Would Abbott really forbid testing for 4-year-olds?


For the record, folks, Greg Abbott’s spokesperson is now saying the Republican gubernatorial candidate is not so out of touch with parents that he actually wants 4-year-old kids to be subjected to standardized testing. Of course, it was easy for parents or anyone else to make that assumption after Abbott announced his half-baked pre-kindergarten proposal last week.

I say half-baked because it isn’t an expansion of pre-K to thousands of children who really need it and could benefit from it, but instead is a way to avoid a commitment of significant state support.

Abbott proposes an additional $1,500 in state funding for each student enrolled in a half-day, pre-K program, provided the program meets “gold standard” performance criteria to be set by the state. To assure that the programs are properly evaluated, they would be submitted to state “assessments” at the beginning and end of each school year. Although there are various ways to perform educational “assessments,” the default for Texas government for many years now has been standardized testing.

Abbott compounded what his campaign claims is now a misperception by including “norm referenced standardized tests” among a short list of pre-K assessment options. Now, his spokesman says, Abbott didn’t really mean that.

Or did he?

The spokesman, Matt Hirsch, said the suggested assessment options were “there for informational purposes only,” according to the Texas Tribune story linked below. He said the Texas Education Agency would have to come up with an assessment plan.

But asked if Abbott would require TEA to exclude standardized testing as an assessment, Hirsch hedged. He said only that Abbott “would discourage the use of standardized testing for pre-K students.”
That is not the same thing as promising to use the powers of the governor’s office to forbid it.

Keep in mind, though, that this is the same Greg Abbott whose office continues to defend the $5.4 billion that the legislative majority cut from public school budgets three years ago. Those cuts included about $200 million for pre-K. So, his commitment to pre-K remains iffy, at best.

Research has documented the strong positive differences that pre-K and other early childhood education programs make in preparing children for success in later grades. This is especially true for underprivileged children and those who are still learning English, which are the majority of children in Texas public schools.

Abbott has suggested some of those programs are a “waste,” when, in fact, they are vital to thousands of children.

Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who truly appreciates the value of early education, is calling for increased access to full-day pre-K programs and an expansion of early-childhood reading programs – no standardized testing attached.


You can’t improve schools by running over educators


John Arnold survived the Enron collapse, started his own hedge fund and then retired in 2012 – when he was 38 – with an estimated personal wealth of $3 billion. Not bad, eh? Not bad for anyone, least of all a graduate of the often-maligned Dallas Independent School District.

Of course, not every child who enters DISD is the son of a corporate lawyer, as was Arnold. Many other DISD kids come from backgrounds of much lower income and lower expectations, and many fail along the way. This supposedly is the reason that Arnold, who now lives in the very upscale River Oaks neighborhood of Houston, is a major financial backer of a controversial effort to overhaul Dallas ISD by converting it into a home-rule charter district.

In a recent interview with the Dallas Morning News, Arnold credited the obvious role of teachers in his own success, acknowledged that teachers are “vital” for public schools and said he wasn’t trying to put teacher unions out of business. His recent, public record, however, is largely a slap at educators, the same people who help put him where he is today.

Until the Dallas ISD takeover attempt, Arnold was best known for his proposal to do away with defined benefit pensions for teachers and other public employees and replace them with risky, 401(k)-style investment plans that could evaporate if the economy sours on the eve of a teacher’s retirement. Since most Texas teachers don’t get Social Security, their hard-earned TRS defined-benefit pensions are about their only nest egg. And, it is downright galling for a 40-year-old billionaire to propose taking that away.

According to the Dallas Morning News, a foundation established by Arnold and his wife gave $72.6 million to education-related groups and causes from 2008 through 2012. But let’s take a look at some of the top 10 recipients of Arnold’s money.

Some $20,223,700 went to Teach for America, a corps of college graduates who teach in struggling schools. The theory may sound good, but it is only a temporary education fix, at best. Many of these young graduates have no intention of becoming educators. They teach for a few years, move on to higher paying jobs, and are replaced by other young people who also soon will be moving on. Some districts may hire them because they are cheaper than more-experienced, appropriately certified teachers.

The Arnold foundation has given more than $9 million to charter school networks and $1.5 million to Parent Revolution, a group supporting “parent trigger” laws enabling parents to turn over neighborhood public schools to private operators of charter schools. And, the foundation has given more than $12 million to two groups founded by Michelle Rhee, who declared war on teachers when she headed public schools in Washington, D.C.

And, now, Arnold is backing a misnamed group called “Support our Public Schools,” which, if it succeeds, could wipe out contractual and grievance rights for teachers and all other Dallas ISD employees – and force them to take pay cuts.

If Arnold is so interested in improving public education, why doesn’t he take some time to sit down and meet with real educators, the people in the classroom everyday, instead of going out of his way to undercut their influence and their livelihoods?


Using tax dollars to prepare students for the 19th century


We already know that spending tax dollars on private school vouchers amounts to stealing from public schools, but a report in Politico this week sheds some new details on just how bad this thievery has become. According to the article linked below, taxpayers in 14 states this year will spend nearly $1 billion in tuition for private schools, including many religious schools that teach creationism, a science alternative that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional for teaching in public schools.

None of that $1 billion is being spent on private schools in Texas, at least so far. But many of our tax dollars are being diverted from neighborhood schools to charter schools that officially are considered “public” but generate profits for private operators.

About 250,000 students in other states are attending religious and other private schools at taxpayer expense either through direct voucher payments or more indirect schemes, such as tax-credit scholarships, which still siphon tax dollars from public schools, Politico reports. That number is still just a small fraction of the 55 million public school students in the United States, but it is a 30 percent increase from 2010.

This year, 26 states are considering the creation of new voucher programs or expanding existing ones. One bill pending before the Arizona Legislature would make more than 70 percent of that state’s students eligible for vouchers. And, some prominent Republicans in Congress are pushing for voucher funding on the federal level.

The Texas Legislature is not in session this year, but voucher advocates are likely to be back in force when lawmakers convene next January, trying to disguise their tax-grab schemes as parental “choice.”

In religious schools benefitting from tax dollars, students are hearing a lot of positives about Adam and Eve and a lot of negatives about Charles Darwin, if they are hearing about Darwin at all.  According to Politico, one science education activist has identified more than 300 creationist schools receiving tax subsidies.

“I don’t think the function of public education is to prepare students for the turn of the 19th century,” Eric Meikle of the National Center for Science Education has correctly pointed out. Unfortunately, though, legislators in many states aren’t listening to him.


Dallas ISD takeover attempt fails the smell test


The real stakeholders in Dallas ISD – parents and taxpayers who actually live in the district – are starting to weigh in on the money-backed effort to hijack the district and convert it into a home-rule charter operation, and they are making it clear they don’t like the idea.

Supporters of the scheme, which was kept secret for who knows how long, finally hosted town hall meetings in Dallas last night and were greeted with a barrage of justifiable complaints and questions. According to the Dallas Morning News, parents and taxpayers wanted to know who is paying for the campaign, why it is being moved so fast, what organizers want to do with the locally elected school board and why no promotional materials were published in Spanish, the first language of many DISD families. And, real answers still are in short supply.

The only source of funding for the campaign who has been made public so far is former Enron trader John Arnold, a billionaire who lives miles away in Houston and who already has declared war on teachers and other school employees by seeking to abolish their hard-earned, defined-benefits pensions.

The group fronting the takeover attempt has deliberately misnamed itself as a grassroots organization professing to “Support our Public Schools,” when, in truth, it is a well-financed, outside group seeking to offer more opportunities for corporate interests to take over neighborhood Dallas schools.

“This is not a debate,” state Rep. Jason Villalba, who supports the takeover effort, tried to tell the audience at one town hall meeting. Oh, but it is a debate, and so far Villalba’s side hasn’t been very convincing that the effort is anything more than a privatization grab.

Villalba also was quoted in the Dallas Morning News, “This is not something that is meant to be done by billionaires from another place.”

Oh, yeah? Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, smells like a duck….You know the rest.


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