Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas

September 30, 2006

McGee made the New York Times

Museum Field Trip Deemed Too Revealing – New York Times:

FRISCO, Tex., Sept. 28 — “Keep the ‘Art’ in ‘Smart’ and ‘Heart,’ ” Sydney McGee had posted on her Web site at Wilma Fisher Elementary School in this moneyed boomtown that is gobbling up the farm fields north of Dallas.

But Ms. McGee, 51, a popular art teacher with 28 years in the classroom, is out of a job after leading her fifth-grade classes last April through the Dallas Museum of Art. One of her students saw nude art in the museum, and after the child’s parent complained, the teacher was suspended.

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September 29, 2006

Education outsourcing

Filed under: Teacher issues — texased @ 6:45 pm

Even tutors are outsourced:

U.S. homework outsourced as ‘e-tutoring’ grows | Tech News on ZDNet:

Private tutors are a luxury many American families cannot afford, costing anywhere between $25 and $100 an hour. But California mother Denise Robison found one online for $2.50 an hour–in India.

U.S. homework outsourced as ‘e-tutoring’ grows | Tech News on ZDNet:

A New Delhi tutoring company, Educomp Solutions, estimates the U.S. tutoring market at $8 billion and growing. Online companies, both from the United States and India, are looking to tap millions of dollars available to firms under the U.S. No Child Left Behind Act for remedial tutoring.Teachers unions hope to stop that from happening.

“Tutoring providers must keep in frequent touch with not only parents but classroom teachers and we believe there is greater difficulty in an offshore tutor doing that,” said Nancy Van Meter, a director at the American Federation of Teachers.

So are parents allowed to “tutor” their own children? What about grandparents? Can they use educational software without keeping in frequent touch with the classroom teachers? How about checking out library books, is that something that the teachers need to be involved in?

I’m not for using cheap foreign labor as a replacement for workers in the United States. However, this comes across as not merely self-serving but pathetic.

September 28, 2006

Your State Board of Education: Terri Leo

Terri Leo represents district 6 for the State Board of Education. She is also the board member who recently attempted to expand the board’s power to review textbooks to include content to protect us from the liberal views of those New York text book publishers.

See, she’s only trying to protect the children of Texas from poorly written text books. In 2003, she provided an example of what she was talking about:

Capitol Inside:

This shift in policy has resulted in many disastrous results. One book approved in Texas, for example, was the subject of national ridicule and condemned on the floor of the U.S. Senate by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV). Dubbed the “Texas rain-forest algebra book,” it received an “F” grade on a report card produced by Mathematically Correct, a group of independent math scholars who reviewed math books adopted in Texas. The book watered down algebra by including such things as chili recipes, ancient myths, a photograph of Maya Angelou and Bill Clinton (this was supposed to demonstrate parallelism in sentence structure), and asking students what roles zoos play in society. No algebra is even mentioned until page 100. The publisher states that the algebra book’s focus is to “get students to communicate their thinking about problem solving and to work on different approaches, rather than focusing on getting the right answers”. The book says the teacher’s role “is to be a facilitator who supports students. Questions should be posed to stimulate thought rather than get an answer.” Under the previous system, the SBOE was able to insist that publishers correct outrageous and offensive content. Without SBOE content standards, political agendas masquerading as science have been smuggled into classrooms. Books marred with inaccuracies, omissions and errors have been approved as well.

And we all know how many Texas districts rushed out to adopt the text book just because it was approved by the state board. Don’t we? Well, no we don’t. Now this could just be an oversight by Leo in failing to mention the actual number of children who’s algebra education suffered from the use of these text books. You know, somehow I doubt it.

The legislature took the power from the SBOE in the early 90’s after years of flagrant and nationally embarrassing decisions approving or disapproving text books based on the beliefs of a small percentage of the population. Essentially, the SBOE was denying local districts the opportunity to adopt text books simply because board members thought they books undermined Texas values rather than it’s actual factual content. As for who gets to define those values, well, the board naturally. Leo obviously feels the legislature made a mistake.

I can’t help but believe that she represents that small minority that the legislature was addressing. On her personal website, Leo states the following:

TERRI LEO – STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION DISTRICT 6:

A strong conservative voice in the State Board of Education’s management of the multi-billion dollar Permanent School Fund will always be essential, and I have stood consistently for traditional, conservative values in this, as well.

What’s interesting is that in the previous paragraphs she doesn’t really address the conservative values that she refers to in “as well.” She does talk about her roles on the board and how the board affects text book decisions nation wide. When she presents her view on phonics-based instruction, she doesn’t appear to be suggesting that it is a conservative view.

While some would dismiss this as merely mincing words, I think it really does reflect her belief in having a strong conservative voice in all things regarding education. She has a conservative agenda and her mind is made up.

The Leiter Reports: Editorials, News, Updates: Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them–Round 4:

Terri Leo is the leader of the Texas Taliban faction on the State Board of Education; she even exercised her perogative as a Board Member to make a speech before the last public hearing of the Board in Austin to profess her commitment to creationist-inspired skepticism about Darwin’s theory of evolution (and this before hearing any testimony!).

Whatever you may think about the evolution debate, I think it is telling that she was providing her views before any testimony. So what is education to her? Apparently it doesn’t include teaching the thoughtful discussion and analysis of a situation before reaching a conclusion. Maybe it’s more about indoctrination? It certainly is not about local control and trusting local teachers and officials to make sound judgements regarding the education of their children.

Lowe, Leo win re-election to state education board:

Leo, a homemaker and former teacher in Garland and Dallas, voted as one of four board members against 11 others to reject some biology textbooks dealing with evolution.Leo, 44, said the books did not fully discuss and portray deficiencies in the scientific basis for evolutionary theories.

The majority voted to adopt the books because books can be rejected based only on factual errors or failure to follow mandated state curriculum.

NCSE Resource — Textbook power grab rebuffed in Texas:

A brief (PDF) from a number of groups, led by the Texas State Teachers Association and also including the Texas Freedom Network and the Texas Association of Biology Teachers, urged the attorney general to reaffirm DM-424, contending that Leo’s request “telegraphs a desire by some members of the SBOE to return to the day when textbook decisions were made on non-educational grounds,” when “the SBOE’s textbook adoption process was entangled with ideology, politics, and religion, and was a forum for divisive political battles that focused on ideological rather than educational or pedagogical concerns.”

Leo is not up for re-election this year. However, all Texans who believe that public education should be a place for informed and civic education rather than mere indoctrination would do well to keep an eye open for her next power play.

September 26, 2006

Art teacher lawsuit?

Filed under: art education, Frisco ISD, Sydney McGee, Teacher issues, Texas — texased @ 9:42 am

Looks like Ms. McGee hasn’t met expectations since her last hearing according to the school board:

Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Latest News:

District officials have repeatedly pointed to other performance issues and said the trip didn’t spark the reprimands.Ms. McGee became the subject of frequent media reports over the last month after the board rejected her August request to transfer to another Frisco school.

District officials said they didn’t want to give Ms. McGee an escape hatch to move elsewhere without addressing other issues, including lesson-plan preparation.

But Ms. McGee said she received a negative review and several directives from Fisher principal Nancy Lawson only after a parent reportedly complained about the trip.

The school board stopped short of terminating Ms. McGee’s contract Monday night. But after a closed-door session, Dr. Reedy said he would recommend that her contract not be renewed.

“If they had good reason to fire her, they would have, but they don’t,” Mr. Dunn said. “It’s mind-boggling.”

Buddy Minett, school board president, declined to talk about the case.

“This is something where it’s really better if we don’t comment,” he said.

I’m sure that the administration has of course, documented her inability to improve her lesson plans. After all, this was the rational some board members gave at the previous hearing.

Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Collin County News:

Some board members said it appeared that Ms. Lawson was trying to improve the art teacher’s performance and should be allowed to do so.

Now if she was such a horrible teacher, shouldn’t the board be looking at the administration of the school who was willing to accept her transfer? Doesn’t this show poor judgement on that prinicipal’s part by offering her the transfer? Oh that’s right, the board doesn’t want to stand in the way of principals running their schools no matter how arbitrary her actions may be. Remember, there was no written record of previous reprimands, whether she deserved them or not.

I see this as a case where the board realizes it screwed up by reacting to one over-zealous parent and is now trying to bury its mess as quickly as possible. I can’t say what kind of teacher McGee was before all of this and whether or not she deserved to be reprimanded. I do sincerely hope that she was smart enough to dot every i and cross every t these past six weeks and be able to sue the heck out of the district.

No, that’s not fair to all of the teachers and employees who are doing a great job for Frisco. But it would be doing them a service as well by letting the board know that they have to hold principals accountable for completing their duties as required. The principal tried to use a parent complaint as the basis to take action against a teacher. They refused to substantiate the complaint in any way that would allow the teacher to address the issue. And when it became clear that most people didn’t consider the complaint by itself worthy of discipline, all of a sudden the board hears about previous “verbal” reprimands and goes along with it.

I have said all along, this is not about whether or not McGee had work issues. It has to do with a principal and a board being able to discredit a teacher without adequate proof. The rules that the administration and board ignored are designed to protect all teachers. For those who say that by following the rules, the school may be keeping an ineffective teacher in the classroom and the students are the only ones who suffer, I would point out that the reason that the teacher is still there is because the administration didn’t do its job in the first place!

And if you think this is exactly the sort of thing that encourages law suit abuse, who’s fault is it? But it doesn’t really matter, does it? The board of Frisco ISD has decided to go ahead and pay the potential lawsuit costs (I know, I’m guessing here) to make the problem go away. In six months, no one is going to care about how much Frisco ISD paid to settle except the insurance company. If anyone really does care, they would do something about it at the next school board election.

September 25, 2006

Your Texas State Board of Education: Geraldine Miller

Geraldine Miller is the current chair of the Texas State Board of Education. Did you know that we actually elect our SBOE members? We do. And Miller is running for District 12 opposed only by a Libertarian “place-holder” candidate. So I guess it really doesn’t matter that Miller and her husband were involved in the TRMPAC as it’s fourth largest donner. TRMPAC? You know, the fund raising activity that caused Tom Delay to resign.

TPJ.org:

Vance Miller, whose father founded a Dallas real estate empire, is one of the donors who jotted Craddick’s name on checks that they wrote to TRMPAC. In explaining this faux pas to the media, Miller said that, before he wrote his $10,000 check, TRMPAC Treasuer Bill Ceverha “led me to believe Tom Craddick was involved to elect more Republicans to the House.” Spouse Geraldine “Tincy” Miller chairs the Texas State Board of Education. Fellow social conservative Linda Bauer’s 2002 election to that board got a $13,000 boost from a Miller-affiliated PAC. The Austin-American Statesman reported that the PAC’s only donors were the Millers and Russell Stein–an investment advisor involved in one of the State Board of Education’s pay-to-play scandals.

Then there’s her politics. While any election is obviously about politics, some politics cross into the grey area of promoting an ideology more appropriate for personal values than a guiding force for government, especially education. The Texas Freedom Network has quite a few quotes from Miller as part of her testimony as a board member. One example follows:

Texas Freedom Network: Miller’s Tenure on SBOE:

Slavery and Civil Rights: History books were targeted for what critics called an “overkill of emphasis on cruelty to slaves,” asserting that coverage of slavery, civil rights struggles or discrimination was unpatriotic and anti-Christian. (1996 & 2002 testimony filed at TEA)

It’s worth looking at some of her other statements. And whenever you’re likely to agree because we are a “Christian” nation, re-read the statement inserting another religion. It could be Catholic, Mormon, or Scientology. Even better, try Lutheran, Presbyterian, or Episcopalian. Because not every Christian would agree with her interpretation of Christian beliefs.

I have to go and put my two cents worth into our annual home owners association. More later.

September 24, 2006

What’s wrong with this picture?

Filed under: High Stakes Testing, Texas Education Agency — texased @ 10:51 am


Kerrville Daily Times:

Tivy High received a preliminary unacceptable rating from the Texas Education Agency. The rating did not reflect the performance of Tivy High School students, but was given as a result of completion rates at Kerr County Juvenile Facility.

Another Friday Press Release

Filed under: Education reform, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) — texased @ 4:08 am

Report Says Education Officials Violated Rules – New York Times:

Department of Education officials violated conflict of interest rules when awarding grants to states under President Bush’s billion-dollar reading initiative, and steered contracts to favored textbook publishers, the department’s inspector general said yesterday.

In a searing report that concludes the first in a series of investigations into complaints of political favoritism in the reading initiative, known as Reading First, the report said officials improperly selected the members of review panels that awarded large grants to states, often failing to detect conflicts of interest. The money was used to buy reading textbooks and curriculum for public schools nationwide.

You know, until they are able to turn everything over to the free market, they’re going to have to deal with these pesky requirements such as public panels, general inspectors, and congressional requests.

Report Says Education Officials Violated Rules – New York Times:

In one e-mail message cited in the report, from which the inspector general deleted some vulgarities, the director of Reading First, Chris Doherty, urged staff members to make clear to one company that it was not favored at the department.

“They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat the [expletive deleted] out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags,” Mr. Doherty wrote.

It’s nice to know that federal officials are so committed to ensuring that children receive education programs and services most appropriate for their specific needs rather than merely conforming with some political ideology or corporate welfare program.

Visit Schools Matter for a detailed description of what has been going on with the Reading First program and how it’s no suprise to anyone who has been paying attention, like School Matters.

Schools Matter:

As I have said before, if you really want to know what is beneath the surface of Bush Co., pay attention to the weekly news dumps that occur each Friday afternoon. This week Spellings AP lackey has this story of an ED Inspector General’s Report just in time for the weekend. It will no doubt go unreported by most of the corporate media per usual.

September 23, 2006

Positive Homeschooling Articles

Filed under: education reporting, Homeschooling — texased @ 5:48 pm

A homeschool article without the obligatory comment from an “expert” about the dangers of the lack of socialization.

Altus Times – Altus, Oklahoma:

Home education is becoming more and more common in communities throughout the United States. Altus residents Dawn and Ty Holt both have a hand in schooling their children. Dawn, who was a public school teacher since 1972, said she had always had an “inkling” to homeschool and she always keeps her “ear to the ground” about it.

And another one:

– from Archives: Parents Find Flexibility In Homeschooling:

The questions most commonly asked of them, according to a few parents on hand at Ida Lee, relate to socialization. These parents can’t help but smirk when the question arises. They quickly point to social gatherings like the one Friday, clubs, teams, swimming or ballet lessons, specialized private schooling-like the Johns Hopkins program-and the ability to interact throughout the day with people of all ages, not just peers, as factors in a more appealing “socialization.”

So what do you think? They couldn’t find anyone on short notice or they have meet too many socially acceptable homeschoolers to bother with the warnings?

September 22, 2006

What’s good for football is good for everyone

Filed under: Education Finance, education priorities, education reporting, sports — texased @ 4:45 am

Star-Telegram | 09/20/2006 | Where will they go?:

It’s the bond election’s second proposition that might cause heartburn for some voters: $9.75 million for renovation and expansion of the district’s football stadium. After all, teaching academics is the primary goal for schools, and the Keller district has its hands full just providing the classroom space to keep up with its fast-growing enrollment.

True, but no Texas school district can afford to ignore the needs of its athletic and other extracurricular programs for adequate facilities where they can participate in their various activities and where parents and other spectators can watch them perform. No one should deny that these activities contribute greatly to school life and to the development of many young people.

So does the last sentence mean that no one should deny the activities because they do contribute greatly or because those who deny it might be burned at the stake if they do?

Also, did you notice how the paragraph talks about multiple programs and facilities, suggesting this is more about improving the entire extracurricular activities of the student population? It’s a bond issue for improving one football stadium. Maybe the band might appreciate a larger audience or even members of the track and field team. But lets face it, this doesn’t even include all the sports related extracurricular activities, never mind theater, art, etc.

Football is important to the community and since football is played by high school students it is therefore important that the school has a better stadium. Spare me the arguments about how many students benefit from the football program. I’m fairly certain the same amount of money could be spent directly on college scholarships or personal tutors with greater impact on the students and the community.

September 21, 2006

Parental concern

The article’s various titles definitely uses the word “parents” suggesting more than one parent.

Parents call for one way to rate U.S. schools:

Many parents and educators are confused by conflicting U.S., Texas rankings

However, only one parent is even mentioned:

Parents call for one way to rate U.S. schools:

Tiffany Davis thought she had found the perfect school for her daughter. Pilgrim Elementary was fewer than three miles from her office, and on Aug. 1, the state declared it “exemplary” based on student test scores.Davis was sold — until the state made another announcement less than three weeks later: Pilgrim Elementary failed to meet the academic demands of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The acclaimed Houston Independent School District campus now bore a scarlet letter.

“What’s going on?” Davis said she thought. “It was extremely confusing.”

Although the article does go on to mention “parents” again.

Parents call for one way to rate U.S. schools:

“If we had a national accountability system, then we wouldn’t have this confusion. Parents would have clear information,” said Michael Petrilli, a vice president at the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.

So where are all these parents? The reporter apparently found only one parent who was confused. She’s not reporting about a group of parents who have banded together to question school authorities about test scores. This one parent gets to represent all parents for whom this testing is being done as suggested by Michael Petrilli.

I suspect the reason why the reporter wasn’t able to talk to a group of concerned parents is because no such group exists. Consider the following report about an academically unacceptable school and parental attendance:

Making the grade:

Only a handful of parents showed up Tuesday evening for a public hearing at Waxahachie Ninth Grade Academy relating to the campus’ recent rating as academically unacceptable by the Texas Education Agency.According to information from the TEA, the rating resulted from a low math score posted by a freshman student sub-group on the TAKS test administered during the 2005-2006 school year.

Of 26 indicators for the district, Assistant Superintendent David Truitt said Waxahachie ISD posted gains in 25.

Does the fact that hardly anyone showed up mean that parents don’t care about the school? Or could it mean that most parents realized the issue didn’t affect their child directly and choose not to attend? Of course, we will never know the extent of parental concern from the Houston Chronicle article since only one parent mentioned. She is, however, ideally suited for the article.

Parents call for one way to rate U.S. schools:

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, suggests looking at the data behind the labels.

“Once you get the rating, the next question is, ‘Why?’ ” Fallon said. “In some cases, it’s more serious than others.”

Fallon gave the same advice to Tiffany Davis, the concerned mother who works in her office. In the end, Pilgrim Elementary was full, Davis said, so she enrolled her daughter at Memorial Elementary, a state “recognized” school that also met the federal requirements. “I was trying to find a good school,” she said.

Because she found the rating systems so “confusing”, she’s going with a different school that is acceptable by both standards. I have to feel sorry for her daughter’s teachers. Her mother selected a “good” school based on labels that can fit on a school welcome sign. Don’t you just think she’s the kind of parent who will assume that it’s the teacher’s fault when her child fails?

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