Who Will Step Up To Save Our Public Schools?
An Editorial Opinion by A. Patrick Huff, Ph.D.
Our public schools in Texas are under attack like never before. If measures taking place in the halls of the Texas Congress and education-governing agency, the Texas Education Agency (TEA), don’t reverse their agenda, public schools as we know them may soon be headed for extinction. Before you think I exaggerate or resort to hyperbole, please consider the points in this article. Someone has to come forward to save our public schools. Someone has to take a stand for the students of our great state.
The number of bills coming out of both branches of the Texas government in Austin is so numerous it takes a person’s full attention to keep up with them all. We have recently had, however, a victory in the state legislature over the agenda to bring a voucher type program into the state. Senate Bill 3 (SB3) is the bill that came out of the Texas Senate. If you are reading this in other states like Arizona, Indiana, Nevada, and Florida, you are familiar with the type of voucher program that was attempted to invade our public and private schools. It is called an Education Savings Account, and it allows the person who has made application to receive a debit card with the allowable amount of money issued to the debit card. The parent can then use the debit card for a tuition reduction at a private school of their choosing or can be used for homeschool expenses. There are other options available for the parent that will not be reviewed in this article, but the bottom line is the parent gets a percentage of the state allocated money per child for the public school the child is zoned to attend.
The ramifications to all school systems, private, home or public, are that acceptance of the voucher changes the dynamics of the school system that accepts the public money. The public school loses money, the private school now has public funds coming into a private system, and the home school parent now, also, has public funds coming into the operations of a private system (the homeschool). Critical to understanding is when public funds enter the private system, the private entity now will have regulations placed on it because of their receiving the public tax generated funds. First and foremost, the private system will have accountability measures placed on it similar to the public schools. Lawmakers will justify this action since any entity receiving public tax money has to have an accountability trail. Rest assured, also, it will be their accountability trail that includes endless standardized testing and harsh measures for schools, principals, and teachers that don’t measure up to their definition of success.
The lawmakers will also demand that the curriculum standards for the private schools and home school families taking the money be the ones that the public schools use. This will mean that Common Core will have the largest influence on those learning parameters. Yes, we do have Common Core in Texas, even though the Texas Legislature made a law stipulating that Common Core could never be used in Texas public schools. All a person has to do is look up the Waiver application made by Commissioner Michael Williams to the US Department of Education. Here is the link where Waiver can be reviewed:
2015 September 16 FINAL ESEA Waiver Renewal-. On page 14 the document makes reference to the percentage of alignment that the TEKS have with Common Core. The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) are the teaching standards used in Texas. All academic instruction flows out of the TEKS.
With pushback from parents and many in the education profession, SB3 was defeated in the Texas House of Representatives. This makes the second year in a row that Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s efforts to push forward a voucher bill have fallen short of gaining the approval of the entire legislature. One would think that this would give the Lt. Governor pause to possibly think that the people of the State of Texas do not want vouchers in our public school system. Unfortunately, however, this will not be the case and we will see these efforts come up again. In fact, there just might be plans in play now to get vouchers passed through another bill that will have more acceptance by the legislators. We all know how this works. It’s never over until it’s over.
Another battle taking place in the legislative hallways is over student data. Personal data obtained from the use of computers and tablets is mounting by the day on our students. Parents, for the most part, have no knowledge this is taking place. They assume that their child’s personal feelings, emotions, likes and dislikes, are considered protected rights that would not be used to put together a file or dossier on the student. This is not the case. The video below put together by education watchdog and talk show host, Alice Linahan, contains excellent public testimony from Steve Swanson, civil engineer, and public school advocate. Here the members of the committee demonstrate that there is an enormous amount of data being collected and it needs to be protected. To Mr. Swanson’s point, why is it being collected in the first place? That question seems to fly over the heads of our elected officials. https://www.facebook.com/AliceL.Linahan/videos/437218436628254/
Here is the bill that addresses the personal data dilemma and how legislators want to protect the privacy of the data. https://legiscan.com/TX/bill/HB2087/2017
Just in case you felt that this bill was acting in the best interest of the children, consider the points made in this article regarding FERPA. The rules pertaining to the protection of student’s personal information is largely insignificant in comparison to the laws that are already on the books regarding the government’s right to use such data in any manner they see fit. Here lies another problem with the education system that educators, like my myself, have allowed to develop under our very noses. There is BIG money in the selling of data to private third party companies for their own use. How did this happen? If you have the time this wonderful article will help explain it. https://crazycrawfish.wordpress.com/2013/12/26/ferpa-does-not-protect-student-privacy-and-never-did/
The U.S. House of Representatives has a bill in committee, waiting to go to full House vote, that will approve vast amounts of federal funds to go directly to local education agencies (ISD’s) for the use of vouchers. This bill will repeal the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act that school systems have lived under for many years. It creates a whole new system. Some would say this is good and way overdue. I’m not so sure about that. There is much not addressed in this bill that will be left up to the states to include in their education plans. https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/610/all-info. Once again, here we go with another shotgun approach to changing the direction of education.
This spring (2017), it was discovered through the work of tireless public school advocate, Steve Swanson, that the Texas Senate in its report to the Governor of Texas, Senator Larry Taylor, the chair of the Senate Education Committee, had not included public testimony in its report. The report included all of the “expert” testimony that had been invited to give evidence of “grounded research”. This expert testimony supported what the Senate wanted to hear about the legislation they were considering. They did not, however, include public testimony that was very well grounded from those who opposed the bills being considered. This action by the Senate demonstrated the disdain and contempt they have for the general public they purport to want to serve. Why have a public testimony if it is not going to be placed in the final report? This should be a wake-up call to us all that the game is rigged. It’s a con job. Why do we continue to put up with it? I am most upset with my own profession, the education profession. We continue to let them shame us in public with accountability ratings that mean nothing in reality. I will expand more on this further in this article.
Another bill that is being considered right now in the Texas House is HB 2014. This bill, put forward by Representative Tan Parker, with the help of TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, will allow businesses to invest in what is called Social Impact Bonds, in an effort to improve the math skills of the students whose schools opt into the program. If the students show improvement with their testing outcomes in math then the business that contributed gets the credit. If the students don’t perform well, the business gets its money back. The schools who sign up to be a Math Innovation Zone school will be exempt from state accountability for two years while they implement the program. Representative Tan Parker had this to say in his testimony before the House Education Committee in one of these staged hearings designed to show support for the bill the committee is pushing.
Students do not develop strong mathematical skills when they move too quickly with inadequate practice, and unfortunately, some students are being lost in the traditional classroom style of teaching. Few schools have been able to develop creative programs such as the Math Innovation Zone programs due to the deterrents of start-up costs (Tan Parker, 2017)
What is not being said in this testimony is why students are so far behind in their math knowledge, and why an intense catch-up program is needed to help fill in the gaps of lost math concepts and skills. This is what happens after years of teachers teaching from curriculum standards that are not age appropriate or developmentally sound. This has been happening since 2013 when Texas redesigned their math standards and curriculum to be more aligned with Common Core. The students exposed to this curriculum when they were in elementary school are now showing the impact of developmental gaps in their math cognitive skills. Listen to mathematician Dr. James Miligram as he gave his truly expert testimony to the Texas State Board of Education. Listen to the first seven minutes to get an idea of how totally mixed up our math standards and curriculum are and what our students are subjected to. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3Mlf_kGKeM.
When you hear Dr. Miligram talk, is it any wonder that the process standards brought in with Common Core Math lies at the heart of the deficiencies and why now we have to have Math Innovation Zones to begin to correct the problem. Have we lost our minds! Schools have to hold a “Parent Math Night” at their child’s elementary school to give parents the ability to help their children with their homework. The process standards talked about by Dr. Milgram become more important than getting the right answer to the math problem. The method of teaching the math problems are so foreign to the parents, they can’t begin to help their children.
At the 7:30 mark of the video below of the HB 2014, Mr. Mike Morath, TEA Commissioner, explains the funding mechanism behind HB 2014.
Keep in mind that Mike Morath’s only experience in the classroom of a public school is only a portion of one semester as a substitute teacher.
I ask you the question, Mr. Morath. Why is it that our students are so deficient in their math skills? What entity has been in charge of all the changes in education reform for the past 35 years? Why do we not have a perfect education system with all the research, money, and professional development that has gone into our schools for the past three decades? Who can be blamed for these deficiencies that now demand Math Innovation Zone schools with businesses becoming investors in student cognitive growth, therefore moving the public/private partnership in education even further into reality? I lay the blame directly at the legislators at the state level and the Texas State Board of Education that have kept education in a constant state of change since the early 80’s. I also have to include the education profession itself, for not being the watchman on the wall over our own profession. Think about it, what other professions would allow this to happen to their profession. Let me give you an example. Imagine the American Dental Association allowing an A-F rating to be given to each individual dental office. It would never happen. Can you imagine if a dentist were graded A-F? He or she would coach their young patients on the dangers of eating too many sugary foods and the dangers of not brushing their teeth on a regular basis. Then imagine that same young patient leaving that caring dentist and going out and doing just the opposite; loading up on sweets and not taking the time to brush at least twice a day. He comes back to the dentist in six months or a year and is loaded with cavities. If this dentist were on the public school accountability system, that dentist would have to take an F, and put that rating on the outside of his or her office for all to see. Can you imagine that happening to the dental profession? Absolutely not, which is why I say that the education profession is partly to blame for this nonsense.
In January of this year (2017) TEA came out with a “what if” scenario publically reporting what each school and school district would make if the A-F accountability were in effect now. The news of this enraged the state superintendents and principals, as it should. In North Texas, the area superintendents representing 60 North Texas school districts gathered to show solidarity against this reporting and also against Lt. Governor Patrick’s agenda to bring in school vouchers in the current legislative session. You can read the article here: https://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/2017/01/09/north-texas-educators-unite-rage-vouchers-f-school-grades
I give the superintendents in North Texas credit for organizing and voicing their disapproval. The show of strength, however, did nothing to deter the leadership in Austin from moving forward with the plan to institute the new accountability plan for the fall of 2017. In fact, Lt. Governor Patrick stated such. You can view his statement here: https://www.texastribune.org/2017/01/13/educators-protest-f-ratings/. He essentially slapped the superintendents in the face and said, you’re going to get the A-F system anyway. As quoted in this article from the Texas Tribune (2017), “If we can grade our students — if their futures are impacted like that — our schools should be under the same grades.” In making this statement, the Lt. Governor shows his complete lack of respect for the education profession. The legislative proponents of the A-F system make the argument they have the right to install the A-F system because of the tax dollars collected from the populace. They say the populace needs a system that is easier to understand. Well, if that is the case then let’s put that same system in place for grading our elected officials. After all, our tax money should demand it.
I might also say that the A-F method for grading public schools did not come from Dan Patrick. He is copying the idea that originated in Florida when Jeb Bush was governor. Do we really need to copy a plan originated by Jeb Bush? Don’t we have enough originality of thought to develop our own plan for the students of Texas? Why do we have to do what other states or what the federal government says to do? Well, that’s a topic for another article, but a term like “follow the money” has something to do with it.
Keep in mind my analogy to the dental profession. The dentist, in my example, had no control over his young patient. He did his job. He had a competent staff on hand to clean the teeth, and he made sure to counsel the patient about proper dental care at home. The young patient, however, did not follow the dentist’s advice or expert teaching. He had no control over that outcome. To grade him over elements in the child’s home life he has no control over is by its very nature an unfair rating system. Apply that same logic to the public schools. Very important to understand in any equation of rating the schools are three demographics that affect every public school’s outcomes on the state test. These three demographics are the percentage of students in the school that are economically disadvantaged, the percentage of English Language Learners in the school, and the school’s mobility rate. The school has no control over these percentages, yet when these three categories exceed the ability of the school to manage those percentages, the school will most likely not do well on the state test. You can read more about this in an article I wrote that compared two schools from two different parts of the community, but both in the same school district. It demonstrates clearly the discriminatory aspect of the whole accountability system. The system discriminates against the Title One schools because the same system that rates a school with 95% of their students from households of poverty also rates the school with 0% of their students from poverty, by the very same system. Does this sound fair to you? Who can make sense of it? You can view the article detailing this discrimination here: http://www.voicesempower.com/the-truth-about-school-failure/.
At the time of this writing, the Texas State Board of Education is deliberating on whether to change how math is taught in Texas. For the past three years, it has been taught the Common Core way, with disastrous results for the children of Texas, especially in the elementary grades. It is my opinion, as is the opinion of many math experts, that irreparable damage is being done with this method of teaching math, as noted in the testimony of Dr. Millgram stated earlier in this article. My question is, why should this even be a debate? What forces are at work that is keeping the members of the State Board of Education from unanimously voting to move the math standards back to the standards in place before 2013? What or who is doing this? What has to be done to overcome what is taking place?
I make my appeal to the superintendents across the State of Texas. How much more can you take? How much longer will we let the Texas congressional leadership walk on our profession. I call on the superintendents because it is the superintendents, working together with the knowledgeable, vocal parents across the state, that have the power to change the travesty that is taking place. Change the Accountability System and we return to local control. It is the Accountability System that keeps teachers teaching to the test and our students overall academic education deficient. Superintendents need to unite and come together to stop the madness. What the North Texas Superintendents did was admirable, but it was obviously not enough. School board members do not have the power, nor do teachers or principals. The congressional leadership does not respect the weight of the opinion of school board members, principals or teachers; nor do they respect the opinions of parents. They would, however, respect a unified force of superintendents from every region of the state, teaming up with the most knowledgeable and active parents in the state. How about it superintendents? Will you rise up and have your voice counted. I know you risk a lot in doing this, but there is strength in numbers. The vast majority of superintendents are caring people who have come up through the system. They were once teachers. You love the teachers and the students in your district. You hate the system, however, they have to live under. You also hate, putting pressure on your principals and teachers to bring up their testing outcomes. You know how difficult it is in the Title One schools of your district. You know you are sometimes asking the impossible. That’s why I know that deep down you agree with my assessment of the whole accountability system. You hate it and you would love to see it overturned. This is why I also say you, the superintendents of the public school districts of Texas, are the ones that have the collective power to push back with enough force that the legislators will listen. You need to do this, however, also with the collective force of parents standing by our side. So, please organize and push back while you still can. Contact me for ideas and help with beating back this oppressive, toxic accountability system that we have lived with for far too long. I would love to lend a hand and help in the effort. I know many parents who would love to help, as well. Let’s do this, once and for all, for the profession, for the parents, and for the students.
A. Patrick Huff is the author of “The Takeover of Public Education in America: The Agenda to Control Information and Knowledge Through the Accountability System”, 2015. The book can be found at http://www.aphuff.com. Dr. Huff is a retired middle and high school principal with 34 years in the public education profession. He currently works as an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. He lives with his wife, Connie, of 35 years in Tomball, Texas and can be reached at email@example.com