Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A Texas law seeks to get quality resources into classrooms. Advocates are split on if it will work.

The wall of a classroom is covered in educational posters, like calendars and the alphabet.
Gabriel C. Pérez

After four special legislative sessions, no one could blame you for being more familiar with the education bills lawmakers did not pass than the ones they did. Gov. Greg Abbott’s ongoing push to pass school voucher legislation failed again this month, taking increased funding for public schools and teacher raises down with it.

But a significant education bill the Texas Legislature OK'd during the regular session will be back in the spotlight this week. House Bill 1605, which has a $731 million price tag, requires the State Board of Education to develop a process for vetting and funding the resources teachers can use in the classroom — from lesson plans to hands-on activities.

These resources, known as high-quality instructional materials, provide teachers with guidance and are aligned with state standards.

The idea behind the law is that if the state is able to identify high-quality instructional materials, it will help teachers and ensure students have resources that meet Texas’ grade-level standards. The law also requires the Texas Education Agency to develop an elementary school textbook.

While school districts can decide whether to use the Texas-approved materials, those that do will receive state funding to buy them. And some advocacy groups are concerned the SBOE is not the best entity to determine which materials are, in fact, high quality.

The SBOE is holding a special meeting Wednesday to figure out the process for evaluating and approving these materials. So, let’s break down this new-ish state law.

Will high-quality instructional materials lead to better student outcomes?

That’s the goal, according to Mary Lynn Pruneda. She is a senior policy adviser with Texas 2036, a nonpartisan think tank that advocated for HB 1605. She said high-quality instructional materials are aligned to state curriculum standards and developed using research on the best way to teach a subject, such as fourth-grade math.

“They’re really rigorous. They set high expectations for all students,” she said.

Pruneda said research has found that many of the materials being used in Texas classrooms are not on grade-level. So, for example, a second-grader could be doing an activity meant for a kindergartner.

This is a graph that shows the results of a survey Texas 2036 conducted of 1,000 people in early February. The group asked the following: "A new study shows that only 19% of Texas schools' reading lessons prepare students to read at grade
level, but Texas does not require schools to buy high-quality instructional materials paid for with state funds. Knowing this, would you be in favor of the state requiring schools to use instructional materials that have been reviewed by the state
and shown to be higher quality?" 73 percent of respondents said "yes," 9 percent were "unsure" and 18 percent said "no."
Texas 2036
Texas 2036
Texas 2036 surveyed 1,000 people in early February and found most supported requiring schools to use state-reviewed materials that are "shown to be higher quality."

“Now that’s not the teacher’s fault, that’s not the administrator’s fault, that’s certainly not the textbook company’s fault,” she said. “It’s just a misalignment issue that House Bill 1605 has set out to solve.”

Amber Shields is a former instructional coach and principal who now works for Early Matters Dallas. She said while high-quality instructional materials are not a “silver bullet” when it comes to ensuring students are proficient in reading and math, for example, they’re a big help.

“We know that it can be truly transformative as we face these gaps in our reading scores and in our math scores,” she said.

Shields noticed that using high-quality instructional materials also increased the depth of student learning. She also pointed out that if teachers are working from a common set of materials, it will make it easier to support students who may be moving from school to school during the year because there will be more consistency in each classroom.

Shields added that making vetted resources available to educators frees up more time for things like professional development and instructional coaching.

“All of those things work together to then support school systems in closing those gaps that students are experiencing in reading and math,” she said.

But Monty Exter, the director of governmental relations for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said the idea of what’s on grade-level is both arbitrary and evolving.

“In addition to being an arbitrarily created standard, it’s also one that shifts pretty significantly over time,” he said.

“If ... it was a very neutral process that was being run by experts then, yes, I would expect for it to absolutely yield really good results, but that’s not what we have here.”
Monty Exter, director of governmental relations for the Association of Texas Professional Educators

Exter said there is no question that people want high-quality materials in schools and that not all materials are adequate, but it remains to be seen if this law will fix that problem. He says he's concerned the vetting process will be influenced by both politics and money.

“If that wasn’t what you were dealing with and it was a very neutral process that was being run by experts then, yes, I would expect for it to absolutely yield really good results," he said, "but that’s not what we have here.”

Pruneda said she's hopeful the process will not be politicized. She said as long as the focus remains on improving students’ experiences and outcomes “then we’re going to be OK.” She also noted that the Texas Education Agency and SBOE will be working with teachers to help review materials. The TEA said it will assemble teams of educators and curriculum experts to make recommendations to the SBOE.

Still, Carisa Lopez does not have as much faith that the vetting process will not be political. She is the senior political director for Texas Freedom Network, a progressive group that opposed HB 1605.

“The State Board of Education has a long history of trying to impose their political beliefs on students with censorship and injecting their own political ideologies into the curriculum standards,” she said. “So, when they get increased authority, we definitely have some concerns.”

Just last month, the Republican-controlled SBOE approved new science textbooks that groups like Texas Freedom Network said fell short in adequately addressing climate change and the impact of fossil fuels.

How will state-approved materials affect teachers?

Advocates for HB 1605 hope SBOE-approved materials will save teachers time they would have spent trying to find materials themselves. A report from the Teacher Vacancy Task Force — which Gov. Abbott ordered the TEA to create — noted that teachers normally spend seven to 12 hours a week looking for materials while, on average, having only three hours and 45 minutes to plan.

The task force also said making sure novice teachers have access to high-quality instructional materials is important. Shields said if those materials are uniform, it allows campus administrators and instructional coaches to better support newer teachers.

“Whereas if a teacher is using their own resources and kind of coming up with things as they go, it does limit the ability for campus support staff to help them with implementation,” she said.

Shields said the materials should also give teachers enough flexibility to put their own spin on lessons.

"If a teacher is using their own resources and kind of coming up with things as they go, it does limit the ability for campus support staff to help them with implementation."
Amber Shields, former instructional coach and principal who now works for the Commit Partnership in Dallas

But some educators have raised concerns about whether materials approved at the state level will meet the unique needs of all of Texas' school districts. During the regular legislative session in April, Del Valle ISD Superintendent Annette Tielle raised concerns about House Bill 1605 and its companion bill in the Texas Senate. She said her district’s curriculum and instruction department tailored materials to meet students’ needs, as well as state standards.

“While this bill is well intentioned, its unintended consequences will ultimately hurt schools," she said. "What happens to schools tailoring their own plans when state tests are built around the canned curriculum? Without following the provided instruction, schools would easily be set up for failure and dropping test scores."

Exter, for his part, said he thinks newer teachers who don’t have a lot of support developing curriculum will appreciate having access to pre-approved materials.

“Those teachers may certainly find that something that is as comprehensive as what I’ve seen from the TEA curriculum that I have reviewed may find some comfort in the comprehensive nature of that curriculum,” he said.

But, Exter said more seasoned educators will likely be more critical of the state-vetted resources.

“Some of those teachers may also have very legitimate complaints about the lack of flexibility that they will have to tailor to the needs of their classrooms,” he said. “That then, though, is going to get into individual district dynamics.”

Is there a penalty for school districts that don’t use state-approved materials?

School districts do not have to use the materials the Texas State Board of Education approves. But the law does create a new allotment — or pot of money — for those that do. Districts are entitled to receive $40 per student to buy state-approved materials.

Exter said that creates an incentive for cash-strapped districts to participate even if it might not be best for their students.

“So while [HB 1605] was certainly billed as being optional and maybe this money was being viewed as only a carrot, the reality is anytime you have large pots of money like this in Texas, it is both a carrot and a stick,” he said.

Kate Greer, the managing director of policy for the Commit Partnership, said deciding whether to use the state-approved material is ultimately a district-level decision.

“All we can do is point to data and point to research that says that there is a gap in Texas classrooms right now between what curriculum is being provided and what the state expects through our TEKS, which is the Texas Education Knowledge and Skills,” she said.

She said high-quality instructional materials are not the only way to ensure students are meeting state standards for being on grade level.

“But it is a critical lever to solve a deep inequity that is occurring,” she said.

For Exter though, the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on this initiative would have been better used elsewhere.

“Honestly, one of the things we felt was that this bill just isn’t the No. 1 priority,” he said.

He would have liked to see the state spend this money on increasing pay for and supporting teachers.

The State Board of Education meeting is at 9 a.m. Wednesday and will be livestreamed.

Becky Fogel is the education reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @beckyfogel.
Related Content