HB 5 and the Path to Common Core

House Bill 5 (HB 5) is the education legislation that created the new Texas College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) during the 83rd Legislative Session. Since becoming law, HB 5's been kicking up a lot of controversy. 

For starters, HB 5 changes the educational requirements necessary for students to graduate from a public high school. In Texas, under the current TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge Standards) public school students are required to take four years of math, English Language Arts, Social Studies and Science,  otherwise known as the 4x4 plan. A student takes one course per subject discipline per year over four years of high school.  However, this approach may be undercut by the new HB 5 - according to Donna Garner, education policy commentator and retired teacher.

Garner told Breitbart News that if students follow the HB 5 College and Career Ready plan, they can't follow the TEKS because the TEKS are a richer, knowledge-based education program that is academic and grade specific. Under HB 5, Garner said that a student in grade 9 will pick courses based on a variety of career interests including STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), journalism, business, public service, arts and humanities.  These classes can be taken in lieu of the TEKS 4x4 classes. She added, "because of all these new career- related electives schools now have to provide, the 4x4 of the TEKS will be destroyed."

What this means is that a high school student will no longer have to take four years of English Language Arts, Social Studies/History, Science and Mathematics.  HB 5 reduces the number of high school end-of course exams required and the number of credits a student needs to graduate. Under the TEKS, students need 26 units. The HB 5 Foundation plan requires only 22 credits to graduate.

Algebra II is already a casualty of HB 5. It is no longer a high school graduation requirement. This has drawn criticism from educators like Dr. Stan Hartzler, retired professor and advisor at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls.  He believes this change in Texas education will have a negative effect on students. He told Breitbart News that although everyone may not like math or become mathematicians, math is everywhere and removing it or replacing Algebra II with algebra-reasoning courses does not benefit students later in life, especially those who struggle with math.  He said, "I see this Texas action as more dumbing down."  Hartzler also was highly critical of the controversial Texas education product, CSCOPE, which was created by the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative (TESCCC).

This shift to college and career readiness is not new in Texas.  It was done before under former Commissioner of Education Robert Scott.  In a 2010 press release, Scott announced the higher standards set by Texas College and Career Readiness Standards that were adopted in January 2008.  He emphasized that these standards (TEKS) were created in Texas. They were chosen over the national Common Core College Readiness Standards that were created in part by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association.

Why the switch to HB 5?  Democratic Texas senator Wendy Davis (D- Fort Worth) is one who favors these pathways.  She claimed they provide great opportunities for students.   

On the other hand, HB 5 critics like Garner warn that these pathways take Texas into a philosophy of education which she calls “Type 2.”  The Common Core State Standards Initiative and CSCOPE have been criticized for following this very model. The examples of historical errors, skewed language, bias, confusing math and empathetic learning have received negative attention because of parents who post the shocking homework assignments.

Garner ties this Type 2 to earlier education reformers like Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy.  Tucker had close ties to the Clinton Administration.  Today, the education reformers associated with the Type 2 model are among the influencers and architects of the national Common Core Standards: Bill Ayers, Linda Darling-Hammond and College board president David Coleman, an Obama appointee to the position. 

These new Texas College and Career Readiness Standards also happen to have some interesting bedfellows. The Texas Education Agency is the administrative body that presides over K-12 public education.  They reported that under HB 5, public school students grades 3–8 and high school students will be administered a STAAR Modified - an assessment designed to meet  federal requirements mandated under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the federal education law previously known as No Child Left Behind.  Pearson administers the STAAR Modified testing.  Pearson is the leading educational content provider for the Common Core. 

Also of concern are the parties involved on the HB 5 Texas STEM front.  STEM is a recognized Common Core-aligned product. The Texas STEM website says "the STEM Center Coalition works with T-STEM Academies and all Texas schools to transform teaching and learning methods, improve achievement in STEM education, and ensure all students are college-ready, career-ready, and life-ready."  They are funded by the Elementary and Secondary Act through the TEA; their seven centers are part of Educate Texas, who lists Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as members of their public-private partnership on the company website. The Gates Foundation is one of the most associated names with the Common Core.    

It doesn't end here, though.  In an announcement made in 2012, Educate Texas launched Next Generation Learning Initiative, which is partnered with CCSSO, one of the two founding stakeholders of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) and Pearson.  Pearson is the leading content provider of the Common Core.  Pearson came up again last year when  pro HB 5 advocacy group TAMSA (Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment) was accused of funneling Texas funds into Pearson's pockets for high-stakes testing since 2000. 

There's trouble on the high-stakes testing front, too.  Texas high school students take these two college readiness assessments -- the ACT (Achievement Test) and the SAT (Student Achievement Test).  The ACT is already aligned to the CCSSI College and Career Readiness Standards. The SAT is in the alignment process.  Unfortunately, these are not the only college-ready entrance exams that Texas high school students will take under HB5 that conform to the federal mandate. The others are Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB).  Last year, the College Board's Coleman announced the College Board's plans to align  AP to the Common Core Standards. IB, another high school studies option with an end of course assessment, is a Swiss educational product from a non-profit company that is in alignment with the national Common Core Standards.

Regarding the ACT and SAT tests that Texas public students take annually, Breitbart News reached out to Senator Dan Patrick  for comment but we did not hear back from him before deadline.  However, Patrick addressed the subject of HB5 and the Common Core in a previous interview with the Dallas Morning News.  He supported a need for both the ACT and SAT since they are different tests and provide information on how students compare with their peers across the nation.

But why?  There is no Common Core in Texas. 

According to the ACT website, it touts an active partnership with the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI).  It also says that ACT provides expansive longitudinal data on academic achievement and college readiness to determine what knowledge and skills should be included in the standards. That means, they are collecting information on students and identifying what content is taught in the curricula.  In fact, the ACT document College Readiness: A First Look at the Common Core and College and Career Readiness,  states that ACT has played a leading role in the development of the Common Core State standards and  their testing assessment called ACT College Readiness Standards was one of the resources used in the creation of the Common Core standards. 

Still, there's a tremendous push towards college and career readiness standards nationally and the questionable path of HB 5 may fill that need in Texas.  This is troubling to Chris Tienken, Ed.D., a staunch critic of College and Career Readiness Standards and the federally mandated Common Core. Tienken is an assistant professor of Education Administration at Seton Hall University.

Dr. Tienken pointed out that this race to college and career readiness may all be for naught: "Think about this.  The preschooler of today is going to graduate college in 2030.  Today's college and career readiness isn't going to be the same college and career readiness of tomorrow." 

Tienken shared his concerns that Fed Led Ed is putting all its eggs in one basket.  He sees that the bigger problem with the College and Career Readiness Standards lies in very word "standards."  Standards, he said, are only supported by high school exit exams that everybody must take and everybody must score within the same proficiency level.  Then, they add into the mix mandated high-stakes testing, He said that all these pathways lead only to one set of standards and conformity.  He added: "We don't know what 2038 will look like but we do know that immeasurable and un-quantifiable skills like persistence, strategizing, critical thinking, problem-solving, cooperation and collaboration transcend time and subject matter."  

"Texas has a real opportunity to show the rest of the country that it doesn't need College and Career Readiness Standards or the Common Core to get into college," Tienken stated, reflecting on the excitement he felt when he had heard Texas didn't sign onto the federal mandate.  "I thought that would be a wake-up call to everybody else in the nation but then I started seeing [Texas] mimic what everybody was doing," he said.

Tienken's point shouldn't be dismissed especially when the HB 5 College and Career Readiness Standard pathways happen to mirror requirements seen in the Future Ready Core Course and Credit Requirement Checklist of the Common Core participating state of North Carolina.  Future Ready links also have been popping up on Texas public schools websites.  

The law was authored by a team of lawmakers including Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), chairman of the House Public Education Committee. The bill was sponsored by Senator Dan Patrick (R-Houston) and co-sponsored by Senator Charles Schwertner (R-Bryan). 

But there is no Common Core in Texas.


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