Aug. 4, 2023: Houston, we have a problem

Header reads: Texas A-F-T. The Hotline.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Alliance/A-F-T member and Dallas I-S-D teacher Rosie Curts attends a Houston community protest this summer against T-E-A’s takeover and Mike Miles’ appointment as superintendent.

Alliance/AFT member and Dallas ISD teacher Rosie Curts attends a Houston community protest this summer against TEA’s takeover and Mike Miles’ appointment as superintendent.

It starts in Houston. It doesn’t end there.

We start this week with a message from Texas AFT President Zeph Capo and Houston Federation of Teachers President Jackie Anderson. Together they address reports that Houston ISD’s state-installed superintendent will seek waivers from the Texas Education Agency to hire uncertified teachers

“Educators have been told throughout the process of this TEA takeover of the state’s largest school district that we were overreacting — that we should give this reckless experiment in governance a chance.

We raised a flag when we discovered Superintendent Mike Miles’ own certification had expired. We were told that we were making a mountain out of a molehill.

Well, the climb seems pretty steep this week.

Lowering the bar to fill vacancies in the classroom is never the answer, in any situation. But lowering the bar to fill vacancies in a district the state took over on the pretense it was not giving students an adequate learning experience? That’s truly astonishing.

Though, it’s no more astonishing than turning libraries into detention centers in a district where the alleged goal is to improve reading comprehension.

If this is a state-approved solution — as it must be, with the request coming from the state-installed superintendent — then we should all fear for the future of every public school in Texas.

Every public school employee and every public school family needs to watch carefully and act accordingly.”

In this week’s Hotline: 

  • Bookstores take on legislative book-banning
  • The ongoing implosion of Texas A&M
  • AFT’s latest report on social media and students’ well-being
  • A timeline for STAAR scores
  • + half a dozen ways for you to have a voice in your profession

— Book Bans

Local Businesses Sue Texas over “Book Ban Bill”

Image reads: Come and take it.

Last week, a coalition of Texas-based book sellers and several bookstore associations filed a lawsuit against Texas over HB 900, the book ban bill passed during the legislative session.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which include two Texas bookstores, Austin’s BookPeople and West Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop, and four other associations (the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund) allege that HB 900 violates their First and 14th Amendment rights.

According to the plaintiffs, HB 900 regulates speech with “vague and overbroad” terms, compels their speech by forcing them to assign ratings to books they might not agree with, and prohibits their speech by limiting what books they can sell.

— Legislature

Image reads: Unpacking the 88th Legislature.

Unpacking the Legislature: How Did They Vote?

How did your state representative vote on important issues in K-12 and higher education this session? Texas AFT has the receipts. Join us Tuesday, Aug. 8, on Zoom to learn more — and help us make sure educators in key House districts know how their rep voted too. 

This event is the latest in our series of Unpacking the Legislature debriefs. Each time, we break down need-to-know information about the state of public education and take action together, whether that’s submitting public comments on bills or texting fellow educators. 

Sign up for this Tuesday’s session and any of the upcoming sessions online.

Image reads: State of Texas Education. Your thoughts on the 88th legislature.

Texas AFT wants to know how public school employees across the state feel about this legislative session — and the potential special session to come. We ask all K-12 and higher education employees to take this 5-minute survey. Out of respect for your time, all participants will be entered into a raffle for a $250 Visa gift card. To be entered to win, you must complete the survey by noon CT, Saturday, Aug. 9.

— Higher Education

Academic Freedom Under Fire At Texas A&M

The Texas A&M University System has been accused of making politically motivated attacks on the employment of two highly respected university professors. 

These two separate cases of apparent political interference in the administration of one of Texas’ top public university systems comes in the wake of broad attacks against academic freedom in the state legislature this past session, specifically stemming from the passage of Senate bills 17 and 18. These cases highlight the importance of robust employment protections for education employees in today’s political environment.

Though SB 17 and SB 18 have not even gone into effect yet, forces opposing academic freedom are already limiting the allowed discourse on college campuses. Once these laws are implemented, the situation will undoubtedly get worse.

— National

AFT Releases New Report Connecting Social Media to Mental Health Crisis

A-F-T logo.

Last month, the American Federation of Teachers, along with the American Psychological Association, Fairplay, ParentsTogether and Design It For Us, released a new, groundbreaking report pointing to social media companies as a “root cause” of the nationwide mental health crisis. 

The report, entitled “Likes vs. Learning: The Real Cost of Social Media for Schools,” outlines how social media have put a significant burden on educators and parents trying to navigate the prevalent and sometimes predatory influence of social media. The report also includes recommendations and reforms that tech companies could and should to protect children and preserve safe learning environments. 

The five basic recommendations are as follows: 

  1. Prioritize safety for children. 
  2. Protect students from overuse and addictive-like behavior. 
  3. Protect students’ privacy. 
  4. Protect students from risky algorithms. 
  5. Directly engage and work with schools and families.

— Standardized Testing

STAAR Scores to be Released in September

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has announced a timeline for release of the 2022-2023 state accountability ratings. 

For some school districts, the new A-F ratings, which will be released to the public on September 28, 2023, will show that they are doing a worse job compared to last school year despite the fact that their students achieved better STAAR assessment results this school year. 

Public education advocates have been sounding the alarm since the 88th Legislature began, calling on TEA Commissioner Mike Morath and the agency to delay making changes to the A-F accountability system.

— Texas Education Agency

Aug. 25 Deadline: Apply to a TEA Advisory Committee

Just because the Legislature is not in session (for now), that doesn’t mean the policy work stops. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is always in the process of revising its rules and regulations for our Texas classrooms. Frequently, TEA seeks educator involvement. It’s critical that our members participate in these ongoing conversations so that our districts, teachers, and students can strive to thrive — not just survive.

Currently, TEA is taking applications for Teacher Pedagogy, ELAR Content, and Math Content Educator Standards Advisory Committees. These committees will work to draft educator standards that are responsive to recent legislation, including HB 159 (related to instructing students with disabilities) and SB 226 (related to virtual instruction), from the 2021 legislative session, and HB 1605 (instructional materials), from the 2023  legislative session. 

TEA is currently seeking committee member applications from the State Board for Educator Certification, professional organizations, educator preparation programs, teacher organizations and unions, and other key stakeholders to ensure each standards advisory committee represents a group of highly qualified educators. The application submission period is open now and ends Aug. 25, 2023.

— Texas AFL-CIO

AFT Represents At Texas AFL-CIO Convention

Texas A-F-T leaders stand together at the Texas A-F-L C-I-O convention.

More than a dozen Texas AFT members and leaders attended the 2023 Texas AFL-CIO convention in support of a ‘Bigger, Broader, Bolder Labor Movement’. Educators are central to the labor movement in Texas and understand, as Texas AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Leonard Aguilar said, “Workers get that bettering our livelihoods requires new approaches.” 

Delegates voted in favor of a resolution that will form a new Organizing Committee that proactively researches organizing opportunities and works more closely with unions on organizing drives. Delegates also approved a resolution creating the Texas Immigrant Workers Project, a major expansion of a Texas AFL-CIO program that has helped hundreds of eligible immigrants navigate the complicated application process for naturalization. We’re proud of the AFT affiliates that have contributed to that work including Northside AFT.

Long-time corporate supporter Horace Mann is giving away 50 prize packages! Enter for your chance to win up to a $250 gift card from Teachers Pay Teachers, Target, or Amazon, as well as a classroom supplies pack! 

10 winners will be announced daily from Aug. 14-18.

Recommended Reading

Texas education news from around the state that’s worth your time

📖 Stop using ‘school choice’ to describe vouchers. The point of this piece is not to discuss the lackluster success of voucher programs but rather urge those in the public square to stop using the phrase “school choice” in the education debate. This is simply wordplay by school voucher program advocates who want parents to feel powerless in the public education system. (Dallas Morning News, July 31) 


📖 Can school choice support district-led efforts to foster diverse schools?

While the implications of school choice for educational quality and equity are hotly contested, scholars generally agree that in most circumstances choice contributes to racial and socioeconomic school segregation. In most places, charter schools worsen levels of racial school segregation. (The Brookings Institution, July 27)


📖 Texas school districts forgo new buses, pursue layoffs to fund teacher raises after state inaction. With a funding boost stalled in the Legislature, public school districts in Texas are forgoing new buses and band instruments, tapping federal emergency dollars and laying off administrators to fund raises for teachers amid a workforce shortage. (San Antonio Express-News, July 31)  

📖 The State Wants to Give More Schools F Ratings – To What End? As strange as it might sound, parents and school officials are questioning whether the Texas Education Agency – an agency created to support public education – is working with Gov. Greg Abbott to undermine public schools. They suspect TEA is manufacturing evidence to help Abbott claim that Texas’ public schools are failing, so he can push vouchers in an upcoming legislative session. (Austin Chronicle, Aug. 4)