You are here

First round of education reform package rolls out

The Courier
March 4, 2015

By Stephen Green

Texas got its first look into the massive education overhaul promised by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick during the 2014 campaign.

Patrick and Senate Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor, R-Dallas, announced a series of legislation Tuesday that has been filed targeting school accountability, teacher evaluations, help for failing school districts, access to dual-credit courses and several other areas.

“Not a choice we have, it’s something we have to do,” Taylor said. “If we want Texas to remain the leader it is in this great country, we must continue to lead in education. I agree with Gov. Abbott that we can do a lot better in Texas and we will do a lot better and this is just a start.”

The first is Taylor’s Senate Bill 6 that would require the Texas Education Agency to score campuses on a scale from A to F. Current state law, passed in 2013, already requires this for overall districts.

A score of A is exemplary, B is recognized, C is acceptable, and a D or F would be unacceptable. Taylor said a student might go to a district that scores and A or B, but might attend an F campus.

“This will highlight those campuses and put pressure from parents and districts to do something about that campus,” Taylor said. “Because even if you have a great district, if you’re losing one campus, that’s not acceptable to the state of Texas.”

Failing schools are now a target, as well. Another of Taylor’s bills, SB 14, would allow parents of students on a campus that has been deemed unacceptable for two years in a row to petition TEA for something to be done. If more than half of the parents at a district file the petition, the Texas education commissioner would be forced to act on the failing district.

One new way the legislators are hoping to enact would be the creation of the Texas Opportunity School District. The TOSD would take all individual campuses the education commissioner chooses into one system that will be run by one superintendent.

The superintendent will then determine the best way to take over the campus, which could include replacing the local leadership with non-profit or charter education programs.
Bills creating the TOSD are currently in committee.

In addition, Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, filed SB 13 that attempts to help career and workforce development. The bill forbids a limit on the number of dual-credit courses a student may take while in high school.

Furthermore, the bill outlines what information school districts would need to provide to seventh and eighth grade students about their future graduation plans. It would include a personal graduation plan, information on the distinguished degree plan, each degree endorsement, as well as potential career options and education needed for that career.
The districts wouldn’t need to create a new course, but at some point provide the information.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, filed SB 893 Tuesday as well that remakes how teachers are evaluated.

First, it would create the “Teacher Development Framework” that would be used by school districts to make decisions on performance appraisals, professional development opportunities, career advancement and their pay. The bill requires that the teacher’s appraisals be a “substantial factor” in all the aforementioned decisions.

It also more firmly define what is on a teacher’s evaluation. It would include the implementation of discipline management procedures; academic performance of students; teaching standards that “articulate expected teacher knowledge, understanding, skill and practice to ensure student educational growth;” data “indicating the teaching and learning conditions;” classroom observations; and data related to the teacher’s efforts to improve their performance.

The TEA commissioner would be required to define what each of those means using objective data. SB 893 requires schools use the new evaluation system. They would also be required to base teacher salary on their evaluations.

The bill requires districts “pay a minimum monthly salary to each classroom teacher that is not less than $2,754 (about $33,000 a year). A district may pay a higher monthly salary based on criteria that are consistent with the teacher development framework.”

The bills Patrick and Taylor laid out that were filed before Tuesday have already been sent to the Senate Education Committee. Those filed on Tuesday await committee assignment.