While at least one of the bills that the Senate Committee on Education took up addressed “calamities,” others focused on steering classrooms toward more substantial and practical rigor by tackling longstanding parts of Texas education law.
“Informed Patriotism” in Teaching
State Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) presented a bill that would require students to engage with America’s founding documents to “increase students’ knowledge of their country’s and state’s deepest and noblest purposes” and “enhance students’ intellectual independence.”
“President Reagan called for an informed patriotism… He warned of an eradication of the American memory that could result in an erosion of the American spirit,” Taylor said.
“Of surveys that have been done, 37 percent of native-born Texans cannot pass the U.S. citizenship test. You know, that’s a 10-question test, and you only have to get six right.”
The bill would require the State Board of Education to adopt an understanding of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, the first Lincoln-Douglas debate, and the writings of the Founding Fathers into the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) agreed that engagement with the country’s founding documents should be a classroom priority but wondered how Taylor’s bill would change current practice.
“So, I’ve got this puzzled look on my face. What have we been doing in our school system now?” West asked. “What are our expectations to make certain there is change?”
Taylor answered that the bill would tether the “informed patriotism” requirements to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test.
“The STAAR test follows TEKS. So if you put this in the TEKS, then the STAAR test… will have to follow,” he said. “Personally, I’d like them to take the citizenship test for graduation.”
The proposal earned praise from both the left and the right, with representatives from the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Children’s Defense Fund-Texas voicing their support. Sens. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) and Angela Paxton (R-Allen) said they would like to see similar requirements in higher education.
The bill shares a resemblance to SB 1776 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), which would require schools to “permit and encourage” the posting of America’s founding documents and offer an elective course “focus[ing] on the principles underlying the United States form of government.”
Trimming Required Teacher Training
West also put forth a bill to shift mandatory teacher training away from certain technology or diversity requirements and toward training to “hone their craft.”
“[Senate Bill (SB)] 1267 was borne out of an effort to streamline educator training requirements. It was a vision of a workgroup of educators, and school leader advocacy groups, policy organizations and others — established by Lt. Governor [Dan] Patrick — that met over the course of nine months over the interim to establish a slimmer, more meaningful set of requirements,” West explained.
“The Senate bill provides a framework to rethink educator professional learning expectations by streamlining training… It distinguishes and differentiates between certification renewal, where educators hone their craft, versus professional development. It streamlines and consolidates duplicative training to reduce confusion and waste precious public school resources.”
Specifically, the bill would cull training requirements for technology and safety and trade them for required training in literacy and math for teachers of certain grade levels at underperforming campuses. Only the “cybersecurity coordinator” of a school district would be required to complete cybersecurity training, and only employees that oversee test administration would be required to get annual training on proctoring standardized tests. The state would not make teachers take the same language proficiency training more than once.
Training requirements unrelated to the teacher’s subject, such as “educating diverse student populations,” currently take up at least a quarter of the training required for teachers. West’s bill would cap this kind of material at “not more than 25 percent,” freeing up the bulk of teachers’ continuing education to focus on their subjects. It would also give districts, not the state, the last word on what training is required.
Student disability activist group Disability Rights Texas opposed the bill, which would remove required training in teaching certain special education students from the Texas Education Code.
“It is important that we have effective and efficient training for our educators,” a spokesman said.
“You have been told, ‘Well, it’s still in the law.’ Yes, in a certain sense, but where it’s left is much weaker than where we have it now.”
Similarly, Josette Saxton, a representative from the Texas Suicide Prevention Council, opposed the bill for “punting” suicide prevention training to districts.
“Given the increases in suicide in the past 10 years, 20 years actually… I think it’s very irresponsible to just say, districts, it’s at their discretion,” Saxton said.
“I would say if the committee wanted to strengthen suicide prevention… instead of striking that provision, saying that districts do not have to provide suicide prevention annually during orientation[…], have it at least once every other year.”
When the subject of suicide was broached, Taylor veered from West’s bill somewhat and asked Saxton whether another proposal to put suicide hotline numbers on student identification cards might spawn suicide ideation in the minds of students. Saxton disagreed and said giving students the hotline number would be “best practice.”
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