Tag Archives: Texas public education

Good teachers? Priceless

I feel compelled to state something in public that I told some family members this week, which is that you cannot pay good educators enough money.

There. I said it. I mean it from the bottom of my heart.

Texas recently enacted a $5,000 annual pay raise for all public school teachers. Other states have done the same thing over many years, seeking to incentivize individuals looking for careers as educators in our public school systems.

I have noted already in this blog that the good teachers are among society’s most valuable — and least appreciated — human resources. I also have noted that I am not wired genetically for that kind of work; I substitute-taught for part of a school year in the Amarillo Independent School District and learned right away that I am not cut out for it.

I believe good public educators deserve to be treated as what they are: heroes, comforters, guidance counselors, life coaches, big “sisters” and “brothers,” protectors.

I stand in awe of the self-discipline they exhibit. I am amazed at the patience they demonstrate daily. I admire their dedication to working with children, many of whom come to school daily with monstrous chips on their shoulders. I am astonished at how much they have to do with their own money because public school systems do not have the money to buy things such as, oh, pencils and paper. 

I want to salute all those teachers who are dedicated to ensuring our young people get the top-quality education they deserve, enabling them to cope better in what we all call “The Real World.”

Indeed, public educators have their own “real world” challenges to face down every day they stand before their students and renew their pledge to educate them.

You all are heroes.

Time of My Life, Part 11: This banty rooster stood tall

There once was a time when public figures embraced the attention of newspaper editorial boards, of those who sought to help guide their communities’ future.

I was able to play a small part in that relationship. One such figure thrust himself onto the Texas public stage by popping off about what he saw as the abysmal quality of public education in the state.

I had the chance to meet this man up close. Man, what a time!

H. Ross Perot built a fortune in technology. In 1983, he sounded off publicly about his belief that Texas was more interested in turning out more “blue chip athletes” than “blue chip scholars.” He lamented the poor quality of public education in Texas.

Gov. Mark White picked up the challenge that Perot implied and said, in effect: OK, buster, if you think you can develop a better plan for educating our kids, I’ll appoint you to a commission to lead that effort.

Perot accepted the challenge and led the Perot Commission, a blue-ribbon panel of business and civic leaders and educators.

I arrived in Texas in the spring of 1984 to write editorials for the Beaumont Enterprise. Not long after I took my post, Perot issued his report to the public. His recommendation, in short, called for standardized testing of public school students; it set a minimum standard for passing before students could advance to the next grade. The plan included a provision known as “no pass-no play,” meaning that if a student didn’t maintain a 70 percent academic average he or she would be ineligible to participate in extracurricular activities.

Perot then launched a statewide barnstorming tour to sell the plan to a public that had never seen or heard such a thing. Perot came to Beaumont to speak to a group of civic leaders.

Let me just say this about H. Ross Perot: The man is able to totally command a room despite his short stature. I had never been in the presence of someone who had that kind of charisma. The room was mesmerized by his presentation. He made a tremendous pitch selling the merits of the plan he would propose to the Legislature.

Later, after his talk, I got invited to meet with Perot along with a handful of other media representatives. We gathered at the John Gray Institute on the Lamar University campus in south Beaumont. I wasn’t exactly star-struck by the man, but he certainly did impress me with the detail he was able to deliver with his pitch.

Gov. White called the Legislature into special session later that year and it approved House Bill 72, which enacted the public education reforms recommended by the Perot Commission.

Yes, indeed, those were the days when public officials didn’t view the press as the “enemy of the people.” They sought us out, answered our questions forthrightly and enabled us to report on — and comment on — the content of their ideas.

SBOE runoff turns out OK after all

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Just about the time I was ready to give up all hope of political sanity within the Texas Republican Party …

Those voters over yonder in the Piney Woods do something sensible. Who’d a thunk it?

Tuesday night, they rejected the candidacy of one Mary Lou Bruner to District 9 on the State Board of Education. Yep, the GOP runoff produced another winner, Keven Ellis of Lufkin, a member of the Lufkin school board.

Bruner had been favored to win. She finished first in the Republican primary in March and was considered a strong candidate in the runoff. Then came the torrent of criticism regarding many of the former kindergarten teacher’s social media posts.

The one that got the most attention has been her contention that President Obama subsidized his drug habit as a young college student by prostituting himself. My favorite, though, was the notion she posted about dinosaurs becoming extinct because the baby T-Rexes couldn’t survive after Noah’s Ark made landfall on Mount Ararat.

District 9 Republicans then began to give serious thought to the choices they had. Did they really want someone with that kind of outlook representing them on the board that determines public education policy in Texas?

I’m still not crazy about the notion of electing these board members. I still prefer that they be appointed, subjected to Texas Senate confirmation, and that they have a deep background in education.

A Republican runoff in one East Texas SBOE district shouldn’t be seen necessarily as a harbinger of a return to sanity in the state’s political process. The state GOP, which dominates the Texas political landscape to the point that it has all but eradicated Democrats’ viability, still is capable of enacting some highly restrictive public policies.

Still, Keven Ellis’s runoff victory in East Texas gives me some hope that reason and sanity still have a voice within the state Republican Party.

Politicians muck up public education

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I’ve lived in Texas for more than 32 years and have gotten quite accustomed the state’s penchant for electing people to so many public offices.

The Texas Constitution was set up as a document designed to decentralize power. I get it. Honest, I do.

But one elected body doesn’t need to be an elected body. I refer to the State Board of Education.

Fifteen individuals sit on that board, representing districts carved out of the state. They’re Texas residents who have varying degrees of expertise in public education, in curriculum, in all the issues affecting students and teachers.

But the upcoming Republican Party runoff election set to occur next week in East Texas reveals one of the hazards of this system of having politicians setting public education policy.

Mary Lou Bruner is running for a seat representing District 9. Her opponent is Keven Ellis, who by all rights should win. Bruner, though, is the favorite. She’s also an individual who has made some absolutely astounding public statements that make many of us question her fitness for the job.

She says the president of the Unites States once was a male prostitute; she says dinosaurs became extinct because the baby lizards couldn’t fend for themselves once Noah’s ark made land in Turkey. There’ve been other equally weird statements.

In reality, Bruner exemplifies just part of the problem with the SBOE. The other politicians on the board keep fighting among themselves over curriculum. Some folks want public schools to emphasize texts that rely on religious faith. Others disagree with that. The board once got into a serious battle over school fund investment policy.

What’s a credible alternative to electing these individuals?

Perhaps we could have the governor appoint them, selecting people from academia and/or from business. The state is full of qualified academic champions and business titans.

Have these folks stand for confirmation by the Texas Senate. Have them serve, say, six-year terms.

The state at one time used to appoint its state education board. The Legislature, though, returned the issue to the voters, asking them to decide on a constitutional amendment returning to an elected board. Texans voted “yes” and aren’t likely to give up that right.

But the state’s political structure seems to have flown off the rails, as we’re quite possibly going to see in East Texas if SBOE District 9 voters elect Mary Lou Bruner.

She shouldn’t be in a position to be taken seriously. However, the state’s extreme rightward lurch speaks — in my view — to the need to reform the Texas State Board of Education.

 

Teaching to the test, 2.0

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I never cease being amazed how some issues and concerns never seem to go away.

They hang around so long that you’d think they would get moldy, would wither and just disappear like so much dust.

Back to the Earth.

But they don’t. They linger. Forever and ever.

Standardized tests and the concerns about how Texas educators administer them remains a hot topic.

Seven years ago, on April 13, 2009 to be exact, I wrote a blog about Texas’s standardized testing regimen that went by a different name.

Here’s what I wrote then:

http://highplainsblogger.com/2009/04/teaching-to-the-test/

Another school year is drawing to its conclusion. The Texas Legislature will convene next January for its biennial 140-day bloodletting.

Teachers are still complaining about the current form of standardized tests they must give to their students. Parents gripe about them, too. I’m betting students — particularly those who don’t test well — also are complaining.

You’ll recall that three decades ago, a fiery Dallas billionaire named H. Ross Perot led a blue-ribbon commission to reform the Texas public school system. He’d bitched out loud about how Texas was more interested in developing blue-chip athletes than in developing blue-chip academic scholars. Then-Gov. Mark White called him out and challenged him to come up with a method to improve Texas students’ academic achievement.

That’s when the Perot Commission came to life.

A special legislative session in 1984 produced a new set of standards that included testing for students.

Few folks liked it then. Few folks like it now.

Why can’t we craft a system that makes more people happier about it than angry about it?

My kids are graduated long ago from Texas’s public school system. They got by just fine dealing with the tests they had to take. Were my wife and I happy about the requirement that they take the tests? Not really. Still, we persevered as a family.

Our sons have done well for themselves in the 20-plus years since they graduated from high school.

Now, though, we have a granddaughter who’ll be entering school soon. We don’t know what her parents have in mind for her education. If it involves public schools, well, she’ll have to pass her tests.

The Texas Legislature comprises 181 individuals who serve in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Surely some of them have a creative idea in their skulls to come up with a testing procedure that doesn’t cause heartburn among teachers, parents and students.

Or …

They can find a committed “civilian” out there to lead another effort to overhaul the public education system that’s been overhauled already.

Unless, of course, these legislators actually like hearing their constituents gripe at them about how teachers have to keep “teaching to the test.”

 

SBOE tranquility might be about to end

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The 15-member Texas State Board of Education has been alternately a raucous body and one that seems to get along relatively well.

My strong sense is that if a runoff election way over yonder in the Piney Woods of deep East Texas turns out the way some folks fear it might, the era of raucousness might be about to make an unwelcome return to the SBOE.

This runoff is worth watching.

Mary Lou Bruner, a retired teacher — yes, that’s right — is in a runoff election along with fellow Republican Keven Ellis for a seat on the board that sets public education policy for the state’s 6 million students.

Bruner, shall we say, is a serious piece of work. She’s the individual who declared on social media that President Obama was at one time a gay prostitute.

She is a “social conservative.” Bruner is likely to fit in with other such conservatives on the SBOE who’ve battled with more moderate board members about curriculum issues, textbooks selection, investment of public money.

Bruner finished first in the three-person race for the SBOE seat and the word out of the Piney Woods is that she’s in good shape to actually win the runoff against Ellis. Why ? Well, her base of support is quite dedicated and those folks are more likely to return to the polls in the next few weeks to nominate her.

And, yes, she’ll become the prohibitive favorite against the Democratic nominee, Amanda Rudolph.

Candidates such as Bruner make me wonder why Texans decided years ago to return to an elected state education board. Texas experimented for a time with an appointed SBOE, but then amended the Texas Constitution to return to an elected body.

Thus, the majority decided it was better to entrust public education to politicians rather than to academicians.

We’ve elected some serious doozies as a result. There have been serious disputes among board members over whether we should teach Biblical teachings of Earth’s creation in science class.

Much of that argument has settled down in recent years. My fear is that it’s going to return to the front burner if East Texans elect a fire-breather such as Bruner to the state education board.

Hey, if she’s capable of making absurd assertions about the president of the United States, one only can imagine how she might engage in debates over the fate of public education.

 

State ed board: Now there’s a rancorous bunch

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You want rancor? Anger? Tumult? Turmoil?

Here’s a place where it shouldn’t exist, but it does. It’s contained among the members of the Texas Board of Education.

The Texas Tribune reports that this year’s election cycle could reintroduce some of the bad feelings that erupted on the board in recent years.

The state education board is empowered to set public education policy for Texas’ 6 million students. But here’s the deal: It comprises politicians who run for the 15 seats on the board. The SBOE comprises essentially three wings: social conservatives, mainstream conservatives and, well, others who are neither of the first two stripes.

They have fought many times over curriculum. Social conservatives have sought to approve textbooks that place greater emphasis on issues that are friendlier to their beliefs. Some years ago, the SBOE sought to downplay the historical significance of certain individuals whose agendas didn’t comport with certain board members’ political leanings.

There has been plenty of debate over whether to teach the Biblical account of the creation of the universe alongside evolutionary theory.

Well, the election this year could bring a return of some of the acrimony that at times has taken center stage at SBOE meetings.

There once was a time — and it was a fairly brief time — when the SBOE was an appointed body. Texans decided to return to an elected board, which returned policymaking to politicians who run for the office.

I prefer to put public education policy decisions in the hands of academicians. Today, the board comprises a whole array of laypeople with varying political leanings and interests.

The Panhandle’s representative on the SBOE is Marty Rowley, an Amarillo lawyer and a former clergyman. He is among the social conservatives serving on the state board; Rowley doesn’t have any opposition this election year, according to the Texas Tribune.

This is a contentious election cycle, starting with all the insults and vivid name-calling we hear from the candidates for president of the United States.

So, I guess the Texas State Board of Education’s election cycle just might fit in nicely with what’s happening all around us.

Let’s hope the state’s public school students don’t suffer as a result.

 

Evolution, creationism? Why not both?

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Polls occasionally drive me a bit crazy.

Take the one discussed in a Slate.com article that says young Americans favor Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution over the belief that God created the world in six calendar days.

May we hit the pause button for a moment?

I am a Christian. I’ve read the Bible many times in my life. I know what the Bible says about how the world came to be.

I also believe that the world was populated by dinosaurs and other creatures for zillions of years before human beings made themselves known.

Thus, I believe that the two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

Is it possible that God created the world and allowed it to evolve into what it has become? I believe that is precisely what occurred.

The Slate article was written by Rachel E. Gross, who it is clear to me believes exclusively in Darwin’s theory. She writes: “Now, at long last, there seems to be hope: National polls show that creationism is beginning to falter, and Americans are finally starting to move in favor of evolution. After decades of legal battles, resistance to science education, and a deeply rooted cultural divide, evolution may be poised to win out once and for all.”

She adds: “The people responsible for this shift are the young. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, 73 percent of American adults younger than 30 expressed some sort of belief in evolution, a jump from 61 percent in 2009, the first year in which the question was asked. The number who believed in purely secular evolution (that is, not directed by any divine power) jumped from 40 percent to a majority of 51 percent. In other words, if you ask a younger American how humans arose, you’re likely to get an answer that has nothing to do with God.”

Read the whole story here

I get the divide over how to teach science in classrooms. Fundamentalists want to teach creationism as it is written in the Bible. They also want to present evolution as just as much of a theory as creationism. This issue has been kicked around at the highest level of public education governance in many states, none more so arguably than in Texas, where we elect State Board of Education members who run for the office as politicians.

Creationism, though, is a religious doctrine. Evolution is a secular one. That doesn’t mean — to my way of thinking — that one of them is invalid.

What it means to me is that the biblical version of creation was written as a metaphor. “Days” can’t be measured in 24-hour increments; for that matter, it might be possible that every element of time takes on meanings that we cannot comprehend.

Does any of this discount the role that God played in creating our world? Not in the least.

As for whether we should teach creationism in our public schools alongside evolution, well, I do not believe that’s appropriate.

Creationism should be taught in places of worship, which I also believe also is part of God’s plan.

Everyone hates these tests; why do we have them?

Standardized testing has been a big part of Texas public education for the past three decades, dating back to the Perot Commission’s recommendation to reform the state’s education system.

You recall the Perot Commission, yes? It was headed by Dallas zillionaire H. Ross Perot, who in 1983 popped off about how Texas was more interesting in producing blue-chip football players than developing blue-chip academic scholars. Then-Gov. Mark White challenged Perot: If you think you can do better, why not produce some recommendations on how we can improve public education?

Perot accepted the challenge and headed the Perot Commission, which came up with a series of reforms, including some standardized testing that required students to pass if they wanted to graduate from high school.

It’s been a rocky journey ever since.

We’ve had TAKS, TAAS, TEAMS and now STAAR tests.

Obviously, I haven’t talked to every one of Texas’s 325,000 public school teachers, but I’ve visited with a lot of them during my 31 years living and working in Texas.

Every single teacher I’ve talked to hates the testing regimen. You can say the same thing about the parents of students; they hate the tests, too. Ask a student? You’ll hear it from them, too; they hate the tests.

My question, thus, is this: If everyone hates these tests, why do we still have them?

Church and state do need separation

Occasionally discussions about blog posts do get out of hand, or they twist off into unintended directions.

Such was the case involving a recent item I posted on this blog involving the teaching of creationism in Texas public schools. Here’s the link:

http://highplainsblogger.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/creationism-has-no-place-in-classroom/

But in the comments responding to the blog as it appeared on Facebook, a couple of the respondents decided to declare that the Constitution doesn’t state categorically that there must be a “separation of church and state.”

I’d like to clear the air a bit on this matter.

I agree that the Constitution doesn’t use the words “church and state separation.” But as with a lot of principles contained in that wonderful document, the interpretations of what it actually says are quite clear.

The First Amendment says, among other things, that Congress shall make no laws that establish a state religion. I’ve read it, oh, about a bazillion times in my life. I know what the Founders meant when they wrote that. They intended to keep church business out of state business. They didn’t want our government to be dictated by religious principles.

They created a secular nation.

There well might have been plenty of debate among the Founders about whether to allow a state religion. It doesn’t matter, in my view, what they debated. What matters now, more than two centuries later, is what they approved when they sent the Constitution out for ratification by the 13 states that comprised the United States of America.

Thus, church and state separation is implied in the Constitution’s First Amendment, just as the “right of privacy” is implied in the Fourth Amendment.

What’s more, Texas happens to be one of 50 states that now comprise the U.S. of A., even though it once seceded with tragic consequences. My point about the candidates for Texas lieutenant governor wanting to teach creationism in our public schools still stands.

Teach science in schools and religion in church — and keep church and state separate.