Sunday, October 30, 2011


I had the distinct pleasure of visiting with Don Felipe de Ortego y Gasca in San Antonio yesterday as part of the HACU conference. I have always been an admirer of him and his work and remember him fondly from when I was an undergraduate student at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas. He is one of our earliest Chicano Movement leaders, scholars, and intellectuals. An octogenarian, he is still with us today, illuminating the path of the generations that follow. Enjoy!


Original version published as "El Dia de los Muertos," The National Hispanic Reporter, October 1992

By Felipe de Ortego y Gasca

Scholar in Residence/Past Chair, Department of Chicana/Chicano and Hemispheric Studies, Western New Mexico University

El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) commemorating the lives of our forebears has been celebrated in Mexico from ancient times to the present. No one is sure about its exact origin or how the practice of mummification became part of the ritual, but it has been celebrated as a Mesoamerican cultural tradition for thousands of years. In northern Chile near the Peruvian border, human mummies have been unearthed dating back 9,000 years. In Mexico, the roots of el dia de los muertos stretch back to the indigenous Purepecha, Totonac, Oto­mi, and Nahua (Aztecs, Mayans, Toltecs, Tlaxcaltec, Chichimec, Tecpanec) who believed that the souls of the dead return each year to visit their living relatives, to eat, drink and enjoy themselves as they did when they lived.

Far too many ethnographers identify the origin of El Dia de los Muertos as a post-conquest phenomenon, thereby diminishing its ancestral significance by approaching it or valuing it as an event of the curious, the queer, and the quaint despite the fact that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has declared it part of our international cultural heritage (Kent Peterson, "Day of the Dead Dances Across Borders," FNS Feature fnsnews, November 3, 2008).

El Dia de los Muertos is ingrained in the Mexican national consciousness as part of Mexican identity. And, by extension, of Mexican American identity. El Dia de los Muertos is not just a version of the widespread Roman Catholic feasts of All Saints' and All Souls' Days. This suggests a European largesse, a colonial view that describes Mexican culture as a derivative culture. Equally diminishing is to equate or correlate El Dia de los Muertos with Halloween, a day of raucous disregard for the tradition of Dia de los Muertos. Importantly el dia de los muertos is not a Mexican or Mexican American equivalent of Hal­loween.

For Mexicans as well as for Mexican Americans El Dia de los Muertos is a time to both honor and to celebrate the lives of those who lived before us and have gone on to "the other world." For the Aztecs, that other world was the prize, the world for which one suffered the slings and arrows of this world. Thus, to celebrate the lives of our decedents was for them to share with us the mysteries of that other world.
Dia de los Muertos (actually dias de los muer­tos) is one of Mexico's traditional holidays and by extension has become a traditional holiday of Mexican Americans. Both observe No­vember 1st and November 2nd as commemorative days honoring deceased members of their families (especially children) in a way unique to Mexican and Mexican American culture and custom, reunit­ing with beloved ancestors as well as family and friends, reflecting on death and the continuity of life.

There is a distinction between All Saints Day celebrated on November 1st and All Souls Day cele­brated on November 2nd. On All Saints Day the graves of deceased children are decorated with toys and balloons and on All Souls Day the graves of deceased adults are ornamented with displays of food and drink enjoyed by the departed in life. Of­ten, personal belongings of the deceased are placed on display.

In the Mexican and Mexican American tradition el dia de los muertos involves ornamentation and symbolic offerings of food for the dead, much the way in Pharaohnic times the Egyptians provided food for their dead on the long trip to the nether land.

In Aztec times, el dia de los muertos was ob­served during the Aztec month of Miccailhuitontli presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl (Lady of the Dead). The ritual included homage to Huitzilo­pochtli (Hummingbird-on-the-left), the ma­jor Aztec deity of war who protected the dead of all conflicts.

In the Aztec calendar, this ritual coincided with the Gregorian month of July and the beginning of August, but in the post conquest era Spanish priests moved it to coincide with the Christian holiday of All Hallows Eve "in a vain effort," as Ricardo J. Salva­dor explains, "to transform this from a profane to a Christian celebration." It is today a blend of ancient aboriginal and Christian elements.
In general, the activities of el dia de los muertos begin with visits by families to the graves of their deceased, decorating the gravesites with zempa­suchil (marigolds and chrysanthemums) and other festive flowers. Candles are lit to guide the spirits of the departed "home" and the ancient incense (copal) is burned. The deceased's favorite food and drink are laid out on gravesite altars (ofren­das). Prayers and chants are recited for the dead; and starting at 6 pm bells are rung continuously throughout the night, stop­ping at sunrise.

There is a story told about a Mexican American who was decorating the grave of his father, setting up an altar before the gravestone, and laying out food for the defunct. Next to him was an Anglo woman planting flowers and tidying up the grave of her mother. Amused when she observed the Mexican American laying out the food before the gravestone, the Anglo woman asked the Mexican American when he thought his decedent would rise up to eat the food. Whereupon the Mexican American replied that his father would rise up out of his grave to eat the food about the time the Anglo woman's decedent rose up from her grave to smell the flowers.

After the night-long vigil, all go home, satisfied at having com­muned with their ances­tors. Since it is a commemoration with a complex history, its observances vary widely by region. In the United States the activities are less elaborate but no less reverential.

The gravesite vigils of el dia de los muertos often take on the character of picnics, though nowadays a solemn family supper suffices featuring pan de muer­to (bread of the dead, a rich coffee cake decorated with meringues made to look like bones) in which a toy skeleton has been inserted bestowing good luck on the one who bites into the plastic toy.

Gifts of baked sugar skeletons, marzipan death figures, skull-shaped candies and sweets and papier maché skele­tons and skulls are often exchanged and set about the house as decorations. Macabre as these skull repre­sentations may appear, the Nahua-speaking peoples of pre-Columbian Mexico saw the skull as a symbol of life-not death. In the Mexican belief system of life and its continuity, skull symbolism is a natural part of the continuum of existence.

Dia de los muertos is not a morbid or ghoulish preoccupation with death; it's a celebration of life. On this day families remember the departed by tell­ing stories about them, celebrating their lives. To commercialize the holy day is to mock the import of the observance.

Copyright © 1992-2008 by the author. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 28, 2011

TCEP Policy Brown Bag: Exit Strategies: How Low Performing High Schools Respond to High School Exit Examination Requirements

The Texas Center for Education Policy is happy to invite you to a TCEP Brown Bag featuring Dr. Jennifer Jellison Holme titled:

“Exit Strategies: How Low Performing High Schools Respond to High School
Exit Examination Requirements

Where: Cissy Parker McDaniel Dean's Conference Room, Sanchez Building
Date: November 2, 2011
Time: 12-1:30PM

Dr. Holme’s research focuses on the politics and implementation of educational policy, with a particular focus on the relationship between school reform, equity, and diversity in schools. Dr. Holme is particularly interested in understanding how structures of opportunity within metropolitan areas relate to schooling conditions and outcomes for students, and how educational policies interact with those opportunity structures. Her current work focuses on school desegregation, high stakes testing, and school choice policy.

For those unfamiliar with the College of Education who are coming from off campus, see the following link for a map that identifies both parking (BRG) and the Sanchez Building (SZB):

Texas Regents' Potential Conflicts to Be Scrutinized

“There are two kinds of conflict...One is financial conflict. That one’s obvious. Then there’s having dual board membership where their purposes are in conflict.”
- Gordon Appleman

And this issue is just one part of the larger goals of the Oversight Committee.


UT Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell asks the Board to support Chancellor Dr. Franciso Cigarroa at their Austin meeting on May 12, 2011.

At a recent hearing of the new joint higher education oversight committee, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini asked the chairmen of the University of Texas System and Texas A&M University System regents what they had done to prevent conflicts of interest on their respective boards. There was a long pause.

She asked if either board has “a statement setting forth the expectations for the conduct of its members.” Both men said they would have to get back to her.

Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat and co-chairwoman of the committee, is likely to get an answer even if they do not. Legislators and other concerned groups are preparing for a thorough review of the conflict of interest policies — or lack of policies — that apply to regents of the state’s public university systems.

In addition to the oversight committee — which Zaffirini leads with Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas — the House speaker, Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has directed the General Investigating and Ethics Committee to study whether the governor’s appointees, regents included, should be required to “sign additional governance documents prior to serving in an official state capacity.”

Such policies are common in higher education. A 2008 survey conducted by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges of its member institutions showed that nearly 80 percent of public boards that responded had a policy regarding conflicts of interest. Roughly 50 percent required members to sign an annual statement.

Most of the six major university systems in Texas have a policy specifically for regents. An A&M spokesman said their regents are covered by their system’s general written policies. But the UT System, one of the state’s largest, is an exception.

“There’s nothing in writing, but there’s several state laws and common laws relating to conflict of interests, especially on the financial side, that we would adhere to just like any state agency would adhere to,” said Anthony de Bruyn, a spokesman for the system.

He said that board members worked with the general counsel to prevent conflicts.

That does not satisfy some critics of the board overseeing the University of Texas at Austin. This year, a coalition largely made up of prominent U.T. alumni formed out of concern that university system regents might put into action controversial policies proposed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative research organization.

Each of the UT and A&M boards has a member who also serves on the policy foundation’s board.

“There are two kinds of conflict,” said Gordon Appleman, a Fort Worth lawyer and founding member of the coalition. “One is financial conflict. That one’s obvious. Then there’s having dual board membership where their purposes are in conflict.” He said a written policy was necessary to clarify the rules surrounding both.

At the hearing, Gene Powell, the chairman of the UT System board, cautioned against infringing on the rights of regents, who serve voluntarily, and said they were aware that their chief loyalty lies with the system. “I think they have the right to participate on boards and associate with who they want to associate with,” he said.

School Dropouts Save Texas Money But Only in Short Term

As awful as this sounds the state does seem to be led by the notion that "dropouts save money". This is supported by historical patterns of students lost in the education pipeline (3 million over the course of 25 years).

Check out the Intercultural Development Research Association's (IDRA) data on dropout and attrition rates in Texas.


by Ross Ramsey | Texas Tribune
October 28, 2011

Every time a student drops out of public school, taxpayers save money. That’s one fewer student, at an annual savings of more than $11,000 per year from state and local sources.

You might argue those kids will cost the state a lot of money someday, either as prison inmates, welfare recipients, or as part of an expanding number of weak links in the labor chain when employers come looking for educated workers.

But the immediate result is that the dropouts save money. And politicians respond to immediate things. Not to kick anyone in particular, but when was the last time you saw a Texas governor or legislator with a 10-year plan? A five-year plan?

When the economy is bad and the favored political trope is no new taxes, no new spending, budgeting is a short-term exercise. Lawmakers stop talking about new programs and such, focusing instead on voters’ demands to keep government as inexpensive as possible. The punishment for doing anything else is as close as the March primary.

The dropout problem has a longer fuse. The reward for fixing it is somewhere in the future, way past the next election.

The public schools are on a 13-year clock, starting with kindergarten and ending with the fourth year of high school. The budgeteers are on a two-year clock that starts and ends in even-numbered years. Their horizons are determined by the election calendar. Politicians are actually pretty responsive. They react to the things that will hurt them, politically, and to the things that will help them, politically. And the judgments they’re concerned with are those delivered by voters.

In fact, there is a disincentive to fix the dropout problem, because it would force lawmakers to make cuts in other parts of the budget or to find new revenue. It sets up like something from the science fair: Suppose you got 181 lab rats and gave them cheese if they saved money and threw them out into the streets if they spent it.

Dropout rates don’t initially look like a budget issue, but if you could wave a wand and end it today — keeping every student in school for the full 13 years — you’d be spending a lot of money. You would be a street rat.

How many dropouts are there? That’s a political fight, to some extent, for another day. But for illustration, go with these numbers, courtesy of the Texas Education Agency: In the 2008-09 school year, 40,923 students in grades 7 through 12 dropped out of school, and in the 2009-10 school year, 34,907 students dropped out. Total spending per student in the 2009-2010 school year was $11,567, including capital spending (operating expenditures per student — the total cost per student excluding buildings, computers and the like — were $8,572 per year).

The state pays school districts according to attendance. If fewer students show up, the state spends less.

Based on total spending, it would cost state and local taxpayers $473.4 million annually to educate that first group of dropouts. The second group would add $403.8 million to the annual nut. Only want the operating costs? That would be $650 million per year.

Since Texas has a two-year budget, and the state’s share of operations is about 43 percent of the total, that particular set of dropouts "saves" the state about $560 million every two years.

Keep in mind that the numbers are based on a two-year sampling of dropouts from six grades — 7 through 12 — and that adding dropouts over time at least doubles the number and could triple it. And remember that the number of dropouts is a matter of some dispute and that these numbers could be low.

The point here is that the policy problem of kids dropping out of school is actually a boon to budget writers if the budget writers are in a bind. It’s money they don’t have to produce at a time when government revenue is in higher-than-normal demand.

It’s a variation on Jonathan Swift’s "Modest Proposal". We’re not eating the children to save money on their welfare — just letting them out of school early.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Some Texas GOP Candidates to Make Education a Priority

by Morgan Smith | Texas Tribune
October 27, 2011

When Republican lawmakers talk about the cuts to public education made in the last session, a common refrain emerges: It could have been worse. The $4 billion reduction the House and Senate finally agreed on wasn’t nearly as frightening as the $10 billion slashed in the plan passed by the lower chamber with its Tea Party-fueled supermajority.

At the time, lawmakers at the Capitol said they were taking seriously what they viewed as the mandate of the 2010 election: Voters wanted no new taxes and a reduction in government spending.

But there are GOP candidates who hope that if they come to Austin in 2013, it will be with different instructions.

In several Republican state House 2012 primary races across the state, the conversation may yet turn from invective against government spending to worry over increasing school class sizes and more rigorous student testing. There are at least a few candidates emerging who've traded in the anti-Washington cries of the last election cycle for a message with a different focus: the state of Texas public schools.

Whether that messaging ultimately gets them into office remains unclear — the next general election is a year away, of course — but the success of their candidacies will be an effective gauge of the electorate’s mood.

David Anderson, an education lobbyist and former Texas Education Agency staffer, called the March 2012 primaries “a critical indicator” of the public’s reaction to the budget cuts passed earlier this year. Presented with the option, he said, “will people turn out in the Republican primary and vote for Republican candidates who make a significant part of their platform restoring funding to public ed and bring some coherency to some of the critical issues?”

At least four candidates have formed campaigns based on public education issues so far: Bennett Ratliff, who’s running for an open Dallas-area state House seat; current State Board of Education member Marsha Farney, who’s running for an open House seat based in Williamson County; Trent Ashby, who’s challenging freshman state Rep. Marva Beck of Centerville; and James Wilson, who’s opposing state Rep. Debbie Riddle in her district bordering Houston.

“People are just now beginning to understand and feel the impacts of the budgetary constraints,” said Ratliff, a longtime member of the Coppell ISD school board in suburban Dallas. “Just now gone back to school, just now starting to realize that student teacher ratios aren't what they've been. They’re just now starting to realize we are starting to look at programs that may not survive next year.”

“You've got a lot of very upset teachers, very upset parents,” Wilson said.

That doesn’t necessarily translate to voters wanting to spend more — both Ratliff and Ashby emphasized the need for local control and school finance reform over increased funding.

“I haven't been out on the stump saying that we need to throw a bunch of new money at public education in Texas,” said Ashby, who is the president of the Lufkin school board. “But what I have been out saying that we need to make sure that we look at our current school finance system in a way that when we talk changes we ensure that schools aren’t being based on their zip code.”

Since the last legislative session, Lufkin ISD, along with almost 300 other districts, has signed onto a lawsuit challenging, among other aspects, the equity of the state’s method of funding schools. At least one other suit is expected to follow.

Beck, Ashby’s opponent, said that in her interactions with constituents, public education isn’t foremost on voters’ minds. A candidate with a school board background like Ashby, she said, would naturally emphasize education. Though there were “issues in public education that need to be addressed,” she said that along with the continued budgetary difficulties, her constituents were primarily concerned with border security.

“If you aren't safe to go to school then the problems at school become secondary,” she said. “There is violence beyond belief that is happening on our border.”

Lawmakers have felt the consequences of a perceived hostility to public education before. The most famous example was in 2006, when the then-chairman of the public education committee, state Rep. Kent Grusendorf, lost his bid for an 11th term to state Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, after a contentious battle over vouchers and school finance during the previous session.

Patrick said that “there are concerns everywhere” that public education remain what she said was already the top priority for the legislature.

“A good strong public education system is essential to the economy of the state,” she said. Those who are running on public education platforms, she said, “understand that relationship.”

Enrollment in Texas Higher Education Continues to Climb

by Reeve Hamilton | Texas Tribune
October 27, 2011

More than 62,000 students enrolled in colleges and universities in Texas this fall than in 2010, according to preliminary enrollment data released by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board today.

While it's a big jump, it's not as large as the two previous years, which both saw increases of more than 100,000 students. In the last three years alone, Texas colleges and universities have added more than 268,000 students. The current total, which includes public and private institutions, is slightly more than 1.5 million students.

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said this puts the state firmly on track to meet its 2015 goals for boosting access to college in the state. However, some of the numbers could still use some improvement, particularly the enrollment of African American males.

Overall, African American participation has jumped nearly 10 percent in the last year. Hispanic enrollment numbers are up 4.5 percent, and Anglo students have also increased nearly 2 percent.

The ethnic category that saw the most dramatic shift was "other," with a nearly 18 percent increase. New self-reporting policies put in place last year allow students to choose multiple races. Doing so places them in the "other" category. Paredes speculated that the growing popularity of that option was a testament to the decining racial divisions in the country.

Most of the growth occurred in the state's public colleges and universities, though a handful of them did see a decrease. The preliminary numbers show University of Texas at Austin enrolling 50 fewer students than last year. Four-year institutions experiencing more significant drops include the University of North Texas, Prairie View A&M University, and UT-Permian Basin. Meanwhile, the University of Houston, Texas State University-San Marcos, UT-Brownsville, and UT-Dallas, each saw increases of more than 1,000 students.

Coordinating board officials also say their data also show an increase of nearly 30,000 students in private, for-profit colleges, continuing a trend of steady growth. However, some of that increase can be attributed to the fact that more of those institutions have begun submitting their information.

Facility plans, school finance lawsuits on Austin trustees' agenda

By Laura Heinauer and Melissa Taboada | AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011

At tonight's meeting of the Austin school board, trustees are set to vote on suing the State of Texas over education funding and on approving tax reappraisals of property damaged in wildfires earlier this year.

But discussions on facility planning could overshadow those and other agenda items.

At forums in the past several days, district officials released some of the most concrete proposals yet on recommendations for the use of schools and other buildings during the 2012-13 school year. Tonight's public comment session and a public hearing Tuesday will give the community a chance to present thoughts about the proposals.

Under plans announced Thursday, the district would create up to three district-managed charter campuses in the part of town that includes the Eastside Memorial High Schools at the former Johnston High School campus and schools that feed into Eastside. The IDEA Public School, a charter school, would have autonomy over academic programs, but the campuses would still be overseen by the district.

Earlier, district administrators said that they were looking at dealing with crowding in North Austin by moving the sixth grade out of Barrington, Brown and Walnut Creek elementary schools and adding a pre-kindergarten center at Dobie Middle School. One of three other options would reassign students at Ridgetop Elementary School, which would then become a dual language center for pre-kindergartners.

The district hopes the overall changes would strengthen schools in East Austin and free up space at overcrowded schools in the north. Under one long-range scenario, Brooke Elementary School in East Austin would no longer serve students after 2015.

The idea of moving the sixth grade from elementary schools is not new. Austin has just a handful of elementary schools that still have a sixth grade.

Many educators and researchers say that sixth-graders are psychologically and physically close to seventh- and eighth-graders. However some studies have shown that sixth-grade middle school students are more likely to be cited for discipline problems. Researchers have also found that elementary school sixth-graders have higher test scores than those in middle school.

Last year, when the Austin district kept sixth-graders who would have attended the struggling Pearce Middle School in their elementary schools an extra year, test scores shot up, officials said.

Moving the sixth grade to middle school would relieve crowding and "provide our sixth-graders with the full middle school experience," Austin chief of staff Paul Cruz said, explaining that sixth-graders in elementary schools don't get the middle school options of band, foreign languages and athletics.

The district first looked at creating an in-district charter school in 2001 with proposals from KIPP and Edison schools but ultimately backed off. The district is now ready to embrace the unconventional, officials say.

"I think it's time for Austin parents to have a choice," said Ramona Treviño, the district's chief academic officer. Something that offers " a proven track record of success in college preparation with high-poverty, Hispanic children," she said.

The school board aims to vote on a 2012-13 facilities plan in December. But some of the early recommendations are already under fire from a few people who could be affected.

About 200 people attended Thursday's presentation. One student, angered by a proposal that would house the charter school at Eastside, was in tears as he tried to express his concerns and briefly left the room.

Upon returning, 17-year-old Eddie Perez made his point: "You're not giving us a chance. Every year you're doing something different. If you choose one of those plans and it doesn't work, then in 2015-16, are you going to have another plan for the school? Are you going to do that yearly? Are you actually thinking about us?"

Similar sentiments were echoed across town.

Annette Lucksinger, a Ridgetop parent, said that by making the campus a pre-kindergarten the district would be turning its back on a dual language program that parents have committed to and is working. Enrollment is now up from 180 to almost 300 in two years, she said, and the school community is stronger than ever.

"This is my fourth year at the school — my third year to have to fight to keep it open — and it's frustrating having to put so much energy into saving the school again rather than trying to make it better," she said. "We're going strong and in a positive direction, and if you transplant us, that will all be lost."

Cruz said some parents will appreciate the plan because it allows siblings to stay together. He said studies show that students do better with fewer transitions. Combining Ridgetop with Reilly also would "provide a larger dual language school, making it a really enhanced option for dual language immersion," he said.; 445-3694; 445-3620

Austin school board meeting

Tonight's meeting, at the Carruth Administration Center, 1111 W. Sixth St., will start at 7. Highlights from the agenda:

Administrators recommend that the board OK the reappraisal of property damaged in the Oak Hill wildfire in April. Values would be prorated from the date of the fire and would affect the 2011 tax roll, for which payment is due in January.

Trustees could vote to join one of multiple lawsuits expected over the state's school finance system. Administrators said in agenda documents that the district should join in suing because ‘the current system of school finance in Texas fails to address growth. Not only does it fail to fund growth in student population, it fails to meet the increasing needs of higher expectations and more rigorous standards required by the State and the increase in student needs such as poverty and limited English proficiency.'

Administrators are asking the board to approve contracts with Princeton Review and Catapult Learning for math tutoring services for sixth- and ninth-grade students at Burnet Middle School and Lanier High School. The estimated cost is $1.6 million.

New state test raises concerns for teachers, educators

Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011

When the new state achievement test rolls out this spring, students will notice several key changes from its predecessor.

Not only will the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness be tougher, have more questions and come with a time limit, but the end-of-course exam scores for high school students will count for 15 percent of their grade.

The old standardized test — the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills — did not, and unanswered questions about the change have caused confusion among school district administrators and concern among parents worried about the effect on class rank.

Lawmakers approved the switch to the STAAR in 2007. However, the state was not explicit about how districts should convert test scores to grades.

Though the test is rolling out in high schools this year only with ninth-graders — upperclassmen will continue taking the TAKS until they graduate — it will affect the grade-point averages for those students, and thus class rankings.

Given that Texas guarantees automatic admission to college for most public school students ranked in the top 10 percent of their class, the stakes are high.

State law allows students to retake the test for any reason, said Gloria Zyskowski , division director for student assessment for the Texas Education Agency.

"And I suspect that students who pass the test, if they are going to retry to retake the test, it's to help their cumulative score," Zyskowski said.

But districts are not required to use the results of the retest to calculate a student's grade. Austin school district officials say only first-try scores will count toward GPAs. Christy Rome, director of intergovernmental relations and policy oversight, said the only exception is if students do not receive credit for the course, such as when their test score and course grade do not add up to passing. In those cases, students could retest for a higher score that would bring their grade up high enough to earn course credit.

Anderson High School's campus advisory council, which includes parents and educators, two weeks ago drafted a letter summarizing concerns about the end-of-course exams. The group wants the district to request a waiver from the state to prevent the inclusion of the scores in students' grade-point averages for the 2011-12 year.

"There are too many unknown factors with potentially far-reaching implications surrounding the test at this point in the academic year," the letter states. "The uncertainty is causing students and families a great deal of concern."

In addressing the school board Monday night, Anderson parent Susan Schultz said she was concerned about inconsistencies.

"While one school district may decide that all students who pass get 100 and all who fail get a 69, other school districts' conversion tables may get very intricate and include decimals," she said.

Educators also have said they are concerned about how the tests will be scored. Scoring methodology for secondary students won't be released until February. Students will start taking the exam with the English portion in March; other exams will be given in May.

"I do think (teachers) are very nervous about the new passing standards," said Criss Cloudt, Texas Education Agency associate commissioner over assessment and accountability. "It's certainly true that the assessment program is going to be a more rigorous program, but \u2026 keep in mind that the content is directly linked to the content the State of Texas requires to be taught."

The Texas Education Agency in September released some sample questions to provide teachers and administrators a better idea of what to expect on the test.

Students in third through eighth grades will also take the STAAR, but their scores won't count toward their grades and, for this year, won't count toward state ratings of campuses. The state will use the results from the spring exams to set passing standards, which will be determined in October 2012.

"If we are working on our curriculum and delivering our instruction in a meaningful way, then our kids will be prepared," said Diana Sustaita, director of curriculum and instruction with the Pflugerville school district.

"Our standards are still the same," she said. But she added, "There's a big difference from what kids were expected to know for TAKS and what they're expected to know for STAAR."

For example, on the TAKS, a student in Algebra I might have been quizzed about one specific part of a graph. The STAAR would ask a student which statement is not true about the graph, and that would require a student to know the various properties of the graph.

"We're all trying to be closely aligned with the state objectives, more aligned than we have in previous years," said Joy Killough, a biology and chemistry teacher at Westwood High School in the Round Rock district. "It's going to be a challenge for everybody because of the rigor, but I think the kids are up to it."; 445-3620

Comparing STAAR
and TAKS exams

What are the biggest differences between the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness and the old Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills?

The STAAR is a more rigorous exam that experts say will measure a greater range of student achievement — especially preparedness for moving on to the next grade — and establish stronger links to college readiness.

The STAAR will have more questions for most grades, subjects and courses.

Students will have four hours to take the STAAR. The TAKS was not timed.

The STAAR will count for 15 percent of a student's grade in a subject. TAKS scores did not affect course grades.

The STAAR will cover only the content from a particular course — the Algebra I exam will assess only Algebra I content, for example — rather than content from multiple courses. The ninth-grade mathematics TAKS tested students' knowledge of Algebra I and eighth-grade math.

STAAR reading and writing exams for certain grades will be administered over two days.

The test designs for STAAR fourth- and seventh-grade writing and English I, II and III will require students to write two essays addressing different skills. The TAKS required only one longer personal essay.

Most STAAR math and science questions will be open-ended, requiring students to arrive at answers independently without being influenced by answer choices provided with the questions.

Source: Texas Education Agency

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Good-bye adequate yearly progress

Texas State Teachers Association
October 20, 2011

In a 15–7 vote, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee voted to amend and reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (formerly known as No Child Left Behind). The language reflects a bipartisan effort drafted by Chairman Harkin (D-Iowa) and Ranking Member Enzi (R-Wyoming). Over the past two days, the amended language and 150 amendments were considered in a hearing.

The provisions of the bill include language that:

Establishes college and career academic content standards in Reading /Language Arts and Math with the option to add other content.
Alignment of English Language Proficiency Standards with academic content standards.
Alignment of academic content standards, without the need for academic coursework, at public institutions of higher education in the state and is relevant with state technical and career standards.
Establishes tracks to determine how well students are mastering the material in the academic content areas.
Alignment of the state assessment instrument with the academic content standards.
Provides the option of including a student growth model.
Tracks students from 8th to 9th grade to better identify those who are at-risk of dropping out.
Requires the identification of Achievement Gaps Schools, Persistently Low-Achieving Schools, and Targeted

Low-Achieving Schools

NEA staff and state affiliate staff reviewed amendments to identify possible impacts on the states.

NEA was successful in inserting language that:

Provides for a collaborative transformation model for turn-around schools

NEA was successful in removing language that would have

linked Teacher and Principal evaluations to student performance; however, this is a mandate IF the state applies for a grant through the Teacher Incentive Fund; and
given districts the authority to make forced transfers of teachers to low-performing, high-need schools as a means to ensure equity in the placement of highly-qualified teachers.

The bill now moves to the full Senate. The vote is not expected to happen before November 8 out of respect for an agreement struck between Sens. Harkin (D-Iowa), Enzi (R-Wyoming), and Paul (R-Kentucky).

We need your involvement and engagement NOW. Visit and sign up to receive the NEA Legislative Alerts. Your voices need to be heard as the Senate considers ESEA 2011.

UT System chancellor says he is committed to helping UTEP reach Tier One status

"We are competing with the world..."

Check out this short snippet of Cigarroa's talk in El Paso.


By Zahira Torres \ Austin Bureau
Posted: 10/20/2011

University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said he will push during the next legislative session to rectify a decision by state lawmakers that denied UTEP access to a pot of state money for which it qualified.

Cigarroa visited El Paso on Wednesday to give the keynote address at the State of Higher Education luncheon put together by the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce. He said the UT System was "very disappointed" when UTEP was not allowed to join a handful of universities that participate in the Competitive Knowledge Fund, which provides money to support faculty for the purpose of "instructional excellence" and research.

"We felt that UTEP accomplished all the metrics that would merit it," Cigarroa said, and he vowed to work toward getting the university into the fund during the 2013 legislative session. "It was a top priority for me. It was a top system priority. This is historically one of the most challenging legislative sessions. Everybody made some really tough choices. Some of those choices we didn't appreciate, but that was from our point of view."

UTEP and the University of Texas at Arlington attained the three-year average of $50 million in research expenditures needed to gain access to the fund, which divvies up $93 million over a two-year period among participants. Still, both universities were kept from entering the fund during Senate budget negotiations.

Cigarroa's nearly 40-minute speech to El Paso business and political leaders focused on how they could help universities adapt to greater demands to provide a more accessible, accountable and affordable education at a time when they have lost millions of dollars through state budget cuts. He said there are "strong indications" that more reductions will come in the 2013 legislative session.

State budget cuts in the past legislative session reduced funding by $275 million for six health institutions and by $222 million for nine universities in the UT System. Because of the cuts, UTEP will get $27.3 million less over the next two years.

Cigarroa said the responsibility of fostering successful universities should be shared. He pushed for additional revenue streams, such as philanthropic donations and public-private partnerships "as long as academic freedom and creativity is protected."

He also said he was committed to helping UTEP become a nationally recognized research institution, known as Tier One, because the border region deserves such opportunities.

"We've got all the low-hanging fruit," Cigarroa said about the impact state budget cuts have had on higher education. "I don't see a single mango hanging from the tree anymore."

"We can always do more, but there's a point that you start going beyond muscle, where you can't accomplish the appropriate student-faculty ratio or be able to globally compete for the best faculty," Cigarroa said. "We're always going to do our mission, but we've got higher aspirations, such as being able to transition UTEP to Tier One and that takes resources. It just does."

Cigarroa touted his plan for raising graduation rates, boosting online learning and expanding educational and health opportunities in South Texas.

At the same time, he also made a quick reference to Gov. Rick Perry's support of a controversial proposal, which offered seven "breakthrough solutions" for higher education. That plan, which the UT Board of Regents has now said is off the table, called for the separation of research and teaching budgets at universities and would have strictly used student evaluations to award bonus pay for professors.

Cigarroa told the audience that the system has no intention of separating teaching from research at its universities.

"There was a lot of anxiety about that, and I want to mitigate that anxiety because the framework, which the Board of Regents unanimously approved, does not separate teaching from research," he said. He added that his plan does not mirror the seven reforms for higher education.

Zahira Torres may be reached at; 512-479-6606.

Ideology trumped science at Texas agency, two lawmakers say

The title pretty much says it all.

- Patricia

By Erin Mulvaney
BEAUMONT, Texas | Thu Oct 20, 2011

(Reuters) - Two Democratic state senators from Texas accused the state's environmental agency of letting ideology trump science when it deleted information about the implications of global warming from a draft report.

The leaders of the agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, are appointed by Republican Governor Rick Perry, who said in a recent presidential debate that the science of climate change was "unsettled."

At issue is "The State of the Bay 2010" report commissioned by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which has come under scrutiny after Rice University Professor John Anderson said that an article regarding sea-level changes he contributed was censored for political reasons.

Democratic state Senators Rodney Ellis of Houston and Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio wrote to Perry appointee Bryan Shaw, chairman of the commission.

In his letter, Ellis said he concluded from the deletions that "the facts simply proved inconvenient to the agency and other state leadership, and thus they were excised."

The commission said on Monday it would remove Anderson's article on sea-level rise in Galveston Bay from the report, ending a standoff with Anderson over the deleted information.

Commission spokesman Andy Saenz said Anderson prematurely revealed the draft report to the media without prior approval, and that the commission did not want to include controversial implications about global warming in the report.

"Why would we include things we don't agree with? That's ridiculous," Saenz said. "We were looking at not including very controversial things that are unsettled science."

Two co-editors of the project, Jim Lester and Lisa Gonzalez, scientists with the Houston Advanced Research Center, a nonprofit research facility contracted for the report, asked the agency to remove their names, fearing their own credibility.

Lester, the center's vice president, called the deletions "scientific censorship." He said Anderson's statements in the article were not political and were reviewed by lower-level staff at the agency before upper management made its own edits.

"As a scientist, my main concern is about the availability of objective science for decision-making in agencies," Lester said.

Saenz denied the claims of scientific censorship.

"Using a word like censorship is very powerful," he said. "It isn't censorship to accurately report in our document what we believe. That's being responsible. That's being accurate."

Saenz said the agency was preparing a response to the senators. The agency, which is embroiled in a lawsuit with the Environmental Protection Agency over greenhouse gas emissions, has been working on the report for more than two years, the agency said.

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Cynthia Johnston)

Districts struggle this year with class sizes

Real talk on what it means when the state doesn't consider growth in its funding of education.


Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011

For many students, the start of the school year has meant sharing tight quarters. For others, it has meant getting used to one new teacher and then another .

Budget-tightening moves, coupled with a promise by the Texas Education Agency to be more lenient in granting waivers on state rules capping class sizes, have made for, at times, a chaotic start of the school year for many families.

Two months after school began, some students are still being shuffled around as districts try to get below the cap — 22 students per class in kindergarten to fourth grade.

State lawmakers debated, but didn't approve, changing the cap in this year's legislative session.

"It has been really tough on all of us," said Dora Trevino, a teacher at Harris Elementary School in East Austin.

She started the year with 28 students, then 24 and had as many as 30 at one point. The district just hired a new teacher, and now Trevino has 21 children in her fourth-grade class.

"I thought I had it under control" at 28, she said. "But when it got up to 30, it came with behavior problems and low academics. ... It was a lot of stress and work at home and overwhelming, but I just said, 'It's going to be OK. We're going to see this year through .'"

The Leander school district, which increased its student-teacher ratios to cut costs, went from asking for waivers for eight classes in 2010-11 to 95 so far this year.

Karie Lynn McSpadden , the district's assistant superintendent for human resources, said the reason there are so many more waivers this year, compared with some districts, is that Leander set its caps a little higher — 23 for second grade and 24 for third and fourth grades — expecting that it would not exceed those numbers and use contingency funds to hire more teachers if needed.

"I think at the end of the year, we will end up with lower class sizes than the districts around us," McSpadden said.

To reduce Austin's need for waivers, Michael Houser, the district's chief resources officer, said the district aggressively moved staff members and hired 90 more teachers this fall. He said the new hires cost about $750,000, which came out of the anticipated savings from the layoffs that the board approved earlier in the year.

"This year, it became more of a problem in that we did staff at 24 to 1," he said, explaining how the district had thought the law would change. "We were pretty much assured that would happen, and when it didn't in June, we decided that we would go back and spend some money and back fill these positions as needed."

Austin officials said the district has applied for 18 waivers this year, compared with two at this time in 2010-11.

That's much fewer than some districts, particularly some urban ones. State officials said they expect the Houston school district to apply for more than 1,000 waivers.

Meanwhile, the Round Rock school district has managed to decrease the number of overcrowded classes. Spokeswoman JoyLynn Occhiuzzi said the district slightly increased its staffing ratios and transferred teachers to other schools and grades when necessary.

"At the end of the day, we had to hire 217 teachers due to attrition and growth, which is pretty much what our norm would be," she said.

Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said that, this year, the agency is granting waivers based on financial hardship. The agency anticipates more than 6,500 classes across Texas will exceed the cap this fall — almost triple the 2,238 classes in the 2010-11 school year, she said.

"We're going to be looking closely before granting them at schools that were rated unacceptable," Ratcliffe said, referring to the lowest mark a school can get in the state's academic accountability system. "It was too late to do it this year. But next year, we're probably going to ask for additional details."

Many Central Texas classrooms that received waivers this year exceed class size limits by just one or two students, according to information provided by area districts.

Research on the impact of smaller classes on student learning is mixed, though generally, teachers and parents prefer the smaller class sizes.

"Any parent who's had kids that age can appreciate what adding two 5-year-olds to a class could do to that dynamic," said state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, adding that he is concerned about student learning and teacher morale.

Rae Nwosu, president of Education Austin, a labor group that represents about 4,000 Austin school district employees, said morale has suffered in Austin.

"It's not about having the extra students — though space does become an issue when you try to crowd so many students in a classroom that wasn't built to handle that," Nwosu said. "The biggest problem is the extra work ... on top of already having the additional students.

"Morale is low, and I don't understand why our trustees don't see this and why they haven't said something to the superintendent."

For her part, Trevino seems to be taking things in stride .

"I'm hoping (class enrollment) will stay at 21, but if it increases, I am still going to teach," Trevino said. "I'm still going to be positive, and I am still going to do everything I can for these kids, because this is what I love to do."