Monthly Archives: April 2010

HISD weighs in on social studies curriculum

TSTA and other educator groups, dozens of legislators and scores of authentic history experts all have urged the State Board of Education to either delay final adoption or revise the new social studies curriculum standards set for a final board vote in about three weeks.

These, of course, would be the muchdebated (and ridiculed) curriculum standards that seek to posthumously punish Thomas Jefferson for insisting upon the separation of church and state and seek to diminish the roles of Hispanics and African Americans in U.S. and Texas history. They even omit Barack Obama’s name while noting the election of the first black U.S. president

Now, according to a story in the Houston Chronicle, trustees of the Houston ISD, the state’s largest school district, have weighed in, passing a resolution urging the state board to pass “rigorous, balanced and manageable” social studies standards.

The HISD resolution avoided politically charged statements but urged the state board to make the standards less detailed in the number of teaching objectives to be covered and the number of historical figures who must be mentioned. The numbers, a significant increase over the current curriculum, are too many for meaningful instruction, HISD warned.

“We’re hoping that the State Board of Education comes to their senses and gathers input from all venues,” said HISD Trustee Manuel Rodriguez Jr., who proposed the resolution.

We all can hope, Mr. Rodriguez, but don’t hold your breath, as long as the state board’s right wing bloc continues to dictate the board’s agenda.

Here is a link to the Chronicle story:

www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/6982516.html

The president has a name: it’s Barack Obama

TSTA President Rita Haecker created a stir among legislators today when she testified, at a hearing hosted by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, that the State Board of Education, in its recent rewrite of social studies curriculum standards, had refused to name President Barack Obama.

That bit of news seemed to catch several lawmakers by surprise. They already knew that the rightwing bloc on the board had attempted to rewrite history. But to go so far as to omit the name of the historic, first African American president of the United States seemed preposterous, even by conservative leader Don (the Earth is 5,000 years old) McLeroy’s standards.

Haecker was correct. Barack Obama’s name, so far, has not been included in the history curriculum standards on which the SBOE is scheduled to take a final vote next month. The standards do note the “election of first black president” as a significant event of 2008, but they don’t say who that black president is.

Haecker urged legislators to make changes, if necessary, to the curriculum setting process to protect educator input and ensure that “scholarly, academic research and findings aren’t dismissed or diminished at the whim of a board member’s own political or religious view of the world.”

State Education Commissioner Robert Scott accepted the caucus’ invitation to voluntarily testify on the curriculum adoption process. He said his and the Texas Education Agency’s role was mostly in technical support of the SBOE.

Board Chairwoman Gail Lowe of Lampasas, who also had been invited, declined to attend, even though the caucus had offered to pay her travel expenses.

Predictably, Lowe was skewered for her failure to show up by the mostly Democratic legislators who attended the caucus hearing. Lowe must have figured it was better to be skewered in absentia than in person.

Another way to check how your school measures up

Teachers and parents who want to see how their schools stack up have another alternative to the state’s TAKSheavy accountability system. The online newspaper, The Texas Tribune, in a story published today, uses more broadbased criteria initially considered by Children At Risk, a Houstonbased, nonprofit advocacy and research organization.

The rankings are based on the percentage of students who scored “commended” grades on the TAKS tests, not merely passing scores, and take into account other factors, including attendance rates, percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged and – at the high school level – SAT and ACT scores and percentage of students taking advanced courses.

You can go to the Tribune website (the link is below) and click on the profile and ranking for most of the schools – elementary, middle and high school – in the state. Profiles include the level of “commended” TAKS scores, campus enrollment, studentteacher ratio, average spending per student, the campus ethnic breakdown (compared to the state as a whole) and the percentage of students at each campus who are economically disadvantaged or have limited English proficiency.

I haven’t had time to take more than a cursory look at the rankings. But what I did see, after checking out a number of Austin area schools, seems to reaffirm what has been widely known for a long time. Family income is still a strong factor in student success. It is not the only factor, of course, but it is enough of a factor that many of the Tribune’s rankings were predictable, regardless of how many additional factors you toss in.

I may have missed a few, but the following Austinarea high schools ranked well on The Texas Tribune’s list of 1,018 high schools statewide, and, with a couple of exceptions, were very low on the poverty meter. Check their rankings and the percentage of economically disadvantaged students in each:

Westwood (Round Rock ISD):
State ranking, 20th; economically disadvantaged students, 8.1 percent.

Westlake (Eanes ISD):
State ranking, 23rd; economically disadvantaged students, 2.6 percent.

Lake Travis (Lake Travis ISD):
State ranking, 63rd; economically disadvantaged students, 11.6 percent.

McNeil (Round Rock ISD):
State ranking, 64th; economically disadvantaged students, 13.4 percent.

Anderson (Austin ISD):
State ranking, 73rd; economically disadvantaged students, 20.5 percent.

Bowie (Austin ISD):
State ranking, 88th; economically disadvantaged students, 11.6 percent.

At the other end of the list, Austin ISD’s Reagan High School ranked 1,017 out of 1,018 Texas high schools. Its percentage of economically disadvantaged students is 83.6.

Here is a link to The Texas Tribune’s story:
http://www.texastribune.org/stories/2010/apr/26/schoolrankings/

Here is a link to the Children At Risk webside:
http://www.childrenatrisk.org/

Updating Texas’ (still) stingy educational support

A couple of the statistical rankings I have been using (as recently as three days ago) to illustrate state government’s dismal commitment to Texas’ public schools are now officially outdated. Texas no longer is 33rd in average teacher salary. It has slipped to 34th. And, Texas no longer is 44th in perpupil expenditures on instruction. It has moved up to the notsoheady level of 38th.

Don’t exactly feel like celebrating, do you?

These figures are based on the 200809 school year and are the most recent available.
The average teacher salary in Texas that year was $47,159, more than $7,000 below the national average of $54,333 and the most Texas has been below the national average in teacher pay in at least 10 years. This figure doesn’t include the $800 annual pay raise approved by the Legislature last year, which was effective for 200910. The average perpupil expenditure on instruction in Texas in 200809 was $9,036, compared to $10,190 nationally.

So, the next time you hear some governor, legislator or legislative candidate say the only thing the public schools need is more accountability, remember his or her talk is about as cheap as state government’s record of supporting public education.

Here are some other updated statistics, which may be of particular educational value to people who think the public schools are topheavy with administrative fat – although I am not holding my breath.

Texas has 1,235 school districts and charter schools with 8,322 campuses. They have 646,800 employees. Of those, 327,600 (or about 50.6 percent) are teachers. Another 62,400 (9.6 percent) are educational aides, and another 54,400 (8.4 percent) are professional support staff, including counselors.

In other words, 68.6 percent of school district employees are either teachers, classroom aides or professional personnel giving direct support to teachers. Another 177,200 school workers (or 27.4 percent of the total) are school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and other personnel contributing to a safe learning environment. That brings us to about 96 percent of the total public school payroll.

Yes, schools also have administrators. The districts and charters employ 18,300 principals and other administrators at the individual schools 2.8 percent of total school employment and 6,600 superintendents and other administrative staff at the central offices – a whopping 1 percent of the total.

Our public schools and their employees are in the business of educating our children and preparing Texas’ future. Too many of our state leaders are in the business of making that task more difficult than it ought to be. If they haven’t squeezed all the blood out of the public schools by now, it isn’t because they haven’t tried.