The Texas two-step
After a sandstorm of education bills swept through the last few weeks of the Lone Star State's eighty-third legislative session, the dust cleared to reveal the passage of five major education bills:
- HB 5 rolls back the number of required end-of-course exams from fifteen to five and creates two high school diploma tracks
- SB 2 expands the state’s charter school system, increasing the state cap on charter school contracts from 215 to 305 over the next six years
- HB 866 will allow students in grades 3–8 who score well in either the third or fifth grade to be excused from certain standardized tests (this one requires federal approval)
- HB 2836 limits the number of “benchmark” exams districts can administer in grades 3–8 and orders that the state’s curricular standards be studied by a mandated commission
- HB 1926 requires that all districts, beginning in middle school, offer students the option of taking online courses (setting the limit at three per student, per year) and opens the virtual-education market to nonprofits and private companies, to be authorized by the Texas Education Agency
The big battle that was won: As Greg Richmond of NACSA reports, SB 2 is quality legislation that promotes both growth and accountability; in addition to raising the cap on charter contracts, it strengthens the application process and creates a default closure mechanism for failed schools. The big battle that was lost: HB 5 is a major setback. As Checker Finn warned when the bill cleared the House in April, by scrapping ten of its fifteen end-of-course exams and weakening the 4x4 default curriculum, Texas “essentially forfeits uniform academic expectations and returns to the days when individual districts, schools, and teachers decided which students get diploma credit for which classes”—creating a disincentive for districts, especially those serving poor and minority students, to offer rigorous courses.
Thanks to Matt Prewett of the Texas Parents Union for his insight into the state-of-play of the education bills.