“Tex. Comm. of Ed. Morath Gives Update on Public Schools”
From Donna Garner

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[COMMENTS FROM DONNA GARNER: I watched Comm. Morath present his “state of our Texas schools” update to the State Board of Education on 4.6.22. This reports comes from the notes that I took. Hopefully they are accurate. To watch the presentation for yourselves, please go to: https://www.adminmonitor.com/tx/tea/committee_of_the_full_board/20220406/]

Comm. Morath began his presentation to the SBOE by presenting the Texas Education Agency’s 2021 Annual Report. Board members and the general public can request physical copies of this report.

He said because of COVID, the degree of decline cost students “10 years’ worth of gain in every category.”  Tracking the graduation class of 2013, the data showed that 26% of Texas public school students had achieved post-secondary credentials which is far below the original goal of 60%.

In 2019, Texas public schools were given a 34% increase in funding which was a per-pupil spending increase of 20% more than in 2011. The per-pupil spending in Texas has risen to $12,645. 

The identification of Special Education students has gone up 11.3%.

The Grow Your Own Program has helped many school districts to recruit more teachers from within to resolve their loss of teachers.

Some 86,585 people are either in the process of or have already completed the Reading Academies; and the upcoming, cross-curricular, composition changes in the STAAR test will help to support the science of teaching reading.

The Texas Legislature with its extra funding along with TEA’s efforts at  implementation have helped to achieve a balance between career readiness and college readiness in our public schools by laying out a structured sequence of career clusters to guide teachers and their students.

In the two years of COVID, math achievement growth from the last decade has been wiped out.

A significant finding is that students who are effectively tutored can achieve five months of additional progress in one school year. The TEA has provided schools with recommendations as to how to implement that effective tutoring.

Out of $21 billion of new COVID funding, $17.9 billion of that was given directly to school systems in Texas.

Comm. Morath reported that NAEP testing has been completed in Texas this school year, but results are not likely from the US Dept of Education until January 2023.

The Teacher Vacancy Task Force announced by Gov. Greg Abbott started out with mostly school administrators chosen but with teachers being invited to give testimonies periodically. The Task Force now has over 40 people with 24 additional teacher members added. The Teacher Vacancy Task Force is focusing its efforts on recruiting, preparing, supporting, and retaining teachers.

The Task Force is to meet each month for a year and is to set up a website to which the public can go to see a summation of each meeting.

The Commissioner reported that for the 2021-22 school year, the turnover rate of teachers is going up – the highest turnover rate in 20 years. Alternative certifications are going up as the demand for teachers grows. Unfortunately,  novice teachers leave the profession in larger numbers probably because of lack of on-the-job training. The TEA is working toward helping teacher-preparation programs to be tightly linked to actual on-the-job duties of classroom teachers.

The more years of teaching experience, the more academic growth is seen in students; but novice teachers make up 1/3 of the total number in Texas.  

Commissioner Morath is very concerned that 50% of teachers said they spend at least six hours a week scouring the Internet for lesson materials. He said that teachers should not have to do this but should have excellent curriculum materials provided to them by their districts. 

During the Q&A time, SBOE members asked questions about the Reading Academies. One of the SBOE members wanted to make sure that the instructional materials school districts have chosen are closely linked to the scientific reading research instead of to such whole-language proponents as Lucy Calkins. 

Comm. Morath said that it used to be [before the Texas Legislature passed SB 6 on 6.27.11] that the elected members of the SBOE were in charge of adopting the instructional materials (IM’s).  They produced a list (after many public hearings) of IM’s that were properly aligned with the standards.

Unfortunately, SB 6 legislation provided local districts with a way to purchase the instructional materials without their being aligned with the SBOE-adopted curriculum standards. The Commissioner said that he is in doubt whether the SB 6 legislative change has produced positive academic results.

The Commissioner was asked questions about the Reading Academies. He said that he frequently visits classrooms all over the state and is often told by teachers that the training received in the Reading Academies is excellent. He said that HB 3 required schools to adopt direct systematic instruction of evidence-based phonics and that the TEA is working to make sure the rule-making language impacts the instructional materials adopted by local districts.

A big concern that Comm. Morath has is the issue of knowledge-building among students who come from families that cannot support knowledge-building at home, and the TEA is working to strengthen that knowledge-building background for all students.

Another SBOE member asked for more details about the Teacher Vacancy Task Force. The Commissioner explained that by the deadline of April 1, 2022 there had been over 1,500 people who had applied to be nominated to serve on the Task Force.  Others had sent in ideas for the Task Force to consider. A link on the TEA’s website is available for people to submit their good ideas and/or for them to ask to present a demonstration of their good ideas.

Comm. Morath also discussed an SBOE member’s questions about teachers completing the Reading Academies requirements.  The Commissioner said that the TEA is working with ed-prep college programs to help them to implement much of the practice-part of HB 3’s requirements. This way, graduates would come out of the ed-prep programs with a background in the scientific reading research and also would have completed upon college graduation the implementation of many of those practices.

Comm. Morath stated that ways are being fine-tuned by the TEA perhaps to allow teachers to test out of the Reading Academies. Being discussed are such things as having teachers (1) provide a written form from the local school district, (2) pass a screening device, and (3) submit examples of their artifacts. 

The Commissioner also answered SBOE members’ questions about the complaints from teachers regarding the time spent on the Reading Academies’ requirements. He said that HB 3 had come with a great deal of money sent directly to schools to implement the scientific reading research. Schools were supposed to use that to pay teachers for their extra time spent on either getting their training through the blended method or the comprehensive method. Schools were to give teachers sufficient time set aside during the school calendar to get the training or were to pay teachers a stipend.

The Commissioner also discussed the question asked by an SBOE member about the presence of leveled readers as instructional materials. He said that students do need to practice their specific reading skills that they have been taught but that they also must be exposed to reading materials that contain higher levels of grammar and vocabulary to help accelerate their reading levels. He firmly believes that students will rise to whatever expectations are set by the teacher; and if students are never challenged to read at a more sophisticated level, they will retain reading gaps because of the “dumbed down vocabulary/grammatical text.” 

On the issue of local school district accountability ratings, Commissioner Morath said that last year because of COVID there were no accountability ratings published but that this year in August 2022, the A – C ratings will be published. This means no district will fail [with an F.]  However, in the 2022 – 23 school year, the A – F accountability ratings will be back in place. 

In a brief discussion of the STAAR test, the Commissioner told an SBOE member that data does not prove household income determines student academic achievement. Many schools with largely impoverished students have shown dramatic academic results.

The Commissioner said he believed that one reason Massachusetts used to show dramatic academic results on national tests was because they had a book list for each grade level which provided an equitable experience of content and expectations for all students.