Who’s lobbying: TAMSA

Today we take a closer look at one of the loudest voices heard in this session’s battle over standardized testing in Texas – a group called Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA).

TAMSA has been a big presence this session, sending representatives to hearings and using social media and online advocacy to fight for HB 5 and it’s companion bills in the Senate.

TAMSA describes itself as “a statewide, grassroots organization comprised of parents and other community members concerned with the overemphasis on high stakes STAAR tests and the misallocation of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to the tests that should be going to the classroom. TAMSA’s vision is for a strong accountability system for our schools and student assessments that are meaningful. We support the use of nationally normed tests, supplemented with state tests where appropriate.”

We’ve been following TAMSA all session. Their Facebook feed has been a great source for the latest updates on what’s happening and a great place to mine for news articles. But who IS TAMSA?

First, a note on funding – the organization appears to be run by volunteers. I wasn’t able to easily unearth data on who is funding their efforts.

Looking  at their leadership, it’s clear that this a group of powerful women. While I don’t doubt the passion of these women, I am concerned by the lack of diversity among their ranks.

President and co-founder Dineen Majcher is an Austin lawyer and parent. She has described TAMSA members as being “of all political stripes” and from all over Texas. She’s not shy with her opinions and has had editorials published and been quoted here and here.

VP Susan Kellner is a parent, former businesswoman, and former School Board member from Spring Branch ISD outside of Houston. She and her husband Larry Kellner, former CEO of Continental Airlines, are longtime advocates and financial supporters of education-related causes in Texas. She also serves on the boards of Children at Risk and the Texas Education Reform Foundation.

Based on LinkedIn profiles and a little internet digging, it appears that Majcher, Kellner, and the other board members of TAMSA are all wealthy, well-connected, and white. Considering the impact these bills have on all Texas kids, I would like to see more people of color and socio-economic diversity represented.

This is not to discount TAMSA’s efforts or sincerity. But we live in a majority-minority state, and many of the organizations opposing HB 5 and it’s companion bills are well-respected organizations that fight for equity for minority students in public schools (LULAC, the Education Trust). These organizations are justifiably concerned that these changes will reinforce the achievement gap and lower standards for kids of color (more on that here).

So while I’m with TAMSA on reducing tests to something meaningful and reasonable, it’s clear that it’s not always that simple. There could be unintended consequences for some kids if standards shift. Nothing is simple, and I think we leave out a discussion of equity to our own peril. 

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