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.