We're liveblogging this weekend from The Texas Tribune Festival's Public & Higher Education track, which includes panels on the future of school finance, standardized testing and accountability, the emerging Hispanic majority and the upcoming legislative session.
Featured speakers include Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams; former Education Commissioner Robert Scott; Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas System; John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M University System; and Renu Khator, chancellor of the University of Houston System and president of the University of Houston.
Follow us here for updates from the University of Texas at Austin campus.
Earlier in the panel, Scott said that he famously used the word "perversion" when discussing the education system. He was talking about teaching to the test, he said.
Extending a heart and lung removal metaphor he's used in the past to refer to budget cuts, Scott says that now maybe we are "operating on one lung."
In that initial metaphor, Scott says, the heart was the Foundation School Program. The lungs were professional development support.
Asked about putting sanctions on schools, Scott says that such actions are necessary where there are bad actors, but says the state doed need flexibility in accountability to help good districts.
Scott is asked if he believes in Satan, a reference to Gov. Rick Perry's opening panel from last night. He says he's sure Satan is an educational researcher at times.
Scott said that if he could put one thing into law next session, it would be to meet kids where they are when setting standards.
Scott's board room portrait at the Texas Education Agency will be him with a phone, a reference to a debate in the Texas House when a lawmaker referred to the agency as "just one guy and a phone." Scott says TEA does not currently have enough teeth to do its job.
Scott says that financial resources are the primary impediment to TEA being fully able to do its job.
What should be a priority this session? Scott says: "I don't think you can go two biennia without covering enrollment growth." He says, given new high stakes tests, there needs to be more student support.
What about school choice? Scott says it has been on the radar for decades, and they have tried to pass the bill many times. Even if they do pass a bill, Scott says there's not enough capacity out there. He says a choice bill is not a panacea for all students.
Ok, folks, the first panel on this track has concluded. Stick around, because The Future of School Finance featuring David Dunn, Kent Grusendorf, David Hinojosa, and David Thompson is coming up!
Going through introductions on The Future of School Finance panel. Texas Charter School Association Executive Director David Dunn saying that the charter school lawsuit is a "breath of fresh air" in the group of six lawsuits.
Kent Grusdendorf says that the TREE lawsuit focuses on "efficiency" and that it does not take a position on equity and adequacy for school districts. An efficient system, he says, would produce both equity and adequacy for students rather than districts. Ways to make the system more efficient: reforming the state's labor laws that "just don't make sense," removing the "arbitrary" cap on charter school contracts.
David Hinojosa of MALDEF comes out swinging against TREE: "if I sound a little angry today... it's because of the willingness by a group to call itself Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in the Education system yet their lawsuit has nothing to do with equity when it comes to equal opportunities for children."
Hinojosa says that his group doesn't take a position on charter schools, though he adds that "their own experts have shown that they are no more or less successful than public schools."
David Thompson is looking for some common ground. He points out that each of the groups believes that the current system is unconsitutional.
Grusendorf says that he's the only one on stage that isn't representing some part of the educational establishment. "We are representing kids," he says. It is true inequity when parents are trapped in districts without an alternative to get their children to a better school, he says.
Hinojosa: there is a link between dollars and outcomes. If you look at the top school districts and the bottom school districts, $1000 per student makes a big difference in the classroom.
Audience question for Grusendorf: what criteria are you using to decide whether a district is failing? He says that it is one "where a parent is not pleased with the school." He acknowledges that standard is arbitrary, but he says an arbitrary decision would be better than the current system.
Next up in the education track: A Preview of the 83rd Legislative Session featuring Dan Branch, R-Dallas, Dan Huberty, R-Houston, Judith Zaffirini, D- Laredo and Dan Patrick, R-Houston. Stay tuned.
Ok, folks, it's time for A Preview of the 83rd Legislative Session featuring Dan Branch, R-Dallas, Dan Huberty, R-Houston, Judith Zaffirini, D- Laredo and Dan Patrick, R-Houston.
Moderator Jim Henson asks what we should be looking forward to as we approach the next session. Zaffirini says the budget was the biggest discussion last session, and will be so again.
Zaffirini says she expects Gov. Rick Perry to "use his charm" to make lawmakers understand that he does not expect to see a bill eliminating in-state tuition for undocumented students, as he said last night.
Patrick says he doesn't intend to get specific about school choice today because it's an issue he's working on, but says the state needs to do something to help students get out of failing schools.
Huberty notes that the House Education Committee has been basically dismantled in this election cycle.
Huberty also points out that many candidates are running on education, but says campaigning and legislating are different.
Zaffirini says her constituents are complaining about cuts to education, but that reaction will likely vary based on region.
Zaffirini calls for higher teacher pay and using the Rainy Day Fund to make up for education cuts.
Patrick saying that because of Robin Hood, some districts are losing money to other districts that are then able to give raises. He says the system is "a mess." Earlier, Branch noted that some school districts had their own rainy day funds that were able to cover the cuts, even as those districts complained about them.
Would lawmakers support allowing student regents to vote? Branch says yes, but notes that private university boards that allow students to vote are often much larger than Texas public institutions, thus diluting the power of that vote. Zaffirini says it is complicated. The qualifications and selection process of student regents would have to be carefully considered. She says there is some support for it in the legislature, but not enough to pass a bill.
Zaffirini advises that students who want to influence the Legislature should get involved regularly during the interim. Waiting for the session is too late.
Henson recommends doing government internships.
That's all, folks! The next session is Standardized Testing and Accountability: The Great Debate with Bill Hammond, Carolyn Heinrich, Tom Pauken, and Michael Williams at 1:15 p.m.
We're gearing up for the Standardized Testing and Accountability panel with Bill Hammond, Carolyn Heinrich, Tom Pauken, and Michael Williams. It's starting in less than 10 minutes.
First question: When it comes to standards and acountability, do we need changes or should we stay the course? Williams, the new Texas Education Commissioner, says smart people are working on it. Hammond says too many students are not graduating from K-12 ready to go to college.
Pauken, the former chair of the Texas Workforce Commission, says that not every student needs a four-year degree, but the system pushes them into it. He particularly blames the practice of teaching to the test. Hammond jumps into to defend testing.
Hammond and Pauken get into a bit of a heated exchange. Pauken says that the current system has been tried over many years and isn't working. Hammond strongly disagrees, indicates the system is improving.
Heinrich says that people aren't arguing that testing isn't needed, but that "perversions" of system need to be avoided and tests need to be used more effectively and more diagnostically.
Heinrich says there will continue to be teaching to the test in terms of teaching students how to answer test questions. She says students' personal situations need to be taken into consideration when considering test results.
Williams says he expects the Texas Education Agency to present him with a new way to handle accountability standards. "We're really talking about a system that some may have trouble with today, but it may not be the system going forward," he says.
Pauken says, "It all becomes an abstract, intellectual numbers game." He says the system needs to change.
Williams says we cannot, with a majority minority and underprivileged student population, go back to the days of not caring how students are performing.
That's all from me. I have to go prepare for the Chancellor Confidential panel coming up shortly with John Sharp, Francisco Cigarroa, Renu Khator, Kent Hance, Brian McCall, and Lee Jackson. Stay tuned!
Here we are with Reporter Reeve Hamilton's Chancellor Confidential panel. Renu Khator of the University of Houston touting her systems's designation as a Hispanic serving university and location within the metropolis of Houston. "Student success is not only our number one priority, it is our no-excuse priority," she says, adding that they aim to graduate students with the lowest amount of debt.
Hamilton points out that all of the six chancellors on stage — save for Khator and Cigarroa —came to their positions through a political career. Sharp says that understanding the legislative process gives a chancellor insight into what's happening on a day to day basis during the session, and says Texas is not unique among states in having chancellors with political backgrounds.
"Now I go to my job every day trying to stamp out ignorance, but in my previous job you might say I was party to it," says McCall.
When asked whether when going to the Legislature to ask for funding whether they go as a unified group or "every chancellor for himself," Jackson of North Texas said they've often been accused of the "crabs in the bucket approach" — i.e. the latter.
Cigarroa talking about how a medical school enhances the opportunities at a flagship campus, saying that it provides a valuable connection between the biosciences with the physical sciences and other academic fields.
Sharp says university systems now have to be more responsive to the Legislature because they have less access to outside funding — " there are no Frank Erwins any more" — and show that "they are the most efficient place possible."
Hamilton asks about rising salaries at the UT system while it is being asked to be more efficient. Cigarroa defends the importance of a system office, saying certain things like leveraging the purchasing power for contracts can't be done on a campus by campus basis.
Khator says that 42 percent of students at the U of H system graduate paying $10,000 or less, even though they don't have a published $10,000 degree.
"They don't tell you everything but they measure something," Khator on the importance of university rankings like the controversial one from U.S. News & World Report. She says that they can also be useful: "It helps me set a direction and keep everybody heading in that direction."
"I think it's a great idea, but there just needs to be flexibility" for students who take longer to graduate becuase they are working multiple jobs, says Cigarroa on Perry's call for four-year tuition rate freeze.
A question about whether he supports race based admissions for Cigarroa in light of the Fisher v. Texas case. He says that the way UT Austin is admitting students is very tailored, and a part of a holistic process. Without it, he says, the university wouldn't have the same "rich diversity" as it does now.
That's all for the Chancellors — stick around for our next (and last) panel in the education track, Educating the Emerging Hispanic Majority with Sarita Brown, Juliet Garcia, Daniel King, and Shirley Reed.
Manny Fernandez, the Houston bureau chief for the New York Times, is moderating this panel. Brown is the head of Exelencia in Education, a nonprofit working to improve Latino success in higher ed. García is the president of UT-Brownsville. King is the superintendent of Pharr-San-Juan-Alamo ISD, and Reed is the president of South Texas College.
Fernandez asks, how has the Hispanic majority in our schools changed business as usual?
Reed: We have always been committed to serving the population in our region, of which 96 percent is Hispanic. We have to do what we've always done "faster and with less resources."
King - I'm in my 36th year, and that's the demographics we have always dealt with. "We've really learned as the state has made changes, as the expectations have raised, we've learned not to make excuses but to roll up our sleeves and work hard." What we are doing can show the rest of the state what to do as their Hispanic populations rise.
García - It takes more effort to provide an environment where Latino students can succeed. "We are known for chess in Brownsville. It's often the antithesis of what you might imagine five year olds who are at risk should be doing." What is it about teaching things like chess to a young bilingual mind that helps them down the line?
Brown - This phenomenon is going to be growing around the country. "At Excelencia we look at national data and college going patterns among different populations." For Latino students, most of them are the first to achieve that level in their families. They don't have the information when they start, so it's important to help Latino students get on the right path.
Garcia says the involvement of parents is critical to increasing Latino enrollment and success in higher education. Reed says costs used to be the most prohibitve factor, but more and more people are finding ways to afford college.
King: The sentiment of putting work first has declined over the last 10-15 years. Now there are more and growing schools that target Latino students, including South Texas College and UT Brownsville. Fewer young people are doing migrant farm work because there is less of it available, so they may be taking jobs that are less likely to prevent them from attending schools. Plus, "Hispanic parents will sacrifice so their children will have a better education."
Brown: I am a UT-Austin graduate, and I thought I was going to grad school. I talked to the dean and he talked to me about building a minority recruitment program. He asked "Why do you think UT-Austin has such difficulty recruiting Mexican American and Black students?" Her answer: "Selective stupidity." Brown ended up taking leadership of building the recruitment program and tapping into the burning desire of "Mexican American and black students to burn bright and be the best."
There hasn't been enough progress, Brown says. "I was impatient when I was 22 years old." "When you see human capital and don't invest in it, how can you expect other outcomes? When do we say that this moment, not another census, is when we hold public accountability discussion?"
"When a mother comes to college, it cracks open that door. All it takes is one person in the family...it makes all the difference in the world. If that person goes on to graduate school or law school, it flings that door wide open. People have seen the success over the year, the success of going to South Texas College, felt the benefit of going to UT. The benefit has been proven - if you go to college, you do your family well. It's not only about doing well for yourself," says García.
When King started in his ISD, 500 students dropped out each year. Now it's under 100 - 1/3 of the state average. "We let students know we care and go out to find the young people who left the system." Every September volunteers go look for students who have dropped out to find out why and encourage them to return to school. "The only acceptable number of dropouts is 0, and we're getting closer to that every year."
"When you say challenging in the Valley, it means getting really creative because nobody has any extra money," says García.
King: Gaining college credit while in high school can provide a huge leg up. "We don't have a community college in our community, so we're opening up building space and inviting community college to move in not only to our students but to the community because each one that gets in affects more."
Garcia says the growth of students in the community colleges and Universities in South Texas is extraordinary. "We have pent up demand of decades of not having access" so there is demand from adults who didn't have access to higher ed before, plus a young Latino population with big ambition. "You could close every bridge to Mexico today and stop all of the in migration that our state is getting, and the majority population in our state is already such that we are going to have a majority minority '15 minutes ago.'"
Garcia continues, "If we don't educate that next wave of students, they will not be invested in our democracy...they will not defend it, they will not sustain it."
Brown asks, "How do we create an education system that really looks at students" in terms of flow of talent? "When you're in Washington, there is oftentimes a "we're going to have a policy discussion, and then we're going to have a demography discussion." They should look for leaders in the Latino community to find solutions to big problems. They have already demonstrated capacity for success.
Reed: "If the state of Texas doesn't find a way to educate its largest demographic, there is going to be a rather uncertain future for the state. How can the predominant population be the least educated? How can they contribute to the economy? Who can be our new leaders if we don't passionately commit to doing this work? There simply are no excuses."
Students holding on campus jobs in laboratories and TAs greatly increases their chance of success. "Their GPAs were above 3.64," says García, and they were engaged in both academics and campus life.
She notes - UT Austin has 22 libraries. UT Brownsville has 2. "If you want us to run the race like everyone else, give us the same fair attention and we'll have a chance."
Now it's time for questions. The ACC board chair asks how to increase impact of community college as a link for success.
Brown says her group has been tracking achievement of degrees etc, including associates. "Community colleges is where the majority of Latino students begin their pursuit of higher education." But their ultimate goal is BAs. They look at relationships between community colleges and the four-year schools they go to next.
Reed says partnerships with four year schools is critical for community colleges to serve as constructive pathway for Latino student success.
UT Brownsville emphasizes service learning to help students become engaged students. "Have we made significant impact of the kind I'd like to brag about? No," says García. They have a hard time activating UTB students in an educated and informed manner.
A Latino grad student takes the microphone and says a lot of Latino students don't feel represented because they don't have professors who look like them. "I think I was born in a onezie with different university logos on it" but I'm teaching a population that doesn't have the family history of going to college. She asks how to deal with this struggle.
Reed: "We have put in place a number of mentor programs. You have a tremendous opportunity to develop a program and a model to reestablish a mentor relationship that students need."
King: "That's one of the reasons we have the transition counseling program. Not a mentoring program but to provide some support through their first year in college. Never undersell what you can do and take advantage" of that.
Brown - Interpersonal is best, but we're also developing online mentoring programs. "On the issue of faculty, it is a heartbreak for me personal to see that Latino doctoral numbers are the same as when I started in 1980." Latino students don't see Latinos in the role of "thought leaders." "You only see Latinos when you go to a hotel and they clean your rooms." That's where the liability is. "Let's work on that one."
Brown says little things like faculty learning to pronounce students' Spanish last names is key for engagement, building relationships.
Sorrell says he will never be a traditional academic. He says the model they are using at Paul Quinn College isn't for everyone, but it is for a lot of people. First tenet of their philosophy: urban colleges should do more to impact their communities.
The issue of our time is that inner city communities are plagued by poverty and otherissues that universities can solve, he says. He said it's important to get men and women "into the arena," impacting the physical space as well as the intellectual space.
Paul Quinn College cut its football program, shed of its underperforming student body, and replaced 90 percent of its staff. They also turned their football team into a community farm, which Sorrell says will go down as the defining moment on the school's rebirth. It showed that they were going to do things differently.
Sorrell says the assumption that every student goes to college to improve their lives is not true. "Some people are in college because it's the best hustle they could come up with," he said. That's why they had to get rid of disinterested students, though he admits that he didn't expect it to be so many.
Sorrell says Paul Quinn's farm was not about getting back to an agrarian model. It was the first step in building an urban food distribution network. Next, they will build a grocery store.
"You fight the fights that people need," Sorrell says. He would sound silly if he was talking about robotics when his students don't have access to healthy food.