May 15, 2020: TEA gives school calendar options, offers optional testing; Lt. Gov. focuses on virtual expansion for reopening

You can find all news, updates and resources addressing COVID-19 here on our website.


TEA stresses for districts to look at calendar options to address possible disruption from pandemic next school year

A TEA slide outlines some benefits of an intersessional calendar.

The Texas Education Agency recently offered some updates to school districts on options for changing their school calendars. The goal was to let districts examine these options with the idea that the Coronavirus pandemic might further disrupt school schedules and on-site instruction. However, the TEA presentation caused uproar in some online discussions among teachers who feared that options for extending the school year would mean more work for the same pay.

Nothing currently has been proposed that would force teachers to work more days than the standard 187-day contract without more pay.

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TEA is offering optional testing for districts and parents to administer to their kids

TEA Happy TestingThis will be a hit with kids at the dinner table. Apparently the loss of STAAR this year has some folks missing the prep for and administration of standardized tests. So The Texas Education Agency is offering End-of-the-Year (EOY) assessments for districts, and even parents, to administer to our students. The idea is to gauge where kids are at in achieving the required standards for curriculum after so much disruption from the pandemic. While the TEA stresses that the results wouldn’t be published or used for accountability purposes, nevertheless it used STAAR questions to build a test for our kids.

News coverage of the EOY availability has been widespread and stresses how it’s free and intended to measure possible loss of learning required material. Act now to get your free EOY for COVID slide!

On a more serious note, TEA said data could be used to “research the statewide educational impact of the current crisis to better prepare for the next school year.” And assessments—when not overdone or overemphasized—are a useful tool for identifying student needs. However, the daunting logistics of trying this remotely, along with the timetable left for the school year, make this a dubious proposition for success at being useful.

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Dan Patrick’s plan to reopen schools focuses on virtual school network linked to vouchers in the past

Last week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his “Texans Back to Work Taskforce” announced their plans Reopen Report Coverto reopen the state of Texas’ economy, despite the existing risk that the Coronavirus pandemic still poses to Texans. In his plan, Patrick states that he wants schools to open even before their scheduled start dates to assess the new learning situation, “if practical and possible.” The Lt. Gov. also recommends increasing the number of teacher scholarships.

Almost the entire education section of the report centers around Patrick’s plan for expanding digital learning—chiefly expanding the existing Texas Virtual School Network (TxVSN). This would entail lifting the current moratorium on funding for new full-time online ISD schools within the TxVSN, directing a portion of available federal emergency education grant funds to modernize the TxVSN online systems, and opening virtual schooling to all grade levels, as only high school students currently have access to the course catalog.

Online high school instruction has a place when other options for retaining at-risk students are unavailable, for instance. But studies have shown that online learning is an ineffective method of instruction. Students who are already struggling with in-person learning will likely struggle even more with classes online. Furthermore online education would likely worsen existing educational inequalities for low income families, both due to a lack of internet access as well as a lack of a suitable place for students to study at home. Also of concern is that proponents of private-school vouchers, like Patrick, have used virtual schooling as a back door to try and implement voucher programs in Texas.

Our educators have been working tirelessly to continue to teach online even in the current extreme conditions, but nothing can match the effectiveness of teaching in a traditional, face-to-face environment. While the safety of our state’s teachers and students is always our number one priority at Texas AFT, we cannot allow Patrick to leverage our current situation in order to move away from the traditional classroom setting and toward a less effective and less equitable online learning system.

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AFT to hold virtual national convention, July 28-30

 

AFT Convention
Every two years our national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, holds a convention for regular business, consideration of resolutions and election of officers. We were set to be the host state for the convention this year, but due to the pandemic AFT will hold a virtual convention July 28-30 (although election balloting by delegates will be done by mail).

Please contact your local union first if you are interested in serving as a delegate, and we will share more details as planning progresses. Read more…

 


Briefs

Governor sets early voting dates for July special election
Gov. Greg Abbott this week expanded the number of early voting days for the July 14 special election. Early voting will now run from June 29 to July 10.

Key races on the ballot include runoffs in the Democratic Primary for both the U.S. Senate and a State Senate seat in the Rio Grande Valley. Texas AFT has endorsed Royce West for U.S. Senate and Sara Stapleton Barrera for the Texas Senate District 27. Also on the ballot for Austin-area voters will be an election to replace Kirk Watson in Senate District 14.

Check out our free Wellness Wednesday sessions

Wellness Wednesdays

Texas AFT’s Bridges Institute for Professional Development invites you to attend our free six-part series on meditation and mindfulness. Wednesday sessions will be broadcast from 6-7 p.m. via Zoom and live on Facebook.com/TexasAFT.  You can watch previous recordings here. Coming next week on May 20 is “Emotions: Exploring Emotions and Mindfulness of Self-Regulation.” Find more info and register here.


 
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Texas American Federation of Teachers represents more than 65,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.6-million-member American Federation of Teachers.

 


 

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