Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas

November 13, 2007

Vouchers are about choice, not quality

Filed under: Accountability, Education reform, Higher Education, Texas — texased @ 8:15 pm

MySA.com: Metro | State

In recent weeks, community members have rallied and pleaded with trustees, begging them to spare West Campus, which has about 600 students. But faced with a heart versus head dilemma, trustees voted to close the campus, which has had chronic low enrollment for years, operates at a deficit and has an “academically unacceptable” rating from the Texas Education Agency.

Now what is the point of school vouchers again? A way for poor parents to escape a failing school system? But what if parents are fine with their local schools no matter what its academic rating?

MySA.com: Metro | State

Parents, many of whom have their own memories of school days at West Campus, haven’t taken the decision lying down. On Friday, they filed a request for a temporary restraining order in U.S. District Court to challenge the school district’s effort to keep the dispute from bubbling up during the evening’s football game.

The latest legal challenge came after district officials announced that they would not tolerate any save-the-school fundraising efforts at the game or allow audience members to wear shirts or carry signs emblazoned with defamatory messages.

Despite the fact that their children will go a better rated high school, these parents aren’t happy. So how can you expect vouchers to “save” the school system if parents aren’t going to behave as voucher proponents expect them to? Let’s face it, “vouchers” at the higher education level, (grants and loans) don’t guarantee that students attend only schools with high graduation rates or job placement. It does allow quite a bit more diversity in education choice but it doesn’t mean that poorer quality schools shut down.

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August 11, 2007

Because education officials wouldn’t lie

Filed under: Accountability, Education reform, Homeschooling — texased @ 5:54 pm

Critics say TEA’s dropout figures mislead public | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle

Bob Sanborn, who runs a Houston-based education research and advocacy group, said the changes addressed some of his concerns. But, he said, the state still allows schools to get credit for students who never graduate. Students can say they are dropping out to be homeschooled, for example, but the state never checks on whether that is true.

Is he seriously suggesting that the high school dropout rate will be affected by cracking down on those “fake” homeschoolers?

HISD has already shown that if a high school has listed a big enough number of students having withdrawn to homeschool that it actually gets notice then the problem is with the keepers of the list, not the homeschoolers. They could just as easily have stated that they had transferred to a private school or moved out of the state.

Counting dropouts in Texas has been a problem for over 30 years. If the best Sanborn can do it to point to “homeschoolers” then you’ve got to wonder about the quality of his education analysis. Somehow, I have a feeling that Sanborn would want to check up on homeschoolers regardless of the dropout situation.

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May 12, 2007

Where are they going to go?

Filed under: college admissions, Education reform, Higher Education — texased @ 8:52 pm

This is a good idea.

MySA.com: Metro | State

Under UTSA’s proposal, guaranteed admission for top-ranked high school students would expand from the top 10 percent to the top 25 percent.

Below that threshold, students would have to score from 920-1020 on the SAT, up from the current range of 830-970; on the ACT, that range would rise from 17-20 to 19-21.Romo said higher standards are part of a strategy to slow enrollment and manage runaway growth, as well as raise graduation rates and push UTSA toward it goal of becoming a premier research university.

A draft of UTSA’s strategic plan calls for capping enrollment at 35,000 by 2016. Romo estimated that 400 students would be rejected under the new standards.

“You cannot be open admissions and say you have standards,” Romo said, adding that high schools must turn out better students because the university cannot afford remedial education.

“The message we send to high schools is that UTSA will take you, no matter what,” he said.

Of course, in some ways, this just shifts the issues of qualifications and enrollment to community colleges. And given the lack of predictability of transferring course work from community colleges to four year institutions, low graduation rates, and lower profiles, I can’t help but think it’s brushing the problem under the rug so the legislature doesn’t have to deal with it.

What problem? The problem that obviously a significant number of students graduate from Texas colleges believing that they are ready for college but the low graduation rate at many Texas universities suggest otherwise.

Then there is the problem of capping enrollments as a means to controlling growth. Even if our public school system never improves, the number of graduates capable of succeeding in college is going to grow simply from population growth. Where are these people supposed to go?

Our local school district has a bond issue on the ballot to build more more schools to accommodate the 4,000 plus students being added to the district each year. Where are the new universities being built?

This is basically why it’s so hard to get into the Ivy League schools. They probably have ten times the number of people applying than they had 30 years ago and all of them meet the minimum qualifications. However, they haven’t expanded to accommodate ten times the enrollment. Students are being turned away who would have been an automatic admission just 20 years ago.

UTSA will become more selective simply because it can’t keep growing, just like UT Austin and Texas A&M already have. So what happens next, the community colleges, our last door that opens the path to higher education to all, will start turning away students?

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 5, 2007

Do as I say–it’s not about the money

Filed under: Education Finance, Education reform, Teacher issues — texased @ 7:55 pm

Except it is if you are going to reward effective teachers.

Star-Telegram | 03/03/2007 | Report: Future rests on teachers’ shoulders:

“Five years with an effective teacher, not just an average teacher, is sufficient to close the achievement gap between middle- and low-income youngsters,” said Sandy Kress, an Austin-based lobbyist and author of the report.

As former chief education adviser for President Bush, Kress helped construct the federal No Child Left Behind Act. He is also education adviser to the Governor’s Business Council, a nonprofit organization of Texas business leaders.

So it takes five years for a student to catch up? Is that with the same teacher or within the same subject? Is the improvement distributed evenly over the five years or does it start off slowly and then accelerate? How do they match the students and the teachers? If it takes five years, why are schools expected to get students on grade level within a year? And most importantly, how is a poor school district going to keep these effective teachers from moving to wealthier districts and better teaching conditions?

Star-Telegram | 03/03/2007 | Report: Future rests on teachers’ shoulders:

The initial cost of implementation, Kress said, would be between $125 million and $150 million.

Which will be funded how?

MySA.com: Metro | State:

As outlined by Kress, the system would develop over several years, take into account factors such as test scores, test score growth, principal and peer evaluations and ultimately allow the state and school districts to offer higher pay to teachers who demonstrate better results and take on more challenging assignments.He said no new money would be tied to the legislation this session, but that business leaders would endorse bonuses for teachers once a fair evaluation system was in place.

Are these the same business leaders that refuse to disclose the selling price of property to avoid paying their fair share of school property taxes? Until these business experts get real and address school finance, why are we even listening to these people?

February 23, 2007

Best Practices?

Filed under: Education reform — texased @ 9:47 pm

What kind of employer would prevent workers from asking questions about assignments? What kind of employer would put a water cooler in each cubicle to keep employees from getting up and potentially congregating around the water cooler? What kind of employer would muffle chair legs with tennis balls to keep them from making noise? What kind of employer would group all the low performing employees together in a department?

Apparently whatever employer hires the kids who are in one of Northside ISD’s third grade classrooms. Students aren’t supposed to ask for clarification after directions have been given once. To keep them in their seats, desks are grouped together so that they can easily reach tissues or hand sanitizers and never have to get up from their chairs. Students are being tracked by “ability” level. The classroom walls are bare and the halls contain only pictures of the school mascot.

So since it’s a recognized school, does that make these “best practices?”

February 18, 2007

So who would work for Apple?

Filed under: Education reform, Teacher issues — texased @ 1:29 pm

What kind of person could you get to make broad, sweeping statements on topics about which he’s obviously seriously uninformed? Steve Jobs.

Apple CEO Jobs attacks teacher unions | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle:

AUSTIN — Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs lambasted teacher unions today, claiming no amount of technology in the classroom would improve public schools until principals could fire bad teachers.Jobs compared schools to businesses with principals serving as CEOs.

“What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn’t get rid of people that they thought weren’t any good?” he asked to loud applause during an education reform conference.

“Not really great ones because if you’re really smart you go, ‘I can’t win.'”

In a rare joint appearance, Jobs shared the stage with competitor Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Inc. Both spoke to the gathering about the potential for bringing technological advances to classrooms.

“I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way,” Jobs said.

Regardless of the situation in other states, public schools have more than enough authority to get rid of bad teachers in Texas. I would love for Jobs to give one example where a Texas public school could not fire a teacher even though they have documentation to prove the person is incompetent.

Notice, I used the word “documentation.” I think Michael Dell is much closer to the truth.

Apple CEO Jobs attacks teacher unions | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle:

Dell also blamed problems in public schools on the lack of a competitive job market for principals.

If a principal does her job appropriately, she can get rid of an ineffective teacher. We’re not talking about mounds of documentation here. Does Steve Jobs just walk up to an employee and fire him without first notifying him of performance problems? Surely he expects his managers to notify employees there is a problem and give them the opportunity to improve before being fired?

Or is Apple so successful that it can afford to train and invest in new employees to replace those fired without trying to improve performance and protect the investment already made in that employee? After all, what kind of person is going to be willing to work for a company that fires employees with giving them a chance to address their short-comings? I thinkI would go apply for a job at Dell.

February 13, 2007

Is it the money or the competition?

Filed under: Education reform — texased @ 6:59 am

Texas’ 2007 dropouts will cost taxpayers $377 million every year | NCPA:

The study finds that Texas school districts facing more private school competition have lower public school dropout rates. A modest school choice program, which would increase private school enrollment by just five percent, would reduce the public school dropout rate by 8,700 – 17,400 students per year. This would save between $27 and $53 million annually over the expected life of the students.

Or maybe they have a lower dropout rate because the school gets the same amount in local property taxes collected to support a fewer number of students.

Since the money is calculated by what the state would save, does that mean the study is supporting a state wide school finance system to support vouchers?

February 7, 2007

How will private schools be held accountable for vouchers?

Filed under: Accountability, Education reform — texased @ 7:37 pm

MySA.com: Metro | State:

Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, plans to introduce a school voucher bill later this month that would allow up to 5 percent of the low-income children in the state’s largest urban school districts to attend a school of their choice at taxpayer expense.”

It will target those folks who don’t have the means to take their kids out of bad schools and put them in some place better or safer,” Janek said, adding that his bill would include strict accountability measures.

So how will parents know that they are placing their children in better safer schools? Will they have the same ratings from TEA for comparison to private schools? Why should the private school not have to prove they’re “good” in the same way that public schools have to? Why should public schools be held accountable and risk losing students and not private schools that receive vouchers?

If the public money is going to follow the students, the public accountability has to as well. After all, that’s why we’re giving them vouchers in the first place, because some school didn’t meet standards.

February 5, 2007

Accountability

There are so many who want education reform based on “running a business” and accountability that I think it’s time to explain the situation in language they should understand.

Let’s pretend that you run a plant nursery. You sell a healthy, well-kept tree to your customer. You give them fertilizer and detailed instructions. You might even go out and check on the tree every so often. If the tree fails to grow because it doesn’t receive enough fertilizer, who’s fault is it?

Or maybe you’re a mechanic and you get a new customer who had been taking his car to another mechanic. The car hasn’t been maintained so you do a tune-up and explain basic maintenance tasks. The customer takes the car home and it breaks down. Are you a bad mechanic?

How about being a doctor and you’re treating a child for asthma and the child keeps having asthma attacks because the parent continues to smoke around the child. (Okay, I’m winging it here since I don’t what all can cause asthma attacks.) Would your treatment of the patient be considered successful?

Of course, in most cases your customers hold up “their side” of the transaction. Even so, as a manager you would need to take account such problem customers as the ones described above when evaluating your employees. You would have to figure which employees have had truly difficult customer situations and which are just using it as an excuse for poor performance.

However, if you were to use the methods suggested from the Texans for Excellence in the Classroom report, you would simply provide the mechanic with three more sessions on how to be a good mechanic. And if the customer’s car breaks down again, fire the mechanic. The doctor would be given special training on dealing with asthma patients and if the child continued to have attacks, her license would be revoked.

As much as people would like to believe otherwise, education reform isn’t going to have a simple, easy solution. It’s not true in business, why should it be in education?

I don’t think all teachers are against being evaluate in their performance. I do think they want and deserve to have extenuating circumstances considered in their evaluations.

You can’t “make” people into good parents by passing laws to make them go to teacher conferences or feed their children five vegetables a day. There is no licensing process you have to go through before you can be a parent even though there are plenty of parents out there who are walking advertisements for such a system.

As long as there is such a large uncontrollable variable that effects the results, it’s not only unfair to the teachers to apply a one size fits all to education accountability, it’s unfair to the student as well. Schools that take the time and energy needed to truly address education deficiencies that originate in the home are penalized.

Do businesses succeed when they focus on short-term earnings for investors or investment in infrastructure and training? Both? It all depends? Do businesses succeed when they take a “one size fits all” approach? Can you think of a better way to set up public schools to fail than demand that “no child be left behind?”

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