Education Week - April 1, 2015 - (Page 15)

goVERnMEnt & poLItICS Texas Lawmakers Wrangle a Herd of Education Measures By Andrew Ujifusa For those seeking a state legislature weighing a raft of major policy overhauls, it might be hard to beat Texas, where, by the scheduled end of the session on June 1, there could be a private school choice program for the first time, along with a new state-run school district, and revamped teacher evaluations. Part of what's driving the rush of bills, even in a legislature that only meets every two years, is the slate of new Republican elected officials brought to power by last year's elections. For example, first-year Gov. Greg Abbott has made it a top priority to expand early-education options. And Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the former head of the Senate education committee who was elected separately last year, is exerting significant influence in pushing the gop-controlled legislature to expand school choice. Meanwhile, an influential K-12 advocacy group, Texans for Education Reform, led by the education adviser to former Gov. Rick Perry, also a Republican, is relying on advice from groups like tntp (formerly The New Teacher Project) and the Foundation for Excellence in Education as it pushes its priorities. They include an expansion of Texas' existing A-F accountability system to cover individual schools, creation of the state-run district for struggling schools, and a teacher evaluation framework that also would impact teachers' salaries. Pushback on Testing Legislation to reduce testing requirements for some high school students is also getting traction in Austin, two years after the state made major reductions in the number of end-of-course exams required for students to pass in order to graduate. "Each one of them kind of has their own goals, things to be prioritized. And they aren't necessarily the same," said Matt Prewett, the founder of the nonpartisan Texas Parents Union who has mixed views on the various high-profile proposals. Also hovering in the background is a case before the Texas Supreme Court over state funding for schools. State 'Opt-Out' Push Sparks Queries For Guidance Test participation at issue By Lauren Camera A flurry of parents opting their children out of taking new state assessments in places like Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, and New York has both the U.S. Department of Education and state education departments reviewing policies and procedures for dealing with such instances. The No Child Left Behind Act-the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act-requires each school to test at least 95 percent of its students or else the district or state could face sanctions, some as severe as losing Title I money for low-income students. That requirement must be met for all students in a school, as well as for subgroups of students, such as those living in poverty or from racial-minority groups. States and schools that narrowly miss the 95 percent threshold are allowed to average participation rates over a two- or three-year period to help meet it. Assessment Season As schools begin state assessments for the 2014-15 school year, an anti-testing movement is generating attention at both the grassroots and national levels. It is difficult to gauge accurately how many students are opting out of the exams, or even how many districts are experiencing opt-outs, but the number of media reports highlighting pockets of anti-testing advocates raises the quesDistrict Court Judge John Dietz ruled last year in favor of about 600 plaintiff districts that the state's K-12 funding is unconstitutional due to its inadequacy and inefficiencies. (The state appealed the ruling.) If the state's top court upholds Judge Dietz's ruling, it could require Texas to increase aid to public schools by billions of dollars. Proposals in the legislature to increase annual school funding range from $1.2 billion to $3 billion-current annual state spending on K-12 is roughly $20.7 billion. But much of the political energy this session is devoted to policy bills. In fact, a relatively low-profile change made to Senate rules at the start of this year by Lt. Gov. Patrick, who pushed unsuccessfully for tax-credit scholarships during his time in the chamber, may be just as influential as his support for any particular bill. As the new president of the Senate, Lt. Gov. Patrick reduced the share of senators who must agree to hold a vote on a bill from two-thirds of the chamber to three-fifths, a move observers say could remove a long-standing obstacle to the passage of school choice bills. "It will definitely help carry that message over a little smoother," said Alejandro Garcia, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. Patrick. Choice and Triggers Several Senate bills approach school choice expansion differently. Senate Bill 642, for example, would set up a tax-credit system with socioeconomic prerequisites for students, while Senate Bill 276 would provide a direct reimbursement to parents for private school tuition worth either the cost of tuition, or 60 percent of state per-pupil expenditures, whichever is less. Although Republicans control of the legislative agenda in both chambers, Democratic Sen. Royce West, a member of the Senate education committee, said his experience with struggling schools in the Dallas district, which he represents, has helped convince him to support greater choice. He's supporting a bill to allow for the "parent trigger" law, which in general allows a majority of parents at a school to petition for changes including new administrators or a conversion to a charter school. That bill from gop Sen. Larry Taylor, the Senate education committee chairman, would allow the law to be used at a school which has been given the lowest rating for two straight years-the law currently requires five straight years of low performance before parents can use the trigger law. As of last December, the Texas Education Agency reported 297 schools with "improvement required" ratings for two years, the lower of the two state ratings, and another 436 with one year of that lower rating. "Parental involvement correlates with student achievement. That's the bottom line," Sen. West said. But opponents of school choice proposals still hold out hope that a traditional political coalition of lawmakers will unite to stymie private school choice expansion. As far back as 1995, Texas legislators have considered but ultimately rejected bills to create private school choice programs. Charles A. Luke, the coordinator for the Austin-based Coalition PAGE 17 > tion of whether some schools won't meet their participation threshold. At least one state-Colorado-has requested flexibility from the federal mandate. In an interview with Education Week, John King, senior education advisor at the Education Department, said that he anticipates additional reports of students opting out of the assessments as the testing window goes on, but credited teachers and principals for so far holding the line. "It's important to say that there have been relatively few opt outs to date," said Mr. King, based on conversations various officials at the department have been having with states. "This has really been an issue that has occurred in pockets." The federal participation mandates, however, are bumping up against a dizzying number of state- and district-specific policies that run the gamut from allowing parents to withhold their children from a state test to explicitly mandating that all students must take the state test. Amid antipathy in many places toward the PAGE 17 > EDUCATION WEEK | April 1, 2015 | | 15 Mayfield High School student Isabela Bencomo, 15, holds a sign during a walkout with her classmates at the school in Las Cruces, N.M., last month. Students were protesting new exams aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Robin Zielinski/Las Cruces Sun-News/ AP

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - April 1, 2015

K-12 Law’s Legacy Blend of Idealism, Policy Tensions
Testing Security Prompts Scrutiny Of Social Media
Virtual Spec. Ed. Is Evolving Option
Turnover at Top Can Leave Funders Wary
Education Week - April 1, 2015
News in Brief
Report Roundup
New Studies Affirm Impact of Board-Certified Teachers
Blogs of the Week
Honored Educator Decries Current Climate for Teaching
‘Opt-Out’ Push Sparks Queries For Guidance
Texas Lawmakers Wrangle A Herd of Education Measures
A View From the Top As the Policy Clock Ticks
Blogs of the Week
TYRONE HOWARD: Decriminalizing School Discipline: Why Black Males Matter
THE ESEA AT 50: Perspectives From the Archives
REBECCA GIVENS ROLLAND: The Ticking Clock of American Education
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
MARILYN BURNS: What Reading Instruction Can Teach Us About Math Instruction

Education Week - April 1, 2015