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Texas 2014 Public Education Recap: Year in Review

The new year is expected to be fueled by fireworks over the control and direction of Texas public education. School choice, pre-K, school funding and the new TEKS math are only a handful of the hot topics on the table the 84th Legislative session convenes in January.

On the other hand, 2014 was a year of hits and misses that included a grab bag of educational issues from the rollout of new and improved high school graduation requirements that are supposed to better prepare Texas students for college and/or the eventual workforce. It was also a year when more Texas public schools failed students than ever before.

Breitbart Texas reported on the implementation of the state’s new College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) that offer  “flexibility,” although Texas high school students still take the same college entrance exams  as in the Common Core states.That includes SAT, ACT and AP courses and they are all under the jurisdiction of the College Board. Its president David Coleman, the reputed architect of the Common Core, aligned the college-bound crowd’s assessments to the Common Core Standards and also found the time to revise AP US History to a new 21st Century controversial framework.

Despite the passage of HB 462 during the 83rd Legislature in which Texas rejected the Common Core State Standards,  public schools were flooded with Common Core instructional materials which lead to Governor Elect Greg Abbott, who was serving as Texas Attorney General to reaffirm in an opinion that there would be no Common Core in Texas.

The Texas Republican Party’s education sub-committee also created a plank to strengthen HB 462 in the coming year. Bottom line: Use Common Core, lose state funding.

Texas teachers also felt the federal college and career readiness push. Breitbart Texas reported that the change agents are here and their influence is impacting Texas teacher professional development. Texas colleges also flocked to ‘cradle to career’ Presidential summits twice in 2014 and 1o Texas superintendents enjoyed being honored at the White House for the Future Ready digital efforts.

It was a third flat year for the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR). More campuses than ever slipped into the low performing range. Breitbart Texas reported that 1,199 campuses statewide were identified as low performing schools because of poor test scores or unacceptable ratings on the 2015-16 Public Education Grant (PEG) list. That translated into more than 736,000 students who attend failing schools.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the Texas Education Agency will be asking the Legislature for money to experiment with a new accountability system and to create new teacher training programs. However, 2014 saw new teacher accountability rules and not everyone liked it.

Breitbart Texas reported that The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced the 2014 accountability system ratings for more than 1,200 school districts and charters, and more than 8,500 campuses. Statewide, 90 percent of school districts and charters and 85 percent of schools across Texas achieved the rating of “Met Standard” under the new accountability system that kicked in last year, some results of which are tied to the federal accountability reporting.

The new teacher performance diagnostic tool, Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS), created quite a stir in Houston ISD. Some teachers sued.

EVAAS is Big Education’s diagnostic tool of choice. It’s a contracted product from North Carolina company SAS, although the often controversial Michelle Rhee, former DC public school chancellor turned charter school maven, is credited with pioneering the VAM model.

VAM is a central feature of the Obama administrations $5 billion Race to the Top contest where states and/or school districts have vied for federal grants, Breitbart Texas reported.

In 2014, the TEA unveiled VAM as part of T-TESS (Texas Teachers Evaluation and Support System), a method which is being piloted in school districts around the state. It is part of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver requirement from the U.S. Department of Education. Texas has a waiver.

It was also a year that Texans learned that 8th graders were being tracked. Breitbart Texas reported that even though data giant InBloom went away, PEIMS (Public Education Information Management System) was here to stay and it was chasing down cohorts requested and received by TEA about public education, including student demographic and academic performance, personnel, financial, and organizational information. A lot of data gets collected annually on approximately 300,000 8th grade students each year.

This Texas data-mining boom came in the midst of national push back to tracking fever and outrage over the continued loss of privacy rights through the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which was relaxed in 2011, and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), which are not protecting all information that is being collected regardless of whether it is used or not. Even with industry standards and vows to protect the data, student privacy and information safety cannot be fully guaranteed.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) took on the College Board by passing an amendment to shore up that the Social Studies standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills (TEKS). the new rule was to make sure that the more robust TEKS were being taught to high school students taking the Advanced Placement (AP) US History.

AP was at the center of a nationwide controversy because the College Board, who owns and administers the courses and exams, redesigned the AP US History (APUSH) framework with a decidedly progressive interpretation of American history.

In Texas, SBOE member Ken Mercer led the charge on a resolution requesting that the College Board take Texas sovereignty over its education into consideration and rewrite the revised AP US History for Texas as it was out of alignment with the TEKS.

Breitbart Texas also reported on District Judge John Dietz who declared the state’s school finance system unconstitutional again. That battle now resides within the Texas Supreme court. In September, Governor-elect Abbott, as Attorney General, filed an appeal.

According to the Dallas Morning News, it is unlikely a decision will be issued in time for the legislature to act in regular session next year.

Statewide, public school students and teachers struggled with tougher state standards for math. Many districts reported unanticipated difficulty in bringing students up to the now-required level, also according to the Dallas Morning News.

The Texas Social Studies textbook adoption process became a national past time when grassroots coalition Truth in Texas Textbooks jumped in and volunteered their scholars to review the accuracy of information in the submitted publisher offerings. They took on the hired guns from the progressive Texas Freedom Network. The liberal and the Gates-funded media came out swinging.

In the battle of the conservatives versus the liberals, it remains to be seen what victories will be won. Breitbart Texas reported that Senate Bill 6 (SB6) legislation transitioned books other online instructional materials and also took away the stronger oversight the SBOE had on an approved book list. Now, schools can now go choose textbooks that meet TEKS criteria but are not on the SBOE’s list.

Yet, when all was said and done, it was also a year where progressives just couldn’t let go of Texas education even after the textbook adoption process ended, which must mean that despite the pitfalls, maybe Texas is doing a few things right.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.

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