Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas

March 30, 2007

Race matters

Filed under: Education reform, High Stakes Testing, race, TAKS — texased @ 10:27 am

I don’t know what to think about this.

School separates races for TAKS talk | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle:

Administrators at a Katy school are facing criticism from parents after holding separate assemblies for black, white and Hispanic students to address low scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test.

The assemblies at Mayde Creek High were held for ninth- and 10th-grade students of different ethnicities to discuss steps to boost scores on the state-required test, said district spokesman Steve Stanford. He said only students at risk because of their scores were called to the meetings, and that no negative message was intended.

Ultimately, he has a point.

School separates races for TAKS talk | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle:

Stanford said students were segregated because that’s how the state looks at and reports achievement.


March 27, 2007

More whining about the top ten percent rule from Plano

Filed under: Top Ten Percent Rule — texased @ 9:59 am

At least this time they found an actual student who didn’t get into UT because of the law.

MySA.com: Metro | State:

Each spring, she said, she gets calls from constituents whose children didn’t make the top 10 percent at highly competitive Plano Senior High School.Josh Wakeman, 22, a senior studying accounting at the University of Oklahoma, is among them.

“Paying out-of-state tuition is highly undesirable,” said Wakeman, who graduated from high school with a 92 average and got an academic scholarship to OU. “There’s no provision to allow students who excel in high school to still excel in college, even though they’re not in the top 10 percent.”

Well, I’m assuming he didn’t get into UT since the article never says which schools he applied to and UT is the one that has everyone so hot and bothered. And apparently no other Texas schools were good enough for Wakeman so he had to go to an out of state school? Not even A&M? So he couldn’t get an academic scholarship at any other Texas school where it might have been enough to cover his tuition? Given that less than ten percent of the students at Plano Senior High School are considered economically disadvantaged, I suspect Wakeman’s parents have footed a large part of the out of state tuition bill.

And so here’s my question to all those parents of Plano High School students who won’t make the top ten percent, what have you done to improve the quality of Texas Universities?

MySA.com: Columnists:

But there is a reason that only UT is getting such a high proportion of top-10-percent students, Montejano says, and toughening the rule to admit only the top, say, 7 percent of high school grads won’t change anything significantly or for long.

“Until Texas deals with the fact that it has only one really attractive (public) university,” he says, ” they will have the same problem.”

I’m sure diversity wasn’t a problem for most of these parents until it hit home. It didn’t bother you that over half of UT’s class came from 64 high schools as long as Plano was one of them.

MySA.com: Columnists:

“In 1996, the last year of affirmative action, half of UT’s entering class — half — came from 64 high schools and the other half came from another 500 or so,” Montejano says. “About 900 (Texas) high schools that weren’t even represented.”

After all, surely a campus where over seven percent of the student population is Hispanic is close enough to the state’s 45 % to prove it’s a reflection of the state population at large?

Let’s face it, Plano Senior High School is successful because it’s in the richest county in Texas and one of top one percent richest counties in the country. Plano parents probably didn’t care about the tuition increases that resulted from tuition de-regulation at state schools because they could still afford it. But tell them that their kids might not make it into UT so that some kids from some of the 900 high schools that hadn’t sent students before could, we’ll that’s just asking too much. And they can’t even complain that because students from less competitive high schools are being admitted that it has a negative affect on school quality and graduation rates. UT’s own anaylsis shows that students in the top 10 percent of their class do better than those who have higher SAT scores but aren’t in the top ten percent.

I suspect the attitude of many of these parents is “damn it, I worked hard to be able to live in Plano so that my kids can go to these schools and deserve to get into UT. If for some reason, other people have worked hard and never made it to Plano, that’s their problem–isn’t that what community colleges are for?” Poor, poor Plano parents, ultimately they’re going up against the following argument:

MySA.com: Metro | State:

At both UT and Texas A&M, research shows that top 10 percent students have higher grade point averages, higher retention rates and higher graduation rates than those not in the top 10 percent, West’s office noted.”

Students in the top 10 percent are helping to further solidify the reputation of UT Austin as a top-notch university,” West said. “They’re the students from every walk of life in the state of Texas — urban, rural, black, white, Hispanics. Someone needs to tell me what’s wrong with that.”

And even though the argument against the top ten percent rule is for more diversity in areas that can’t be measured by SAT scores or grades:

MySA.com: Metro | State:

Zaffirini, a UT graduate, said she favors changing the law provided Texas moves forward to assure racial and ethnic diversity in college admissions, such as more recruiting from under-represented high schools.

“I really don’t like a single criterion, whether it’s grades or SAT scores or anything else,” she said. “A brilliant musician, a brilliant actor, a brilliant writer might not be in the top 10 percent even though we would keep that person out of the top institution.”

The best example they can come up with is an accounting major from Plano who’s parents would rather pay to send him to OU than the wilds of College Station. It must really suck when money alone can’t buy your way into UT.

March 26, 2007

Would they pay if they knew they wouldn’t play?

Filed under: cultural values, sports — texased @ 8:07 pm

Baseball season has started (which has cut into my blogging time) and once again I get to see up close and personal what coaches and parents will do to win. My biggest gripe is the minimum play rules. In Little League, you only have to play a kid for six consecutive outs or one at bat. That’s not a lot and if you’re not one of the better players you’re going to spend your playing time in right field. And the board members wonder why more and more kids drop out each year?

But the interesting part is that most parents aren’t aware of the rules. Usually, they just associate the poor playing experience with a specific coach and drop out without realizing the coach was following the rules. I’ve often suggested that the parents should be informed about the rules at registration time. How many of them would be willing to fork over $95 knowing their children may only go up to bat once a game?

Not suprisingly, no one has rushed out to implement my suggestion. Even though this is supposed to be about kids learning to play baseball and learning to love the sport so that one day they will sign up their kids to play baseball, no one wants to give up the competitive edge of being able to relagate the less developed players to right field. Coaches don’t have to worry about teaching all the kids how to play and can spend more time polishing their own kids’ skills so that they can make the all-stars. As the kids grow older, they justify not playing certain kids in the infield because it would be “dangerous” for them since they aren’t likely to field the ball which is because no one has ever bother to teach them in the first place. So every year, the worst players drop out which makes the players who were slightly better than them the worst players for the next year who will drop out and so on and so on until you go from eight t-ball teams to two juniors teams.

Nonetheless, the coaches and board members would much rather bemoan the lack of “talent” than face the fact that they themselves have created the situation. And year after year, they take the parents money without explaining that just because everyone pays the same amount doesn’t mean the kids get to play the same amount.

March 22, 2007

They get two months off, what more do they want?

Filed under: Accountability, Teacher issues — texased @ 4:22 pm

MySA.com: MySA.com: Jobs:

Need a job? The Northside Independent School District needs to hire 800 teachers before the fall semester.So, if you’re qualified and you have teaching credentials, you could have a new job by summer.

The teachers are needed because 4,000 new students are expected to enter the school district this year.

“We’re going to open three more schools on top of the four that we opened last year, and the five we opened the year after. So, the need for new teachers is almost overwhelming,” said Pascual Gonzalez, spokesman for NISD.

“Northside school district is only interested in teachers of very high caliber, who can pass a criminal background check, and who are licensed by the state,” Gonzalez said.

There is a special need for candidates licensed in bilingual education, science, math and speech pathology.

Did you know that Northside ISD has a five to one student to teacher ratio? You see 4000 new students divided by 800 teachers is equal to five. Given that 4000 divided into an average classroom size of 20 calls for 200 teachers, I suspect Northside needs new teachers for reasons other than new students.

Now I’m sure that the teacher attrition rate at Northside is less than the state average but answer this question: would you take a job where for the first six years you would only receive less than a 0.5% pay raise and that chances are that you would never receive much more than a one percent raise over your career? That’s significantly less than the average yearly inflation rate.

Northside Independent School District
2005-2006 Step Pay Schedule
Classroom Teachers, Librarians, and Nurses


Northside Pay Schedul

Given all the calls for experienced teachers from NCLB and the Governor’s Business Council, you would think that someone might start paying attention on how to keep experienced teachers. Make that effective experienced teachers. That would require teachers accepting that not everyone is going to get the same raise. Don’t most businesses have ranges for pay scales and raises? Why should I knock myself out when I’m going to get the exact same pay as the person who does the minimum to get by?

And for all of those who are quick to point out that there are lots of people that would love to be paid to work for only ten months a year, go for it, Northside is hiring. There’s a reason why people who become teachers through alternative training programs don’t stick around very long.

March 20, 2007

If only they would give us money

Filed under: Education Finance — texased @ 9:22 am

Charter school network could rival HISD | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle:

“If we learn from (KIPP’s expansion), then it will be great for the district,” said HISD trustee Harvin Moore, a former KIPP board member. “If we continue to treat them as if it’s us against them and make excuses for why they do better than some public schools, then we won’t learn from them.”HISD school board President Manuel Rodríguez Jr. said he wishes philanthropists would invest their money in the traditional public school system.

“This is private monies, and I’m sorry they’re not coming to the public school system,” he said. “It would be my hope that all the different facets of the community could come together and work to make the public school system better.”

While charter schools are public schools, Rodríguez contends that they don’t face the same funding shortages, high number of state and federal mandates, or struggles to get parents involved as HISD.

I understand the issues concerning parental involvement and having to provide services to special need students works to the advantage of charter schools and disadvantage of public schools. But I think Harvin Moore has a point. Go to the KIPP Houston webpage and you’ll see one of the major navigation buttons is “Support KIPP” which then has six sub-menus. If you want to donate money, they make it as easy as possible for you.

Now go to the Houston ISD webpage and try to figure out where to donate money to the district. The one link on the front page, Donors Choose, is not a specific program for HISD. Try to figure out how to give the district money. As far as I can tell, there isn’t an education foundation devoted strictly to the district.

So the first lesson I think HISD can learn from KIPP is that if you want “private monies,” I suggest you make it easy for people to give. Whining isn’t go to get you anywhere.

March 16, 2007

Because I say so…

Filed under: Texas — texased @ 6:00 pm

MySA.com: Metro | State:

Many school principals require parents to separate twins despite the lack of research, Robinson said.

The proposed law would allow parents of multiples to request school principals to place their children in the same classroom or in different classrooms. Schools would have to honor the request unless it would be disruptive or force the school to add an additional classroom.

“We keep telling parents we want them involved in their children’s education. In this case when parents got involved … they were told, ‘You’re wrong,'” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, author of the Senate bill.

You mean school officials would override parents even if they don’t have any basis to? No kidding.

March 12, 2007

Hormone stresses teenagers

Filed under: education — texased @ 9:36 am

Newswise | Scientists Find Hormone Activity Explains Adolescent Mood Swings:

Newswise — If your teenager doesn’t act the way you expect–blame this hormone.

The “raging hormones” of puberty are known to produce mood swings and stress for most teenagers, making it difficult to cope with this period of life. Until now, the specific causes of pubertal anxiety have not been identified, making it harder to understand and treat adolescent angst.

In the current edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience, researchers led by Sheryl S. Smith, PhD, professor of physiology and pharmacology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, report findings demonstrating that a hormone normally released in response to stress, THP, actually reverses its effect at puberty, when it increases anxiety.

This hormone normally acts like a tranquilizer, acting at sites in the brain that “calm” brain activity. In the adult, this stress hormone helps the individual adapt to stress, with a calming effect produced half an hour after the event.

However, at puberty, molecular changes in the part of the brain that generates emotion, the limbic system, respond to this same stress hormone by increasing brain activity, an effect that ultimately increases the anxiety response.

I can understand how increased brain activity could increase the anxiety response. But I can also see given the lack of brain activity on the part of teenagers that often causes the initial stress, this might be nature’s way of forcing teenagers to use their brain to respond to the situation.

March 11, 2007

What’s the merit in merit-based aid?

Filed under: college rankings — texased @ 1:48 pm

Very interesting article.

Merits of student aid – The Boston Globe:

Since then, the growth in merit-based aid at these places has outpaced that of need-based aid in an effort to attract these upper-middle-class students with higher board scores who will make a school more competitive. While some merit money is mixed with need, the trend is clear and results scandalous.

College rankings exacerbate this noxious development. Blame rankings on those odious annual lists U.S. News & World Report dreamed up to sell magazines. Otherwise sane academic leaders drank the Kool-Aid to look better.

Listen to Tufts president Lawrence Bacow, who offers zero merit dollars: “It is far from clear to me how society is better off when scarce financial aid resources are diverted from the neediest students to those who are not needy by any measure, simply to redistribute high scoring students among our institutions.”


Baum, among many, cites Washington University in St. Louis for its extensive use of merit aid: “It didn’t have to do it. That’s a choice. That’s about rankings.” (Washington U. would not give me numbers on its student aid, which, in my book, is akin to refusing a breathalyzer. Closer to home, Simmons did the same and Emerson never got back to me.)

There are people that are trying to focus more attention on the goal of a college education as oppose to it’s selectivity. The Washington Monthly has created their rankings that includes a “Social Mobility” score.

“The Washington Monthly’s Annual College Guide” by the Editors:

And so, to put The Washington Monthly College Rankings together, we started with a different assumption about what constitutes the “best” schools. We asked ourselves: What are reasonable indicators of how much a school is benefiting the country? We came up with three: how well it performs as an engine of social mobility (ideally helping the poor to get rich rather than the very rich to get very, very rich), how well it does in fostering scientific and humanistic research, and how well it promotes an ethic of service to country. We then devised a way to measure and quantify these criteria (See “A Note on Methodology”). Finally, we placed the schools into rankings. Rankings, we admit, are never perfect, but they’re also indispensable.By devising a set of criteria different from those of other college guides, we arrived at sharply different results. Top schools sank, and medium schools rose. For instance, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, 48th on the U.S News list, takes third place on our list, while Princeton, first on the U.S. News list, takes 43rd on ours. In short, Pennsylvania State, measured on our terms–by the yardstick of fostering research, national service and social mobility–does a lot more for the country than Princeton.

If you get what you measure, would we better off with colleges striving to make the U.S. News and World Report rankings or the Washington Monthly rankings?

March 9, 2007

Preventing increases in the rate of deaths among high school students

Filed under: Accountability, High School, Homeschooling, Texas Education Agency — texased @ 5:34 pm

Given the obscure definitions used by the Texas Education Agency to calculate the high school dropout rate, I can understand why the legislature might feel the need to explicitly define who is a dropout. But I have to wonder about the following requirement:

80(R) HB 3621 – Introduced version – Bill Text:

(e) Each school district shall cooperate with the agency in determining whether a student is considered a dropout under this section. The agency shall require that a school district provide at least the following documentation regarding a student who dies or who leaves school but is not considered a dropout under this section:

(1) for a student who dies, a death certificate;

Maybe I’m wrong and it’s no big deal, but it seems to me that requesting a copy of a child’s death certificate from grieving parents would make the hall of fame for insensitive, bureaucratic, and unnecessary policies. Perhaps the state will come up with a way for officials to by-pass the parents.

It would seem that the TEA should be able to trust the schools to list students as being deceased appropriately. Unfortunately, experience has shown that without requiring some sort of verification, some administrator will start listing students as being dead rather than admitting that they dropped out or have no idea of what happen to them.

Just as an aside, the bill once again unnecessarily distinguishes between withdrawing a child to enroll in another school and withdrawing a child to homeschool. Since homeschools are private schools in Texas there should be no difference. In these situations, it’s generally a case of ignorance on the part of the author. But there are times I wonder if there is this inclination to specify homeschoolers separately from private schools because if the state did decide to increase regulation over homeschoolers, it wouldn’t have to go back and make changes every time a law talked about private schools. But then I realize how little evidence there is of such forethought by our legislature and rest easy again.

March 8, 2007

Basketball saves socially inept homeschooler

Filed under: Homeschooling, Socialization, sports — texased @ 8:43 am

Who knew that sports writers were so well informed about homeschooling to be able to make the following statement?

Sports – StatesmanJournal.com:

Unlike a lot the typical home-schooled students, Berrier (pronounced like Perrier) is well-adjusted and blends in enough with his McKay teammates that outsiders can’t tell the difference.

And then there is the basketball coach:

Sports – StatesmanJournal.com:

“The kids love him,” McKay coach Jack Martino said. “They get along with him great. There’s times you could see it would be a lot better if he was here. He’s socially inept at times. But that was more when he was a freshman and a sophomore — you’re trying to get him to act like a human, and he was a kindergartner at times.

Aren’t most freshman and sophomores socially inept at times?

Looks like his teammates are experts on homeschooling as well.

Sports – StatesmanJournal.com:

“Being home-schooled, he’s around 10 people a day, so he doesn’t take criticism from anybody,” said senior teammate Greg Plater.

Well, if he hasn’t received any criticism in homeschooling, surely he’s received some in college?

Sports – StatesmanJournal.com:

Berrier has finished his home-schooling curriculum for high school — but hasn’t graduated — and is taking classes at Chemeketa Community College.

He figures that he’ll have 60 credits toward a college degree by the end of the school year.

What’s interesting is that they never really give his opinion about the school and why he doesn’t attend although his sister does. They don’t have him saying, “yeah, since I homeschool, people are really easy on me” or something to that affect. The only statement from him is about when he couldn’t get into the high school dance.

Sports – StatesmanJournal.com:

“After that, I was so sick of it, I never went to one,” said Berrier, whose twin sister, Samantha, attended McKay and graduated in February. “I lost interest in it. If they don’t want me there, I’m not going to go.”

Sports – StatesmanJournal.com:

The thing that keeps Berrier coming back to McKay is basketball.

So he isn’t in school for the academic challenge or social opportunities–just basketball? What a resounding endorsement for the benefits of attending high school. Gosh, he’s so lucky to have been able to play basketball to save him from being a typical socially inept homeschooler.

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