Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas

January 17, 2008

Because they don’t like it

Texas Ed Spectator » Blog Archive » Because they don’t like it
Rejection of math textbook sparks debate on state board’s authority | Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Latest News

The state Board of Education’s unusual decision to reject a math textbook used by Dallas and 70 other Texas school districts has evolved into a power struggle over the approval of classroom materials used across the state.

At issue is whether the 15-member state board can reject any book it wants for any reason it wants. That’s what some conservative board members, led by board president Don McLeroy, say they are allowed to do.

So much for local control.

See the complete post at my new website www.texasedspectator.com.

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January 15, 2008

Start Checking Your Kindergartner’s Credit Report

Filed under: Accountability, education, Texas Education Agency — texased @ 2:33 pm
Texas Ed Spectator » Blog Archive » Start checking your kindergartner’s credit report
A new database will be collecting kindergartner’s social security numbers.

Company gets kindergartners’ Social Security numbers, data | Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Latest News

The new database for kindergarten test scores also includes sections for children’s names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, gender, school identification numbers and parents’ names and addresses, educators say.

For some odd reason, some people are disturbed by this.

See the complete post at my new website www.texasedspectator.com.

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September 19, 2007

Who’s cheating now?

Remember all the controversy around TAKS scores and the Caveon analysis about possible cheating in 2006?

Everybody Does It / Academic cheating is at an all-time high. Can anything be done to stop it?

It used to be that cheating was done by the few, and most often they were the weaker students who couldn’t get good grades on their own. There was fear of reprisal and shame if apprehended. Today, there is no stigma left. It is accepted as a normal part of school life, and is more likely to be done by the good students, who are fully capable of getting high marks without cheating. “It’s not the dumb kids who cheat,” one Bay Area prep school student told me. “It’s the kids with a 4.6 grade-point average who are under so much pressure to keep their grades up and get into the best colleges. They’re the ones who are smart enough to figure out how to cheat without getting caught.”

This sounds a lot like the kids at the schools the our former TEA commissioner, Dr. Neeley, said wouldn’t have to cheat to get good TAKS scores.

Money makes you honest « Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas

Dr. Neeley said the wealthy districts on the list – including many considering self-investigations – are unlikely to cheat.

“You look at Highland Park, Richardson, Eanes,” she said, naming some of the state’s wealthiest districts in the Dallas and Austin areas. “Do they have to cheat to have good scores? I gave a talk in Eanes not long ago and said, ‘Do you people think Westlake High School had to cheat to get good scores?’ “

But I’m sure things are different in Texas, right?

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September 4, 2007

Looking at numbers

Filed under: Education Finance, Texas Education Agency — texased @ 11:38 am

Study finds inequality in Texas education funding – Houston Business Journal:

High schools also tended to receive 18 percent more funding than elementary or middle schools, as did schools with more senior teachers.

So what do you think accounts for the 18% difference? A need to pay teachers more for teaching advanced subjects like physics and calculus? Are there really that many calculus teachers in high schools or are they really paid that much more than other teachers?

Where is that 18% going? Now I’m going to guess that it’s going to improve the “quality” of the high school experience by providing a variety of enrichment activities. Yeah, I think a lot more is being spent on high school athletics than any one cares to admit.

And until the districts and TEA are willing to show otherwise, I think I’m probably on the right track, at least in terms that the TEA and school districts aren’t anxious to reveal their funding breakdown. What in the world am I talking about?

You can go to the TEA website and generate AEIS Reports for Texas school districts. If you look up the Bexar County Northside district, you will find a breakdown of “Actual Expenditures by Function” and “Actual Program Expenditure Information.” The functions include “Cocurricular activities” and the program information includes “Athletics/Related Activities.” These items constitute only 2% or less of the budget, pretty small potatoes. But then why doesn’t the report list the number of students enrolled in Athletics/Related Activities when it does so for a select number of other programs?

Furthermore, when you get to the campus level, these categories go missing completely along with the functions “Student Transportation” and “Food Services” among others. Is this the start of the 18% increase in spending in high schools? We certainly can’t tell from the data since the date aren’t provided.

So why aren’t the categories listed at the campus level? Could it be because the disparities would be that obvious?

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August 4, 2007

Schools–education and so much more

Filed under: education priorities, Texas Education Agency — texased @ 9:01 pm

Another example of education not being the only concern of public schools:

Mexia Daily News – District pulls 4-day school week proposal

The Lancaster school board voted 5-1 last month to allow Lewis to seek a waiver exempting the district from the required 180-day school calendar. Under the proposal, the 6,000-student district south of Dallas would have longer days Monday through Thursday and Fridays off.

Supporters say the short week would boost academics by allowing longer uninterrupted stretches of class time and save money as the district deals with a funding deficit.

Critics have protested the idea over concerns about the cost of child care on Fridays and unsupervised students getting into trouble.

It’s an interesting cost benefit issue. The schools could save money and (theoretically) improve academics by switching to a shorter week. That would seem to meet the generally stated goals of public education.

But the argument against is that it will cost parents in day care and the possibly the community in general with increased youth crime. So shouldn’t the voters of the Lancaster district be willing to spend (you know, tax themselves) to address this social issue? It looks like it’s going to cost them either way, so why not send the money to education?

Too bad they don’t have some critical tourist industry that needs to operate on Fridays using student labor–the Lancaster board probably wouldn’t have ever been sent the 15 questions from TEA to begin with.

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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.

January 28, 2007

No, really?

MySA.com: State Government:

At least half of all high school students in the state’s major cities are dropping out of school, creating a crisis that state leaders are not doing enough to address, some education experts say.

This was true when I did my masters report in the 1980’s. This problem spans generations in terms of “alarm” over dropout rates. All of the dramatic reforms of the past thirty years, no pass-no play, increasing requirements, teacher reforms, etc, have proven to be only tinkering on the edges of the problem with no real results. I suspect things won’t change until the state is willing to go to some sort of equitable state wide funding mechanism while allowing more control at the local and parent level.


What do we have right now–does 4 by 4 ring a bell? No child left behind? Or how about how we handle charter schools?

MySA.com: Metro | State:

Shapiro’s proposed bill would make the closure of a charter school after two years on the academically unacceptable list automatic, removing intermediate steps that have slowed enforcement and helped spur courtroom battles. It would also set an absolute standard that a minimum of 25 percent of a school’s students must pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests in reading and math. If a school misses that mark two years in a row, it would have to shut its doors.

MySA.com: Metro | State:

Shapiro’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Ransom Rice, said there has been discussion of adding a caveat to the proposed bill that would allow such schools to prove that students are making considerable progress, even if their TAKS scores are sub par, thus saving themselves from closure. Rice said even if that measure is added to the bill, however, it would likely be a one-time-only second chance.

The logic behind this “reasoning” is astounding. First, you have schools taking kids who have managed to fall several/many grade levels behind over ten or eleven years and the school gets two years to bring them up to standards.

Then there is the whole “school choice” aspect of it. No one is forcing parents to send their kids to these schools. If these schools are doing such a terrible job, why are the parents still sending their children there? There are two possibilities.

One, the parent believes that the child is benefiting from the school regardless of what the state standards say. After all, they probably do take into account that their child is six years behind when he started the school.

Or two. The parents really don’t have a clue as to how their children are doing which is probably indicative of their own education experience. Can anyone say “culture of poverty?”

How will increasing standards reduce the dropout rate when part of the problem is that the students can’t meet the existing standards to begin with? How can shutting down a school because it doesn’t meet average yearly progress improve students’ performance if they are simply placed back into the situation that generated the problem to begin with?

Why do we still have a 50 % dropout rate after 40 years of alarm over the issue? Because no one is willing to come out and say resolving it would require spending more on students from poor economic backgrounds compared to those from wealthy, suburban districts. Because it would mean that people in a wealthy district would have to recognize that spending money on poor students is a necessary investment for their own children’s standard of living. It would mean letting go of the idea that somehow “those” students are in such poor schools because they deserve it.

October 9, 2006

Good news for Kerrville

Kerrville Daily Times:

The Texas Education Agency has reversed an earlier rating and given an “academically acceptable” rating to Tivy High School and the Kerrville Independent School District, according to a KISD news release.

This was a case of counting students who were assigned to Tivy High School because they were housed at the Kerr county Juvenile Detention Center.

Kerrville Daily Times:

The school and district were given an unacceptable rating because of completion rates for students housed at the Kerr County Juvenile Detention Center. Several students who didn’t graduate or complete a TEA-approved General Education Development program were from counties outside of Kerr, KISD Superintendent Dan Troxell said at a September board meeting.

It’s even better news for Texas education lobbyists:

Kerrville Daily Times:

In a September board meeting, Troxell told board members that the district had hired a Houston attorney to help Rep. Harvey Hildebran, R-Kerrville, draft legislation to modify the education agency’s system of rating schools and districts.

Don’t you think it’s a problem when an issue like this has to be resolved at the legislature (which meets only every two years to ensure responsive, good government) rather than dealt with sensibly by the district and TEA?

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.

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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