Senate Education committee hears assessment of Texas schools; And are changes coming for a controversial accountability law?

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath addresses the Senate Education Committee

 

The Senate Education Committee met today for the first time this session and got a primer on the state of public education from the Texas Education Agency and Commissioner Mike Morath.

Morath went over some of the statistics on Texas students. The good news is that most achievement benchmarks are “at or near all time highs,” including a 90 percent graduation rate, which he said is ranked fifth in the nation. Also on the rise is college readiness, although Morath noted that the fastest increases have been for middle-income kids, with low-income students growing in college readiness at a much lower rate.

The commissioner said he would be concentrating on four “levers” of TEA’s strategic plan:

  1. Recruit, support and retain teachers.
  2. Focusing more on early childhood education to make sure Kindergartners have a strong foundation to achieve.
  3. Support curriculum that is relevant and rigorous at the high school level to promote more college ready students.
  4. “Wrap our arms around our most struggling campuses” to make sure that students there have the opportunity to succeed.

Today we also want to note that discussions among lawmakers continue over whether changes need to be made to a law that provides harsh sanctions for campuses failing to meet state accountability standards. HB 1842, passed in 2015, requires the state to either close a campus or appoint a board of managers for the entire district if a single campus receives an Improvement Required (IR) rating for five years. Thus, even if every other campus in a large district was rated acceptably, one five-year IR rating for one school could result in the entire democratically-elected school board being replaced (Under the new A-F system set to grade campuses this year, an F is considered an IR rating.)

On Tuesday, Morath presented to the House Public Education Committee possibilities for options other than closure or state takeover of an entire district. Unfortunately, neither of the Commissioner’s ideas are good for Texas.

Morath noted one option could be an Achievement School District, an idea floated since 2013 to allow the state to take over low-performing schools. Morath’s other ideas would mandate a special election when a campus reaches three years of IR ratings to give communities an option of putting all seats on a school board up for a vote, regardless of whether the terms for each seat were set to expire or not. His logic is that it would give communities the power to decide if new leadership is needed.

Texas AFT opposes accelerating state takeovers of democratically elected school boards or the campuses they are overseeing, particularly based on a flawed accountability system. Rest assured, we are fighting against even more punitive sanctions and instead promoting positive and proven “turnaround models” like the community schools model.

Morath, however, seems to be sticking to his avid support of standardized testing as a driving force for better “student outcomes.” As he told the Senate Education Committee today, “We do not have an accountability system in Texas because we want to be punitive to staff or students….We do this because it’s good for students.” Parents, students and teachers who have witnessed the more destructive impacts of the misuse and overemphasis on testing obviously disagree.

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