Public Education

Latest Columns

I had a teacher who looked like me

It is imperative that my students feel like they matter, and that they are accurately represented in their classrooms. I want them to see someone who looks like them, shares similar experiences and provides authentic anecdotes to overcome the challenges they experience.

The gas pump is no place for a child to play

How we spend the first few years of our lives has dramatic implications for how we will spend our adult years. Early childhood is a time of learning and growth: physical, emotional, and intellectual. Universal Pre-K would ensure that all young children have access to spaces where their brains can grow in developmentally appropriate ways.

A school finance detail that could cost local districts $1.8 billion

There is nothing to be gained by switching to current-year property values for school finance, other than giving the state an extra $1.8 billion — and shorting local schools by the same amount. It would be far better to provide local education leaders with the predictability and the consistency needed to budget responsibly. It would be far better to stick with prior-year values.

Texas lawmakers must balance teacher pay raises and student needs

Public education cannot be what our state requires if we don’t provide the resources our children need. We must also address head on the many systemic challenges that hinder its success. The question we raise is simply whether the first step in transforming our public education outcomes should focus primarily on our teachers or our students. We believe that our report represented an appropriate balance that focused on both.

STAAR shouldn’t be the basis for Texas school accountability

Texas’s test-addicted accountability systems are incapable of achieving their policy goals — not because tests are bad, but because they were not designed to do what has been asked of them. Texas deserves an accountability system that places student need at the center of the work. What we have in front of us is the first opportunity in a great while to do just that. 

We’ve built a big tent, now let’s get lawmakers to act

Money really does matter in public education, and it is a message we are seeing carried by a wide range of voices — from philanthropy to business, policy experts to child advocates, parents to locally elected officials. It is an investment the state can and must make if we are to achieve the education and workforce goals established by the state’s 60x30 TX plan.

Librarians are teachers

Excluding school librarians from the pay raise bill is extremely unfair and ignores their true role — not just as classroom teachers, but as campus teachers. It will discourage our best educators from entering this crucial field, inhibiting student achievement in the future.

Securing the future of educators

The Legislature should increase state contributions to the TRS Pension Trust Fund to 8.6 percent from 6.8 percent. This would increase the base funding and open the door for retirees (95 percent of whom have no Social Security) to receive a desperately needed cost-of-living increase.

Shared goal, different solutions: Reining in school property taxes

We should be considering how we can equitably shift the tax burden to help property taxpayers while simultaneously reaffirming our constitutional duty to our schools and students. Businesses, civic leaders and the people of Texas are not — and should not be — willing to accept proposals that sacrifice a generation of public education students to campaign rhetoric disguised as policy solutions.

Want better Texas schools? Improve training for principals

Principals are central to ensuring high-quality instruction in every classroom; safe and supportive school culture and climate; hiring, developing and retaining strong teachers; and engaging teachers in collaborative problem solving for continuous improvement in student learning outcomes. To get better education results, Texas needs better-prepared school principals.

College is an impossible dream for many black foster children

Action should also be taken to close the gaps in graduation rates between black students in special needs education — especially foster youth — and their peers. Exploring and finding solutions to mitigate the underlying reasons why black students are not advocated for or served places them one step closer to equitable outcomes in terms of high school graduation and college access.

An education agenda for Texas conservatives

Since 2014, more than 1.6 million new students have entered Texas public schools and over $570 billion inflation-adjusted dollars have been spent on public education in the state. During that same time, Texas conservatives have helmed every branch of state government. So, how have we done? Have we put those dollars to good use?

Texas’ economy depends on "educational climate change” 

Trends show that over the past two decades, rural Texans have fallen behind in income, assets and health care. Rural students are less likely to have postsecondary degrees or industry-recognized certificates. However, that can be improved with better access to broadband Internet, online certifications and distributed college degree programs.

Changes coming — or already here — in a school district near you

With its districts of innovation, Texas has undertaken a massive experiment in education. Allowing districts to compete on a level playing field with charters and allowing flexibility for districts that face different challenges holds the potential to improving student achievement. However, it also could remove key safeguards designed to protect students and improve educational outcomes.

Recent court decisions on school finance provide lessons for Texas

Although the Legislature failed to pass school finance reform during the last legislative session, state lawmakers established the Texas Commission on Public School Finance to study the state’s school finance system and offer recommendations for reform. The commission’s recommendations will be stronger if it draws some lessons from recent court decisions in nearby states and bases its recommendations on sound educational research.

Public libraries offer a great return for Texas taxpayers

Even if you don’t personally visit the library and participate in these programs and services, public libraries are using your tax dollars in ways that benefit you. Texas public libraries generated $967 million in economic activity in 2015. I hope that you will take advantage of all public libraries have to offer, but even if you don’t, your community is a better place with a library in it.

Raising “upstanders," not bystanders

If we can train our students to survive gun violence, surely it is our job to ensure they survive each other. The only way to make this happen is to change classroom culture, raise upstanders instead of bystanders and maintain spaces that are safe, where cruelty is noticed and not tolerated.

Will Texas teachers walk out?

If you really appreciate teachers, please send us personal notes, because we really do treasure and save them, but also support us in our efforts. Happy, well-compensated teachers with reasonable class sizes and schedules make for better educational outcomes and a better future for all Texans.

What Texas parents need to know about STAAR

If your student is identified through the STAAR test as having weaknesses in one or more areas, keep in mind that is not an attack on your student, nor is it an attack on you as a parent. Rather, it is a challenge to you, your student, the teachers and school to find additional ways to grasp the concepts the child does not understand.

Is enough really enough? The case for funding special education

In order to succeed, students with special needs require more than minimal support from public schools. It is the state's responsibility to ensure that these students are provided robust services during the school day that will allow them to have meaningful impact on their community upon graduation. The momentous task should not lie solely with the families of these students.

Time for a reality check on public education

As our Commission on Public Education Finance struggles through the summer we wish them well. Most of us believe that accepting mediocrity is not very Texan. But the reality is that, without a discussion about increasing state revenue, their work can only join the myriad of other dust-covered school finance studies that have preceded them.

It’s time for Texans to focus on school finance

Many of our state formulas for funding public schools do not fully account for over 30 years of population growth, demographic changes, economic trends, and increased expectations for student outcomes. Texas does not allot enough basic funding per student, especially those who require special or bilingual education.

The STAAR reading test: Cruel and unusual punishment

On April 11, thousands of fifth graders across Texas will be subjected to a torture so cruel and unusual that the Texas Education Agency should be found guilty of a crime. What I’m referring to is a punishment known by an acronym that instills fear in the hearts of all teachers and students who hear it: STAAR.

We must protect LGBTQ students

It’s time to design Texas schools to protect LGBTQ students, and to end the culture of silence that harms their health and wellbeing. It’s time for Texas to join the rest of the nation and stop condemning homosexuality as unacceptable and criminal. It’s time to repeal the No Promo Homo laws.

Texas needs a proven Mexican American studies curriculum

Our indigenous, Spanish, Mexican and Texan histories form important aspects of our culture and must be acknowledged and studied. Our place in Texas and our uniquely Texan and Tejano character requires nothing less than Mexican American Studies standards. The State Board of Education shouldn't bury all of that in a general Latino Studies curriculum.

I’m a Teacher. I Plan to Vote.

There’s a growing resistance in Texas to teachers like me speaking to others about the importance of voting. It’s baffling that there are those in power who would rather educators not vote or encourage others to vote — especially considering how important we are to helping millions of Texas children become responsible citizens.

A look at educational inequality in Texas

While I was accepted to Columbia University, many of my childhood friends did not make it past high school. The time has come for the state to reexamine what ways it can ensure all communities receive equal resources. In this way, we can truly ensure no child is left behind.

Less talk, more action on school finance

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance is a good start, but we can’t fix our school finance system by continuing to study it to death. We need bipartisan support to tackle the challenges we face in funding our schools and making long-overdue investments in public education.

The state’s special education programs need a reboot

The Texas Education Agency and students in special education across the state cannot afford any more disruption and failure. It is time for the agency to capitalize on whatever assets and opportunities it has at its disposal, and do so in a transparent, community-engaged process that rebuilds trust and a shared commitment with families to best serve all students.

The education testing charade

Texans have made some progress in dialing back the testing regime. But punitive, high-stakes testing remains the tail that wags the public education dog in Texas. No other nation emphasizes standardized testing the way we do.

Katy ISD is missing out on a teachable moment

Providing teenagers with books that serve as both mirrors of themselves and windows to the outside world, as educator and scholar R.S. Bishop advocated for nearly two decades ago, is vital to their understanding of themselves and others in a world that is constantly changing and becoming increasingly complex. Katy ISD, by taking a book off the shelves, is missing a chance to do that.

School finance reform must include public charter schools

Even with a 22-year record of growth, student outcomes, and parental demand, public charter schools are still not recognized by some as fully part of the public education system and quite frankly, enough is enough. Students at charter schools should not be penalized because parents select the best school that meets their needs. 

The bullies run school finance in Texas

If it becomes law, SB 2 will siphon an estimated $600 million away from public education in the form of “tax credit scholarships” (read: “vouchers”) to unregulated private schools for special-needs children. While that sounds nice, there only are 51 private special education schools in the state, exactly zero of which exist outside of major cities.

Our priority must be new funding for schools

Despite having less money per student to work with, school districts have prioritized spending such that average teacher pay has risen by almost $5,400 since 2008. The real issue is not how schools prioritize their spending, but rather how the state prioritizes its own spending on public education.

It’s time to reform school finance for meaningful relief

The state’s portion of public school facilities funding peaked at 45 percent in 2000-2001, but now stands at a meager 7 percent. As state support declines, families’ annual property tax bills increase across the state — especially in our most desirable suburban communities which, ironically, are represented by some of our most conservative legislators.

Texas taking the ‘standard’ out of standardized testing

As this year’s group of high school students looked at their test scores and learned whether or not they would be graduating, their teachers noticed something a little... odd. The students who took the paper version of the English 2 STAAR test passed with a raw score of 41. The students who took the online version? The special education and dyslexic students? They needed a 42 to pass.

School finance is dead. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick administered the poison.

House Bill 21 may not have been perfect, but it did provide significant additional funding to help schools through the next biennium until the system could, hopefully, be “upended”, as suggested by the state Supreme Court. But in the hands of the Senate and Lt. Gov. Patrick, it became nothing more than a vehicle for passing school vouchers, a major political item on Patrick’s “to do” list this session.

Blended learning in a 21st-century classroom

Blended learning combines the traditional classroom with online or digital resources and may incorporate a self-paced element based on students’ interests or learning level. Aside from teaching how to use technology, blended learning reduces educational costs, increases the number of subjects learned, helps students strive further in particular subjects and allows teachers greater one-on-one relationships with students.

Reading, writing and running to a new profession

After six years behind the desk, I can definitely see the Texas teacher shortage and its causes: Low pay, mediocre insurance and benefits, an emotionally demanding workload, the unspoken requirement of personal investment on a financial level, constantly changing regulations written by people who have not entered a public school classroom since their own high school graduations.

Special-needs children will be forgotten no longer

Texas should give its special-needs children an opportunity to receive the specialized care they deserve and to fulfill our state constitutional mandate. House Bill 1335 would give all special-needs students in Texas an alternative to the one-size-fits all public school system by establishing an innovative form of parental choice.

Texas can’t improve special education without data

There’s no state mandate to collect group academic data for kids who don’t take standardized tests. Data is a double-edged sword: the same data that shows areas for improvement also illuminates failures. There are legal remedies for failure; parents can take the district through “due process” and ultimately to court to insure their child’s access to an appropriate education is preserved.

Teacher preparation is critical in Texas classrooms

While policymakers are gathered for the 2017 Texas legislative session, a discussion about teacher preparation, which directly affects teacher retention, is of critical importance. To help students gain belief in themselves and the subjects they’re studying, teachers must be prepared to manage their classrooms and give all students the tools to access challenging material — especially students who have been let down in the past.

The Power of Partnership in Texas

McAllen holds some of the richest values and cultures in the country. But 25 years ago, it wasn’t the norm that someone would graduate from a high school in my hometown and head off to college and especially out of state — much less that they’d become a CEO one day.

A new entitlement program in Texas?

You might say a new entitlement program that could cost Texans up to $5 billion per year over the next 10 years couldn't be possible in Texas. You'd be wrong, because that's exactly what some special interests are trying to do with our education system.