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Textbook Standards, Charter Schools, Graduation Requirements Keep Education Board Busy

Kate McGee, KUT News

This week was a busy one for Texas education. Here's what we picked up.

Months after lawmakers approved new high school graduation requirements, questions about what courses will count toward a student’s degree are still in the air – where they will remain until at least November. Board vice chairman Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, said deciding what courses will count toward graduation requires consideration of various factors, including life after high school. “The balancing act is flexibility,” Ratliff said. “Making sure that every kid has the same adequate foundation to not just get a good report card or good standardized test score, but to actually get a good job or good education after high school."

  • Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, took the stage at the TEA meeting on Wednesday.

Sen. Patrick, chair of the state Senate Education Committee, spoke and answered questions regarding House Bill 5, the education bill passed last session that adjusted graduation requirements. Patrick was met with criticism from board member Patricia Hardy, who was concerned with the removal of social studies classes from high school graduation requirements. “I think it’s embarrassing when you think about the lack of global knowledge our students have,” Hardy said. “You will be hearing from us in the next session.”

  • On Tuesday, the Texas Education Agency heard testimony on high school biology textbook standards. 

The testimony drew protesters from around the state. More than 50 people registered to testify on 15 high school biology textbooks that have been submitted for board approval. Many of those who testified expressed their concern that the board will adopt textbooks that teach theories based on religious beliefs. “Our children's science education should not be demeaned by inclusion of pseudo-science driven by political and religious agendas. Texas textbooks need to reflect scientific reality and not wishful thinking of groups who find the evidence not to their liking," UT Biology Professor Randy Linder testified. Whatever versions are approved by the State Board of Education could be in classrooms for the next decade.

  • The GED test in Texas will receive a makeover in January.

The test will be moved entirely online, and it will no longer just be multiple choice. One impact this has is that students will need to be more computer literate. David Borden with the Adult Education Program at Austin Community College, says that the new online format will require more from students than simply clicking on multiple choice answers. Critics point out that this puts more pressure on students to be technologically proficient before entering college. Borden says that forcing students to adapt to these standards will, ultimately, benefit them. “They may not like it now they’re required to do more but down the road they’ll be happy they’ve got those computer skills," he says. "A student who is interested in going to college, they find they have a skills gap for college and spend a lot of time in remediation. So if test is at higher level it will be able to serve that student longer in adult education and have them be more college ready before they exit."

  • At today's meeting: charter school proposals either get approved - or get the axe. 

Legislation passed this year gave the State Board of Education the authority to veto charters that the Commissioner of Education recommends. The commissioner has the potential to award up to 305 charters through 2019. If the State Board of Education takes no action, the commissioner’s list of proposed charters will take effect. Charter schools are a public school option in which some three percent of Texas students participate.

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