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At Year's End, Lots in Flux For Public Education

From the appointment of a new Texas education commissioner to Congress passing a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, these are the top public education stories of 2015.

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As 2015 comes to a close, many major public education issues are in flux or left hanging in the balance. The Texas Supreme Court has yet to rule in the state's appeal of a long-running school finance case, Gov. Greg Abbott just appointed a new education commissioner and Congress just gave states far more freedom to set K-12 education policy.

Here are the year's stories that got us to where we are — and more:

1. Abbott appoints new education commissioner

To the delight of education reformers and to the chagrin of teacher groups, Abbott on Dec. 14 appointed Dallas Independent School District Trustee Mike Morath (pictured above) as commissioner of education. Morath, who has served on the Dallas school board since 2011, is a vocal school-choice proponent who might be best known for pushing a controversial — and, for now, scrapped — “home rule” initiative that would have allowed the Dallas school district to escape state control and govern itself. He will succeed Michael Williams as head of the Texas Education Agency, which oversees the state's more than 1,200 school districts and charter schools. Williams is stepping down Jan. 1. 

2. Oral arguments in the ongoing school finance lawsuit

On Sept. 1, the Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the state’s appeal of a 2014 lower court ruling that struck down its system of funding public schools as unconstitutional. It was the last, major step before the high court rules in the more than four-year-old case.

3. Congress passes a rewrite of the reviled No Child Left Behind Act of 2001

The “Every Student Succeeds Act” has been widely praised for shrinking the federal government’s role in shaping K-12 policy. Its passage marks the end of an ongoing standoff between Texas and the U.S. Department of Education over the state’s waiver to No Child Left Behind requirements. The disagreement centered on teacher evaluations and Williams’ refusal to make every school district use the same educator assessment system. 

4. The State Board of Education in hot water again over textbooks

In October, a Houston-area mom sparked a social media uproar over a caption in her son’s textbook that inaccurately described African slaves as “workers.” Weeks later, the 15-member elected board rejected a proposal to form an expert committee for the sole purpose of identifying textbook errors.

5. The Legislature further tweaks accountability system

Texas Senate Republicans successfully pushed a controversial policy that will label schools with an A-through-F letter grade based on academic performance. But House Republicans, led by Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen, changed the way that academic performance will be assessed, reducing the weight of standardized test scores. 

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