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House and Senate Hearings on HB5 Implementation Are Set

Reprinted with permission from the Quorum Report.

03.13.2014 — Some in the business community plan to push for changes to sweeping education reforms now that hearings have been slated in both the Texas House and Senate on the implementation of HB5. The law that dramatically reduced the number of high-stakes tests in public education and – as supporters put it – offered more flexibility to students was strongly opposed by groups like the Texas Association of Business and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.

The House Public Education Committee will take testimony on how things are going on March 26 and the Senate's Education Committee will do the same on April 14.

Association of Business President Bill Hammond told Quorum Report on Wednesday that he thinks it's way too soon after the changes were made to hold out any hope that lawmakers will roll back much, if any, of it. But he plans to push them on the issue anyway. "Our goal is to get as many kids as possible to be career or college ready which is basically the same," Hammond said.

Hammond said that because 60 percent of available jobs require postsecondary education, it makes no sense to have so many students opting for the new "foundation graduation plan" created under last year's reform. "There's an enormous skills gap," he said. As an example, Hammond pointed to the fact that there are thousands of information technology jobs available in Austin.

You may remember that there was an attempt to add more tests under HB5 during the last regular session but that didn't happen and lawmakers settled on 5. "We would certainly be for that," Hammond said, referring to more tests instead of fewer. He said the advanced courses of Algebra II and English III are critical to determining whether students will be ready for the jobs that will be available in the future.

Hammond said there was enormous political pressure that, in his estimation, began with superintendents around Texas. "When they (those administrators) realized how bad their students were doing, it's embarrassing," he said. "They scared mom into thinking Johnny wasn't going to get into UT because of these tests." Superintendents "didn't want to be responsible for educating kids who are born into poverty," Hammond said. "We need to do much better."

Despite his desire for modifications to HB5, Hammond didn't sound optimistic. "Historically, when they make a big change, in their minds they've fixed the problem and they're not going to mess with it for several sessions to come," he said.

As with many issues, the business community is hardly monolithic when it comes to HB5. "Losing one half of students on the way to graduation should alert us that whatever we are doing is not working," said Houston construction executive Katrina Kersch. She said "deciding that one course determines success is simply wrong." Kersch, who is the workforce development director of a commercial contractor, said she would "challenge the notion of one path to success."

State Board of Education Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, said Hammond is trying to scare his membership with information that isn't true. "All skills don't have a pathway through college," Ratliff said. "He's going to try to keep litigating these issues that he lost time and time again," he said.

Ratliff pointed to numbers provided by House Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, that suggest more high school students would not graduate on time if the state had not cut the number of standardized tests. Ratliff asked "where's the money going to come from when our K – 12 enrollment gets a nice bump because those kids aren't done with school yet?"

There are 180 school districts in his Board of Ed district and Ratliff has yet to year from any educator who wants to back away from accountability, he said. "That was true both before and after House Bill 5."

By Scott Braddock

©March 12, 2014, Harvey Kronberg, www.quorumreport.com, All rights are reserved.