Texas Education: TELL May Reveal Little

Texas Education: TELL May Reveal Little

It’s Texas teacher climate survey season compliments of Rep. MikeVillarreal (D-San Antonio) and the 83rd Legislature that pushed through HouseBill 2012 in 2013.  The law requires the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to “developan online teaching and learning conditions survey to be administered statewidebiennially to teachers, principals, counselors and other school-basedprofessional staff. The anonymous survey will provide valuable data for schoolsand districts to use in improvement planning,” according to a TEA press release.


That survey is “Teaching, Empowering, Leading, and Learning,”TELL Texas  for short. It launched in early April with 60,000-plus educators in 890 independentschool districts (ISDs) and campuses responding to the survey, according toTEA. Only problem is that the Progress for TELLTexas page is showing that an awful lot ofdistricts and campuses aren’t telling Texas anything. 


To date, TELL Texas showed 425,019 active educators of which only 69,763took the survey.  That’s a dismal 16.41%. 


Although TELL Texas DistrictResponse Rates provide a snapshot of surveytakers based upon the percentage of respondents it doesn’t distinguish between smallteacher populations like in Avinger ISD where 17 out of 20 total teachers tookthe survey, landing them in the 85 percentile range while Austin ISD ranked in at91.87% as a result of 6,341 out of 6,902 teachers surveyed.


On the other hand, only 1,306 of Dallas ISD’s 11,897 teachers tookthe survey delivering a meager 10.98% while another large district, Cypress-FairbanksISD only reported 464 out of 7,825 survey takers (5.93%). Meanwhile Arp ISDcame in at 57.43%.  Fifty eight of a total101 teachers in the small school district took the survey.


Repeatedly, the list is cross-populated with a lot of apples-to-orangesresults which may call into question the validity of results based on a varietyof demographics including campus or district size, location (i.e., rural,suburban and urban) and needs. Then, add to the mix another surprisingstatistic – 0% survey participation.


In districts like Spring ISD only 282 out of 2,786 teachers tookthe survey, resulting in a 10.12% response rate; however, the TELL Texas progressbreakdown showed 13 out of 24 elementary schools with 0% survey participationfactored into their overall participation rate. Galveston ISD has had, to date, one respondent, out of 672 (0.15%) teacherstake the survey.  District wide, that’s13 out of 14 campuses with 0% participation.


To date, other larger districts like Arlington ISD have ranked inwith 512 out of 4,926 taking the survey (10.39%).  Bryan ISD had 5 respondents out of 1,522;that’s 0.33% participation. Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD came in with 73 out of 2,052 (3.56%).  So far, Clear Creek ISD has reported 30 outof 3,129 survey takers (0.96%). In Brownville ISD, 1,293 out of 4,344participated (29.77%) and in Corpus Christi ISD, only 149 out of 2,970 teachers(5.02%) completed the survey.  TheProgress for TELL Texas page contains all on-going statewide results.


ATPE(Association of Texas Professional Educators ) is the organization thatrepresents more than 100,000 Texas teachers.  As the largest educator group in the state,they have championed the survey, urgingmembers to “use their voice,”  They also highlighted disappointing 17.72% participationrate from San Antonio ISD where only 723 out of 4,079 teachers took the surveyup through early May.


Breitbart Texas asked Debbie Ratcliffe, TEA Director of MediaRelations, why such a low turnout.  Shesaid that although “TEA would like as many teachers as are willing toparticipate in the survey,” it is voluntary.


Thus, HB 2012 is somewhat toothless legislation. Much like leadinga horse to water but not being able to make him drink. A DFW area principal, who asked to remainanonymous, concurred with TEA.  He told  Breitbart Texas, “administrators arerequired to give the opportunity to participate but teachers are not required toparticipate.”


Unfortunately, with lower the participation rates, there’s a lotless helpful information out there for educators, TEA and the taxpayeraccording to ATPE ExecutiveDirector Gary Godsey.  He  told Breitbart Texas, “This is supposedto be an opportunity for teachers to speak freely.”


Whyaren’t they?  Godsey said that teacher membershave reportedto ATPE that, in some cases, school principals have yet to distribute thesurvey packets, which contain their anonymous survey access code.  He emphasized that this is what association members are telling ATPE.


BreitbartTexas spoke to a small handful of principals in school districts andcharter schools around the state to understand how a school could come up with0%.  Most agreed that it’sbeen the result of principals not handing out the info in a timely manner. 


However,other reasons that surfaced were code confusion and bad timing for administering it in themiddle of the statewide STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness)exams.  Another suggestion was that evenwith anonymous status, teachers still had to provide enough demographic information that in a small population pool, they might not be so anonymous.


TEA’s Ratcliffe confirmed that protecting teacher’s privacy iscritical.  She pointed out that teachersaccess the survey with codes linked to their district.  ” If you have only a few people respond,it could be possible to determine how a particular teacher answered, making itno longer an anonymous survey,” she said.

This is why TEA established a “5 teacher/50% threshold,” she told Breitbart Texas.  This means, that unless a participationrate hits 50%, those results are not published.


ATPE’s Godseynoted that the survey is supposed to be a well-rounded measuring stick for the state to betterdetermine where money and resources can be best directed. Low turn-out will impede on that wellintentioned objective.


Godseystill hopes to see more teacher involvement. “This is meant to be a positive survey,” he told BreitbartTexas, adding “There’s always the possibility of a school receivingnegative feedback but the goal is to help further public education.”


Atthe end of the school day, this is not the most burning of controversies goingon right now in public education.  Itcould, however, be a missed opportunity for teachers, who often feel they haveso little opportunity to voice ideas and concerns freely, according to Godsey, if they cannot or chose not to use that voice through this survey.  TELL Texas remains open until May 31.


TELL Texas is administered  through the national non-profit, the New Teacher Center (NTC)  as an online survey of “school basedlicensed educators to determine if they have the support necessary foreffective teaching.”  


It asks educators about working conditions in public schools,including class sizes, availability of planning time, access to technology,parental involvement, student conduct, teacher and school leadership, andprofessional development, facilities and resources, and instructional practicessupport.


In addition to ATPE, teacher unions thatsupport the survey are Texas Classroom Teachers Association (TCTA), Texas AmericanFederation of Teachers (AFT), the Texas StateTeachers Association who are affiliated with the National EducationAssociation (TSTA/NEA) and Educate Texas, aprivate-public partnership initiative of the Communities Foundation of Texas.