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EduLege Tracker 4-16-18

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EduLege Update Volume VI, Number 23
April 16, 2018
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

There may be hope…

Texas Education commissioner Mike Morath is hinting that Texas school districts that were pummeled by Hurricane Harvey last year may not have to worry about how well their students fare on this year's battery of standardized tests.

Commissioner Morath said at a meeting of the State Board of Education last week that he understands the lingering impact that the devastating storm has had on more than 100 districts and thousands of students, possibly signaling that he will not apply this year's scores on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness to the academic ratings of Harvey-affected schools.

Students across the state began taking STAAR exams last week.

Texas Education Agency spokesperson DeEtta Culbertson says officials will “look at the STAAR scores, and (Commissioner Morath) will make determinations on districts or campuses based on some kind of Harvey-related waiver.” Based on that determination, STAAR scores may not be included in Harvey-impacted schools' ratings, Ms. Culbertson said.

“I’m anticipating that a relatively large number of campuses, from Corpus to the Louisiana border, would be eligible for that,” Commissioner Morath said of a hurricane-related waiver for 2018. He cited the devastating destruction on school facilities, and of student and staff displacement, as the rationale for considering the waivers.

School administrators have for months been pleading with the commissioner to waive the school accountability ratings, which are largely based on how students perform on the STAAR tests, for Harvey-affected schools. With tens of thousands of students displaced by the storm, administrators argued the scores would be more representative of their students' continued trauma than of their academic abilities.

For everybody else…

TEA has released the framework for how it will use the 2018 STAAR scores, and other measures, to dole out accountability ratings to Texas school districts.

The state's accountability system will measure academic performance in three areas: student achievement, school progress and closing achievement gaps.

Measuring student achievement will be based solely on how well students scored on the STAAR test in elementary and middle school. At the high school level, STAAR scores will count for 40 percent of a school's accountability rating. Another 40 percent of high school accountability will be based on college- and career-readiness and 20 percent will be based on graduation or dropout rates.

School progress will be measured by how much students improved their STAAR scores from the previous year, or how well schools maintained passing scores. High school ratings also will take into account student progress in terms of college- and career-readiness.

The final measure will calculate how well historically disadvantaged groups, such as minority student groups, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students, perform on STAAR tests and college- and career-readiness measures.

The changes come after the Texas Legislature approved a new accountability rating system in the 2017 legislative session, which mandates that TEA assign A-through-F letter grades to all schools and districts. Districts will receive the letter grades in fall, while individual schools will be assigned the new ratings in fall of 2019.

Districts that earn an A, B, C, or D will have been deemed to have met the state's academic standards, while those earning the grade of F did not.

What’s next? A course on how Texas students should speak English American…

The State Board has given final approval for the creation of a new high school study into Mexican-American culture and history, but the vote wasn’t without fireworks, as the five Democrats on the 15-member panel attempted—but failed—to change the name of the course.

A controversial amendment by State Board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont, removed "Mexican-American" from the title, changing the official name of the course to “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent.”

"I don't subscribe to hyphenated Americanism," Mr. Bradley said, with other Republicans on the board agreeing with his rationale.

Board member Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville, tried to reverse Mr. Bradley's amendment and restore the course title “Mexican-American Studies.”

Mr. Cortez' effort failed on along party lines, with the board's five Democrats voting in favor of the change, and nine of 10 Republican members voting against it. Board Chair Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, abstained.

In an editorial, the McAllen Monitor promptly took the State Board to task for approving a foolish name change: “We all know what the curriculum is about. So why not call it Mexican-American studies?

“Why not make it absolutely clear to students who are Mexican-American that this course is about learning their history and their ancestry and ways that they can be proud of who they are?”

For more than four years, the State Board has been debating whether to offer teachers materials and guidance to teach a high school course in Mexican-American studies.

Texas schools can now offer Mexican-American studies as a social studies elective, but they must develop course curriculum and select appropriate textbook and reference materials. That challenge presents smaller districts—with fewer curriculum-development resources—with an uphill challenge to provide a class on Mexican-American studies.

Texas has too few superintendents who are Americans of Hispanic descent…

Hispanic superintendents are underrepresented in Texas public schools, even though Hispanic students now represent the majority of the students enrolled in the state.

More than 52 percent of Texas students are Hispanic, compared with about 25 percent nationally.

Still, Texas has higher rates of Hispanic school leadership compared to the rest of the United States. About eight percent of the superintendents in Texas are Hispanic, compared to only about three percent nationwide.

Hispanic student numbers have continued to climb in the state, with enrollment increasing by almost 40 percent from 2006 to 2016, according to TEA.

Hispanic superintendents now lead five districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex; five in the Greater Austin region; 12 in the San Antonio area and six around El Paso.

But Martha Salazar-Zamora of Tomball ISD is the sole Hispanic superintendent among 55 school districts in the Greater Houston area, where 51 percent of students are Hispanic. The region lags far behind other Texas metropolitan areas when it comes to hiring Latino school leaders.

“I wish I was not the only representative” in Greater Houston, Superintendent Salazar-Zamora said. “But that's how it starts, one at a time.  I know I have qualified colleagues who can do the job, but they have to be given the opportunity to interview, and they have to be the best fit for the job.”

Stan Paz, Executive Director of the Texas Association of Latino Administrators, says that local school boards, which are responsible for hiring superintendents, often don’t reflect the ethnic make-up of the communities that they serve. For example, about 80 percent of students in the Pasadena school district are Hispanic, and nearly 37 percent are English language learners, but only two of nine trustees are Hispanic.

"Unless you have a board with Latino board members, it's less likely they will be interested in hiring a Latino superintendent," Mr. Paz said.

Maybe they’ll add classes in archeology too…

The Fort Bend school district has halted construction on a new facility after excavation work at the site revealed an unmarked cemetery that may hold the remains of former slaves and prisoners.

The land was previously home to a state prison and an agricultural plantation.

Construction crews uncovered human remains while working in a trench at the future location of a Career & Technical Center in Sugar Land. Nearly 30 graves were unearthed.

Superintendent Charles Dupree says the school district is now working with the Texas Historical Commission to ensure that it's following the preservation procedures that are required by the State Antiquities Code.

"We are proceeding under the guidance and expertise of the Texas Historical Commission to ensure we are respecting the history and lives of the people buried on this site," Superintendent Dupree said.

The school district purchased the land to build the new CATE center, which will eventually offer junior and senior level courses in architecture, culinary arts, cosmetology and other subjects.

The big yellow food truck is coming…

The Oklahoma City school district has been using its school buses as mobile cafeterias to feed students during the statewide teachers strike.

Food services workers have been packing ice chests with sandwiches, fruit, milk and water. School bus drivers then drive the meals to places were students have gathered while school isn't in session.

The district reports that it served 17,000 sack lunches last week at about 30 sites, including Oklahoma City community centers, parks and churches.

Otis Moses, a supervisor for the school district's Meal Services Division, says his staff joined forces to support teachers and students during the walkout.

“Yes, we're ready to get our students back in school and back in the buildings,” Mr. Moses said. “But, at the same point in time, we're going to do what we can do from a nutrition standpoint to help our children out every day.”

The massive Oklahoma teacher protest has forced many of the state’s schools to close since April 2.

Teachers and support staff have walked out in demand of higher wages and for more funding for school facilities and classroom resources.

I’d still rather throw a can of creamed spinach…

A Pennsylvania school district has spent $1,800 on tiny wooden bats—the kind that are often given away as promotional swag at baseball games—for classroom teachers to use in the event of an active shooter situation on campus.

The Millcreek Township school district provided the 16-inch bats to about 500 teachers as part of a training that included how to react and respond during a school shooting.

Superintendent William Hall acknowledges that the bats are largely symbolic—a “last resort” for teachers who want to fight back, not just hide and wait.

“We wanted every room to have one of these,” Superintendent Hall said of his district of more than 7,000 students. “Unfortunately, we're in a day and age where one might need to use them to protect ourselves and our kids.”

Another Pennsylvania school district also announced recently that it was providing each classroom with buckets of river rocks for teachers and students to throw at any potential attacker.


EduLege is provided by the Texas School Public Relations Association as a service to its members.

Long-time TSPRA member Andy Welch, the retired Communication Director for the Austin School District, compiles and writes EduLege.  Questions or comments may be directed to him at andywelch1@gmail.com.

For more updates on education news from throughout the state, visit the TSPRA website.