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EduLege Tracker 4-26-18

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EduLege Update Volume VI, Number 26
April 26, 2018
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

Bottom feeders…

Texas remains in the bottom one-third of states when it comes to per-student funding of public education. And when it comes to teacher pay, Texas’ latest ranking among the 50 states and the District of Columbia has slipped by three positions.

This school year, average teacher pay in Texas is $53,167, compared with a national average of $60,483, according to the National Education Association.

The group stressed that Texas property taxpayers are paying a greater share of schools’ operating expenses than in most other states. The state’s share of public school funding in Texas is estimated this year at less than 38 percent of the total cost.

“These updated figures are shameful,” said Noel Candelaria, President of the NEA’s state affiliate, the Texas State Teachers Association.

“They illustrate again the deep hole that our state leaders, most notably Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, continue to dig for our public schools, students and property taxpayers," Mr. Candelaria said.

In last year's legislative session, Republican allies of Governor Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Patrick killed a House-led effort to increase state funding of public education by $1.8 billion.

Mr. Candelaria says schools and local taxpayers “won't get real relief until voters start electing state leaders who truly value public education.”

When it comes to per-pupil funding, NEA determined in its annual survey that Texas remains ranked at 36th—the same as it did in the 2016-2017 school year.

Texas is currently spending an average of $10,456 per student, compared with a national average of $12,756.

In average teacher pay, the NEA survey showed Texas declining among the other states.

This year, Texas fell to 29th in average teacher pay, from 26th the previous year, according to the NEA data.

The National Education Association’s annual Rankings and Estimates for 2018 is available here: http://www.nea.org/home/73269.htm

A glimmer…

While Texas continues to lag in the quality of the education that it offers to its youngest learners, the Lone Star State does rank among the best in the nation when it comes to preparing pre-kindergarten students who speak little-to-no English for elementary school.

A new national study shows that Texas is among the best in the country for educating English Language Learners in their early years.

Texas is one of three states that require Pre-K teachers who educate ELL students to have specific training and qualifications, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. Like California and Illinois, Texas requires those Pre-K teachers to be certified bilingual instructors.

Texas serves more than 88,500 English-learning Pre-K students.

“Texas is setting the bar for supporting young English language learners but needs to increase investment in high quality to enhance outcomes for all children,” said Steve Barnett, the institute’s senior co-director.

More than 224,000 children are now served in the state’s already-limited Pre-K program, but Texas’ funding has been shrinking.

The state’s per-capita funding for Pre-K in 2017 slipped by $265, to $3,846, from the previous year. The 2017 Texas Legislature eliminated funding for Governor Abbott’s high-quality Pre-K grant program, which offered incentives for school districts that committed to improve training for teachers and closely track and report student achievement.

Meeting just four of 10 quality standard benchmarks outlined by the Early Education Institute, Texas ranked No. 10 in pre-kindergarten access for four-year-old students; No. 13 in Pre-K access for three-year-olds and No. 28 in average state spending per child.

Read more here.

Waning…

Only about 35,000 Texas students were counted as "Not Tested" in the state's accountability ratings in 2017, and since 2012, only about one percent of all eligible students have not taken the required battery of tests each year.

The state does not disaggregate its data to show which students skipped the tests intentionally, and how many students missed them due to medical issues or emergencies.  

Scott Placek, an Austin attorney who represents families who opt their students out of the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness tests, acknowledges that there has not been as much interest in refusing to take the test this year as he has seen in previous years.

“I wouldn't say it's waned, but I don't think increased in this year way it has in previous years,” Mr. Placek admitted. “I don't think it's as hot an issue as it has been. I don't know if it's because of assessment fatigue, parents saying 'STAAR's here, might as well get used to it.' Or is it the case they don't believe opt out is an effective way to protest? I don't know.”

The total number of students across the state who do not take the STAAR tests in 2018 likely will not be available until the Texas Education Agency releases its accountability ratings later this year.

Opting out of state-mandated standardized tests became a national phenomenon about five years ago, when parents in Long Island and other large cities in New York began refusing to let their children participate in testing. Parents pointed to the increased amount of classroom time that was being spent on mandatory test-taking.

The opt-out movement reached a fever pitch in 2015 and 2016, where some states saw as many as 10 to 20 percent of their students refuse to take the tests.

Since then, some states, including Idaho and Rhode Island, have dropped requirements for high school exit exams. Maryland has placed a cap on the amount of time districts can spend testing their students.

Instead of rolling back testing requirements, however, states like Texas have increased the consequences and accountability measures tied to standardized testing in recent years.

In 2015, for example, the Texas Legislature passed a controversial law which requires that public schools be closed if they fail to meet the state's academic standard on the STAAR test for five consecutive years.

Texas legislators also passed a law that will rate schools and districts on an A-F letter grade system. Districts will be rated on that new system this fall, and individual schools will be subject to the grading system in fall of 2019.

Uprising…

The Houston school district now says that it will not turn over control of its 10 longest-struggling schools to any outside organizations—and that’s a decision that places the state’s largest school system at risk of forced campus closures or a state takeover of its locally elected school board.

The decision followed a contentious meeting of the Houston school board, which resulted in the arrest of several individuals who opposed the district’s original proposal to turn operation of the struggling campuses over to a charter organization.

Many of the roughly 100 community members in attendance chanted "No more sellouts!" at Houston trustees, as officers began physically removing disruptive residents out of the room. Board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones declared a recess due to public outbursts.

Then, rather than voting whether to turn over control of the 10 faltering campuses to a private operator, Houston administers decided to stay the course. For now.

The uproar reflects two broad concerns among many Houston residents:

1) Their opposition to Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s threat to take control of the Houston School District, as the 2015 state law allows; and

2) Their opposition to Houston trustees’ attempt to stave-off Commissioner Morath’s state take-over by allowing Energized For STEM Academy Inc., which already runs four in-district charter schools, to operate the 10 low-performing campuses for five years.

All speakers at this week’s Houston school board meeting opposed the original district plan. Many advocated for suing the state over the 2015 law that imposed the take-over sanctions.

“We are asking you to do the right thing for this community,” speaker Jessica DeFeo said. “If you choose to sell us out now, this will be the absolute last board you sit on.”

District interim police chief Paul Cordova said one person was arrested at the meeting on a misdemeanor criminal trespass charge; one person was arrested on a charge of interfering with duties of a public servant and one person was detained but not arrested.  

Harris County district attorney Kim Ogg promptly dropped the charges the next morning.

A second chance for first offenders…

McAllen is the latest school district in the state to launch a First Offender program.

The program is run by the McAllen school district police department, and is available to students who have committed a Class A or B misdemeanor or a state jail felony on a district campus. Students must also have no prior arrests.

“If there’s a way to avoid putting someone in the judicial system, it’s a win-win for everyone—the students, the district and the families,” said McAllen school district police chief Cris Esquivel.

Joey Buitron, a police officer for McAllen schools who runs the First Offender program, said the most common offenses he sees on campus are marijuana possession, theft, graffiti and criminal mischief.

“We’ve run into a lot of cases where (students) are at the wrong place at the wrong time…and some of these kids deserve a second chance,” Officer Buitron said.

Once students complete the program’s six-week classroom component, they will be placed on a 90-day probationary period, during which they will meet regularly with Officer Buitron, who monitors their grades, attendance and any additional disciplinary action that may have been taken against them.

If they successfully complete both phases of the program, the student’s criminal record will be cleared as though the offense never occurred.

It’s not just the students who are required to participate, as their parents must also be present. Both student and parent attend the classroom component, which covers a range of topics including drug and alcohol resistance, anger management, good decision-making choices and violence prevention.

District Judge Renee Rodriguez-Betancourt, who presides over Hidalgo County’s juvenile court, is a strong proponent of the First Offender program.

“Sometimes these types of services, like a first offender program, are a way for a child to realize a mistake that they’ve made and be given another opportunity so they won’t continue committing these offenses…and appear in my court,” she said, adding that the program helps students “realize that they can stay out of trouble and meet the terms that the department sets out for them.”

An ugly tweet from a misleading Twitter handle…

A former member of the State Board of Education has apologized to a biracial high school senior from California who has been accepted to Harvard University, after first asking if the student was admitted to the Ivy League school based "on merit or quota."

Former State Board member George Clayton was replying to California teenager Drake Johnson's tweet, announcing that he will be attending Harvard by tweeting in response, “Congrats. Were you admitted on merit or quota?”

Mr. Johnson then responded by listing some of his academic accomplishments, including being valedictorian of his high school. Mr. Johnson says he wanted to "civilly defuse the situation," and clearly demonstrate that he was accepted to Harvard based upon his academic achievements.

However, the student’s mother, Jeanie Johnson, wasn’t so gracious, calling Mr. Clayton's tweet racist.

Mr. Clayton subsequently apologized for his comments, calling them “totally wrong and hugely insensitive.”

Mr. Clayton, a Republican, held the District 12 seat on the State Board, representing North Texas, for just two years—from 2010 to 2012. He still uses the Twitter handle @SBOEDist12, despite no longer being on the State Board.


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.