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Raymund Paredes

Tracking diplomas

From the Texas Tribune:

Among young Texans who started eighth grade in 2001, less than one-fifth went on to earn a higher education credential within six years of their high school graduation. And rates were even lower among African-American and Hispanic students and those who were economically disadvantaged, according to data analyzed by two state education agencies and presented Tuesday in a Texas Tribune news application.

Since 2012, Houston Endowment, a philanthropic foundation and sponsor of the news app, has advocated for the use of “cohort tracking” to evaluate the state’s education pipeline. The analysis begins with all Texas students entering eighth grade in a given year and follows them for 11 years, giving them six years after high school to earn a post-secondary degree.

George Grainger, senior program officer for Houston Endowment’s education initiatives, said he believes it’s a valid performance index for the entire education pipeline, not just higher education. “We felt if we put our name on this, we can talk about it in a way that a state agency is perhaps not able to,” he said.

Cohort tracking is something the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board had been doing for some time — but quietly. Houston Endowment approached the agency about running the numbers again and providing an annual snapshot of the education system, this time for public consumption.

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes called the idea of using the simple, easy-to-understand metric — rather than standard metrics like college graduation rates — “a minor act of genius.”

“If your final number is 19 out of 100 students receiving some form of post-secondary credential, you know there’s an awful lot of leakage in the pipeline,” Paredes said.

The story is about a better way to track higher education outcomes among graduating classes. The NCAA does something similar to track athletes’ graduation rates. There are some holes in this method – it doesn’t count people who spend a couple of years in the military before going on to graduate from college, and it loses track of people who move out of state before graduating high school – but it’s an improvement over what we had been doing to track this achievement. There are some predictable disparities due to race and to income level, and while there are some encouraging trends the fact remains that a huge percentage of current students will not get a college degree. While we all agree that not everyone needs to go to college and that more needs to be done to support kids who want to be on a more vocational track, the fact remains that on balance, not getting a college degree means greatly reducing earning potential. The embedded chart comes via Kevin Drum, who comments:

The chart from Pew Research tells the story. In 1965, high school grads earned 19 percent less than college grads. Since then, the earnings of college grads have gone up (though slowly over the past two decades), while the earnings of high school grads have plummeted. As a result, high school grads today earn a whopping 39 percent less than college grads. Life for the 47 percent of Americans who have high school diplomas but no more is an increasingly parlous one.

This is our future, Texas. What are we doing about it?

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.

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.

Reinventing higher education

More stuff from last week to catch up on: Good luck with that.

The state’s higher education agency called Thursday for sweeping changes in policy, including a revised method of funding community colleges and public universities, a greater emphasis on merit for certain financial aid and a series of cost-cutting measures.

The proposals, which would require legislative action, come at a difficult time for higher education: Enrollment is surging just as the state’s finances are looking increasingly bleak.

The latest estimates put the overall shortfall at about $24 billion for the next two-year budget.

“We want to reinvent public higher education — reinvent it in a more cost-efficient way and reinvent it in a way that gives better academic results,” said Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes.

“And we think that we can do that. I’m sure we’ll need more financial resources over time, but not nearly as much as we would need if we didn’t change the way we deliver education.”

[…]

The recommendations on cost-cutting were developed for the coordinating board by a 20-member advisory panel of higher education leaders and business executives led by Fred W. Heldenfels IV , the board’s chairman. Perry issued an executive order last year directing the board to look for savings, and perhaps not surprisingly, some recommendations echo policies the governor has urged lawmakers to adopt in recent years.

The coordinating board wants 10 percent of the base funding for universities to be indexed to so-called “student outcomes,” such as graduation rates; total degrees awarded; degrees awarded to students from low-income families or those otherwise deemed at-risk; and degrees in science, technology, engineering, math and other fields considered high-priority.

Ten percent of community college funding would be on the basis of degrees awarded, certificates completed, college-level math course completions and other performance measures.

Currently, base funding is strictly a function of enrollment. Paredes said the recommendation was limited to 10 percent of base funding to avoid making draconian changes in the middle of a budget crisis. But that should be enough to prompt improvements, he said, and the percentage could be ramped up later.

These and other recommendations could save $4.2 billion over four years by raising graduation rates and achieving other cost efficiencies, Heldenfels said.

I’m sure anything that involves cost savings will get a hearing next spring. I’m less sure about the part where funding increases over time. Like I said, good luck with that.

Creationists concede

A small bit of good news for Texas education.

Henry Morris III, the CEO of the Institute for Creation Research, has announced the end of the school’s fight with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

In 2008, after the board denied the institute’s request for authority to offer a master’s degree in science education, the Dallas-based Christian institution filed a lawsuit. In June, a U.S. District Court ruled against the institute, upholding the board right to refuse the certification.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, assigned to hear the case, complained that he had requested a “a short and plain statement of the relief requested,” but that the plaintiff was “entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information.”

At the time of the decision, an institute spokesman issued a statement saying, “The attorneys and leadership of ICR associated with this case are currently reviewing Judge Sparks’ ruling and we are weighing our options regarding future action in this matter.”

You should go back and read about the original case, and Judge Sparks’ ruling in it, since it covers some interesting ground. There’s more from the NCSE about the original ruling and the concession as well. The bottom line is that the ICR can teach whatever it wants, but the state of Texas doesn’t have to officially recognize it.

Score one for science

Good.

On its website, the Institute for Creation Research promises an education that is “Biblical. Accurate. Certain.” But there’s one thing they can’t promise: a master’s degree in science education.

In 2008, after the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board denied their request for a state certificate of authority to offer such a degree, the Dallas-based Christian institution took the THECB to court. On Friday, a U.S. District Court ruled against the ICR, upholding the THECB’s right to refuse them certification.

According to the judge’s summary of the case, Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes refused the request because he “found the proposed program’s curriculum was inconsistent with the standards or conventions of science and science education, and secondly, he found the program’s curriculum was inconsistent with the Board’s standards … relating to curriculum.”

It seems the ICR may have acted as their own worst enemy as the case proceeded. In his ruling the judge writes, “It appears that although the Court has twice required Plaintiff to re-plead and set forth a short and plain statement of the relief requested, Plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information.”

You can see that ruling here. All I can say is thank God there’s one less thing for the state to be a laughingstock about. Hair Balls and the NCSE have more.

We can’t just cut our way out of the budget deficit, take 2

Some cuts cost a lot more than they purport to save.

Public colleges and universities in Texas are absorbing a 5 percent cut in state funding by laying off employees, deferring repairs, scaling back travel and finding other savings. But the prospect of an additional reduction of 10 percent in the next two-year budget has some higher education leaders questioning the state’s commitment to boosting enrollment.

“It couldn’t come at a worse time, because we’re experiencing record double-digit enrollment growth,” said Rey García, president of the Texas Association of Community Colleges. “If the state’s not going to pay for the cost of enrollment growth, we may not be able to grow, and we may have to abandon the state’s goal of more access to higher education.”

[…]

Higher education constitutes only about 15 percent of the state’s current $87 billion general revenue fund — the portion of the budget over which the Legislature has control — but it is especially vulnerable in tight fiscal times. The reason: Several other high-dollar slices of the budget pie, including Medicaid, children’s health insurance, public education and pension contributions, are exempt from cuts.

Higher education is a target not because there is fat to be trimmed but because it’s something that can be cut, unlike large swaths of the budget. But you could zero out higher education funding and you’d still only close $13 billion of the $18 billion projected gap – yes, Governor Perry, every credible person in the state believes the gap will be $18 billion.

Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes, the coordinating board’s top administrator, said in a letter to Perry and legislative leaders earlier this year that financial aid is integral to “Closing the Gaps by 2015.”

That is the state’s set of goals for increasing enrollment, especially for minority students, to bring Texas up to par with other states. The goals include boosting enrollment by 630,000 students, to 1.7 million, from 2000 to 2015.

“Financial aid is a critical tool for recruiting, retaining and graduating the large majority of the students we need to attract into higher education to meet our state goals,” Paredes wrote. “These students come from the poorer segments of our population and financial aid is indispensable.”

You could save yourself hundreds of dollars this year if you stopped running your air conditioner. But you won’t do that, because the pain and suffering you’d inflict would be far greater than the monetary value of the savings you’d see. Texas is both a fast-growing state, and a state with a large number of young people in it, many of whom are minorities and from lower income brackets. We can invest in their future – which is to say, our own future – by ensuring they have a path to a college education and a professional career. Or we can cut them off from all that, severely limiting their earning potential and reducing the state’s overall wealth as well as its attractiveness to businesses. It’s our choice.