Monday, December 6, 2010

"Make Education a Priority"

As of Friday, 253 public school districts have adopted the “Make Education a Priority” resolution.  That’s a great start. But, we would encourage every school board across Texas to pass the resolution by their January board meeting and send it to your legislators.

Some people have asked what it means to make education a priority?  The answer is as simple as the statement: during the campaign season, candidates emphatically stated “education is a priority.” Now that campaign season is over, it’s time for our legislators to “Make Education a Priority” as they draft the state’s budget for the next two years.

The Texas Constitution requires the legislature to fund a system of public education. And, the legislature has designed the system of education we have today. With “Make Education a Priority,” we’re merely asking the legislature to fund the system of public education they created and are expecting us to implement.

If your district hasn’t done so already, pass the “Make Education a Priority” resolution at the December or January Board meeting so that when the legislative session begins in mid-January, no legislator can escape our consistent message:  “Make Education a Priority” as you debate and develop the state’s budget for the 2012-13 biennium.

Texas school districts that have adopted the resolution as of Dec. 3, 2010:

Abbott ISD  -  Academy ISD  -  Aledo ISD  -  Apple Springs ISD  -  Aransas County ISD  -  Argyle ISD  -  Avalon ISD  -  Azle ISD  -  Banquete ISD  -  Beeville ISD  -  Bellevue ISD  -  Bells ISD  -  Big Sandy ISD  -  Birdville ISD   -  Blanket ISD  -   Boerne ISD  -  Boling ISD  -  Bonham ISD  -  Brady ISD  -  Bridge City ISD  -  Bridgeport ISD  -  Brock ISD  -  Brookeland ISD  -  Brownsboro ISD  -  Brownwood ISD  -  Bryan ISD  -  Buena Vista ISD  -  Bullard ISD  -  Burkburnett ISD  -  Burkeville ISD  -  Burleson ISD  -  Burnet Consolidated ISD  -  Caddo Mills ISD  -  Calallen ISD  -  Callisburg ISD  -  Carlisle ISD  -  Carrizo Springs CISD  -  Carroll ISD  -  Carthage ISD  -  Celeste ISD  -  Center ISD  -  Center Point ISD  -  Channelview ISD  -  Charlotte ISD  -  Cherokee ISD  -  Chico ISD  -  Chireno ISD  -  Chisum ISD  -  Claude ISD  -  Clear Creek ISD  -  Clyde CISD  -  Coleman ISD  -  College Station ISD  -  Colmesneil ISD  -  Columbia-Brazoria ISD  -  Commerce ISD  -  Comstock ISD  -  Coolidge ISD  -  Cooper ISD  -  Crandall ISD  -  Crane ISD  -  Cranfills Gap ISD  -  Crockett County CCSD  -  Crosbyton CISD  -  Crowley ISD  -  Cuero ISD  -  Cumby ISD  -  Danbury ISD  -  Decatur ISD  -  Denison ISD  -  Denton ISD  -  Diboll ISD  -  Dripping Springs ISD  -  Dublin ISD  -  Duncanville ISD  -  Ector County ISD  -  Eden Consolidated ISD  -  Edgewood ISD  -  Ennis ISD  -  Eula ISD  -  Everman ISD  -  Fannindel ISD  -  Farmersville ISD  -  Farwell ISD  -  Ferris ISD  -  Fort Bend ISD  -  Frisco ISD  -  Fruitvale ISD  -  Ganado ISD  -  Garner ISD  -  Gatesville ISD  -  Gonzales ISD  -  Goose Creek CISD  -  Graford ISD  -  Graham ISD  -  Granbury ISD  -  Grand Saline ISD  -  Grape Creek ISD  -  Grapevine-Colleyville ISD  -  Greenville ISD  -  Gregory-Portland ISD  -  Gunter ISD  -  Hamlin ISD  -  Hamshire-Fannett ISD  -  Hardin ISD  -  Hardin-Jefferson ISD  -  Harleton ISD  -  Hawley ISD  -  Hemphill ISD  -  Highland Park ISD (Amarillo TX)  -  Hillsboro ISD  -  Holliday ISD  -  Hudson ISD  -  Humble ISD  -  Hutto ISD  -  Iraan-Sheffield ISD  -  Jacksonville ISD  -  Jasper ISD  -  Johnson City ISD  -  Jonesboro ISD  -  Katy ISD  -  Keller ISD  -  Kemp ISD  -  Kilgore ISD  -  Kingsville ISD  -  Kountze ISD  -  La Marque ISD  -  La Porte ISD  -  Lake Dallas ISD  -  Lamar Consolidated ISD  -  Latexo ISD  -  Lewisville ISD  -  Lingleville ISD  -  Lipan ISD  -  Little Cypress-Mauriceville CISD  -  Lone Oak ISD  -  Louise ISD  -  Lovelady ISD  -  Lyford Consolidated ISD  -  Lytle ISD  -  Mabank ISD  -  Malakoff ISD  -  Marion ISD  -  Martin's Mill ISD  -  Mason ISD  -  Mathis ISD  -  Milano ISD  -  Milford ISD  -  Miller Grove ISD  -  Millsap ISD  -  Mission Consolidated ISD  -  Morton ISD  -  Moulton ISD  -  Navasota ISD  -  Nazareth ISD  -  Nederland ISD  -  Needville ISD  -  New Caney ISD  -  Newton ISD  -  Nordheim ISD  -  Northside ISD  -  Northwest ISD  -  Novice ISD  -  O'Donnell ISD  -  Olton ISD  -  Orangefield ISD  -  Overton ISD  -  Paducah ISD  -  Paint Rock ISD  -  Palmer ISD  -  Pampa ISD  -  Panhandle ISD  -  Panther Creek Consolidated ISD  -  Paradise ISD  -  Peaster ISD  -  Perrin-Whitt Consolidated ISD  -  Pflugerville ISD  -  Petersburg ISD  -  Pine Tree ISD  -  Pleasant Grove ISD  -  Port Aransas ISD  -  Port Neches-Grove ISD  -  Pottsboro ISD  -  Rains ISD  -  Ralls ISD  -  Reagan County ISD  -  Red Lick ISD  -  Red Oak ISD  -  Redwater ISD  -  Rice Consolidated ISD  -  River Road ISD  -  Robinson ISD  -  Rochelle ISD  -  Rockdale ISD  -  Round Rock ISD  -  Royse City ISD  -  Rusk ISD  -  Sabine Pass ISD  -  Sam Rayburn ISD  -  San Augustine ISD  -  San Felipe-Del CISD  -  San Saba ISD  -  Sanford-Fritch ISD  -  Santo ISD  -  Savoy ISD  -  Schulenburg ISD  -  Seymour ISD  -  Sharyland ISD  -  Shelbyville ISD  -  Sheldon ISD  -  Silsbee ISD  -  Skidmore-Tynan ISD  -  Smithville ISD  -  South Texas ISD  -  Southland ISD  -  Southside ISD  -  Springtown ISD  -  Spur ISD  -  Spurger ISD  -  Stamford ISD  -  Stephenville ISD  -  Sterling City ISD  -  Sunnyvale ISD  -  Sweetwater ISD  -  Tahoka ISD  -  Thorndale ISD  -  Throckmoton ISD  -  Tolar ISD  -  Trenton ISD  -  Trinity ISD  -  Tulia ISD  -  Valley View ISD  -  Van Alstyne ISD  -  Van ISD  -  Vernon ISD  -  Vidor ISD  -  Warren ISD  -  Waskom ISD  -  Weatherford ISD  -  West Orange-Cove CISD  -  West Oso ISD  -  West Sabine ISD  -  Westwood ISD  -  White Settlement ISD  -  Whitesboro ISD  -  Whitewright ISD  -  Wichita Falls ISD  -  Wills Point  ISD  -  Windthorst ISD  -  Woden ISD  -  Wylie ISD  -  Ysleta ISD  -  Zavalla ISD

Monday, November 22, 2010

Teacher groups concerned over changes in Educator’s Code of Ethics

The Texas State Board of Education endorsed an updated Educators’ Code of Ethics last week that raised so much concern among teachers that every major teacher organization was opposed to the revision.

Here’s testimony provided to the SBOE from Texas AFT’s legislative counsel Patty Quinzi:

“Texas AFT  is opposed to these proposed rules because the changes would serve to expand the prosecutorial authority and discretion of (the State Board for Educator Certification) staff while providing professional educators with inadequate guidance regarding what is expected of them in their professional role.”

Quinzi gave three specific examples:

“Section 247.1(b) uses broad language requiring educators to ‘exemplify…good moral character’ without providing guidance as to SBEC’s definition of these terms. Increasing the Code’s use of such language targeting ill-defined ‘immorality’ represents a step backward in the quality of our state’s rules and standards for the education profession. When the Education Code was rewritten in 1995, then-Sen. Bill Ratliff, lead author of the rewrite, cited such vague language as an embarrassment to the state and struck it from the law on continuing contracts. Now with this proposal we see the proliferation once again of the same type of problematic language that never served to communicate to teachers what is expected of them.  Instead of improving on the current rules, these proposed rules take the state and the profession backward 15 years. The focus of the disciplinary rules needs to be on job-related conduct, not on someone’s vague notions of  ‘character.’

"Section 247.2(1)(A) adds the term ‘intentionally’ or ‘recklessly’ to the existing term ‘knowingly,’ a change that expands prosecutorial authority but gives educators no guidance regarding the appropriate boundary between acceptable and unacceptable conduct.

"Section 247.2(1)(L) would create Standard 1.12, adding ‘abuse of prescription drugs’ to the litany of sanctionable offenses. This rule might make sense if it were linked to an event in which a person is arrested and charged with a crime.  However, as written it seeks to police an inappropriately broad spectrum of off-duty behavior. For instance, it would be inappropriate to hold educators to a standard triggering potential sanctions for what could be the result of simple human error, such as taking too many Ambien before going to bed.”

The revisions were proposed by SBEC. SBOE members have the power by a two-thirds vote to reject but not amend proposed rules. They took no action on Friday, which means the revisions are in effect.

Another revision to note updated the ethics code to address social media. The new Standard 3.9 reads:

The educator shall refrain from inappropriate communication with a student or minor, including but not limited to, electronic communication such as cell phone, text messaging, email, instant messaging, blogging, or other social network communications. Factors that may be considered in assessing whether the communication is inappropriate include, but are not limited to:

(i)            the nature, purpose, timing, and amount of communication;
(ii)          the subject matter of the communication;
(iii)         whether the communication was made openly or the educator attempted to conceal the communication;
(iv)         whether the communications could be reasonably interpreted as soliciting sexual contact or a romantic relationship;
(v)          whether the communication was sexually explicit; and
(vi)         whether the communication involved discussion(s) of the physical or sexual attractiveness or the sexual history, activities, preferenes, or fantasies of either the educator or the students.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Austin insiders discuss implications of Republican "tsunami"

The Texas Tribune hosted a panel Thursday with a focus on this week’s election results and its implications on the 2011 Legislative Session.

In what’s being described in increasingly dramatic terms as a tidal wave, a tsunami, a bloodbath and Red November, Republican candidates swept 22 incumbent Democrats out of office in the Texas House Tuesday night. They moved from a narrow majority of 77 Republicans to 73 Democrats last session to a 99 to 51 lead.

The implications for public education are massive, according to Thursday’s panelists.

Moderated by Texas Tribune editor Evan Smith, the panel was made up of Austin insiders: Arlene Wohlgemuth, executive director and director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Health Care Policy studies; the honorable Pete Laney, former speaker of the House of Representatives; Corbin Casteel, partner at Casteel, Erwin & Associates and architect of some of the surprise Republican wins Tuesday night; and Jim Dow, executive director of Texas 20/20.

Wohlgemuth and Casteel, the conservative voices on the panel, both said that voters sent lawmakers a clear message this week.

“Stop spending money and stop telling us what to do,” is how Wohlgemuth summed up that message.

Democrat Pete Laney said it will be interesting to see how the super-majority in the Texas House deal with what could be as much a s a $25 billion deficit, especially in light of promises of no tax increases. Balancing the budget, the panelists agreed, could prove devastating.

“We’ll see if they’re as adamant about cutting as they were during the election cycle,” Laney said of candidates who’ve promised to rein in state spending.

“There’s no choice but to cut. Where it’s going to come from, that’s what they’re elected to decide,” Casteel said. “There was a theme in the races. It’s all fiscal conservatism, cut taxes, stop spending.”

Wohlgemuth said her organization would be making recommendations regarding eliminating certain state agencies. She said it’s not just about cutting for the sake of cutting, but shrinking government and eliminating inefficiency.

She also brought up charter schools several times, advocating for lifting the state cap on the number of charters. Taxpayer funded private school vouchers were also mentioned as a likely topic this session.

Wohlgemuth referenced TPPF studies that criticize school district spending. And, while she said TPPF would not support spending any more than half of the state’s rainy day fund to balance the budget, she cryptically criticized school districts for maintaining healthy fund balances.

“We have spent a lot more money on education in both facilities and staff…so I think there’s room there,” Wohlgemuth said.

Stay tuned to EduSlate for more inside scoop on what’s being discussed at the Capitol.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Study finds most inexperienced teachers in poor, minority schools

Results of a study released last week by the Association of Texas Professional Educators should come as no surprise to superintendents.

Conducted by Ed Fuller, a researcher in the educational administration department at the University of Texas at Austin, the statewide study showed that students in affluent white schools are more likely to be taught by an experienced, highly qualified teacher than those in poor and minority schools.

To measure teacher quality, Fuller created a Teacher Quality Index based on measures such as years of experience, certification status, academic ability and even stability at a school.

The major findings of the study are:

  • Even after controlling for prior achievement, student demographics and geographic location, teacher quality at the school level is associated with student achievement – especially at the secondary level.
  •  At the elementary level, teacher quality appears to be more equitably distributed than at the secondary level, but this is more likely a result of the combination of a lack of detailed data and the greater supply of elementary teachers than the result of any state or district policies to equalize teacher quality across schools.
  •  Students in lower-performing schools have substantially less access to teacher quality than students in higher-performing schools.
  • At all school levels, but particularly at middle and high school, students in high-poverty and predominantly minority schools have far less access to teacher quality than students in low-poverty and predominantly white schools.

It’s a challenge for school leaders. Educators know that nothing matters more to a child’s performance than the quality of the teacher in the classroom, yet convincing your best and brightest to teach in the most challenging settings can be difficult.

Teachers at an urban school in a poverty-stricken neighborhood often face overwhelming obstacles, especially compared to their peers at affluent schools.

Their jobs are more difficult, in many cases their commute is farther and their hours are likely longer, yet in most cases they get the same pay.

Fuller says it’s difficult to suggest positive changes at a time when an increase in education funding seems impossible – in fact, cuts are looming – but there are things school district leaders can do to foster teacher quality, which can vary not just district-to-district, but school-to-school within the same district.

“You can look at the working conditions in those low-performing schools and try to address that,” Fuller said.

Fuller advocates paying an extra stipend to teachers who choose to go to hard-to-staff schools, obviously a strategy that requires more money. It’s a program many districts are trying out. Fuller emphasized that the stipends have to be more than marginal to make a difference in recruitment and retention. An extra $1,500, he says, won’t cut it.

Even if districts can afford a healthy stipend – say, $7,000 to $10,000 - Fuller said leaders have to address working conditions or teachers won’t stay. That means hiring an effective principal that inspires loyalty in his teachers, and treats those teachers with trust and respect. Trust, Fuller said, fosters an environment where teachers feel they can be innovative.

Fuller said he’s conducted working condition studies in seven states and consistently the findings showed that the principals had a more positive perception of their own behavior than the teachers. For example, when the principals are asked whether they seek input from teachers, the answer was usually yes. But at many of those same schools, the teachers overwhelmingly answered no.

Fuller said working condition studies can provide valuable information for superintendents. He asks questions like: Do teachers feel supported? Are they motivated to buy into the school vision? Are they being involved in the school’s mission? Is the principal providing an atmosphere of trust and respect?

“That’s how you improve education, you create a team that supports each other,” Fuller said. “We don’t teach that in principal prep programs. We don’t even talk about it.”

Fuller also talked about the importance of equity in facilities and pointed to a mountain of research that has linked the effect of the condition of facilities to human performance, but conceded that addressing that also costs money.

He circled back to the point of collaboration and building a good team with quality leadership – at the principal level and beyond. Fuller is just finishing up a principal survey aimed at studying effective school leadership and preparation. The survey was commissioned by TASA, TEPSA, TASSP, ATPE and UCEA.

“It looks like one of the most important predictors of principal retention is the leadership behavior of the superintendent and/or the immediate supervisor of the principal,” Fuller said. “If superintendents can model the kind of collaborative behavior that creates good working conditions then it’s more likely their principals will follow that lead…There’s no cost to that.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Superman won't save us, we have to save ourselves

I finally had the opportunity to see the much-hyped movie Waiting for Superman not once but twice this week.

A group from North East ISD held a screening Monday morning in San Antonio, and Austin ISD hosted a screening at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum Tuesday night.

After the onslaught of media attention surrounding the film, including scores of reviews from advance screenings, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.

It seems there have been two camps formed by those who have seen the film. For supporters of charters, it’s a window on what’s working and a two-hour promo for expanding and supporting charter schools. For mainstream public education, the film feels like a personal attack – highlighting only the negative and giving little credit for success in American public schools.

Here’s the way I saw the film: A powerful and moving narrative following the compelling stories of five children and their families. It had cool, catchy graphics and sprinkled footage of the 1950’s Superman series and other ‘50s-era film clips showing public schools as idyllic places as comic relief. But it was a completely over-simplified look at the problems and challenges of public schools. Director Davis Guggenheim picks and chooses both his statistics and his examples of good schools to lead the viewer to one conclusion – charter schools have the answer and teachers unions are the root of all that is wrong in education.

Of course, there are major flaws in those conclusions. First of all, Guggenheim – who also made the Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth – all but ignores the fact that the vast majority of charter schools are not doing any better than traditional public schools in their area. In fact, many do much worse. The schools he highlights in Waiting for Superman are the exception, not the rule.

And while in some states teachers unions have hamstrung administrators, making it difficult to fire poor-performing teachers (New York City’s infamous rubber room where teachers awaited the outcome of grievance hearings for years while collecting full salaries is perhaps the most egregious example,) you can’t blame the unions in states like Texas where unions are essentially powerless due to right-to-work laws. Yet we still have more than our fair share of failing schools in poor, usually urban, areas.

Four of the five children featured in the movie live in some of the most blighted neighborhoods in the country and are zoned for struggling, in some cases failing, schools. The neighborhoods are plagued with high rates of crime, poverty and unemployment and have some of the highest foster care rates in the country.

Yet Guggenheim doesn’t address how these factors affect a child’s education. He points out that the successful charter schools adhere to a “no excuses” policy and a firm belief that every child can learn. He goes farther to suggest that bad neighborhoods don’t beget bad schools, but that maybe bad schools beget bad neighborhoods.

There’s nothing wrong with a “no excuses” approach and I believe every public school teacher worth his or her salt will tell you that every child can learn, but guess how those successful charter schools Guggenheim features pull it off? At SEED in Washington D.C., the children live at the school, removed from their neighborhood and all its influences 24 hours a day. Promise Academy in Harlem is part of the Harlem Children’s Zone created by charismatic entrepreneur Geoffrey Canada, where a community partnership provides a host of wraparound services beginning at birth for children and their families. As Canada puts it, they are transforming their neighborhood block by block. And at KIPP LA Prep, children attend longer school days, Saturday school and parents must commit to being a part of their child’s education.

You can’t watch the film and not pull for the struggling parents working so hard to get a better education for their children. They pin their hopes to a ball dropping out of a spinning basket, a name chosen out of a pile, or a number randomly picked by a computer. Most go to these lotteries with little chance of getting in because of few open spots and a huge number of applicants. But teachers at traditional public schools don’t get to tell their parents they must be invested in their child’s education. Their children don’t withdraw and go to a different school if they can’t make the grade. So how is that model a wholesale answer to the problems of public education?

Despite the contradictions, I encourage everyone – especially educators – to see the film. Any time we can get the entire country focusing on education, it’s a good thing. And it’s important that we don’t try to deny or minimize the problems. They are there, they are real and they are critical. We have to figure out how public education can once again be the great equalizer, how children from every racial, ethnic and economic background can receive a world-class education and be ready for college.

Guggenheim sums up what education needs at the end of the movie in five points: Quality teachers, more class time, world class standards, high expectations, and real accountability.

I agree with every one of those. The question the movie seems to think it answers but doesn’t is: "How do we get there?"

People who have devoted their lives to public education need to be at the forefront of this conversation. Why is it that the word “reformer” is suddenly only applied to newcomers? At TASA, we like to use the word “transform.” Our Academy for Transformational Leadership, for example, is about creating a new vision for public schools and shaking up the status quo.

My fear is that this movie will only polarize two different schools of thought when it comes to reforming education. My hope is that we can realize we all want the same result and politics and egos should be set aside. The focus should be on the children of this country.

We can’t afford to let this problem go unresolved.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Still waiting on "Waiting for Superman"

I had planned to wait to write about the new movie Waiting for Superman until I’d actually seen it – it’s the journalist in me that demands all the facts before writing the story. The documentary by director Davis Guggenheim, who won an Oscar for another provocative documentary – An Inconvenient Truth - opened in select theaters last weekend and won’t be showing in Austin until October 15.

Those of you that follow me on Twitter know that prior to the movie’s release I was sharing links of reviews and buzz surrounding the movie, but I wanted to leave it at that until I had the chance to see it for myself.

But the onslaught of media attention and relentless promotion of the film prompted me to change my mind. I’ll still write a proper review after watching the movie, but wanted to share with readers the basic synopsis of the movie and what its critics are saying.

Guggenheim claims he had refused to do a film about education for years, but was struck by a wave of guilt as he drove past public schools to take his daughters to the private school they attend in Los Angeles. How that translated into Guggenheim making a film that glorifies charter schools, vilifies teachers unions and, according to several reviews of the film, spends precious little time talking to classroom teachers before coming to the conclusion that America’s public schools are damning children to a life of poverty and, in some cases, incarceration, I can’t quite understand.

The film follows five children on a mission to escape their neighborhood school for a promising charter school. What it doesn’t examine, according to the reviews I’ve read, is the success (or failure) of charter schools.

Guggenheim seems to take for gospel that so-called “reformers” in education have the answer and that getting into a charter school is a ticket to success.  Yet tactics used by the reformers he highlights, like Washington D.C.’s Michelle Rhee, have not proven successful. Tying teacher pay to standardized test scores, for example, a key strategy of Rhee’s, has been shown again and again to be an ineffective method of raising teacher and student performance.

A new study by Vanderbilt University concluded that offering teachers annual bonuses of as much as $15,000 had no effect on student test scores. It suggested that teachers already were working so hard that the promise of extra money failed to convince them to work harder or change the way they taught.

It reinforced a Texas study last year, conducted by researchers from Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and the University of Missouri that concluded that the merit-based Texas Educators Excellence Grant (TEEG) program also had no impact on student achievement gains.

Also largely left out, the fact that only one in five charter schools do any better than neighborhood public schools, and in Texas, that number is even lower. Most in fact do much worse. Waiting for Superman prompted the Houston-based advocacy group Children at Risk to examine charter school performance in Texas.

The new report says: “While charters may offer some of our state’s ‘superheroes,’ many others – if not most – are underperforming.” The report also pointed out that many of the high-achieving charter schools included a demanding curriculum and a strong parent commitment – things that sometimes “weed out” some children from the program.

A study by education researcher Ed Fuller had similar results. Fuller focused on charter middle schools in Texas and found that many top-rated charters lost a large share of their students over time. He found that those students tended to be lower performing, leaving the academically stronger students at the schools.

And where do you think those students went? Back to their neighborhood public school, which doesn’t have the option of “weeding them out.”

Fuller told the Dallas Morning News: “Many students who remain in the schools do very well, but the evidence certainly suggest that expanding these charters will not substantially impact the education of the majority of students living in the urban communities that suffer from decades of unemployment and poverty.”

Also, Guggenheim’s film suggests that failing schools contribute to, or maybe even are the direct cause of, cycles of poverty and blight in a neighborhood. Never is the suggestion made that poverty and its byproducts are what make schools in poor neighborhoods the most challenging in which to teach.

While no blame is shared with the community, but left entirely on the doorstep of the public school, Guggenheim also seems to ignore that the successful charter schools he highlights take very seriously the importance of community in a child’s education.

At the Harlem Children’s Zone (charismatic founder Geoffrey Canada is a central figure in the film) for example, educators work hand-in-hand with social service providers, beginning services from birth, and taking care of parents, too.

Another school, SEED in Washington D.C., is a boarding school. The SEED Foundation uses the tactic of removing children from their neighborhood and surrounding them with positive support 24 hours a day. That’s wonderful for those children, but not a realistic solution for wholesale education reform.

All that said, I’m glad a film about education is garnering so much attention. I only hope that people who go see it understand that they're only seeing part of the story, and from a skewed perspective at that. And while it’s fantastic that the film is spawning a storm of education coverage (I’ve always known it was one of the most important beats to cover, why did it take a movie for NBC, CBS and ABS to figure it out?) I also hope journalists will ask the right questions, the tough questions, about reform.

So far, that hasn’t happened. Read the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss’ blog post on “The strange media coverage of Obama’s education policies.”

And check back with me on October 16. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about Waiting for Superman.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

TASB Releases School Finance Plan

The Texas Association of School Boards has developed a school finance plan, which was approved unanimously by the association's board of directors last week at the annual TASA/TASB Convention.

The plan is designed to address the inadequacies of the current funding system. TASB will work with legislators, school districts and other stakeholders to enact this plan during the 82nd Session.

Compared to the current Target Revenue and two-tiered, multiple-yield school finance systems, the TASB Plan is a simpler single-tier, single-guaranteed yield system that benefits all school districts and provides a scalable framework for distributing public education funds, according to TASB government relations staff.

Check out the plan and let us know what you think.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

TASA/TASB Convention this week!

Tomorrow morning the TASA staff will be packing up and heading to Houston in preparation for the TASA/TASB Convention that runs Friday through Sunday.

Check EduSlate and TASA's Twitter and Facebook pages for updates during the convention. I'll be writing about great sessions and field trip opportunities, as well as posting information about Honor School Board and Superintendent of the Year awards.

If you're at convention, consider my updates and tweets a way to find out what's going on and where you should be. If you're not, they'll keep you informed and in the loop, and hopefully entice you to come next year!

See you in Houston!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Committee wants to overhaul school finance

Thursday’s meeting of a school finance committee ended with the same sentiment that permeated the group the first time they met back in March.

The verdict: Texas’ school finance system needs a total overhaul.

“It creates uncertainty, it creates angst,” said Sen. Florence Shapiro, who co-chairs the Committee on Public School Finance Weights, Allotments and Adjustments with Rep. Rob Eissler. “We need to sunset this program and we need to start all over again.”

Both the committee members and experts agreed that the system is hopelessly complicated and includes huge disparities when it comes to how the money is split among districts.

Shapiro told committee members to come to the next meeting with fresh ideas.

"We need to find a better system that works for all of us," she said.

That’s strikingly similar to what she said in March when she told committee members they might need to start from scratch when it came to funding schools.

“We just spent the better part of two hours trying to figure this out, and I guarantee you we have more questions now than we did when we started,” Shapiro said at the March meeting. “We've got to find a way that makes more sense so we can be more responsive to taxpayers.”

The clock is ticking for committee members to come up with a proposal before the Legislature convenes in January. But Eissler and Shapiro both indicated that a budget deficit shouldn’t stop lawmakers from addressing the problem.

Shapiro also addressed speculation that lawmakers were eyeing school districts’ fund balances as a way to help balance the budget. Rumors have been circulating for months that the Legislature may consider requiring districts to spend some of their fund balance before receiving state funding.

“Where did that come from? We have no right to your fund balance,” Shapiro said. “That’s not going to happen.”

Thursday, September 16, 2010

TASA sends letter to U.S. lawmakers

TASA executive director Johnny Veselka sent a letter to every member of the Texas Congressional delegation today encouraging them to work to remove any barriers that are preventing the distribution of $830 million available to Texas school districts through the Education Jobs Bill passed by Congress last month.

While this issue has turned into a very political one, pitting Gov. Rick Perry against U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, the Texas Association of School Administrators is only interested in making sure that school districts in our state get the money they desperately need. The letter is meant to urge officials at the federal and state level to work together to make sure Texas schools receive their share of the money as soon as possible.

Here's the full letter:

This year, school districts across Texas are facing unprecedented budget constraints. Almost fifty percent of school districts in Texas passed deficit budgets this year and that number is expected to increase next year. In addition, the state is facing an $18-21 billion shortfall as we approach the next legislative session, which begins in January.

Many Texas school districts have already begun implementing major cuts in programs and services and are anticipating additional cuts next year. At the same time, Texas school districts are implementing new and more rigorous curriculum standards as well as a new assessment program. Trying to meet these increasing standards while drastically cutting funding will certainly have a negative impact on students, teachers, parents and local communities.

The Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) strongly encourages you to remove all legal and administrative barriers currently in place that would prohibit or hinder the immediate distribution of the $830 million in federal funds for Texas public schools that was part of the Education Jobs Bill. This funding is critical for the schoolchildren and teachers of T exas.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need additional information.

Johnny Veselka
Executive Director

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What now for Michelle Rhee?

John Merrow had an interesting post on his blog Learning Matters about Michelle Rhee, the polarizing superintendent of Washington D.C. schools.

Rhee has a nationwide base of fervent supporters who believe in the drastic reforms she's brought to the D.C. school system since taking the helm more than three years ago. But she likely has just as many detractors - and many of them close to home. Among her changes, as Merrow points out, she's closed nearly two dozen schools, fired more than 15% of her central office staff, and let over 100 teachers go, citing inadequate performance.

But now that Mayor Adrian Fenty has lost his bid for re-election - due in part to powerful teacher union backing of his challenger - what will happen to Rhee? And if she goes, what will happen to the whopping $75 million D.C. schools received through the US DOE's Race to the Top Program? The school system won the money because of its reform efforts.

Read John's full blog post for all the details. And don't forget that you can see John Merrow speak at the TASA/TASB Convention next week.

Monday, September 13, 2010

President releases text of speech

In an attempt to avoid the political uproar schools across the country dealt with last year, President Obama's press office released Monday night the text of the speech he's scheduled to give at a Philadelphia school tomorrow morning.

Like last year, the message is far from controversial. In fact, it's the same: Work hard, dream big, stay in school.

"But here is what I came to Masterman to tell you: nobody gets to write your destiny but you," the speech reads in part. "Your future is in your hands. Your life is what you make of it. And nothing – absolutely nothing – is beyond your reach. So long as you’re willing to dream big. So long as you’re willing to work hard. So long as you’re willing to stay focused on your education."

It seems most school districts are leaving the decision on whether to show the speech live up to individual schools and, in some cases, teachers, as they would do with any breaking news event. While the opposition to giving the president a voice in public schools hasn't been as vocal this time around, I'd still bet many Texas classrooms won't be showing the speech live, and those that do will be giving parents the chance to opt their kids out ahead of time.

Read the speech many are likely to miss here.

Lawmakers ask Perry to keep working toward a solution

A group of Texas lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry today urging him to continue to work with the U.S. Department of Education to allow Texas to receive $830 million in federal funding through the jobs bill passed by Congress last month. DOE rejected Perry's application for the money because he didn't include assurances required by an amendment to the bill by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

State Senators Van de Putte, Ellis, Lucio, Gallegos and Davis all signed off on the letter.

It reads:

Dear Governor Perry,

Texas children started school a few days ago.  Some are just beginning to learn their alphabet, while others are thinking about college.  Texas parents started school a few days ago as well, along with their children.  As parents we hope for a better future for our children. We tell them they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up.  We take them to school.  We help them with their homework.  We attend PTA meetings and contribute to the bake sales.  We do whatever it takes to help our children graduate, go to college, and make a decent living.

But we can’t do it alone. No parent in Texas can.

We depend on our neighborhood schools and our teachers to help us prepare our children for better lives.

Our schools and our teachers can’t do it alone either.  They depend on the state to help them help us prepare our children for better lives.

You have claimed that Texas has done a pretty good job.  You have said that education is a priority.  You have shared that it is one of the many reasons families move to Texas.  And you claim we’re doing better than other states.

Why change your story now?

Surely, you and other adults in our state and federal government can work towards a meaningful compromise with the U.S. Department of Education to keep our school doors open, our teachers teaching, and our kids learning.

Grown-ups don’t give up and point fingers, grown-ups find solutions. We’re Texas, right?  Complicated explanations full of legalese haven’t stood in our way before, and they shouldn’t stop us now.  We wouldn’t accept these finger-pointing excuses from our children, and Texans shouldn’t accept them from us.

We urge you to immediately direct your staff and TEA personnel to sit down with the Department of Education and continue to try to find a solution to this impasse, so that this crucial funding can do what it is designed to do – help fund our neighborhood schools and ensure that our children continue to learn.

Better late than never?

I apologize for the silence, especially during a week that was popping with education news. A family emergency took me to Florida unexpectedly but I'm back at work now.

So, what did I miss? A lot, it seems. Gov. Rick Perry submitted the state's application for $830 million in federal funding but failed to include the required assurances that the state would maintain its current level of education funding for the next three years. Application denied.

Perry claims an amendment by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett requiring the assurance hamstrings Texas because Perry says its unconstitutional for him to bind future legislatures to certain spending levels. Doggett says Perry's legal argument is "phony" and says without his amendment, state lawmakers would likely have used the extra money to help balance the state's budget - one that includes an $18 billion shortfall.

"That's what occurred with $3.25 billion in federal support last year — leaving our Texas schoolchildren with zero additional benefit from the additional federal funding," Doggett said in a statement last week.

But both sides say it's not over yet. Texas may still have a chance at the money - at least in time for next school year - if the Legislature makes the commitment that Perry says he couldn't make when it convenes in January.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Doggett fires back at Perry over jobs bill money

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, released a statement today in response to a scathing letter from Gov. Rick Perry to school administrators blasting Doggett's amendment in the federal jobs bill that required Texas meet stricter stipulations than other states to receive its share of the money.

Here's Doggett's statement:

Federal aid to education should actually aid education in our local Texas schools.  I understand that Governor Perry fears accountability for using these federal taxpayer dollars for their intended purpose.

  It is almost as if the Governor felt he was entitled to his own blank check federal bailout.  All his rhetoric and excuses belie one fact.  All that stands in the way of our Texas schoolchildren receiving the federal dollars we intend for them is the Governor’s signature on a three-page document. 

Governor Perry, on July 1, 2009, added his signature to a request for federal dollars attesting that, among other things:  “In FY 2011, the State will maintain State support for elementary and secondary education at least at the level of such support in FY 2006” (attached).  He did not raise his phony constitutional argument in signing last year’s similar application that covered a similar three year period of time.

You don’t need a room full of attorneys to scour the Texas Constitution or an 1892 court decision looking for excuses to deprive our local schools of these needed dollars. 

All the Governor need do is make an assurance to the full extent of his Executive power.  Under this provision, the State can choose whatever level of funding it wants for education.  It can cut education by any percentage in an across-the-board budget cut, but it cannot single out education for a greater cut than that applied to other public services in a way that penalizes our public schools for accepting federal aid. 

In June, a coalition of Texas school superintendents and Texas education organizations representing Texas teachers, principals, school boards, and school administrators asked Congress to prevent history from repeating itself and ensure that new federal funds for education actually increase support for Texas students (attached). 

Better than anyone else, they understand how the State prevented State Stabilization stimulus education funds from providing any additional help to our local schools last year, which is why they recognized the need for extra protection for new education funds sent to our State this year.

If not for our Texas Democratic amendment, our Texas schoolchildren would likely have had zero additional benefit from this $830 million in federal funding. It is not a matter of whether they get the money later, or in one formula or another, it is whether they get the federal funding at all—we don’t need a repeat of what happened previously to the larger $3.25 billion of federal aid.  

We didn’t send this federal aid for education to Texas to plug a state budget gap; we sent it to help our schoolchildren.

Perry sends letter to school chiefs

Just when I say there's no new news on the jobs bill front...

Yesterday, Gov. Rick Perry sent a strongly worded letter to school district administrators and he pulled no punches on what he thinks of the Doggett amendment. Still, the letter gives no indication on whether Texas school districts will see any of the $830 million the federal government has set aside if the state can meet certain stipulations.

Perry does say in the letter that he'll apply for the money but that it's "unlikely" Texas will qualify. If the state's application is rejected, Perry says, he'll ask the Obama administration to hold the $830 million aside until the state Legislature convenes in January. Then, he said, lawmakers can consider action while building the 2012-13 budget that would make the required assurances to access the federal money.

Finally, Perry says he'll ask Congress to repeal the Doggett amendment or pass new legislation allowing Texas to get its share of the money.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett has defended his amendment as a victory for public schools. His intention is to make sure the money goes directly to school districts and isn't used to help balance the state budget.

I'm wondering what his response will be to Perry's letter. I'll bet we don't have to wait long to find out.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

TEA highlights how much school districts might lose out

The Texas Education Agency posted a news release this week with some old – at least by news industry standards – information.

It was a breakdown of how much each Texas school district stands to gain if the state and U.S. Department of Education can come to an agreement on how Texas can access $830 million available through the jobs bill passed by Congress last month, and how much the amount could've been if Texas were allowed to distribute the money through state funding formulas instead of Title I.

Newspapers have been reporting on the same numbers for the past week or more.

It's an interesting point to bring up at a time when no public announcement has been made about whether Texas will even apply for the money. It's been a week since representatives from the Texas Education Agency and the governor's office met with the feds to discuss the stalemate, and with the deadline of September 9 just days away, still no news.

The jobs bill allows U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to send federal aid to states that apply for it. The money can be used to cover teachers' salaries and a host of other school-based programs and several states are already receiving their cut.

But the so-called Doggett amendment that applies only to Texas, included in the bill by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, requires that the money flow through Title I and that Gov. Rick Perry assure the feds that the percentage of state dollars earmarked for schools would not drop for the next three years before Texas can draw down any of the money.

Doggett says he wants to make sure the money is spent for education, not used to plug a budget deficit. Perry says the state Constitution does not allow him to make such assurances. And so, the standoff.

Meanwhile, the school year has started with roughly half of Texas school districts adopting deficit budgets this year, according to the Texas Association of School Board Officials, and at least one district has approved a teacher pay raise that's dependent on the federal help.

Here's hoping we have an answer soon.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A brave new world: blogging, tweeting and Facebooking

You read that right; a professional writer just used "Facebooking" as a verb.

This is the inaugural post of EduSlate, TASA's new blog that aims to bring our readers insight into what's going on at the Capitol and around the state in the world of education policy.

EduSlate is just one of the new ways TASA is working to bring you up-to-the-minute news as well as in-depth analysis on education issues and how decisions made in Austin could affect local school districts.

My position here as TASA's director of communications and media relations is a new one, and a sign of TASA's commitment to up its game in communicating with members, the media and the public.
We're making several changes that will help get information out faster and to a wider group of people.

Two of those changes include a new presence on the social networking sites Twitter and Facebook. Follow us @tasanet on Twitter and find us on Facebook by searching for Texas Association of School Administrators.

We'll no longer be sending out the weekly TASA XPress, a subscription-only publication sent via email that highlights the week's legislative news, and we're also axing our "Legislative Alerts" which went out via email when news dictated.

Instead, we hope to be more timely by posting both breaking news and longer analysis pieces on the "Capitol Watch" section of our Web site. You can find it on one of the green tabs across the top of the home page.

Each time we post a Capitol Watch update, we'll also tweet the news on Twitter with a link back to the full story on Capitol Watch. We encourage all our members to sign up for a Twitter account and follow us. You can even sign up to receive a text message on your phone each time we post a new tweet.

We'll still send out an email, called a TASA Alert, to all our members if news happens that we think you should know about immediately.

And of course, news from Capitol Watch will be teased in the ever-popular TASA Daily, with an opportunity to link back to our Web site to read the full story.

Our goal is to provide information on several different platforms, allowing our members to use whatever tool works best for them.

We do want you to consider our Web site the primary spot for news and analysis of what's happening in Austin and what it means for school leaders, teachers and students.

And, personally, I hope you become addicted to EduSlate and make habit of looking for new posts to get the inside scoop on how TASA is working for you in Austin.