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Hey lady, wanna referee a high school football game?

Texas could really use you.

The Houston chapter of the Texas Association of Sports Officials is somewhere between 50 and 200 officials short for the 2017 football season.

TASO Executive Director Michael Fitch has referred to the statewide shortfall of referees as ‘crisis-level,’ and the rapid expansion – particularly in Houston – of numerous districts and the opening of new schools has stretched an already-thin roster of officials even further.

The officiating organization, which staffs both UIL and TAPPS contests, needs bodies badly, and there is a very noticeable demographic that isn’t signing up to referee: women.

At a June 24 new-official training at the Campbell Center, only two of the 40 trainees (five percent) were women, which crew chief and trainer Eric Dumatrait said is about par for the course.

Comprising 51 percent of the general population, but just five percent of the TASO workforce, is a pretty startling discrepancy, if that number is accurate organizationally. There is no way to be sure, though, as TASO doesn’t track membership demographic information like gender or race, Fitch said by phone last week.

Fitch said that the primary concern – especially with the deadline to sign up as a new official looming – is getting more bodies in striped shirts, and equipping them to succeed once they’re in them. To that end, he would be delighted if more women signed up to officiate, and he said that, anecdotally, he actually has seen an uptick in interest among women since Sarah Thomas became the NFL’s first full-time referee in April of 2015.

“We just need more people,” Fitch said. “I’ve been officiating high school football since 1973, and even in the seventies, we had females who came in. There’s obviously more now, and the fact that we have a woman officiating in the NFL shines a light on that.”

Officiating for TASO is a fairly lucrative part-time job (Houston-area crew chief Don Martinez estimated that $2,500-$4,000 was a reasonable expectation for 10 weeks of diligent work), and, for someone who loves sports, offers the opportunity to be outside, to work with student-athletes, refine one’s knowledge of the game, etc.

While it’s certainly not for everyone – and Dumatrait, Fitch, Martinez and the rest acknowledge that explicitly – officiating is a relatively high-paying part-time gig with some unique perks.

Why aren’t more women signing up?

See here for the background. I’m going to take a wild guess at that question and suppose that it’s the same reason why more women don’t run for office: Because they need to be asked. I’m sure TASO is a supportive organization, and that the women who go through their training and get certified to work high school football games do just fine and generally consider it a positive experience. I’m just saying that if they want more women to join up, they need to actively recruit them rather than point out how excellent they are and hope for the best. Given that this is the second story we’ve seen in a bit more than a month about the critical shortage of people to officiate the games, you’d think they’d have more of a sense of urgency. Get on it, TASO.

Texas needs more refs

Maybe you have what it takes to be one.

The Texas Association of Sports Officials has been around since the late 1970s. The organization has seen a decrease in its numbers in recent years. At the same time, more and more junior high and high schools have been built, creating more teams, more games and more problems.

“There just aren’t enough of us,” said Mike Atkinson, president of the TASO Houston chapter.

TASO is a nonprofit organization that trains and schedules officials in volleyball, football, basketball, soccer, baseball and softball.

The group needs its numbers to increase. Across the state, there are 155 chapters and approximately 14,000 members in the organization.

The problem? The organization isn’t adding members and many of the members aren’t getting any younger. The group has more members over 60 years old than it does under 30.

The retention rate in the Houston area is about 30 percent, Atkinson said.

So for every 100 new officials who sign up, only about 30 will stay on.

And for every high school built, the group needs just under 30 new officials to be able to cover the increase in sporting events.

Right now, the numbers aren’t adding up. There are plenty of reasons for it.

[…]

The Houston area chapter is known as one of the state’s best. The group proved it by being asked to officiate more than 150 playoff games last season – more than the Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin/San Antonio chapters.

Houston’s chapter would like to keep that going.

But it needs new officials.

The target this summer is 200, Atkinson said. The group could use more but could live with that. It would help with the increasing number of schools and the number of retiring officials.

The biggest benefit is obvious. Being an official lets you be a part of football in the state with the best football. Sorry, California and Florida.

Other benefits include exercise and extra money. The starting pay isn’t great. An official at a seventh-grade football game might make $50 plus a fee for mileage. But the top ones under the Friday night lights get a base of $65 plus a percentage of the gate.

And several move on to officiate college games after getting their start at the youth level.

If any of this sounds interesting to you, go here and fill out an application. You never know where it may lead you. I don’t know what TASO and its local affiliates have been doing to find more new officials, but I’d hope they see this as an opportunity to recruit and welcome more women into their ranks. Everyone needs to start somewhere, and TASO has an interest in broadening its base. It just makes sense.

More on Mack Beggs

I like this kid.

In the wake of winning a controversial Texas state girls’ wrestling title over the weekend, Mack Beggs, a 17-year-old transgender wrestler, spoke to the need to “stay strong” while also calling on state policymakers to “change the laws and then watch me wrestle the boys.”

Beggs, who identifies as male, was dogged throughout the tournament by questions about whether his testosterone treatments made him too strong to wrestle fairly against girls. In an interview with ESPN’s Outside the Lines on Wednesday, Beggs said he was unfazed by the boos that rained down on him en route to the 110-pound championship, which capped an undefeated season for the Euless Trinity junior.

“I just heard the boos, but I heard more cheering,” Beggs told OTL. “Honestly, I was like, ‘You know what? Boo all you want, because you’re just hating. You hating ain’t going to get me and you nowhere, and I’m just going to keep on doing what I’ve got to do.’

“That’s why I’ve always had that mentality. If you’re going to be negative, you know, whatever, that’s not going to faze me.”

Beggs, who says he has been taunted with slurs such as “f—-t” and “it,” cited the testosterone as a reason for the boos, as well as ignorance and a lack of understanding on the part of his critics.

“I mean, I’ve been winning before when I didn’t have testosterone, but now that, you know, I’m actually winning winning, people want to go crazy,” Beggs said. He added that some people “just automatically want to call me a cheater.”

“Like that kind of makes me feel like they don’t care about my training or the work that I put in,” he continued. “Because I’ve been to [state] twice. And it’s not like I’m just doing this because I want to like call myself a boy and just dominate all these girls. What do I get out of that? I don’t get anything out of that.”

Given the choice, Beggs said he would “definitely” want to wrestle boys, “because I’m a guy. It just makes more sense.”

See here for the background. Maybe someone should ask Dan Patrick why he wants to make Mack Beggs use the girls’ bathroom, as would be required under SB6. Of course, we know what a coward Patrick is, so there’s no chance he’d ever consent to speaking with Mack Beggs. But make no mistake, this is what Dan Patrick wants.

ThinkProgress adds an interesting wrinkle.

In Beggs’ home state of Texas, a bill that would ban transgender Texans from using the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity is being heard this week. Nationally, President Trump rescinded the Obama administration’s guidance about trans rights, allowing states more flexibility in how much—or how little—they accommodate transgender students.

On Sunday, Beggs addressed Trump’s actions in an exclusive interview with ESPN’s Outside the Lines.

“You know, people thought he was going to be an LGBT activist,” Beggs told ESPN. “That backfired on them. It just [sets] trans rights 10 times backwards. We’re just going to come back 20 times harder.”

Trump’s actions are particularly personal for Beggs, not only because of his own identity as a transgender boy, but also because his mother, Angela McNew, voted for Trump.

McNew has been supportive of her son’s transition, and in the past couple of weeks, has reportedly begun to wonder if voting for Trump was the right thing to do.

“I think on this journey [Trump] probably should step outside the box and think about all of these children and all of these people, that if you really look at them and the journey they’re taking, would you really put them in their birth certificate?” McNew told OTL reporter Tisha Thompson. “And honestly, who is going to be going by the bathrooms and checking I.D.?”

Beggs grew up attending an evangelical Christian church, and has been struggling to reconcile his upbringing with his current reality. His mother has defended her son to people in the church, some of whom have said she should go to jail for child abuse because God doesn’t make mistakes.

McNew is insistent that God didn’t make a mistake with Beggs — in fact, she believes that Beggs is fulfilling his purpose right now, as he fights for transgender rights on a national stage.

Yes, Dear Leader Trump is definitely a foe for transgender people. I hope Ms. McNew comes to recognize that, and that Dan Patrick is bad news for her and her son as well.

Mack Beggs

I guarantee, we have never paid as much attention to the Texas high school wrestling championships as we did this past weekend.

If the fervor over Euless Trinity transgender wrestler Mack Beggs during the last week could be swelled into one match, it was the junior’s final one at the state wrestling championships on Saturday.

Beggs, who is transitioning from female to male but competing as a girl because of a University Interscholastic League rule, won gold in the Class 6A 110-pound bracket after a 12-2 major decision win over Morton Ranch’s Chelsea Sanchez on Saturday at the Berry Center.

It caps a perfect season for Beggs (56-0), who easily won his four matches this weekend. Beggs defeated Clear Springs’ Taylor Latham in the first round by major decision, 18-7, and Tascosa’s Mya Engert by major decision, 12-4, in the quarterfinals Friday.

His semifinal win came against Grand Prairie’s Kailyn Clay via pin earlier Saturday.

The controversy surrounding Beggs deals with the testosterone treatments part of his transition, with some believing it is an unfair advantage although it is allowed by the UIL because it is administered by a physician and for medical reasons. Beggs also has been denied the request to compete in the boys division because of a new UIL rule that states athletes must compete under the gender on their birth certificate.

Beggs competed in the previous two state tournaments but he become a national story after two opponents forfeited their match against him at regionals last week.

After Saturday’s events, Beggs gave a statement to the media, deferring attention to his teammates.

“I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my teammates,” Beggs said. “That’s honestly what the spotlight should’ve been on is my teammates. The hard work that I put in the practice room with them beside me, we trained hard every single day. That’s where the spotlight should’ve been on. Not me. All these guys. Because I would not be here without them.”

ESPN, Reuters, and the Washington Post (mirrored at the Texas Tribune) were among those covering the event. Here’s an earlier story in the Chron with some more details.

Beggs, 17, a junior at Euless’ Trinity High School, is transitioning from female to male, and because his birth certificate designates him as female, he was required under Texas high school regulations to compete against girls at the state meet here Friday and Saturday.

It’s a rule that represents a sharp departure from anything on the national or international level, and it’s not likely to go away. And so, as a senior in 2018, Beggs – and any other transgender athlete – is likely to face questions again about why a boy is competing against girls.

“Given the overwhelming support for that (birth certificate) rule, I don’t expect it to change anytime soon,” said Jamey Harrison, the deputy executive director for the University Interscholastic League, which governs high school competitions in Texas.

“Those decisions are made by our elective body who makes our rules. Again, they spoke. … These were superintendents who are members of the UIL. Ninety-five percent of them voted for the rule as is.”

Texas is one of seven states that require high school students to provide a birth certificate, proof of gender-reassignment surgery or documentation of hormone therapy, according to TransAthlete.com.

League officials said the UIL “strives to provide fair and equitable competitions for all students.” Harrison said the UIL is “following both what our legislative council wants to follow and certainly what the overwhelming majority of our school membership wants to follow.”

Harrison, while not mentioning Beggs by name, said Saturday night that the UIL stands by its birth certificate rule. However, he said the agency hopes to obtain legislative support that would allow it more leeway to police student-athletes who are using performance-enhancing drugs under a doctor’s care.

“The real issue here is the use of performance enhancing drugs,” Harrison said. “The UIL does not have the authority to tell a student they are ineligible if they are using a performance-enhancing drug under the supervision of a doctor, as written in state law. We look forward to working with lawmakers to fix that law.”

Harrison said he hopes the Legislature will help the UIL reach a better description of what constitutes a “valid medical reason” to use banned substances.

“Something that would be a little more proscriptive in what that means is something that I think that lawmakers will review, and we will be happy to work with lawmakers,” he said. “This is not about our birth certificate rule. This is about performance enhancing drug use.”

Others outside the UIL disagree, however. North Texas attorney and wrestling parent Jim Baudhuin earlier this month filed suit against the UIL, saying that the rule is nonsensical and that Beggs should be allowed to compete against boys.

“The NCAA has shown what should be done,” Baudhuin said. “The NCAA’s policy is that if you are transitioning from woman to man, once you take those injections, you close the door on competing against women and can compete against men. I think that is eminently fair.”

Similarly to the NCAA rule, which was enacted in 2011, the International Olympic Committee last year said that transgender athletes who are transitioning from female to male could compete in men’s events without restrictions.

The UIL is wrong about this. Mack Beggs and the girls he has to compete against are not being well served by the birth certificate requirement. Mack Beggs is a boy. He was not born one, but he is one now. Not recognizing that and not accommodating that serves no one well. It’s way past time the UIL understood that.

UT will not push UIL on transgender athletes

Unfortunate.

Despite objections from LGBT advocates, UIL’s longstanding informal policy is set to become official August 1 — when it takes effect as an amendment to the league’s constitution.

The amendment, initially approved by UIL’s Legislative Council last year, wasoverwhelmingly ratified by representatives from member districts in February.

However, LGBT advocates hoped officials at the University of Texas at Austin, which oversees UIL, would veto the amendment since it appears to conflict with the school’s policy against discrimination based on gender identity.

UT-Austin officials confirmed they were reviewing the proposed UIL amendment in April, but university spokesman J.B. Bird indicated this month they have no plans to halt its implementation because underlying legal questions about accommodations for trans students remain unsettled.

Bird noted that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently filed suit against the Obama administration over federal guidance saying public schools must allow trans students to use restrooms and other facilities “consistent with their gender identity.”

“I think that’s definitely causing the university to look very carefully at what’s happening around us … since we’re a state agency, and we have the state pursuing these actions ” Bird said.

Paul Castillo, a Dallas-based staff attorney for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, said that by allowing the UIL amendment to take effect, the university is violating Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs.

The U.S. Department of Education has repeatedly said Title IX protects trans students.

“They are violating Title IX by sitting on their hands and waiting for litigation to play itself out,” Castillo said of UT. “They’re putting their own funds at risk, but beyond that, as a university system, they should take a stand.”

See here, here, here, and here for the background. All that is needed here is for UT, and by extension the UIL, the follow the guidelines of the NCAA and International Olympic Committee, and thus not violate Title IX. Clearly, we are going to have to do this the hard way.

UIL punts again on transgender athletes

I say again, please reconsider this.

The debate over the University Interscholastic League’s policy for transgender athletes continues after the organization’s legislative council took no action during Tuesday’s meeting in Round Rock.

The UIL rule stating a student’s gender is identified by his or her birth certificate is scheduled to go into effect Aug. 1 after district superintendents and athletic directors voted 409-25 in favor in February, but LGBT advocates believe the rule violates Title IX and the UIL Constitution.

The UIL is part of the University of Texas at Austin and abides by its constitution, which prohibits gender identity discrimination.

LGBT advocates are lobbying to allow students to participate in sports under whichever gender they identify with and delay implementation of the new policy. The UIL opted to table the debate for a later date considering pending litigation.

See here, here, and here for the background. Given the current climate of potty hysteria, I don’t expect the UIL to reconsider. I almost can’t blame them, however un-courageous they’re being. This one will be resolved in the courts, sometime after the policy becomes official in August. It’s just where we are these days.

On big money high school stadiums

Texas Monthly is against ’em.

BagOfMoney

As a part of a $220 million bond package, McKinney ISD is adding an opulent events center and 12,000-seat high school football stadium that will cost a total of $62.8 million. According to the Dallas Morning News, the stadium, set to open in 2017, will cost $50.3 million itself with $12.5 million used from a previous bond package passed in 2000 that will go towards stadium infrastructure: roads, water, sewer, electricity. Manhattan Construction has been hired to build the stadium, and if that name rings a bell, it’s because they were behind Houston’s NRG Stadium, Globe Life Park, and AT&T Stadium—home of the Dallas Cowboys of Arlington. The bond package also includes $62.5 million for upgrades throughout the district, with $51.4 million allocated toward additions and renovations to six of the schools in the district.

There will be $30.5 million spent on technology, including a program that would give all entering freshman a laptop. Three of the schools will see renovations to fine arts facilities, which sounds good, sure, until you consider that it will only bring them up to par. Cockrill Middle School, Evans Middle School, and McKinney Boyd High School’s fine arts programs have been burdened with “overcrowding in the band halls, lack of storage, practice space and congested fine arts hallways.” Meanwhile, the sanctuary of gladiator arts will sparkle in McKinney.

Placing athletics over academics and the arts is a tale as old as time. Sports—well, male-dominated athletics, particularly football and basketball—have more eyes and glory involved than pretty much every other high school institution outside of prom, and even then there’s room for debate. But the fact of the matter is that high school football, though we tend to spend exuberant amounts of money on it, doesn’t yield great returns. In 2011, the Dallas Morning News’ sports section conducted an investigation of Dallas-area football teams and their profitability, and only three districts had a net profit. McKinney’s had a net loss of $208,889.35.

I can’t say I approve of these big-ticket expenditures, either, but the voters did approve them. Obviously, only a few lucky (read: wealthy) school districts can provide this kind of extravagance for their students, but that’s not all that different than how we fund education in general, and we know what the Supreme Court thinks about that. I suppose many people would care less about how much McKinney and Allen and Katy spent on their football teams if our public schools were adequately and equitably funded in general, but we don’t live in that world. If everyone who is now complaining about McKinney’s event center worked towards that world, maybe we could.

More on the UIL ban of transgender athletes

From ThinkProgress:

Transgender rights in Texas took another step backward last month, when public school superintendents voted 586-32 in favor of a rule that requires schools to use birth certificates to determine the gender of student-athletes.

This law is seen not only as “an attempt to handicap transgender student-athletes’ eligibility,” but it’s also believed to be a clear violation of Title IX.

“The Department of Education has stated that Title IX covers trans students and prohibits discrimination based on gender. Not only is [this policy] not in line with the law, but it also runs counter to the recommended policies by the National Center for Lesbian Rights,” Neena Chaudhry, the Senior Counsel and Director of Equal Opportunities in Athletics at the National Women’s Law Center, told ThinkProgress. “The recommendation is that children will be able to play on a team consistent with gender identity.”

With this ruling, Texas has become one of the least-inclusive states for transgender athletes.

Using students’ birth certificates, rather than their gender identities, to place them on a team has been an informal policy in Texas for some time. But in October, the University Interscholastic League — the governing body of Texas high-school sports — decided to send the policy to the superintendents for a vote. The results of that vote, which took place in January, were released by the Texas Observer last week. It will be officially enacted on August 1.

[…]

In 2014, the Department of Education (DOE) clarified that Title IX nondiscrimination protections did extend to transgender student-athletes. Christina Kahrl of ESPNreports that Texas is budget to receive $3.2 billion from the DOE in 2016 and 2017; that money could be lost if they are found in violation of Title IX. ThinkProgress reached out to the DOE for comment, but did not hear back by the time of publication.

“The goal of Title IX is to have an environment free of discrimination, so schools need to remember that and make sure they’re not discriminating against any of their students,” Chaudhry said.

See here and here for the background. That’s a lot of money potentially at stake here. One wonders if the school districts that voted to adopt this policy were briefed on that. (One also wonders what HISD thinks of this change, but so far there has been no local reporting on this that I know of.) Since this new policy won’t be formally adopted until August, it’s hard to say how long it might take for the Justice Department to act. It’s certainly not out of the question that the matter could be unresolved as of November, in which case the election may change things. I doubt President Trump’s Department of Education would care to enforce this. Be that as it may, that’s a lot of money at risk, for a change that did not need to be made. TransAthlete has more.

School districts vote to approve new UIL policy restricting transgender athletes

Unfortunate.

Despite strong opposition from LGBT advocates, representatives from Texas school districts have overwhelmingly endorsed a proposal aimed at barring transgender boys and girls from participating in athletics alongside their cisgender peers.

District superintendents and athletic directors voted 409-25 in favor of using birth certificates to determine student athletes’ gender, according to results obtained by the Observer through a request under the Texas Public Information Act.

The legislative council of the University Interscholastic League (UIL), the governing body for Texas high school sports, recommended the amendment in October, and district representatives’ ballots were due this month. According to UIL, if the amendment is approved by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, it would take effect in August.

“Because of the very detailed process UIL goes through, it’s usually a pretty clear-cut decision by the time it gets to the commissioner,” said Debbie Ratcliffe, director of media relations for the Texas Education Agency.

LGBT advocates say the amendment runs afoul of the UIL Constitution and Title IXof the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972.

The UIL is part of the University of Texas at Austin, and its constitution prohibits the legislative council or member districts from passing amendments that conflict with UT policy, which bans discrimination based on gender identity.

Both the council and the districts “had a duty to reject the amendment,” said Paul Castillo, a Dallas staff attorney for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal.

Meanwhile, the federal Department of Education has said Title IX’s prohibition against sex-based discrimination applies to trans students, meaning the amendment could expose districts to legal liability, a federal investigation and loss of funds.

“These discriminatory athletic policies, they stigmatize transgender students by singling them out,” Castillo said. “Transgender students already face high rates of physical and verbal harassment at schools.”

See here for the background. It’s just a matter of time before a lawsuit gets filed over this, and I don’t know what the response will be if and when Title IX funds get threatened. I just hope it doesn’t get too messy or expensive when the trouble starts and this thing needs to get fixed. The Trib has more.

Please rethink this, UIL

Bad idea.

The governing body for Texas high school sports decided Monday to ask superintendents to determine whether to formalize a policy that uses student-athletes’ birth certificates to determine their gender.

Such a policy already is informally used by the body, the University Interscholastic League, or UIL, whose 32-member legislative council on Monday passed on an opportunity to vote on the proposed rule. Instead, the council decided to send it to the superintendents of member districts — with a recommendation that they approve it.

Critics say the policy effectively bars transgender students from playing sports.

[…]

The UIL’s “Non-Discrimination Policy” already bans member schools from denying students a chance to play on sports teams because of their disability, race, color, gender, religion or national origin.

The proposed addition to that policy says: “Gender shall be determined based on a student’s birth certificate. In cases where a student’s birth certificate is unavailable, other similar government documents used for the purpose of identification may be submitted.”

If approved by a majority of superintendents — and the state education commissioner — it would take effect Aug. 1, 2016.

[…]

If approved, the rule would go against a national trend of recent years. More than a dozen states have adopted policies that allow transgender student-athletes to participate in sports based on their gender identity.

The District of Columbia and 15 states, including Florida, have adopted such policies as a way to encourage participation in sports, said Asaf Orr, staff attorney for the Transgender Youth Project at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. He noted that the National Collegiate Athletic Association has adopted a similar policy.

The birth certificate rule Texas officials are considering “absolutely bars trans kids from playing sports,” Orr said.

Changing the gender on a birth certificate is not realistic for many kids because it requires having sex reassignment surgery, Orr said.

Orr said the concern that transgender girls will be far better players than those who were born female has not panned out in states that have adopted policies that allow transgender student-athletes to participate based on gender identity.

“We are not getting these hulking guys claiming to be girls dominating sports,” Orr said. “If we do, it’s because they’re superstar athletes; It’s not because they’re transgender.”

This feels to me like a policy born of ignorance and fear of backlash. I guess I can’t blame them for the fear, given the horror of the anti-HERO campaign in Houston and its shameful insistence of turning transgender folk into boogeymen, but it’s still wrong. What is the actual policy rationale for this? We have the example of the NCAA and 16 other high school sports authorities to follow. What problem does the UIL think Texas might face that these organizations and the athletes they represent have not faced or would not face? I don’t think the UIL can answer these questions, but it would be nice to at least hear them try. In the meantime, I hope they reconsider, and if they don’t, I hope HISD and other more enlightened districts opt out of that provision. If “non-discrimination” is to mean something, it has to have meaning for everyone.

The debate over changing Confederate-named schools in HISD

Predictably, not everybody likes the idea of rechristening HISD schools that were named for Confederate generals.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Houston ISD board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones has said she wants her fellow trustees to consider renaming six campuses, following the June shooting deaths of nine black worshipers by an alleged white supremacist at a church in South Carolina. In that state, the Confederate flag hangs on statehouse grounds.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and James Douglas, president of the NAACP of Houston, are among those requesting new names. Superintendent Terry Grier said he is seriously considering asking the board to approve changes.

A consensus is far from clear.

A Facebook page called “Reagan High School Houston – Save the Name” has received more than 1,200 “likes” since it launched June 28. Former Lee students mostly came to the moniker’s defense on an alumni page.

[…]

School officials stopped using the full name, Robert E. Lee High School, in 2001, though a district spokeswoman could not confirm whether the board formally approved the shorter version. The mascot remains the Generals, but the revised logo looks more like a silhouetted cowboy holding a school flag.

Marla Morrow, a U.S. history teacher at Lee and a 1980 graduate, recalled her classmates proudly waving the Confederate flag at football games. Then, the student demographics of the southwest Houston school were different. According to data from 1988, the earliest year readily available, Lee’s enrollment was 46 percent Anglo, 31 percent Hispanic, 17 percent black and 6 percent other. Last year, Lee was 4 percent Anglo, 74 percent Hispanic, 15 percent black, and 8 percent Asian and other.

With HISD rebuilding the aging Lee campus, Morrow said the time is right to rename the school without reference to the top Confederate general.

“I was raised to believe he was this great mythical hero,” she said. “With my study of the Civil War and of U.S. history, I think he was an admirable man in many ways, but he was fighting for the wrong side. I know people say the South was fighting for states’ rights, but the right they were fighting to defend was slavery.”

Melanie Hauser, a 1971 Lee graduate who chaired the spirit committee and helped start the alumni association, countered that the school name should endure. She noted that Lee graduated from West Point and served as president of Virginia’s Washington College (now Washington and Lee University, named after him).

“He was an educator first and foremost,” said Hauser, a sportswriter. “Lee moved on and helped heal the country. There’s more to the narrative than just screaming one way.”

Houston City Councilman Ed Gonzalez, a 1987 Lee graduate, said he leans toward changing the name but wants a community dialogue first.

“It’s not to say we castigate our history forever,” he said, “but should it be prominent with every graduating class going forward when there’s an opportunity to pivot and change?”

See here for the background. I’ll say again, as a damn Yankee I’m woefully ignorant of the Confederate iconography that we are inescapably steeped in around here, and completely indifferent to any appeal to history or “heritage” in favor of keeping it in place, unless that place is a museum or the like. It’s fine by me to change these names, but if we don’t get there at least we’re talking about what those names represent. Campos has more.

HISD Student Congress

Kids today, with their “getting involved” and their “having their voices heard”, I tell you.

The high school students gave up their Saturday afternoon, meeting at the downtown library with laptops and legal pads to brainstorm ideas for improving the Houston Independent School District.

“Let’s say class sizes are too large at some schools in HISD,” said Zaakir Tameez, a senior at Carnegie Vanguard High School. “Then, the question is, how do we fix the issue?”

“Funding,” suggested one student.

“Lobby,” said another.

The nine teenagers at the meeting help lead a newly formed group called HISD Student Congress, a grassroots effort to give students a greater voice in their education. It’s a bit like a district-wide student council, but organizers say they’ll focus on policies, not prom.

“Student-led, student-run,” said Tameez, 17.

The group will have limited power, unlike some districts outside Texas that give students a seat, if not a vote, on the school board.

But the teenagers have clout in numbers; they’re representing more than 215,000 students of all ages across the district. They can attend school board meetings en masse and testify before trustees. They also plan to have their own radio show on KPFT (90.1 FM) and are negotiating to meet monthly with high-level HISD staff, just as teacher associations do.

The group’s website, designed by students, explains its inspiration: “When we graduate, we will have spent nearly 16,000 hours in the school system, yet we have rarely been asked for our opinion or given feedback. Isn’t it time we change that?”

Good question. I’d be in favor of having greater student representation on the HISD Board, if the question ever arises. Their website is here, and for those of you who know him, Zaakir Tameez is the son of local political consultant Mustafa Tameez. The elder Tameez he’s “barred from the meetings” and is relegated to chauffeur duty only. Which, with all due respect, is as it should be for this. Keep up the good work, y’all.

HSPVA groundbreaking

Looking forward to seeing how this turns out.

A slab of cracked cement painted over with yellow parking lines sits at the corner of Rusk and Austin – with downtown skyscrapers looming overhead.

Come Tuesday, the cement will be ripped up and construction will begin on a new five-story, 168,000-square-foot building for the Houston ISD’s High School for Performing and Visual Arts.

The sleek, $80-million project will include a 200-seat mini-theater, 200-seat black box theater, 150-seat recital hall, rooftop garden and outdoor art studio. The centerpiece will be an 800-seat main theater, complete with a balcony, that will fit the prestigious magnet school’s entire faculty and student body with room to spare.

“We’re downtown and so close to the arts district, you can just feel the energy down here. It’s going to be amazing to have the kids down here,” said HSPVA principal R. Scott Allen, who was among the dignitaries to help break ground on the site Sunday at a celebration that included several student and alumni performances. “We already have great partnerships with the (local) arts organizations, but us being so much closer now, I think it makes it easier to make those even stronger. … To be able to even connect with businesses that don’t have an arts focus would give some kids some opportunities. That’s a dream of mine.”

The new space, approved by voters in a 2012 bond, will allow the school to move from its current Montrose campus. It will also provide room for the new creative writing program, whose students currently take classes in the library and in portable trailers.

See here and here for some background. HSPVA is one of HISD’s crown jewels, and this project sounds like it’s going to be awesome. It’s not far from where I work, I should wander over periodically and see how it’s going. It’s possible one of my kids could wind up going there, so we’ll just call it research. Anyway, I can’t wait to see what it winds up looking like.

Digital textbooks are on their way

HISD is on the leading edge.

HISD is the first of Texas’ large districts – and among the first large districts in the nation – to radically rethink the way it buys new high school instructional materials, shifting from printed textbooks to digital materials accessible from school-issued laptops.

“Our rule is that, each time state dollars to buy instructional materials come in, we no longer procure physical textbooks,” says Dan Gohl, the Houston Independent School District’s chief academic officer. “We’ll do that every year until we reach a new balance between electronic and physical materials.”

[…]

For HISD, the switch is possible because the district is in the midst of a three-year project to equip every high school student with a laptop. This year, students at 11 high schools were issued laptops they could take home. In January 2015, students at 20 more high schools will be similarly equipped, and by 2016, every high school student in HISD will have one.

The new generation of textbooks, HISD officials emphasize, must be more than just scans of the print versions. “It’s not enough to say ‘digital,’ ” says Gohl. “A pdf isn’t enough.”

Last October, in a meeting with publishers that serve the Texas market, Gohl described the kind of digital textbooks that HISD intended to buy – starting with this year’s purchases for science courses. (Next year, the district plans to follow suit with social studies and math.)

“There should be embedded links and video,” Gohl says. “It has to be editable; teachers must be able to use just portions, without taking the whole thing. And it must share some degree of connectivity.”

Yeah, that’ll be different, all right. Benefits include lower costs, more flexibility, and of course better outcomes in the classroom. How much of these benefits HISD ultimately reaps remains to be seen, since we’re still on the first steps of this journey. There’s a lot to look forward to, that much is for sure. See here, here, here, and here for more on the laptop program that underlies this for HISD.

HISD unveils new mascots

Here they are.

The cafeteria at Hamilton Middle School showcases a painting of a Native American in a feathered headdress. Students wear collared shirts with a similar symbol. They were, until Tuesday, the Hamilton Indians.

Now, with a new school district policy banning mascots deemed culturally offensive, the Houston Heights campus has adopted the Huskies as their symbol, as have the Westbury High School Rebels. The Lamar High Redskins become the Texans, and the Welch Middle School Warriors are now the Wolf Pack.

The mascot changes – including painting over old logos, buying new uniforms and replacing marquees – could cost the district an estimated $250,000, officials said.

Superintendent Terry Grier, who won school board approval for the stricter mascot policy in December, said the expense was worth it.

“For us here at HISD, while this day marks the end of an era and sends a message about nurturing our cultural diversity, we do understand the importance of tradition and history,” Grier said while unveiling the new mascots in the Hamilton school cafeteria.

Grier said he was troubled by the Lamar Redskins name shortly after arriving in Houston in 2009, but he didn’t push for a change until last year when state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Native American students and parents upped the pressure.

[…]

An HISD handout about the mascot changes said new uniforms for football and volleyball in the fall would cost about $50,000, while the four schools expected to spend more than $38,000 to replace logos on their campuses. Uniforms for all other sports could drive the total cost up to about $250,000 according to district spokeswoman Sheleah Reed.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. I figure uniforms have to be replaced periodically anyway so the cost doesn’t bother me. Besides, this was simply The Right Thing To Do. I’m glad HISD got it done. Hair Balls has more.

Let them sleep

Jilly Dos Santos is a hero to teenagers everywhere.

Jilly Dos Santos really did try to get to school on time. She set three successive alarms on her phone. Skipped breakfast. Hastily applied makeup while her fuming father drove. But last year she rarely made it into the frantic scrum at the doors of Rock Bridge High School here by the first bell, at 7:50 a.m.

Then she heard that the school board was about to make the day start even earlier, at 7:20 a.m.

“I thought, if that happens, I will die,” recalled Jilly, 17. “I will drop out of school!”

That was when the sleep-deprived teenager turned into a sleep activist. She was determined to convince the board of a truth she knew in the core of her tired, lanky body: Teenagers are developmentally driven to be late to bed, late to rise. Could the board realign the first bell with that biological reality?

The sputtering, nearly 20-year movement to start high schools later has recently gained momentum in communities like this one, as hundreds of schools in dozens of districts across the country have bowed to the accumulating research on the adolescent body clock.

In just the last two years, high schools in Long Beach, Calif.; Stillwater, Okla.; Decatur, Ga.;, and Glens Falls, N.Y., have pushed back their first bells, joining early adopters in Connecticut, North Carolina, Kentucky and Minnesota. The Seattle school board will vote this month on whether to pursue the issue. The superintendent of Montgomery County, Md., supports the shift, and the school board for Fairfax County, Va., is working with consultants to develop options for starts after 8 a.m.

New evidence suggests that later high school starts have widespread benefits. Researchers at the University of Minnesota, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studied eight high schools in three states before and after they moved to later start times in recent years. In results released Wednesday they found that the later a school’s start time, the better off the students were on many measures, including mental health, car crash rates, attendance and, in some schools, grades and standardized test scores.

Dr. Elizabeth Miller, chief of adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, who was not involved in the research, noted that the study was not a randomized controlled trial, which would have compared schools that had changed times with similar schools that had not. But she said its methods were pragmatic and its findings promising.

“Even schools with limited resources can make this one policy change with what appears to be benefits for their students,” Dr. Miller said.

[…]

At heart, though, experts say, the resistance is driven by skepticism about the primacy of sleep.

“It’s still a badge of honor to get five hours of sleep,” said Dr. Judith Owens, a sleep expert at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington. “It supposedly means you’re working harder, and that’s a good thing. So there has to be a cultural shift around sleep.”

Last January, Jilly decided she would try to make that change happen in the Columbia school district, which sprawls across 300 square miles of flatland, with 18,000 students and 458 bus routes. But before she could make the case for a later bell, she had to show why an earlier one just would not do.

She got the idea in her team-taught Advanced Placement world history class, which explores the role of leadership. Students were urged to find a contemporary topic that ignited their passion. One morning, the teachers mentioned that a school board committee had recommended an earlier start time to solve logistical problems in scheduling bus routes. The issue would be discussed at a school board hearing in five days. If you do not like it, the teachers said, do something.

Jilly did the ugly math: A first bell at 7:20 a.m. meant she would have to wake up at 6 a.m.

She had found her passion.

As it happens, six AM is when I got up to go to high school. My first class wasn’t until 8:40, but I had a 90-minute commute from Staten Island to Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, and my friends and I generally preferred being on the 6:45 AM ferry – it was one of the “new” boats back then, it was less crowded, and it was non-smoking on the lower deck, which is where you wanted to be so you could get to the subways station ahead of the pack. I’d actually arrive about an hour before my first class, unless I had jazz band rehearsal, which started at 8. I was also usually in bed by about ten back then; I didn’t experience true sleep deprivation until I got to college, which is a whole ‘nother story. Anyway, as the parent of a child who is decidedly not a morning person, I will be much happier (as will she) if high school starts later in the day. The evidence is pretty compelling. I hope someone in HISD is paying attention to this.

HISD on HB5

Good information on the changes made to school curricula and graduation requirements.

With most details of the state’s new reform of public education – known as House Bill 5 – settled only last week, HISD is ready with a multimedia toolbox to assist students, families, and support staff in making the most of the guidelines that will require students to choose academic and career paths that will prepare them for success beyond high school.

The district launched its “Plan Your Path” informational website, houstonisd.org/PlanYourPath, on Feb. 5. It offers:

• Simple explanations by grade level of STAAR testing requirements, including changes in required end-of-course (EOC) exams for graduation;
• A guide to the revised Texas graduation plan;
• An exploration of “endorsements,” the five areas of focus – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM); Business and Industry; Arts and Humanities; Public Services; and Multidisciplinary – that HISD will offer to students to set and follow their academic and career goals;
• A section of frequently asked questions (FAQs), along with the opportunity to pose your own question;
• Advice for parents on how to work as partners with their children’s schools to assure their academic success.

Late in February, HISD will distribute an informational guide to all parents, in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese to explain HB 5, which will also be posted on school websites, and will host 10 community meetings throughout the district in March and April.

While many districts are struggling with dealing with HB 5’s changes, HISD was already developing many of its requirements on its own through its Linked Learning model. That initiative, which blends a rigorous academic focus with an emphasis on career awareness and preparedness from K-12, was fast-tracked when HISD received $30 million in federal Race to the Top funds in December in support of the concept.

There’s video, so click over and follow the links from there to Plan Your Path and elsewhere.

HISD proposes closing five schools

Not sure about this.

Houston ISD officials are proposing to close five small schools at the end of this academic year, a move likely to set off protests from parents and alumni.

Some on the school board – which ultimately must approve the plan – already are expressing concerns about the closures, which would affect more than 2,000 students.

The campuses slated to close are Jones High School, Fleming Middle School, and Dodson, N.Q. Henderson and Port Houston elementary schools, according to Houston Independent School District spokeswoman Sheleah Reed.

The district posted news of the potential closures on the schools’ websites Wednesday, saying that they were “part of a plan designed to address fluctuating enrollment and changing demographics across the city.”

The schools each enroll fewer than 500 students, according to 2013 district data. In many cases, numerous students who live in the neighborhood transfer to attend other HISD campuses or leave for charter schools.

Jones High School in southeast Houston, once a thriving campus that launched the district’s Vanguard program for gifted students, enrolled 440 students last year, according to district data. More than 900 students zoned to Jones, however, left to other HISD high schools, with about half attending Milby and Chavez, each about 7 miles away.

“Something needs to be offered at that school. If it can be offered at Chavez, it can be offered at Jones,” said Cheryl Diggs, a 1988 Jones graduate who owns property in the nearby South Park neighborhood. “Give the students a reason to stay. It makes no sense.”

See School Zone and Hair Balls for more; the latter provided this link to HISD’s campus demographic and enrollment report. I get the rationale behind this, but it’s not clear to me that having a few smaller schools in a huge and diverse district like HISD is a bad idea. Maybe offering some kind of specialized programming at these campuses is a superior alternative to closing them. Closing schools can have a profound effect on a neighborhood, which is probably why at least three trustees so far – Paula Harris, Rhonda Skillern-Jones, and Juliet Stipeche – have had negative reactions. Whether this proposal ultimately makes sense or not, this is going to be a tough sell for HISD. A press release panning the idea from Working America is beneath the fold.

(more…)

HISD schools searching for new nicknames

Good luck to them.

The process of determining new school nicknames – a task that elicits passion from generations and has triggered countless “Are you serious” suggestions and even more heartfelt recommendations – is underway at four Houston ISD campuses.

Lamar and Westbury high schools and Hamilton and Welch middle schools had their previous nicknames banned by the HISD board earlier this month, and they are expected to finalize new nicknames by March.

“We’ve already talked with the student council and the students, and they’re very serious about this,” said Lamar Principal James McSwain, who has been flooded by suggestions for the new nickname. “They understand that we were the Redskins for 76 years, and at the end of 76 years, people feel very passionately.

“What you want is – after 76 more years – people to feel as passionately about the mascot that you choose as the one that we had.”

As you know, I’ve been following this issue closely. Some people are unhappy that HISD instituted this policy, and some people will be unhappy with the new names and mascots that get chosen. That’s life, and it won’t be long till it’s all forgotten. This was the right thing for HISD to do, and I hope the students and alumni of these schools view it as an opportunity.

On a related note, I commend you to read this fascinating story of the history of the Washington NFL team’s nickname, and the ongoing fight to get them to change it. One tidbit from the story stood out to me:

Students, parents, and Native Americans alike successfully argued for name changes in school districts and states across the country. A number of state boards of education have conducted a system-wide reviews of every Native American mascot in use in their schools. Miami University in Ohio, named after the Miami tribe, changed its name from Redskins to Redhawks in 1997. High schools across the country made similar changes, dumping “Redskins” and other names in favor of new monikers. In 2005, the NCAA passed a bylaw prohibiting schools from wearing any logo it deemed “hostile” or “abusive” toward Native Americans on uniforms during postseason play. Schools with such mascots wouldn’t be allowed to bring them to postseason games. As a result, the University of Illinois, with much consternation, dropped its iconic Chief Illiniwek mascot, who for years performed faux-Native dances at basketball and football games. Other schools followed.

In 1970, more than 3,000 high school, college, and professional sports teams had Native American nicknames or mascots. Today, fewer than 1,000 remain.

That’s a lot of progress in the last 40-some years. Still a ways to go, but substantial progress. I wouldn’t want to be the last school or the last school district to sport one of these offensive nicknames or mascots. Deal with it now and let someone else earn that dubious honor.

SBOE backs down on Algebra 2

So much for that.

Only high school students who pursue an honors plan or a diploma specializing in math and science will have to take algebra II under recommendations that the Texas State Board of Education preliminarily approved Thursday.

Despite an initial proposal that had included the advanced math course in all five new diploma plans, the 15-member board was nearly unanimous in its decision Thursday. The single no vote came from Martha Dominguez, D-El Paso.

“I think what we’ve done so far tonight accomplishes what we’ve been charged to do,” said member Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo.

The board, which has the responsibility of determining which courses school districts should offer in five separate endorsements as a part of an overhaul passed by the Legislature in May, has had two days of testimony and discussion on the topic. That included an unexpected visit from House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, and Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston. Both lawmakers urged the board to reserve as much flexibility for local school districts as possible — and not to require algebra II to fulfill all of the graduation plans.

See here for the background. While this is over for now, I have always believed that the issue will continue to be debated and refined in the Legislature. There just isn’t sufficient consensus on the matter, and some of the proponents of Algebra 2 have a strong voice. Keep an eye on any candidates that make noise about it, too. I don’t know what form this debate will take in 2015, I just feel confident that it will happen. Texpatriate has more.

Are we going to require Algebra 2 or not?

Apparently, despite what happened in the last Legislature, it’s still an open question.

The State Board of Education has proposed toughening high school graduation requirements despite the Legislature’s clear intent last spring to provide more flexibility.

The board’s draft plan – up for debate and a preliminary vote this week – would require most students to pass an Algebra 2 class to graduate. The proposed rule has set off a renewed battle over the value of mandating the advanced math course.

Proponents argue Algebra 2 is tied to college and career success. Colleges often require the course for admission. But other educators and business leaders contend some students need options that may be more relevant to their interests and job plans.

State lawmakers this year unanimously passed a law to overhaul graduation standards, promoting more flexibility for students, but they left decisions about some courses to the education board.

The sponsors of House Bill 5, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, repeatedly emphasized that local school districts should get to select the classes they deem appropriate.

Another sticking point is whether students should have to take a speech class – a mandate left out of the law but included in the education board’s draft rules.

“These questions were addressed through the Legislature. They were pretty clear what their intent was,” said H.D. Chambers, superintendent of the Alief Independent School District and a leading voice favoring the bill. “It’s déjà vu.”

Chambers and others said a compromise is possible. For example, the board may end up requiring Algebra 2 only for some graduation plans.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize the SBOE had this role to play. They expect to make a decision in January after soliciting feedback from the public. School groups tend to oppose making Algebra 2 mandatory, while business groups tend to favor it. I expect the same arguments we had this spring to be made all over again. If you have a strong opinion on this, you should contact your SBOE member or sign up to testify at one of their meetings. We’ll see what happens.

We shouldn’t have any teams called the “Redskins”

What Steve Harvey says.

It is time for the Lamar High School Redskins to change their nickname.

It actually is past time.

A good time would have been 15 years ago. According to a 1999 article in the Houston Press, Kenyon Weaver, a Lamar senior, began a campaign the year before to change the nickname.

His impetus was a vacation he took the previous summer to Santa Fe, N.M. When he started to don his Redskins sweatshirt, his mother, a University of Houston professor, counseled him against it, warning him the name would offend many of the city’s American Indian residents.

Upon returning to school, Weaver used his position as a member of the Lamar student senate to place a referendum before students.

“The only decent thing to do – the only worthy cause – was the Lamar Redskins,” Weaver told the Press.

After heated debate, students overwhelmingly voted to remain Redskins, although Weaver said his effort was sabotaged by school officials when students were told they would have to pay for the expense of changing the lo

[…]

To an extent, Lamar officials have acknowledged the nickname is wrong by disassociating the school from virtually everything about it except the nickname itself.

There is little evidence at Lamar that the school mascot remains Redskins, starting with the elimination of the mascot. It was a big-toothed, big-nosed, diaper-clad artificial statue called Big Red that was trotted out at sports events.

Any new teams, groups or awards will be known simply as Lamar. Drill team members are known as Rangerettes.

Give the school credit for doing a lot to right its wrong. But it hasn’t done as much as some. According to Capital News Service, 62 high schools in 22 states are known as Redskins while 28 high schools in 18 states dropped the nickname within the last 25 years.

Principal James McSwain, who was in the same role when Kenyon Weaver was a student, said recently if Lamar were a new school choosing a nickname that it wouldn’t be Redskins.

So why not take the obvious next step and officially drop the nickname? There’s no dispute that it’s offensive. The school isn’t using it anyway. I’m sure there will be some fuss among alumni if this were to be proposed, but I’m not saying the historical record needs to be rewritten. Past teams that won memorable games as the “Lamar Redskins” can and should remain such. But going forward, the path is clear. If the school hasn’t been using the nickname anyway in recent years, I doubt the current students will care very much. Just put out a statement saying that Lamar High School will no longer employ the nickname “Redskins” and be done with it. If the principal won’t do it, then HISD ought to consider getting involved, as surely this is not in line with the district’s non-discrimination policies. This should not be a dilemma for anyone. Just do what’s right.

Perry signs HB5, adds transportation to the special session

There had been some buzz about a possible veto, but in the end this was to be expected.

When Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 5 on Monday, he ended weeks of speculation that he might veto the high-profile education legislation because of concerns that it would weaken high school graduation standards.

The bill, by House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, drops the number of state standardized tests high school students must take to graduate and changes the courses needed to earn a diploma. It passed both chambers unanimously, with many lawmakers hailing the bill as one of the session’s most important, after months of lengthy committee hearings and contentious behind-the-scenes negotiations.

As Perry signed HB 5 with Aycock and Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, by his side, the governor said the measure reflected an “appropriate balance between a need for rigorous academics and flexibility” and had “come a long way” to address the concerns of its critics, which include the Texas Association of Business and the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

“Texas refuses to dilute our academic standards in any way because they are working,” he said, citing the state’s rising graduation rates and test scores.

Actually, STAAR scores were flat, and high schoolers continued to have trouble with the end of course exams. And there were definitely some people who thought that HB5 did dilute standards, including TEA Commissioner Michael Williams and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner Raymund Paredes. Be that as it may, HB5 did do a number of good things, and we’ll just have to see what happens with the graduation requirements. As I’ve said before, I fully expect this matter to be revisited by the Lege again and again. Texas Politics has more.

Meanwhile, the scope of the special session has been expanded, though thankfully not for anything bad.

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday added transportation funding to the agenda of the special session.

In his directive, Perry asked the Legislature to consider the “funding of transportation infrastructure projects” during the 30-day session, which began late last month.

“Texas’ growing economy and population demand that we take action to address the growing pressure on the transportation network across the state,” Perry said in a statement. “As we enjoy the benefits of a booming economy, we have to build and maintain the roads to ensure we sustain both our economic success and our quality of life.”

Not clear when the Lege will get around to this, since the House stands adjourned till Monday the 17th. Also not clear why Perry violated his previous dictum about waiting till redistricting was done before doing anything else. But that’s Rick Perry for you.

Even before Perry added transportation to the call, lawmakers had been filing road funding bills with the hope that he would. For his part, Perry has been advocating for 100-year bonds to finance transportation infrastructure, arguing the state should take advantage of historically low interest rates.

But a large contingent of Republicans remains adamantly opposed to TxDOT assuming any more debt. Some lawmakers want to tap the Rainy Day Fund for transportation funds, but conservatives have already objected to using the account for water projects and ending accounting tricks so it’s unclear if that will re-emerge during the special session.

Perry himself added to the problem during the regular session when he shot down the idea of even a modest increase in the vehicle registration fee as a way to help fund transportation. Perry also said he’d only add items that had consensus and thus would be easy enough to pass, and it’s not clear that this applies to transportation. But other than that, it’s a great idea. I’ll be happy if the Lege can actually get something done on this, but I’m not counting on it.

Testing and charter bills pass

A lot of stuff gets done at the last possible minute in the Legislature. The two big education bills were examples of this.

The session’s two biggest school reform bills, one from each chamber, have danced the House and Senate in the session’s closing days—a stalemate that broke Sunday night as both bills passed each chamber around the same time.

Members of the lower chamber began with their own House Bill 5, which reduces the required high school tests from 15 to 5, creates a new set of graduation plans for high schoolers, and lets the state rate its schools on an “A to F” scale. The final version of the bill is closer to the House’s proposal than the one passed by the Senate.

Its author, House Public Education Chair Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) urged a quick finish for one of the session’s centerpiece bills, and one that saw hours of debate on the House floor in March. “Let’s just vote it,” he said tonight.

Rep. Mark Strama—who voted against HB 5 when it passed the House—spoke in favor of the bill this time, devoting his final speech on the House floor to the proper role of testing in education policy. (He’s announced he won’t seek reelection.)

“HB 5 is an improvement over current law,” Strama said, but he defended the standardized testing movement of the last 20 years, crediting it with helping African-American and Hispanic students to close the “achievement gap” with Anglo students. ”The problem with testing in Texas was the stakes we had attached to those tests,” he said.

Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) said he’d vote for the bill too, despite his concern that that it doesn’t go far enough to help “the kids that are going to be on the bottom, I don’t care which test you give. … If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we will keep getting what we’ve been getting.”

The House voted unanimously in favor of the bill.

Senate Bill 2, which would let the state approve around 100 new charter school operators in the next six years, had a less certain fate in the House, where charter expansion bills have died in the last two sessions.

[…]

That bill passed 105 to 41, with no votes from a handful of Republicans along with Democrats. The Senate passed SB 2 without debate, on a 28-3 vote.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. The Trib breaks down what’s in the bills:

HB 5

  • High school students would take a foundation curriculum of four English credits; three science, social studies and math credits; two foreign language credits; one fine art and one P.E. credit; and five elective credits. They would add a fourth science and math credit when they select one of five diploma “endorsements” in areas including science and technology, business and industry, and the humanities.
  • To qualify for automatic college admissions under the top 10 percent rule and state financial aid, students must take four science credits and algebra II must be among their four math credits.
  • The state will require five standardized tests in English I, English II, algebra I, biology and U.S. history. School districts will have the option of offering diagnostic exams in algebra II and English III that will not count toward their accountability rating.
  • Districts will get an A through F rating; campuses will remain under the existing exemplary, recognized, acceptable and unacceptable labels.

SB 2

  • The state cap on charter contracts will increase by about 15 a year to 305 by 2019.
  • Dropout recovery and charters created by a school district would not count toward that cap. High-performing charter schools from out of state would. Up to five charters focused on special needs students would not count toward the cap.
  • School boards would have the authority to vote in favor of converting low-performing campuses in their districts into charters.
  • The Texas Education Agency, not the State Board of Education, would oversee the charter approval, renewal and closure process.

Given the late changes and the broad scope of these bills, it’s going to take awhile to fully understand what they mean, and to uncover any hidden secrets in them. The Legislative Study Group gave a favorable recommendation to HB5 but an unfavorable recommendation to SB2. Their analyses are always a good starting point. For what it’s worth, I was inclined to support SB2 and I was uncomfortable with the removal of Algebra II from the recommended curriculum. What do you think about these bills?

Laptops for fewer, at least for now

HISD’s proposed laptops for all proposal has been scaled back from an 18 school pilot to a ten school pilot in response to concerns that they weren’t quite ready yet for anything bigger than that.

Lenny Schad, chief technology officer for the Houston Independent School District, told the school board via email this week that consultants recently concluded HISD’s technological capacity wasn’t yet sufficient to dole out that many laptops. The review, he said, found that the bandwidth was lacking, and current staff wouldn’t be able to support the increased network demand.

In late April, Schad told the board that he hoped to start the laptop program at up to 18 high schools, but that the number depended on further analysis of the district’s readiness. Schad said he and his staff agree with the consultants’ recommendation to scale back to 10 schools, which would amount to more than 17,400 laptops for students and teachers.

The proposed campuses (at least one in each trustee’s area) are Sam Houston, Kashmere, Chavez, Bellaire, Sharps­town, Lee, Austin and Madison high schools, the all-boys school and the all-girls school. The single-gender campuses, which serve middle school students, already have a one-to-one technology program, according to HISD spokesman Jason Spencer.

“Implementing at 10 high schools will provide HISD with a good user base to ensure our plan and strategy is tested,” Schad said in his email to the school board.

This will likely knock the initial price tag down from $10 million to something smaller, though HISD did not provide a figure at this time. In my previous entry on this, I got some feedback asking how HISD was going to be able to service all this new equipment; I think we now have an answer to that concern. Better to start a little smaller than you originally hoped than too big and not be able to handle it.

Senate passes amended HB5

The Senate has passed its version of House Bill 5, which makes sweeping changes to standardized testing and curriculum requirements for high school students.

Texas high school students would have new curriculum requirements under legislation unanimously passed by the Senate on Monday — but they won’t be the ones the House envisioned when it approved its version of the legislation more than a month ago.

The Senate version of House Bill 5, which the upper chamber reached consensus on after weeks of extensive negotiations that continued through Monday afternoon, still drops the number of required state exams for graduation from 15 to five in biology, U.S. history, algebra I, and English I and II. It would still allow students to complete diplomas in specialized areas or “endorsements,” like humanities, science and technology, and business and industry.

But it changes the courses that students must complete to graduate under those endorsements, most significantly requiring four years of math for all of them.

The legislation now goes to conference committee, where representatives from both chambers will meet to work out their differences.

Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said HB 5 provided the structure for “the most rigorous, most flexible” high school graduation plan in the country. He also emphasized the legislation’s commitment to reducing high-stakes testing, which he said had taken the “fun out of teaching.”

Many Senate Democrats, along with Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, favored preserving the current “4×4” curriculum — which includes four years each in science, social studies, English and math — but adding more options for career skills and advanced math courses. Patrick pushed to keep the plan passed out of his committee, which has four years of English but drops to three years of science, math and social studies in certain endorsements to give students chances to take specialized courses.

The proposal that emerged from Senate negotiations, which Patrick called the “flex 4×4,” puts all students on track to completing four years of math and English, with algebra II as a requirement for all endorsements except the business and industry track. The advanced math course, which some education researchers say increases students’ chances at post-secondary success, would be required for automatic admission to state colleges under the top 10 percent rule and to apply for certain state scholarships.

Under the House version, students would opt into a college preparatory curriculum with the additional years of math, science and social studies. That plan has encountered criticism from groups like the Texas Association of Business, La Raza and the Education Trust, who believe it would reverse the state’s progress in improving students’ preparation for post-secondary education and result in fewer low-income and minority students heading to college.

Here’s HB5, and here’s what I wrote about the House passage of it. The main points of contention were about the algebra II requirement and whether the default endorsement was the most rigorous one or not – in other words, whether a student had to opt in or opt out. The person pushing the opt out path was Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, and the Observer reports on her activities.

Under an amendment tacked on by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), students on the foundation plan must complete four years of science and four years of math with Algebra II to qualify for automatic admissions to state universities under the Top Ten Percent Rule.

That means some students who graduate with the career endorsement may not qualify for automatic admissions, depending on which math classes they choose. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), who led Friday’s negotiations, introduced an amendment that would have required Algebra II for all students.

“I tell ya, I find it quite insulting,” Van de Putte said of people who insinuate that some students just can’t succeed in Algebra II, which is considered a college-ready indicator.

Van de Putte said her amendment would reduce the possibility of reverting to an old system that tended to steer minority students into career and technology fields instead of college—a concern that prompted groups like the National Council of La Raza to agitate against the bill. Van de Putte said today’s system already funnels minority students into the lower degree plan.

“I want to make sure with this amendment that we’re not failing our kids because we’re so afraid with failing ourselves,” Van de Putte said.

However, Van de Putte ultimately withdrew her amendment so lawmakers could discuss her idea in conference committee.

In a statement after the bill passed, she explained her lingering concerns with a graduation path that isn’t built for college readiness. ”I worry that some ninth-graders, especially from families without a history of higher education, won’t realize what they can achieve. I fear that choosing the minimum plan will lead to a minimum wage job,” she said.

Van de Putte also tried, unsuccessfully, to require multiple notifications to students reminding them that choosing the career endorsement may disqualify them from automatic college admissions. “If we’re going to let 15-year-olds decide what their endorsements are, we need to let them be fully informed,” Van de Putte said.

Several legislators from both parties said one notice would be enough, and Patrick raised his voice saying that he didn’t want blue collar work to be stigmatized.

Among Van de Putte’s successful amendments was an option for school districts to offer a seal of bi-literacy on qualifying students’ diplomas, and another protecting dropout recovery schools from being penalized for low test scores.

The Texas Association of Business, which continues to veer between being a force for good and a petulant bully, continues to be unhappy with the thrust of this legislation.

Texas Association of Business president Bill Hammond criticized the Senate bill, saying the weaker requirements will “doom generations of students to a mediocre education and low-wage jobs.”

He noted that only about 25 percent of Texas high school graduates are college- or career-ready.

The requirements are “meant to increase that number and put in place [higher] standards,” he said.

The bill now goes to conference committee to get the differences worked out. I doubt what emerges will be any more to Bill Hammond’s liking than the Senate version is now, but perhaps the final bill will resemble the Senate version more than the House version. It’s mostly been parent groups like TAMSA that have pushed for limits on end of course exams, and they have proven to be a fairly loud voice in this process as well. I’m really not sure what to make of all of this. I do think we test too much, but I also think algebra II should be taught, and I’m a little concerned about weakening curriculum requirements. I have a hard time sorting out all the data on this. If there’s one thing I am sure of it’s that we will revisit this subject again in 2015, and probably 2017 and 2019 and who knows how many future sessions. I don’t think this will ever be anything but a work in progress.

UIL moves to limit high school football practice time

They are doing it to limit the risk of concussion.

Established in 2001, the University Interscholastic League’s Medical Advisory Committee has done its best to be proactive and stay ahead on issues.

That’s been the case in requiring schools to have automated external defibrillators, dealing with concussions and establishing protocols.

On Sunday, the committee did just that, unanimously recommending a resolution to the UIL legislative council to limit in-season, full-contact practice. Each athlete would be limited to 90 minutes per week of game-speed tackling and blocking to the ground during the regular season and playoffs.

Every recommendation from the advisory committee has been approved by the executive council.

[…]

D.W. Rutledge, the executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association and a committee member, said there could be pushback from coaches but little resistance once they understand the wording on the rule.

“I think with the vast majority of coaches, that fits into their practice schedules without them having to make any adjustments at all,” said Rutledge, who led Converse Judson to four state championships.

Not clear to me how much difference this will make if coaches are generally adhering to this schedule already, but it’s still a step in the right direction. State Rep. Eddie Lucio III has filed HB887 that would do basically the same thing; it was passed unanimously out of the Public Education committee on April 9 and is awaiting a slot on the House calendar. We sure have come a long way from the Bear Bryant days, haven’t we?

School stuff

Just a basic roundup of education-related stories, since there’s so much going on.

From the Trib, action in the House on testing in grade school.

Elementary and middle school students currently take a total of 17 state exams before high school. They are tested each year in grades three through eight in reading and math, plus there are additional exams in science or writing or social studies, depending on the grade. At the urging of some parents and educators, several lawmakers have proposed either eliminating testing in lower grades altogether or to dropping the number of tests to as few as 10. To avoid the risk of losing federal funding, both proposals would require a waiver under No Child Left Behind’s accountability requirements.

[Rep. Bennett] Ratliff’s House Bill 2836 would address an issue specific to younger test-takers — the amount of time they must spend sitting still to complete their state exams, which now have four-hour time limits. Ratliff said that teachers, test developers and administrators told him that “four hours is just entirely too long for a third-, fourth-, fifth-grader to sit and concentrate and do their best work.”

His bill would require exams at lower grade levels to be reworked so that most students could complete them in two hours or less. It would also remove the time limit so that struggling students could take the rest of the day to complete the test if needed.

Ratliff’s bill would also would reduce the amount of testing in lower grades to the extent possible under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, by eliminating writing exams in fourth and seventh grades and the social studies exam in eighth grade.

But for parents concerned about the effects of high-stakes testing on young children, that is not enough, said Susan Kellner, the vice president of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, a statewide grassroots organization.

“The issue is that No Child Left Behind requires 14 tests between the grades of three through eight, and really that limits what these bills can do,” she said.

Some lawmakers, like state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble, are attempting to get around those requirements by passing laws that would require state education officials to request a waiver from the federal government.

Under House Bill 866, by Huberty, students who do well on state exams in third and fifth grades could skip exams in fourth, sixth and seventh grades. All students would be tested in math in the third and fifth grades, on reading in third, fifth and eighth grade, on writing and science in fifth and eighth grades, and on social studies in eighth grade.

Hubert’s bill is similar to one he co-authored last session with Rep. Scott Hochberg. It was a good idea then and it remains a good idea now. That hasn’t stopped Bill Hammond and the TAB from digging their heels in against it for reasons that are not clear to me. But come on, there is nothing about this that contravenes the goals of rigor and accountability. I do not get where TAB is coming from on this.

Also at the Trib, the TEA wants to change the accountability ratings to letter grades.

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams told senators Tuesday that the state intends to move forward with developing an A through F public school accountability rating system that would take effect in 2014.

“With the engagement of hundreds of educators and stakeholders around the state providing advice and council to TEA during the past year with the development of the accountability system, it was recommended to me and I accepted the recommendation to move in that direction,” he said.

Williams said that although he had the authority to make the transition without enacting legislation, he did not want to formally approve the change without an opportunity to answer legislators’ questions.

Proponents of the A through F system, which include House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, and Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, say that its transparency helps engage parents in their community schools by making their performance easier to understand. A similar proposal overwhelmingly passed the lower chamber as a part of House Bill 5.

“It’s a system that we all grew up with. We all got grades A, B, C, D, F in school, and the public will understand, too,” Williams said.

I don’t feel strongly about this one way or the other. As long as the evaluations mean something and everyone understands what they mean, and knows what they need to do to move up, it’s fine by me.

Also in the Senate, a bit of a slap fight between Williams and Patrick.

State Sen. Dan Patrick, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, told his fellow lawmakers Tuesday morning that he had read the newspaper editorials and comments suggesting that his graduation plan bill (SB3) lowers standards. He staunchly disagrees and wanted Education Commissioner Michael Williams to back him up. The committee chairman didn’t get the answer he sought.

“I just want to be on the record that we have not stepped back in rigor,” said Patrick, R-Houston.

“Allow me to respectfully disagree,” Williams countered.

Williams tried to elaborate, but Patrick interrupted, saying it’s the senator who gets to ask the questions.

Eventually given a chance to speak again, Williams said that the default graduation plan for high school students today requires them to take English III and Algebra II. The current default plan also requires four years each of English, math, science and social studies. All students are put on the default plan and need parental permission to drop to an easier plan.

Under Patrick’s bill, which has passed the Senate Education Committee, the default plan (called the foundation diploma) does not require Algebra II. It requires four years of English and three years each of math, science and social studies. Students could choose to take a tougher path — called getting an endorsement — and then would have to take Algebra II.

Williams said he was particularly troubled that the proposed default plan is easier than current law. Patrick said Algebra II is losing its status as a “holy grail” course for colleges, but he offered a compromise to try to win over Williams. Patrick said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, planned to offer an amendment to SB3 that would require all students to start on the tougher “endorsement” route, with parental permission needed to drop down, similar to current law.

We saw this same fight play out in the House last week, with Rep. Mark Strama leading the fight to keep Algebra II as part of the default requirements for a diploma. He lost that fight, but it looks like it will be re-fought in the Senate. It will be very interesting to see what happens if the Senate bill keeps the Algebra II requirement. Should make for some boisterous times in the joint committee to reconcile the two bills.

And finally, here’s this week’s legislative update from Raise Your Hand Texas. They’re a good source for more of what’s going on in education legislation, so follow them in whatever fashion you prefer to keep up with this stuff.

House passes major changes to testing and graduation requirements

This is a big deal.

Texas public high school students would face far fewer high-stakes exams and gain more freedom in choosing courses under a major education bill approved by the state House on Tuesday.

Hours of debate among lawmakers centered on whether the state was giving students much-needed flexibility or scaling back too far – eliminating an Algebra II class as a standard graduation requirement, for example.

The bill, which is similar to proposals in the Senate, says students would have to pass five end-of-course exams to graduate, down from 15. It also scraps the default requirement that students take four years of math and science courses.

Supporters say House Bill 5 would decrease dropouts, letting students take more meaningful vocational classes that will prepare them for jobs after high school if they decide against college.

“I believe this is good policy. I think most people in Texas believe this is good policy,” Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said after his bill passed following nearly nine hours of discussion.

[…]

The legislation would end the three-tiered diploma system that kept some students on the lowest level from being admitted into most colleges.

All students now would have to complete a “foundation” curriculum that includes four years of English and three years each of math, science and social studies.

Students could add on “endorsements” by taking courses in a speciality: business and industry; science, technology, engineering and math; public services; arts and humanities; or a mixture. Those students also would have to take a fourth math class, meant to raise the rigor, under an amendment from Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.

Students who complete an endorsement and take four years of science and math, including Algebra II, would meet the “distinguished” standard.

The Statesman notes the main issue debated during the daylong discussion of this bill, led by Rep. Mark Strama, who was one of only two votes against it.

A bipartisan coalition of members led by Strama argued that the state would be backing away from the rigorous requirements that have produced results, particularly among low-income and minority students, in the name of giving students flexibility.

“Every conversation I’ve had for months has revolved and swirled around this issue,” Aycock said.

Under current law, the 4×4 curriculum is the default graduation plan for all students unless they opt for a minimum plan requiring fewer credits for graduation that doesn’t qualify the student for a four-year college.

Strama put forth an amendment that would make the default plan under House Bill 5 the “distinguished diploma,” which is close to the 4×4 plan and a prerequisite to qualify for automatic college admission under the state’s top 10-percent law.

The distinguished diploma requires four years of science and math, including Algebra 2, rather than the three years called for in the “foundation diploma.” Algebra 2 is seen by many educators as a key indicator of whether a student is ready for college.

“We should assume all of them want a college prep curriculum and are capable of it, and let them decide if they don’t,” Strama said.

Higher Education Committee Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, signed on to Strama’s amendment and said he was concerned that looser requirements might be sending the state in the “slightly wrong direction,” away from ensuring students are prepared for the 21st century economy.

Forcing students to choose between an upper and lower track would stigmatize the foundation diploma as the lesser option when that isn’t the intention, said Aycock and his allies.

“It would have all these students have to admit at the very beginning of school: ‘I can’t hack this. I have to drop down to a lower level in order to get through high school,’” state Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, said of Strama’s amendment.

After nearly 90 minutes of debate, Strama’s amendment was set aside on a 97-50 vote.

Bill McKenzie, for one, heartily approved of Strama’s amendment. Strama explains his No vote here, and it’s worth your time to read it.

In a preview story, the Trib expanded on these concerns.

Over the past several years, Texas has had “significant gains among all students, especially those of low income backgrounds,” in college and career preparation, said Sonia Troche, the Texas regional director of La Raza. “What they are doing now is actually helping.”

Primary among the concerns of opponents like Troche is a provision that would do away with the state’s so-called 4X4 graduation plan, which requires four years of courses in math, science, social studies and English. Instead, students would complete a “foundation” program with four credits in English, three in math, two in science, three in social studies and then they would earn “endorsements” by completing five credits in areas of study like humanities, science, engineering, technology and math, or business and industry.

The array of choices available to students could prove difficult to navigate for low-income and minority students whose parents are not acquainted with the system because of language or educational barriers, Troche said. Under the current plan, the default is a diploma that requires all of the courses needed for college readiness. The proposal would also reduce the number of end-of-course exams students must from 15 to five total tests, one each in reading, writing, biology, algebra I and U.S. history.

“To a family that may not know all the details, they might think their son or daughter just graduated from high school and are now eligible for college,” Troche said. “But, in fact, if they did an endorsement type of program and graduated from high school but didn’t complete all the required courses, they would have a high school diploma, but would not ready to go to college.”

[…]

State education officials like Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner Raymund Paredes and Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams have joined Shapiro and Troche in sounding an alarm about the proposed changes.

Paredes said in a February interview that even if there are currently high-paying jobs in fields that do not require post-secondary education, the job opportunities for those without a college degree continue to dwindle.

“There’s an increasing amount of information that suggests career technical education is going to be done increasingly in two-year institutions, because once again, the demands of advanced manufacturing jobs and high skilled industrial jobs are growing,” he said.

High school, Paredes said, needs to prepare students to be successful in that setting.

At a Senate hearing Monday, Williams said he would recommend the number of required end-of-course exams to be reduced to eight — three more than under the HB 5 plan in either geometry or algebra II, world history or geography, and chemistry or physics. In remarks delivered around the state, he also said he does not support moving away from the 4X4 curriculum.

See Burka for more on that. I don’t agree much with the Texas Association of Business, which has been among the most stalwart supporters of the STAAR tests, to the point of hostage taking, but this is a valid concern, and it tracks with what I’ve been hearing from people who actually work in schools. Raise Your Hand Texas on the other hand seems pleased with HB5. I’m not sure what to make of all this just yet.

Rep. Harold Dutton knows what he makes of it.

No Child Left Behind, and its precursor Texas system, was created to make sure that, well, no child was left behind. But to Dutton’s way of thinking, no version of accountability, past to present, has touched the lives of African-American males in the Texas school system. So Dutton, being Dutton, proposed our accountability system be based solely on the progress of African-American males.

Aw, ever the jokester, that Dutton. On the floor, near the tail end of yesterday’s debate, Dutton talked about the dominance of African-American males in the state jails, county jails and the probation system.

“What’s the one thing they have in common, other than their race? You know what that one thing in common is?” Dutton asked from the front microphone of the House. “The TEAMS test didn’t help them. The TAAS test didn’t help them. The TAKS test didn’t help them. The end-of-course exams didn’t help them, and the reality is that House Bill 5 is not going to help them, either, unless we do something about it.”

And Dutton’s idea of doing something about it would be to judge school districts by how they teach the children on the bottom rung of academic progress. Needless to say, he didn’t get a lot of support in the House.

Not a lot of big-money lobbyists for that, I’m afraid.

The Observer tracked the amendments that were proposed for HB5.

The amended bill includes new requirements that STAAR tests be given later in the year—no sooner than the third week of May—and that copies of the test be released annually instead of every three years. (Strama introduced both of those.)

Amendments approved back-to-back by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) and Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington) would bar anyone working for a test contractor like Pearson from making political contributions or serving on advisory committees for the state. The amendments appear targeted at Pearson lobbyist Sandy Kress, who serves on a Texas Education Agency committee on accountability.

Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) tacked on an amendment limiting the benchmark tests school districts can give to two benchmarks per STAAR test. The House also approved his amendment that requiring a review of the bill’s effects on graduation rates and college readiness.

Villarreal said he supports HB 5 because he’s seen how vocational opportunities help students in his district. He said some students who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in school get to see how classroom concepts apply to the real world, and find high-paying jobs after graduation.

Rep. Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) voted for the bill, but tried in vain to add protections for rural students in small schools, who she worried wouldn’t have enough course options to finish one of the “endorsements” required for a distinguished diploma.

“My concern is that we have created a plan that is not available, not attainable to all students,” Patrick said. Some representatives suggested distance learning would solve that problem.

Strama sparked the day’s toughest debate around noon, with a proposal to make the college-ready “distinguished” path the default for students, reflecting concerns from higher ed leaders and some Latino and African-American members that HB 5 would leave too many minority students unprepared for college. Strama’s amendment failed, and he eventually voted against the bill.

After the vote, Strama told the Observer that while there are many issues with standardized testing in Texas, the problems are with the execution of the tests and not with the number of end-of course exams.

“I’m afraid that in the upper level coursework we’re going to have wildly varying degrees of rigor and achievement across the state,” he said. “It is more important than ever that we measure kids with one yardstick.”

As the state’s low-income population continues to grow, Strama said it’s more important that students in poor schools are held to the same tough standards as all students.

“If we can’t get those kids to pass these tests, we’re going to pay a high price, and saying they don’t have to pass the test isn’t going to solve the problem,” Strama said.

Here’s a press release from Rep. Villarreal on his amendments. Like I said, I’m still thinking about all this. To say the least, it’s a big and complicated subject, and I don’t claim any particular expertise. I am certain that there will be differences with the Senate bill, and there will be much horse-trading in conference committee. Reducing the number of exams, and aligning them with college admissions makes sense to me. Providing viable alternate paths to high school graduation that prepare kids for a professional career and aren’t viewed as lesser achievements is a good idea, too. I feel confident that whatever we do this session, we’ll be revisiting it next session, and likely again after that.

How much testing is too much?

There’s not a consensus on the right number of mandatory high school standardized exams, but a lot of people are saying that what we’re doing right now is too much.

The number of high-stakes exams in Texas is the most nationwide, according to the Education Commission of the States.

Texas students previously had to pass four exams to graduate.

“Everyone’s going to say less testing is better,” said Shirley Neeley, the Texas education commissioner from 2004 to 2007. “I don’t know what the magic number is. I don’t know that there is a magic number. But fewer (than 15) has got to be better.”

Neeley joined former commissioners Robert Scott, Jim Nelson and Mike Moses in criticizing excessive high-stakes testing during the Rice forum sponsored by the Texas Tribune.

[…]

Scott, the commissioner from 2007 through summer 2012, made headlines a few months before he resigned for criticizing the state’s testing system, saying it had become a “perversion of its original intent.”

Scott said in an interview Monday that he didn’t think 15 exams was necessarily too many but he was troubled by the high consequences – tying students’ grades and diploma to their test scores, especially when the Texas Legislature cut public education funding in 2011.

“In a year when you cut $5.4 billion, you might want to ease off the stakes for a little while,” Scott said.

Nelson, a Bush appointee, said after the panel that five exams sounded reasonable, while his predecessor, Moses, said he could support up to eight with four not tied to graduation.

Robert Scott has been off the reservation for awhile now. I don’t know what the right number is, either, but it seems clear to me that we’ve arrived where we are not by careful study but by simply adopting a “more is better” ethos. There’s much to be said for making coursework more rigorous and having graduation requirements to back that up, but we need to ensure that districts, teachers, and students have all the resources they need to succeed at those levels, and I don’t think anyone can argue with a straight face that we’re doing that now. The first results of these tests show that we have a long way to go to get the results we want. There are some bills to modify the testing program already out there, with more likely to come. The one thing I feel confident about is that we’ll still be having this debate in the next legislative session.

TAPPS changes its playoff policy

Good for them.

The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, which faced controversy last spring in a basketball tournament scheduling issue with a local Orthodox Jewish school, has amended its bylaws to ensure that its statewide high school competitions will not conflict with “the Sabbath and religious days of observance” of member schools.

The policy change, posted on the TAPPS website, is designed “to provide the opportunity for all of our member schools to participate in team sports,” the group said.

TAPPS last spring rescheduled its state boys basketball tournament when it chose not to fight legal action by parents of students attending Beren Academy, an Orthodox Jewish school in Houston whose team had qualified for the tournament but refused to play its scheduled game on Friday during the Jewish Sabbath.

[…]

TAPPS traditionally has prohibited events on Sunday to coincide with Christian days of worship, and the group also noted that it tries to comply with the National Federation of High School Associations policy that calls for weekend competition to limit students’ time away from classroom.

The amended policy avoiding statewide events on “religious days of observance,” a clear reference to schools associated with denominations that observe the Sabbath on Friday or Saturday, is designed to make competitions “accessible to all member schools and the students that they serve.”

See here for all the background. As Jerome Solomon says, now we can move on.

Making the case for the HISD bonds

Bobby and Phoebe Tudor, the chairs of the Citizens for Better Schools campaign, lay out their case for the HISD bond referendum in this Chron op-ed.

Study after study has shown that children have more difficulty learning in inadequate school buildings. The 21st Century School Fund, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization, reports that these inadequate facilities may result in reduced learning time, distractions from learning, inability to provide specialized curricula, less supervision of students’ behavior and reduced ability to help students with special needs.

Teachers and other staff also suffer from these bad conditions, resulting in low staff morale and a high rate of teacher attrition. And everyone in a dilapidated school can experience health problems and safety hazards.

Research has shown that students in poor facilities perform more poorly on tests, have lower attendance and greater drop-out rates. Students in the oldest or worst buildings in their districts are more likely to score lower on standardized tests, more likely to skip classes or receive suspensions and to graduate at a lower rate.

Old facilities that have outlived their useful lives also affect property values for our homes and businesses. Research shows that attractive, up-to-date school facilities help to revitalize neighborhoods, enabling them to retain their property values and quality of life. Whether we have kids in school or not, all of us benefit from good school facilities.

[…]

While we realize that shiny new schools are no substitute for high quality teachers and administrators, which are vital for our students’ success, we are impressed with the advances made by the superintendent and the HISD trustees. Houston is now a leader in education reform. But much work remains to be done and it can’t be done in schools that are crumbling, unsafe and a poor reflection of our community’s commitment to its children. Our schools must be rebuilt. And the time is now.

I said my piece about this a couple of weeks ago; suffice it to say that I agree completely about the need for modern, up to date facilities that can actually meet the needs of the student population. Unlike the HCC bond referendum, I expect this one to be high profile, with a decently funded campaign pushing for it. I’m not currently aware of an anti campaign, though as always there will be some high profile opponents. This issue will be easier to push if the HISD Board of Trustees does its job on ethics reform beforehand. That should be coming soon, and I’ll be keeping a close eye on it. In the meantime, I feel strongly that this referendum deserves support, and that HISD will be a better place if they can get all the work they propose to do done. I’ll be voting for this referendum.

HISD tweaks its bond proposal

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier presents Bond Referendum 2.0 for your approval.

Terry Grier

Grier’s amended proposal adds five high schools to a list of 20 that would get new buildings or partial replacements. The additions, originally slated for smaller renovations, are Davis, DeBakey High School for Health Professions, Barbara Jordan, and the Young Men’s and Young Women’s schools.

Grier also reduced the size of several high schools, acknowledging that demographic data and enrollment trends should have been reviewed in more detail earlier.

[…]

To help fund the new schools, Grier’s revised plan excludes four elementary campuses that were in his original: Condit, Kelso, MacGregor K. Smith and Tijerina.

[…]

Bellaire and Lamar high schools, among the most popular in the district, would be rebuilt to hold 3,100 students – 100 more than originally planned. Both campuses enroll even more students now, though in smaller buildings.

Grier said the principals at Bellaire and Lamar would have discretion to cap enrollment – which could limit the number of students allowed to transfer into the two schools.

Wilson Montessori landed on Grier’s revised list, joining four other campuses that would be expanded to serve students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

No board members have pledged publicly to oppose the bond issue, but Juliet Stipeche, Greg Meyers and Anna Eastman said Thursday they have concerns about the proposal. Manuel Rodriguez Jr. has aggressively questioned it.

Trustee Harvin Moore said he supports the plan, and Rhonda Skillern-Jones declared herself close to backing it. Larry Marshall has praised the plan repeatedly, and Paula Harris has expressed no strong reservations.

You can see the full proposal here. I don’t have any strong feelings about this. I’m predisposed to support these issues, I just want to know that everyone who has a stake in it feels like they’ve been heard. There’s still some work to be done on that front, apparently. First, though, the trustees need to be happy with it. I suspect there may yet be another tweak or two to come.

UPDATE: The Leader has more.

HISD graduation rate up

Good news.

Terry Grier

Students in the Houston Independent School District are graduating at a higher rate for the fourth straight year, thanks in part to better tracking and online make-up courses, Superintendent Terry Grier said Monday.

The district reported a graduation rate of 78.5 percent for the Class of 2011, up 4 percentage points from the prior year and 14 points from 2007.

“This is big-time news,” said Grier, who joined HISD in 2009. “To see this type of improvement in our school district, I think it has major implications for our city.”

Grier attributed the improved graduation numbers partly to school committees that meet weekly to track students who drop out – visiting their homes in some cases – or are at risk of dropping out. He also said his “grad lab” program, which allows students to recover credits at a quicker pace through online courses, has helped.

HISD graduated more than 9,000 students last year, up from nearly 7,000 four years ago. The number of dropouts fell to 1,364, from nearly 2,400 in 2007.

Grier has made raising the graduation rate and lowering the dropout rate centerpieces of his administration, so I’m sure he’s delighted to tout these numbers. As we know, there’s more than one way to measure this statistic, but by either metric HISD is moving in the right direction. Ensuring that every kid can pass the exit exams and be ready for what comes after high school is the next step, but we can celebrate this first. Hair Balls has more.