Texas Legislators, Let Education Reform Begin

Jun 23, 2011 by

Sarah Sue (fictitious name) had some serious medical problems that arose during the year; and even though the mother went on up the chain going from the teachers and even to the principal, the parent could not get any textbooks nor any worksheets that Sarah Sue could do at home.

 

The mother found out that there are 44 staffers in the curriculum office of this large suburban school district; and they write all of the curriculum that is used in the classrooms. Teachers are required to follow the materials, and none of them are ever allowed to go home to the students’ parents.

 

By the mother staying in close communication with Sarah Sue, the mother learned that everything that the students do is geared to the TAKS tests; and there is a continuous flow of worksheets — not textbooks — that teachers give to their students. The worksheets have no cognitive progression nor is the content engaging to Sarah Sue and the other students. The mother has decided to homeschool her daughter in the future.

 

SEN. FLORENCE SHAPIRO’S VALIANT EFFORTS

 

I say all of this to arouse public support for the efforts of Sen. Florence Shapiro. Unfortunately, Rep. Eissler, chair of the House Education Committee, and some of the other House members do not seem to grasp how very important it is to move our public schools out of the old TEKS standards and TAKS tests and into a new era of rigorous, knowledge-based, academic content that will make sure students master back-to-the-basics skills that will elevate them into future success.

 

The only way to budge this North Texas suburban school district (and others just like it) out of their TAKS rut is to make their TAKS worksheets useless.

 

The new STAAR tests (and End-of-Course tests for high-school students) will force schools to revamp their curriculum; but counter to the “mushy” TEKS standards that have been in place for the last ten years in Texas, the new-and-much-improved, clearly stated standards will teach public school students the knowledge and accompanying skills that parents, college professors, and businessmen have been demanding for many years.

 

CURRENT — SPECIAL SESSION

 

SB 6 is in the process of being passed during this Special Session.  Rep. Eissler stuck HB 500 onto SB 6 at the behest of school administrators who do not want to be forced into the new and more rigorous curriculum standards (TEKS), STAAR, and End-of-Course tests. Evidently the administrators fear being held accountable to the new requirements.

 

What these administrators are not saying is that the Texas Education Agency is aware of their concerns and has made provision for districts to adjust to the new requirements.  The TAKS scores that students made on their tests during this last spring will establish school rankings for the next two years. This will give schools plenty of time during the two-year interim to get used to the new standards.

 

Because Sen. Florence Shapiro knows how important it is to keep education reform in Texas proceeding on the schedule passed by the 2007 Legislature, she asked for a parliamentary inquiry on Eissler’s amendment (House Amendment #1, a.k.a., HB 500 language), and the parliamentarian ruled it was not germane to SB 6. The Senate then adopted a motion to instruct the conference committee to remove House Amendment #1 (a.k.a., HB 500 language).

Sen. Shapiro stated, “This amendment would lower standards for our students and weaken our school accountability system…We have worked diligently over the last four years to implement these new standards, and we have been touted all over the country for what we’ve done. We’re not going to back off on this.”

GOOD NEWS — NEW TEXTBOOKS ON THE WAY

The good news is that the funding for the marvelous new English / Language Arts (and supplemental Science and Pre-K textbooks) that are sitting in warehouses ready to be shipped to schools this fall was approved in HB 1 and HB 4 (Regular Session), and both bills were signed into law by Gov. Perry.  Experienced English teachers who have seen the new ELA textbooks have told me that they are the best they have ever seen.

 

The funding for the new textbooks was made possible through the careful fiduciary management of the elected Texas State Board of Education members and the General Land Office who protected the Permanent School Fund and sent over to the legislature a wonderful gift.

 

As Ken Mercer, SBOE member stated, “With this $3 billion Christmas gift, the SBOE sends a bill of $550 million to purchase crucial textbooks for the children of Texas, provides the cash money to pay that bill, and then pays out over $2.4 billion in additional funding for public school education!”

 

GOOD OUTCOME OF SCHOOL BUDGET CRUNCH

The one good thing that has come out of the school budget crunch is that schools are being forced to cut expenses; and the new, clearly written standards (TEKS) make those “44 staffers in the curriculum office” unneeded since the new standards can be read, understood, and implemented by classroom teachers without the standards having to be “interpreted” by high-paid consultants and curriculum directors.

 

Please read the following article that explains why the new era in Texas public schools must be allowed to continue without interruption of the established timeline.

 

“Grammar Making a Comeback in Texas”

by Donna Garner

1.15.11

I am literally sitting here almost in tears after reading the article in the Dallas Morning News this morning entitled “Richardson Schools Retool Grammar Instruction To Meet New Texas Education Mandates.” Finally after so many lost years, educators are listening.

Do you know what it is like to have spent most of your adult life trying to get people to listen to you and having your words fall on deaf ears?  I taught English in fourteen different schools during my 33+ years of teaching, having retired several years ago.  Each time that I would change schools I would have to try to convince those around me of the importance of my teaching students grammar directly and systematically.

 

I had learned early-on in my teaching career that students cannot correct their writing and speaking if they don’t know grammar:

 

How can they correct an error in subject/verb agreement if they cannot find the subject and the verb, cannot figure out whether a verb is singular or plural, and do not know how to match them together correctly?

 

How can a student punctuate a compound-complex sentence correctly if he cannot figure out where one clause stops and another one begins?

 

How can he punctuate a possessive noun correctly if he cannot tell when a noun is possessive or is simply plural?

 

Because the ELA books were so poor, I began to develop and write my own grammar packets around 1976. These took many years to finalize; and when I finally had them perfected and I was able to motivate my students to learn them, the grammar packets took on a life of their own:

 

Not long ago I ran into one of my students who is a successful office manager, and she said she still keeps her grammar packets in a drawer in her desk and refers to them constantly.

 

One year for Christmas my students laughingly gave me a T-shirt that said, “Packet Woman.”

 

I frequently have ex-students who tell me they never would have made it through college without knowing my grammar packets.

 

One student said recently that what he learned in my ninth-grade English class is what has enabled him to become a successful district attorney.

 

When distance learning became popular, I worked with a wonderful fellow to create an interactive website to teach students English proficiency skills.  However, we were ahead of our time; and the education establishment was not interested in using our site ($35 per year/per student) because they were deep into whole-language and holistic writing.

 

In the mid-1980’s, somebody had come up with the bright idea to vilify the teaching of vital, basic English skills with the term “drill and kill.” Teachers were told that they must not require their students to memorize but must let them “discover” learning.  Guess what!  They didn’t, and they aren’t!

 

Proof positive:  Look at how poorly most students now write, speak, and read.  We are losing our English language; and our abilities to communicate effectively, clearly, and intelligently are falling into disarray.

 

Into this climate came the elected Texas State Board of Education — 15 members whose decisions impact textbooks not just for the 4.7 million public school students in Texas but also for millions of students in other states whose textbooks are influenced by those adopted in Texas.

 

Seven of these SBOE members took seriously their charge to produce new English / Language Arts / Reading (ELAR) standards that would emphasize once again the importance of correct English grammar, usage, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and handwriting.

 

These seven SBOE members also knew that the writing section on the TAKS tests emphasized the personal narrative which was being scored on how well students emoted their opinions rather than on their having a grasp of persuasive/analytical writing and research skills.

 

For over two years, the Board went through the ELAR adoption process; and after many public hearings and contacts from thousands of concerned parents, businessmen, and educators, the new ELAR/TEKS standards (K-12) emerged in May 2008.

 

[Meanwhile, for twenty-five years I had been doing everything in my power to convince people that a return to the basics of the English language was imperative; and I worked behind the scenes for no remuneration to come alongside policymakers to help them move our public schools into English proficiency.]

 

This school year is the second year of implementation of the new ELAR’s, but students have not yet been tested on the new standards because it has taken a period of time to replace the TAKS tests with the new tests — STAAR.

 

The STAAR tests are being piloted this school year and will be given for real in the next school year.  As has been the case for a long time, “Teachers will invariably teach to the test.”  However, this time, it is a good thing because the STAAR tests will require teachers to teach their students grammar along with other foundational elements such as spelling, handwriting, persuasive/analytical writing, research skills, and the various genres of literature along with their characteristics.

 

[The new ELAR’s also have a strong emphasis in the emergent reading grades (K-3) on phonemic awareness and phonics, and the standards will require teachers to quit using those discredited whole language programs (e.g., guided reading, word walls, predicting text, etc.]

The STAAR tests will include an entire section of specific multiple-choice grammar questions that did not exist on the TAKS tests.  The new emphasis on explicit English skills will also help our Texas students to become much better prepared to take the SAT and ACT, both of which contain specific grammar questions.

The SAT contains 49 multiple-choice grammar questions in the Writing section, and the score on those 49 questions counts 70% of the score on that section.  Since the SAT only has three sections (Math, Critical Reading, and Writing), the best way for a student to raise his entire SAT score is to do well on the 49 multiple-choice grammar questions. The ACT Writing Test also contains numerous grammar/usage questions; and the better a student does on those questions, the higher his composite score will be.

Of course, the ultimate goal is not just for students to do well on tests. The ultimate goal is for them to be able to express themselves clearly and correctly both in their writing and in their speaking.  All of us have heard the college professors gripe and complain about how poorly their incoming students use the English language, and businessmen across this country bemoan the poor quality of their employees’ English proficiency.

Please read today’s article (posted below) about the Richardson ISD schools and what they are doing to get their students up to par in their grammar skills, and then read Don McLeroy’s article from 12.31.10 in which he explains what the SBOE has achieved in the last three years.

Unfortunately, because too many voters were not aware of the outstanding work done by the seven SBOE members and instead listened to well-funded candidates (one of whom is a wealthy lobbyist), some of our most courageous SBOE members were replaced in the last election cycle.

Now what we Texans must do is to make sure that the new TEKS standards adopted in the last three years (ELAR, Science, and Social Studies) are left in place and are implemented with fidelity into teachers’ classrooms.

Thanks to the SBOE, our Texas public school students can and should become much better English writers, readers, and speakers in the years to come; and these skills will translate into greater academic achievement in all of their other courses, too.

 

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Please go to the following link to read Don McLeroy’s excellent article, “The State Board of Education’s Standards Should Make Texans Proud,” published in the Austin American-Statesman on 12.31.10.

 

McLeroy is the past chair of the Texas State Board of Education and was responsible for helping to “bequeath a precious legacy” on Texas public school students:

 

http://www.statesman.com/opinion/mcleroy-the-state-board-of-educations-standards-should-1156581.html

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4.11.11 — Please read how excited 20,000 Texas English teachers are about the new STAAR tests being implemented this next school year:

http://www.educationnews.org/breaking_news/news/153691.html

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