Thursday, April 26, 2012

Eissler and Hochberg on the hot seat at Texas Tribune Live Event

Texas Tribune editor Evan Smith interviewed state Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, and Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, who are chair and vice chair of the House Public Education Committee in a Texas Tribune Live Event Thursday morning. 

About 100 people, mostly education advocates, lobbyists and elected officials showed up at the Austin Club to listen to the discussion. You can watch an excerpt of the interview, which focuses on testing, here.

Smith began the conversation with a test question in honor of the STAAR, which students across the state are taking this week. He asked the lawmakers, in multiple-choice form, how much did they cut from public education, if anything, last session. It was a tongue-in-cheek approach to get at the ongoing argument among lawmakers and policy wonks on both sides of the issue. While lawmakers undoubtedly cut $4 billion from the Foundation School Program and another $1.4 billion in education grant funding, some have tried to skew the statistics to say education funding remained the same or, some say, even increased.

Both legislators agreed that schools suffered cuts, though Eissler said that looking biennium-to-biennium, funding was about flat. He did concede, taking into account important factors like enrollment growth and the loss of stimulus funding that "the overall effect was a reduction." Hochberg was more blunt, saying "the bottom line" was that public education was cut by more than $5 billion.

When asked if they'd like a "do over" on the 2011 legislative session so they could put more one into public education, Eissler replied: "I don't know where we would've gotten the money."

Neither legislator (Hochberg doesn't plan to run for reelection) offered any optimism for a rosier revenue picture in 2013.

Eissler spent some time talking about efficiency and the fact that better performance isn't necessarily tied to more money. He said he'd like to see districts subject to fewer mandates and allowed more flexibility and also eluded to Senate Bill 1557 - the bill championed by TASA that will create the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium - as an example of innovation that could lead to promising change.

Hochberg spent much of his time talking about the inequities of the current funding system, how districts that spend more money per student consistently perform among the best on the state's accountability system. He said lawmakers are unwilling to change the system because they don't want to take too much away from districts at the top of the funding spectrum, but can't afford to bring the bottom districts up to that level, so the gap remains.

Smith brought up the push back to standardized testing and asked Eissler to defend the STAAR.

"Testing tells us where we are," Eissler said. "Whether our schools are delivering instruction, the diffusion of knowledge we set out to do…It's very important."

He said the STARR is supposed to be an improvement over TAKS, in that it is a ramp to college readiness that measures where a student is in grade levels along the way. The TAKS, on the other hand, often covered material students may have learned several years before.

When asked about the implementation of STAAR, Hochberg was critical. He recalled a hearing where he, Eissler and Senate Education Chairwoman Florence Shapiro heard from Texas Education Agency staff about STAAR implementation:

"There were three blank stares from us saying, ' Huh? That's not what we thought we were getting,'" Hochberg said.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Florida district adopts testing resolution

The Palm Beach County School Board in Florida became the latest group outside of Texas to pass a resolution similar to the Resolution Concerning High Stakes, Standardized Testing of Texas Public School Students.

School board members for Palm Beach, the 11th largest school district in the nation, say they're not advocating for the removal of standardized tests but, like many Texas school leaders, believe the over-reliance on standardized testing is counter productive.

"As a board and a district, we need to mitigate the damage of this obsession with high-stakes testing," board member Karen Brill said in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "We need to create well-rounded students; we need to nurture creativity; we need to find balance so that our teachers have the freedom to exercise their talents and bring out the best in our students."
As of Wednesday, 408 Texas school districts representing roughly 2.2 million students had confirmed they'd passed the resolution. That's 40 percent of all Texas districts. If your district has passed the resolution but isn't on TASA's list, please send me an email so we can include you in the count.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Next steps for Texas Resolution/National Resolution

We're poised to hit the 400 mark today of districts that have passed the Resolution Concerning High Stakes, Standardized Testing of Texas Public School Students. So far, we've heard from 397 school districts (plus Premier Learning Academy Charter School, the Denison Area Chamber of Commerce and the Harris County Department of Education) that have passed the resolution.

Those districts represent nearly 2 million Texas schoolchildren.

As that number continues to grow, we're encouraging districts to take some additional steps to keep the momentum going. Here are some ideas:
  • Contact your lawmakers. Send a copy of your board's signed resolution to members of the Texas House and Senate that represent your district. Use the Texas Tribune's elected officials directory to find your lawmakers and get contact information.
  • Send a press release to local media outlets. TASA has created a sample press release for districts to use if they wish. Just add your district's name, the date the resolution was passed and a couple of quotes from your superintendent and/or trustees. TASA also has talking points available for media interviews if needed.
  • Reach out to your local chambers. Many districts have been partnering with chambers of commerce to talk about standardized testing. There's a natural connection here between the education and business communities and it could be very powerful to have the support of local chambers. TASA has drafted a version of the resolution for chambers and encourages district leaders to ask chamber leadership to consider it.
  • Reach out to parents. The Texas PTA is partnering with us to get information out to their councils, including a version of the resolution for PTA councils. Let your PTA groups and/or other parent groups know what's going on and encourage them to pass their own version of the resolution.
  • Encourage other districts to pass the resolution. Check out TASA's online list by region of districts that have adopted the resolution. If you're on the list but your neighbor isn't, give them a call and encourage them to join the effort. You may also consider meeting with superintendents in your county or region and sending a letter to lawmakers that outlines your concern with the current accountability system. Bexar County's superintendents recently sent a letter to members of the Texas House and Senate with signatures from all 15 Bexar County superintendents. Read about it here.
Also, Diane Ravitch wrote about the resolution once again in her blog in Education Week. Her post today is about a national resolution drafted by a group of education, civil rights and children's issues organizations and inspired by our Texas resolution. The National Testing Resolution calls on governors, legislatures and state boards of education to re-examine their accountability systems, reduce their reliance on standardized tests, and increase their support for public schools.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Clearing up confusion between resolution and 15 percent deferment

As districts have been notifying TASA of their support of the Resolution Concerning High Stakes, Standardized Testing of Texas Public School Students, it has become evident that there’s some confusion between this resolution and districts’ decisions regarding the deferment of the 15 percent rule.

To be clear, the resolution drafted by TASA is a philosophical statement that, among other things, challenges the notion that standardized testing should be the single measure of a district and endorses more engaging student learning experiences. As of Wednesday afternoon, 271 districts had passed the resolution. It has also been endorsed by at least one chamber of commerce, a school board in Queens, New York, and sparked national attention, including coverage from the Washington Post. Our goal is to draw attention to the transformation that needs to happen in Texas public schools and to speak with a clear and unified voice to Texas lawmakers about the concerns - not just of educators but also business leaders, parents and students – regarding the current accountability system.

The 15 percent deferment is a Texas Education Agency matter and districts that want to take advantage of it must notify the agency by May 1. As of Wednesday, TEA had heard from 788 districts.

Commissioner Robert Scott announced in February that for the 2011-2012 school year only school districts can defer implementation of the statutory provision that requires performance on an end-of-course (EOC) assessment to count as 15 percent of a student’s final course grade. No board action is required. The superintendent or another district-level administrator authorized by the superintendent only needs to notify TEA of the district’s decision by May 1, 2012 by sending a brief email to the commissioner at: at:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Testing Resolution continues to gain steam

In her blog for Education Week Diane Ravitch once again focuses on the revolution that's caught fire in Texas and resonated with so many school leaders, teachers, parents and students.

Ravitch posted a blog post Tuesday titled "Stalking the Vampire in Texas" where she not only talks about the Resolution Concerning High Stakes, Standardized Testing of Texas Public School Students, but also touts TASA's visioning work and the attempt by superintendents across the state to transform public education in Texas.

The blog reads in part:
The Texas revolt was seeded by the efforts of nearly three dozen district superintendents who began meeting in 2006 and produced a joint statement about their vision for the future of education. The superintendents recognized that the state's relentless focus on standardized testing was not advancing their vision of the future. Their vision has inspired their colleagues, including Commissioner Scott.
Ravitch quotes liberally from Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas, links to it on TASA's website and urges her readers to read it in its entirety.
At last count, we were at 232 districts that have let us know they've passed the resolution and many more have it on their agendas in April. Remember, there is no deadline. Our goal is to get as many districts to pass the resolution as possible, so communities across the state are speaking with a loud, unified voice. At least one chamber of commerce has passed a similar resolution, and we're planning to draft a sample resolution for chambers and perhaps other groups soon. 
Beginning Wednesday, we're also going to begin posting the districts that have passed the resolution by region and come up with some "what now?" steps for districts to take once they've passed the resolution.
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