and the availability of “high-quality instructional materials” to help teachers when what they really need is a meaningful pay increase. Morath noted that teacher incentive allotment (TIA) disbursement has reached $260 million and is expected to top $1 billion in four years. 

Career and Technical Education Curriculum Review 

We are one year into the term of the current board and for the first time, this body took up a set of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for revision. This first set of courses relates to the agribusiness, animal science, plant science, and aviation maintenance programs of study, as well as two science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses that may satisfy science graduation requirements.  

As is typical, SBOE members offered several content-specific edits to the courses based on feedback from the field. Concerningly, however, there was also a robust discussion of striking the word “advocacy” from a list of examples of good citizenship. Member Julie Pickren justified her amendment as being compliant with state law, namely Senate Bill 3, 87th 2 c.s.. This change was met with opposition from both sides of the room, but the law’s chilling effect was evident as an alternate amendment by Member Tom Maynard passed and “advocacy” will be stricken from all the courses under consideration. As this student expectation is common among nearly all CTE courses, we may see it eventually removed across the entire content area, which amounts to several hundred courses. 

The final agenda item late Wednesday concerned the Texas State Plan for Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) , which is due for a refresh after a four-year implementation. Staff updated the board on the necessary updates to the state plan, including: 

  • aligning to the new and updated TEA-developed programs of study  
  • aligning to the work of the tri-agency taskforce and the 60×30 plan for postsecondary readiness 
  • setting metrics for progress monitoring of the new plan  

The goal of the rewrite is to ensure that this guiding document accurately reflects current practices in CTE in Texas. 

Delay in Approving American Indian/Native Studies Course 

Stephen Silva-Brave testifies before the State Board of Education in favor of the proposed American Indian/Native Studies course. 

In our SBOE preview, we alerted Hotline readers that the expected first reading for the proposed ethnic studies course on American Indian/Native Studies had been pulled unexpectedly from the agenda by Kinsey. The removal of the item left advocates surprised and scrambling to understand the reasoning behind the decision, especially when there was no objection to bringing the course forward during the board’s November discussion.  

Several advocates attended Friday’s meeting to testify eloquently on the value of and need for the course and respectfully asked to keep the course on track for approval by placing it on the April agenda. 

Because this item was not on the board’s posted agenda, the discussion in the room was limited to what is allowable under open-meetings regulations. While we are hopeful that advocates both on the board and in the community will be successful in moving the course forward, it is difficult not to read this delay in a more cynical light as part of a broader effort to silence marginalized voices in our state’s curriculum standards.  

To date, Kinsey has not fully explained his decision to remove the course nor provided any assurance that it will be on the next agenda. 

Looking Ahead to April 

The Committee on School Initiatives heard its standing item for updates to new charter school applications. Eighteen applications are currently in external review.  

The next SBOE meeting is set for April 9-12, and TEA will name those charter school applicants that are qualified to move forward to the capacity interviews by April 15. Capacity interviews are in-depth webinars with TEA staff and SBOE members to help determine an applicant’s readiness to open a school. These are publicly available via livestream and will take place between May 7-17.