SCHOOL DAZE

Public News (Houston) - - PUBLIC NEWS - by Bart Pearston

With the start of a new school year here, it is easy to feel the ex­cite­ment in the air. But this year IS dif­fer­ent than any pre­vi­ous year in Texas. Many districts aren’t feel­ing the “cheer”. I have reg­u­larly doc­u­mented the plight of large ur­ban districts that have an ex­ces­sive num­ber of English-chal­lenged stu­dents. That num­ber has reached record lev­els this year.

The Texas Education Agency has iden­ti­fied over 40 school districts who un­der House Bill 1842’s district rat­ing sys­tem MUST show im­prove­ment by 2018 or face pos­si­ble forced change of their Boards by out­side boards of man­agers. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the largest districts of Dal­las, Austin, Fort Worth, and San An­to­nio are in­cluded. The largest district of them all is Hous­ton, with its 200+K stu­dents and $2+Bil­lion bud­get. 2017 test scores and rat­ings are due out later this month.

This is the con­se­quence un­der AEIS, the Aca­demic Ex­cel­lence In­di­ca­tor Sys­tem adopted in 2003-04 districts which are rated as “Im­prove­ment Re­quired” for 5 or more years. TEA clearly holds ad­min­is­tra­tions re­spon­si­ble, in spite of their claims of their de­mo­graph­ics be­ing out of their con­trol and there­fore are un­fairly held ac­count­able for their con­tin­ued de­cline, in spite of their promised im­prove­ments.

One amus­ing anec­dote oc­curred dur­ing last week’s White House press con­fer­ence. When press sec­re­tary aide Steven Miller an­nounced the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion re­form pro­posal, it in­cluded a merit based im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem iden­ti­cal to that uti­lized in coun­tries like Aus­tralia and Canada. When CNN’s Jim Acosta made the laugh­able as­ser­tion that only cit­i­zens of Aus­tralia and Eng­land speak English, the ac­cu­sa­tion was made that this was a racist at­tempt to omit any im­mi­grants of color.

An un­der-re­ported fact is that the num­ber of for­eign born res­i­dents in the US has quadru­pled in the past 40 years. There is an ob­vi­ous strain on the pub­lic education sys­tem to teach English skills to stu­dents who are English as a Sec­ond Lan­guage and have non English speak­ing par­ents. The strain is both emo­tional and fi­nan­cial and felt most in the largest districts.The agency’s pre­scribed “rem­edy” for these districts which have proven un­able to cure their own mal­adies is to, “Throw the buns out”. “It changes our fo­cus from the level of the cam­pus to the ab­so­lute top — where I think needs to be — sort of school boards and su­per­in­ten­dents,” said Texas Education Com­mis­sioner Mike Mo­rath at a hear­ing last Au­gust. Mo­rath an ex Dal­las ISD school board mem­ber him­self re­al­izes that this is a dras­tic step. It is al­most un­fath­omable to imag­ine the state find­ing lit­er­ally hun­dreds of “man­agers” who are com­pe­tent and able to make the nec­es­sary changes to fix these bro­ken ur­ban schools.

HISD At­tor­ney David Thomp­son of the law firm Thomp­son and Hor­ton de­scribed it as an “al­most nu­clear op­tion of the gov­er­nance of an en­tire com­mu­nity’s schools.” Bills have been sub­mit­ted in ei­ther the Reg­u­lar or cur­rent Special Ses­sion to in­crease fund­ing and Teacher pay but NONE chang­ing 1842’s re­quire­ments so it looks like these 40 districts are faced with Mis­sion Im­pos­si­ble, should they choose to ac­cept it. This mes­sage will self de­struct in 10 months.

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