Monday, November 21, 2011

New report shows surge in abstinence-plus approach to sex ed

Texas is often criticized for its dubious distinction of having the third-highest teen birth rate in the nation. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, a teen gets pregnant every 10 minutes in Texas.

Some have taken the criticism a step further to include the state's focus on abstinence-only sex education.

However, a report out today by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund shows an up-tick in the percentage of school districts going beyond abstinence-only in their sex education curriculum to include information about contraception.

According to the report, more than 25 percent of districts are taking an abstinence-plus approach, up from 3.6 percent of districts just three years ago.

The decision to teach beyond abstinence-only is made at the local level. Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said the increase in districts teaching abstinence-plus is a positive. She also said the State Board of Education should adopt new health curriculum standards that provide more information about contraception, as well as the importance of abstinence, to help school districts provide comprehensive and effective sex education programs.

"It's clear that more and more local school officials realize ignorance won't protect our kids," Miller said in a news release about the report. "So now we're seeing the adoption of common-sense sex education policies that deal with a real public health crisis and that polling shows most parents support."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dewhurst tells Texas Tribune lawmakers didn't cut education funding

Are we really still debating this?

Once again, the message that school districts didn't lose out this legislative session after all is being emphasized by some lawmakers.

At a Texas Tribune event Thursday morning, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is also running for the U.S. Senate, explained to the Tribune's Evan Smith why he thinks it's inaccurate to say the Legislature cut $4 billion from public education.

"We changed the school finance law," Dewhurst said. "And under the old law we were expected to increase our funding for public education by $8 billion. We increased our funding for public education by almost $4 billion. Only in government if you expect $8 billion increase and get $4 billion is that a cut."

Not to quibble, but first of all the Legislature cut public education by closer to $5.4 billion - slashing $4 billion from the Foundation School Program and another $1.4 billion in education grants that funded critical programs.

But back to the main point: Why can't we agree on whether education funding was cut or not? If you're an administrator that had to balance your district's budget this year, you know the difference between the reality and the spin.

Yes, the overall amount budgeted for the 2012-13 biennium for public education is slightly more than the previous two years. From $49.5 billion in 2010-11 to $49.6 billion, according to numbers from the Texas Education Agency. But that increase is nowhere near enough to serve the additional 170,000 students that will show up in Texas schools over the next two years at the same level of programs and services Texas students received last year.

When looking at per-student funding, the budget falls $4 billion short of funding individual students at the same level as 2010-11. For more specifics on the numbers, check out my post from this summer: No matter how you slice it, schools are losing funding.

Meanwhile, while some are denying that schools have been shortchanged, Texas AFT released the results of a survey Thursday that illustrate how budget cuts are affecting students and teachers.

About 92 percent of respondents said they've experienced layoffs in their districts, including teaching positions and teacher assistants. Nearly 80 percent reported cuts to programs that serve students, including pre-kindergarten, special education, art, music and tutorials. Eighty-seven percent said class sizes increased in their districts this year.

Survey comments included: 

"Classrooms are maxed out. Students are over-tested and frustrated, leading to behavior problems and causing even more loss of learning. The push towards inclusion (of special education students) with insufficient staff is causing loss of learning and in some instances safety issues. Teachers are being overworked, leading to lower performance."

"Supply budgets have been drastically cut. This impacts the learning environment, because we lack basic supplies for students. Teachers have to utilize their own funds for supplies or do without."

"The morale is lower than I have ever seen it. Most teachers are questioning their calling and looking for something else." 

"This is the first year, out of 11, that I regret teaching. I dread coming to work."

More than 3,500 teachers, school employees and parents responded to the survey, according to Texas AFT. The organization plans to do a follow-up survey in the spring.

Linda Bridges, president of Texas AFT, said the survey confirms the major impact budget cuts are having on schools. 

"Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and other state leaders are spinning a tale of balancing the state budget while maintaining adequate funding for public education; the real truth about the severe harm of these cuts is portrayed in the stories we've now heard from teachers across the state," she said.

School leaders have to make sure their communities know what really happened: Texas lawmakers balanced the state's budget on the backs of schoolchildren. No, the cuts weren't as bad as we feared they might be, but they're still devastating and we can't afford them. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Enrollment report highlights challenges for public schools

A new report from the Texas Education Agency on enrollment in Texas public schools has some interesting information district leaders may want to share when talking about challenges in public education.

Former State Demographer Steve Murdock for years has been warning of a population trend of declining numbers of Anglos in Texas and a growing number of minorities. Murdock, also the former U.S. Census Bureau director and now director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University, says between 2000 and 2040, the state's public school enrollment will see a 15 percent decline in Anglo children, while Hispanic children will make up a 213 percent increase.

Why is this alarming? Because education and income levels for Hispanics lag considerably behind Anglos, Murdock told the Houston Chronicle earlier this year. If the trend continues, by 2040 roughly 30 percent of the state's labor force will not even have a high school diploma and the average household income will be $6,500 lower than in 2000 - and that's not adjusted for inflation.

TEA's report shows the trend is indeed continuing and that Texas public school districts are facing their biggest challenge yet. The students filling Texas classrooms come with greater challenges and needs than ever before, yet instead of more resources to help these children, school leaders are reeling from a $5.4 billion cut to education funding delivered to them this year by state lawmakers.

According to the report, there are now 4.9 million students enrolled in Texas public schools, a 21.2 percent increase over the past decade.

Between the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, African American and Hispanic enrollment increased, while enrollment of white students decreased.

Hispanics had the largest numerical increase in enrollment between 2009-10 and 2010-11, growing by 81,316 in just one year. Last school year Hispanic students accounted for 50.3 percent of total enrollment in Texas public schools.

The percentage of economically disadvantaged students  has risen in step with the increase in minority students. A decade ago, there were just over 2 million economically disadvantaged students in Texas public schools, or 49.2 percent of all students. By last school year there were nearly 3 million economically disadvantaged students, accounting for 59.1 percent of all students.

Let's break those numbers down a little further and make some comparisons: The overall public school population from 2000-01 to 2010-11 increased by 21.5 percent, while the number of economically disadvantaged students increased by 45.5 percent. And according to Murdock, that trend will continue.

Also over the past decade, the number of students receiving bilingual or English as a second language services increased by 56.4 percent and the number of limited English proficient students grew by 45.8 percent.

These numbers come as no surprise to educators, but they are a stark and definitive reminder of what schools are facing and they should paint a pretty clear picture of what kind of stakes we're playing with when we shortchange public education. 

If this report isn't a wake-up call, I don't know what is.