Algebra II nixed

The Texas Tribune reports that the State Board of Education, following often contentious hearings and discussions on the subject, has given final approval to a new set of graduation requirements for High School students that removes the math class Algebra II. In fact, the 15-member board (which is comprised of 5 Democrats and 10 Republicans) passed the policy with all but one vote in favor.

However, as the San Antonio Express-News notes, the board also had previously introduced two alternatives to Algebra II that could be taken in lieu of that class for some sort of credit in advanced mathematics. Statistics and Algebraic Reasoning were the new courses selected to be tentative replacements. From what I recall, my high school offered both of those courses, but its enrollment was only open to those who had successfully completed Algebra II (I took Statistics my senior year, over the great objection of my school, following a hard year of Pre-Calculus the previous year). As I have been saying for nearly a year, and will continue to do so today, relaxing standards to receive a High School diploma is a terrible idea and and even worse solution for graduation deficiencies. Rather than admit we need to revamp our education system, the Legislature is moving the goalposts closer. But I digress.

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Davis’ Education platform

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that State Senator Wendy Davis, the presumptive Democratic nominee for Governor, has unveiled a new Education plan, one that has already  been called the “most comprehensive in years.” The plan is a multi-pronged approach that focuses predominantly one helping teachers.

First and foremost, she seeks to boost teacher pay, which she was quick to note is far below the national average. Next, she sought to help protect the Teach for Texas Loan Repayment Program. The platform would also include offsetting budget cuts that gutted a similar provision that helps to provide financial incentives to teachers-aides who pursue their teaching certificates. Additionally, the Davis campaign noted they would seek to increase the number of guidance counselors required in most public schools.

I’ve attached the full details of the plan, and assume a few others will provide greater descriptions of the platform, but I want to focus in particular on perhaps the cornerstone of the platform, which strives to make the profession of teaching more attractive to the average student. Davis’ platform would allow for students graduating in the Top 20% of their high school class to gain admission to public colleges and universities (including UT-Austin), provided that they pledge to enter a career in teaching.

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Texpatriate on Educational mediocrity

This past legislative session, this board intently watched the radical educational reforms proposed, debated and passed by the members of the State Legislature. Just before the end of the regular session, both Democrats and Republicans came together to unanimously pass HB5, which revamped both testing and graduation requirements for High School this State. While this bill accomplished many good things, such as reducing the number of onerous and unnecessary standardized tests administered throughout the year and placing a higher emphasis on specialized and vocational training, this board has been disappointed by other provisions. Specifically, those that water down a strong core curriculum and unintentionally place too many students on a road to mediocrity.

Last week, the State Board of Education voted nearly unanimously to eliminate Algebra II as a requirement for a diploma. Nevermind that four years of mathematics are still required, meaning that, in today’s age of accelerated track students taking Algebra II in the 9th or 10th grades, advanced Calculus may sometimes be required for graduation even as Algebra I or introductory Geometry could be the terminal subject required for many other students.

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Algebra II is cut

The Texas Tribune reports that Algebra II is no longer a hard requirement for the high school graduation in the State of Texas. The State Board of Education, after a rather controversial session, voted 14-1 (with all but one Democrat supporting the measure) to eliminate the moderately advanced math course from those required for graduation.

Fear over the elimination of Algebra II was a prevalent fear among many (including this blog) last spring, when the Legislature debated a significantly comprehensive education-reform bill. In June, when Governor Perry signed the bill, I explained that five different “tracks” would be created for high school graduation. These would each include a requirement for a fourth year of math, but the Legislature declined to note what level of match would specifically be required.

Accordingly, the State Board of Education stepped in to clear up the confusion. In many of the graduation tracks, the Algebra II requirement was dropped. Last I checked, when remedial options such as dropping Algebra II are invoked, one surrenders her or his ability to qualify for either the “Top 10%/8% rule” or the “CAP program” for admission into a Texas university. Additionally, students graduating with the remedial diplomas would do much worse in college admissions.

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Feds mess with Texas

The Texas Tribune reports that the United States Department of Education, represented by Assistant Secretary Deborah Delisle, has declined Texas’ proposal to seek a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act that would have allowed selected 4th, 6th & 7th grade students to opt-out of the Standardized Tests in the critical reading and math subjects.

The waiver were sought after the 83rd Legislature passed HB866. As some might recall, I was very happy when the bill passed. The legislation was supported by every single Democrat in both houses of the legislature. Delisle, in making her statement on behalf of the Federal Government, stated that the tests were “critical to holding schools and LEAs [local education agencies] accountable for improving the achievement of all students.”

Texas Education Agency commissioner Michael Williams, for his part, responded with the following statement:

“As has been granted in other states, Texas school districts also deserve some relief from NCLB. I remain optimistic that after months of discussion with the U.S. Department of Education, our districts will be granted greater flexibility for some NCLB provisions.”

The Tribune article notes that young schoolchildren in Texas must take a whopping 17 tests BEFORE matriculating to their secondary (Senior High) school. From what I understand, this decision does not pertain to the opt-out requests for High School students, though, unfortunately, this may be a sign of things to come.

37 States, plus the District of Columbia, have been granted these waivers in the past. Besides, President Obama (in agreement with myself) believes that No Child Left Behind is a bad law that should be replaced.

The fact that only an Assistant Secretary made this decisions prevents me from jumping to the conclusion that this is motivated by malice from the President himself, and perhaps gives the State some hope in terms of an appeal. If this is coming from the White House itself, however, it unfortunately would not be the first time the Federal Government screws with Texas in an apparent political retaliatory move. That would not surprise me.

The Federal Government has an unclear role in the education of our youth, but they at least have the responsibility to treat States similarly. Granting waivers to California, while denying them to Texas, is unacceptable.

Perry signs Education Bill

The Texas Tribune reports that the Governor has signed HB5, the [in]famous education/graduation reform bill. This, despite some unfounded chatter that he was going to veto the bill. Like very much of the other stuff that comes out of Austin, it turned out to be complete poppycock.

For what it’s worth, Perry had the right to issue a line-item veto–meaning he could strike just one part of the act–but he declined to use it. The entire bill will become effective on September 1st (or sometime around then). Most of the changes actually do not take effect until the start of the 2014-2015 school year, and gosh are there a lot of changes. Last month the Tribune outlined four major bulletpoints on HB5, let us delineate them:

· High school students would take a foundation curriculum of four English credits; three science, social studies and math credits; two foreign language credits; one fine art and one P.E. credit; and five elective credits. They would add a fourth science and math credit when they select one of five diploma “endorsements” in areas including science and technology, business and industry, and the humanities.

· To qualify for automatic college admissions under the top 10 percent rule and state financial aid, students must take four science credits and algebra II must be among their four math credits. 

· The state will require five standardized tests in English I, English II, algebra I, biology and U.S. history. School districts will have the option of offering diagnostic exams in algebra II and English III that will not count toward their accountability rating.

· Districts will get an A through F rating; campuses will remain under the existing exemplary, recognized, acceptable and unacceptable labels.

As much as I have had plenty of problems in the past with weakening the Algebra II requirement, I find that the solution reached is sufficient. It is pretty hard to take four years of Math without Algebra II being one of them. Anyways, now all eyes fall on how Perry reacts to SB2, the Charter School bill and Dan Patrick’s other magnum opus this session.


Even less standardized testing

Huzzah! The Texas Tribune reports that HB866, a bill by Dan Huberty to allow many students to skip standardized testing in the fourth, sixth and seventh grades, has been approved by the States Senate 29-2 after passing the House unanimously late last month. The two nays came from Dan Patrick (R-Harris) and Brian Birdwell (R-Hood). Birdwell is so right-wing he is probably upset that all the tests hadn’t been abolished, and Patrick probably couldn’t stand the idea of anyone else spearheading something pertaining to education.

The Tribune article reports that this new program, which would only allow the test waivers if the students did “well” on their 3rd and 5th grade tests, respectively, would require an exemption from the Federal Government. Another bill, HB2836, which I talked aboutlast month after it passed the House, originally would have axed writing tests for 4th and 7th graders. The Senate butchered that bill last night, so that the “new” version would only create a commission to “look into the matter.”

As a general rule, standardized tests for Elementary education is quite the asinine proposition. Organizations like the Texas Association of Business are deadset against reducing these tests, arguing that it is a good way to measure how well a student is doing. I still think that Grades are all that are needed to “measure how well a student is doing” until at least the start of High School. Let us hope the Obama administration agrees and grants Texas waivers from the (ludicrously named) No Child Left Behind Act that would allow the reduction of these high stakes tests.