Naked City

TEA Retreats on Class Sizes

Education commissioner Shirley Neeley on Friday reversed her previous decision to allow superintendents to more easily request waivers to the 22:1 student-teacher ratio in elementary classrooms. The announcement kicked off a flurry of snippy statements in which everyone accused everyone else of handling the issue in an unprofessional manner.

The issue began when Neeley indicated in a letter that Texas school boards could grant their superintendents the authority to request a waiver to the class-size limit without a public hearing. The Texas Federation of Teachers, Texas State Teachers Association, and other groups immediately held a press conference charging that the rule would enable superintendents to sneakily cram kids into overcrowded classrooms. When a meeting with Neeley failed to persuade her, the TFT and the TSTA decided to file suit to keep the agency from enacting the rule.

But on Friday, the Texas Education Agency announced that Neeley had reversed her position. It credited a different teachers' group, the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, with convincing her that any change to the rules should only come through a "collaborative" process. (Representatives of the agency had previously complained that it sure would have been nice if the TFT et al. had raised their concerns privately before making the issue public.) "I sincerely appreciate the professional manner in which the leadership of TCTA worked with me from the beginning of this issue," Neeley said in the statement. "They approached their concerns in a collaborative, noncombative manner with a clear desire to resolve the problem with a win-win outcome."

Claiming victory, but warning that the fight was not over, the TFT used its statement to take a swipe at the TCTA. "TFT is disappointed to find a teacher organization encouraging the commissioner to pursue by any route her goal of making class-size waivers easier to request and obtain," they said. However, Lonnie Hollingsworth of the TCTA said that his group's position was merely that if the TEA wants to change the rules, it has to go through a proper, public rule-making procedure. "The idea is that a process exists to keep state agencies from just making stuff up," he said.

And for the record, Hollingsworth says his group is as opposed to changing the waiver rule as anyone. "We don't see there's a need to expedite the process of applying for waivers," he said. "It's been the law since 1984 and it works."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Shirley Neeley, student-teacher ratio, Texas Federation of Teachers, Texas State Teachers Association, Texas Education Agency, Texas Classroom Teachers Association

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