State Board of Education: Simmering Issues

The fractious State Board of Education generally kept its controversies below the boiling point this week, but there were signs of simmering discontent with key aspects of state education policy. A prime example:  Board members debated and then reaffirmed their stance that implementation of new state curriculum standards should be held up until necessary instructional materials are funded and provided.

When SBOE member David Bradley of Beaumont objected to “bullying” the legislature in this fashion, fellow Republican SBOE member George Clayton of Dallas, a Dallas ISD teacher, had a ready answer. Said Clayton:  “If we want to talk about bullying and intimidation of a group of people in this state, we need to reference the teachers, not members of the legislature–they are bullies, they are not being bullied. It is difficult enough, given the education climate of this state, for teachers to implement TEKS [the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills] when they do have materials, so you can imagine the difficulty for them to do their jobs when they don’t have materials. They end up teaching the old TEKS from old materials, and who suffers? The students. And the state of Texas rates the performance of students in our districts, so it is entirely unfair for the student and the teacher not to have materials in a timely fashion.”

Eventually the Board settled on language stating that new curriculum standards will not be implemented until the legislature funds textbooks in a way “deemed sufficient by the commissioner” of education.

On another contentious note:  SBOE member Pat Hardy, Republican of Fort Worth, questioned the wisdom of the generalist certificate for teachers in grades 4-8, suggesting that more specialized subject-matter preparation is needed for higher-level subjects taught in seventh and eighth grades. Republican SBOE member Charlie Garza of Fort Worth took umbrage, contending that Hardy was unfairly questioning the competency of the teachers holding that certification. Not so, said Hardy, her point was simply that we keep increasing standards for students, but not the professional standards for the educators who teach them.

A related disagreement concerned the qualifications of those appointed as “expert” reviewers of proposed curriculum standards by individual Board members. Twice defeated, by seven-to-seven tie votes, were bipartisan attempts by Democrat Mavis Knight of Dallas and Republican George Clayton to require Board-appointed “experts” to have strong academic credentials in the subject of their supposed expertise.

A final note from the State Board:  One consequential decision was adopted regarding school funding.  The Board voted to draw 3.3 percent per year from the $25 billion in the Permanent School Fund to help pay (a small fraction of) current operating costs of the public schools in the coming biennium. That translates into $1.66 billion over two years.  In addition, the School Land Board has voted to transfer $280 million directly into the Available School Fund for the same two-year budget period. The combined effect is the equivalent of drawing 3.5 percent from the PSF over that span.

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