School Bill Put to the Test

Omnibus school bill doesn't make the grade, critics say

Another legislative session means another public school omnibus bill. Legislators were presented with the mammoth 128-page bill (filed as House Bill 3 by House Public Education Chair Rob Eissler, R-The Wood­lands, and Senate Bill 3 by Senate Education Chair Florence Shapiro, R-Plano) when it was filed on March 5. The big question is whether it includes significant changes to the strict rules on school repurposing and the perennial bugbear of teaching to the test.

As introduced, schools and districts will no longer be measured solely by their Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills scores, Shapiro said. Instead, there will be two new standards: college readiness, gauged by end-of-course English and algebra tests, and skilled work force readiness, which uses the same tests but will also be compared against similar programs in technical and community colleges. Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott praised the proposal for bringing the state, federal, and financial accountability standards into "one overall measurement." As for schools that do not meet the new standards, "academically unacceptable" has been switched to the softer-sounding "academically insufficient." But as introduced, there's little change in the punitive process of school interventions and repurposing.

Linda Bridges, president of the Texas affiliate of the American Federation of Teach­ers, said she backs Shapiro's proclaimed intention of ditching the current "gotcha" accountability system, but this bill doesn't do that. As it stands, she said, HB 3 does "little to fix the key flaw in the current accountability system – the extreme emphasis placed on standardized test scores as the measure of progress for students and schools."

There are rival accountability bills under consideration that would end the five-year deadline for mandatory repurposing. HB 771 by Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, would declare a moratorium on all sanctions until after the state-appointed Campus Inter­ven­tion Team has undertaken a full study and written a plan for each low-performing campus. Similarly, HB 1238 by Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, would end compulsory closures and instead use consultation between the Texas Education Agency, the district, the school, and the surrounding community to turn the campus around. Dukes, a graduate of Reagan High School and Pearce Middle School (both of which face mandatory repurposing in the next two years) said: "The agency constantly said, 'Well our hands are tied.' We'll untie them." As for HB 3, she expects a serious rewrite in committee. "When it comes to the floor of the Legislat­ure, it will be loaded up like a Christmas tree with lights," she said.

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public schools, Florence Shapiro, Donna Howard, Dawnna Dukes, 81st Legislature

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