After a grueling experience attempting to watch the floor take action on House Bill 5, Jessica and I decided to observe a the Senate Education Committee in hopes of a more focused, meaty discussion. To some degree, we got our wish.
Though procedurally it was at times hard to tell what was going on, a few things were clear. Senator Dan Patrick is passionate on this topic, as is Senator Leticia Van De Putte, and the debate is nothing if not heated.
The hearing began with a fiery introduction from Senator Dan Patrick.
He spoke candidly about his feelings about the bill, vigorously defends rigor of high school standards as laid out in HB 5 and the similar bills in the Senate, SB 1724 and SB 3. He openly bashed the testing companies – not naming Pearson directly, but hinting at his distaste for them and their focus on creating as many exams as possible and scoring them as cheaply as possible.* Senator Patrick also ripped into the buzz around the issue in the national press, at one point saying, “Since when does Texas listen to what the New York Times has to say?”
After his introduction, Senator Van De Putte spoke on her feelings on the need for continued rigor in order to prevent “some children” (in my opinion a clear hint at minority students) from not getting what they need to attend four-year colleges.
Senator Patrick then introduced several changes to the bill under the committee substitute in rapid-fire. While I can’t say I caught or understood them all, its clear that what was happening was that the favored parts of SB3 and SB 1724 were being combined with the favored parts of HB5. Two interesting tidbits – the inclusion of a provision limiting the inclusion of testing company representatives on advisory committees and the limiting of their funding for Board of Education members and a provision that the state should pay for SAT or ACT testing (up to districts to determine which one) for all children.
Senator Van De Putte then advocated for her amendment calling for a single diploma with a requirement for four years of math, science, and English and three years of social studies – but with flexibility, so students who may be on a more vocational track can, for example, take a robotics class or study HVAC engineering, and still meet the requirements to get a full diploma. She indicated that she still supports some type of “opt-over” option for students who want to take what we now call the “minimum plan” – but would ask for a parent meeting akin to an ARD in order to authorize that choice.
Several other amendments were introduced, including one that addressed a technical error and one that emphasized that testing should be executed with the minimum burden on districts in terms of security.
After that testimony began, starting with Bill Hammond from the Texas Association of Business. Hammond stated his opposition to the original bill but indicated his support (tentatively) for the proposed amendments to limit assessment while keeping rigor.
Though we weren’t able to stay to observe all of the testimony or the vote (which wound up sending SB 5 out of Committee without Senator Van De Putte’s support) it’s surprising to note that when you take out the specifics and look at the intent, there is actually a lot of similarity in the final outcome people want – a more reasonable testing schedule with better high school options for kids. The debates are arising over how to get there, and how to ensure that ALL kids are getting a shot at a high school education that’ll prepare them for the world.
We’re still waiting to see how HB 5 makes it through a Senate floor debate. That should be happening any day now, and we’ll be back with a report.
FYI: Check out the Austin American Statesman‘s review of the Committee hearing and vote here.
* Perhaps this is one of the reasons the testing companies are wearing out their welcome?