School board members in Texas are required to attend training sessions, often called continuing education or development. The most recent training session offered by the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), June 24-25, set aside little to no time for discussing how to catch up on learning loss after the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the program, the TASB did host a two-part session called “Governance for Improved Student Learning,” meant to “help boards understand the current state of student learning, cast a compelling vision with meaningful goals, and oversee the improvement efforts in their districts.” However, the legislature has required this training since 2017.
Beyond that requirement, the TASB devoted none of its two dozen sessions to post-pandemic learning acceleration.
One session, entitled “Exacerbated Inequities,” noted the widening of achievement gaps between racial groups that took place over the course of the pandemic. It was the only session to explicitly address student achievement out of the three sessions that dealt with racial issues.
The second racially-centered session “explore[d] why some things are seen as racist speak or behavior.” The third aimed to educate school board members on “microaggressions” and “racial and gender fairness.”
The event cost $435 to attend in person and $335 to attend virtually.
In response to mounting suspicion of racially-motivated instruction in Texas — inspiring and driven by state Rep. Steve Toth’s (R-Spring) HB 3979 — the TASB released an explanatory statement to assuage concerns about administrative policies like “educational equity” influencing classroom learning.
“[I]n recent years, the terms equity work or diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have become commonplace in K-12 education as many districts revisit and renew their local efforts to close achievement gaps as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA),” the statement reads, noting the commonality of race-conscious policies in education.
Since these policies and the seminars, books, and resources that inform them tend to adopt or distill certain academic ideas, such as systemic rather than interpersonal definitions of racism and critiques of impartial standards, they have incited debate about how deeply critical race theory affects American education.
Strictly speaking, critical theory is a Marxist-inspired academic discourse that assumes ideas are artificial. Critical race theory is one branch of this academic movement and focuses on the construction of race. The movement’s critique of seemingly fair standards — centrally, equal treatment — has informed political applications of some race-related policies. For example, the American Rescue Plan Act only extended certain benefits to nonwhite farmers and business owners in an effort to achieve an equality of outcome which theorists might say equal treatment would never reach. “Anti-racism” and less academic distillations of critical race ideas have achieved noteworthy popularity, even in pedagogical circles.
The event also devoted considerable time to lobbying lessons for school boards. A number of sessions taught board members how to advocate at the legislature, in some cases specifically for more funding and alternatives to state standardized testing. Another concern was the enrollment drop that hit public schools, a nationwide phenomenon that would have spelled dire straits for the finances of local schools in Texas if not for the state’s hold harmless policy.
Standardized test results show significant learning loss after this school year. In all subjects but English, STAAR scores dropped steeply. The number of students scoring below grade level increased most in mathematics.
According to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, learning loss was worst among students attending school virtually.
“When students come into Texas public schools, they are well-served by Texas educators—a fact that these scores confirm. But it is also painfully clear that the pandemic had a very negative impact on learning,” Morath stated.
“I shudder to consider the long-term impact on children in states that restricted in-person instruction.”
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