SBOE Workshops New Sweeping Education Law

Texas State Board of Education | Image by Emree Weaver/The Texas Tribune

AUSTIN — Members of the Texas State Board of Education on Thursday discussed a new education law that represents a “massive expansion of SBOE authority,” according to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

The State Board of Education used the evening of its regular meeting on June 22 for a workshop regarding House Bill 1605, which was passed during the 88th legislative session.

Broadly, HB 1605 strengthens the SBOE when selecting textbooks recommended for schools.

“This bill gives y’all, like, incredible authority,” Morath said during the evening’s discussions.

Rep. Brad Buckley (R-Killeen), the author of HB 1605, also addressed the board, explaining some of the legislative intent.

“It’s always an honor to talk about good legislation that I think will benefit kids,” he said. “When we have the opportunity to make good reform and impact student achievement, I think that is the way to go.”

Buckley said visits to Texas classrooms in Temple ISD provided much of the inspiration for the bill. The school district was one of the systems to pilot the High-Quality Instructional Materials (HQIM) program.

“What I saw, first of all, were students … that were incredibly engaged,” Buckley said. “You saw kids on task. … You saw efforts through the instructional materials that raised the bar on rigor that I believe increased student engagement.”

“You could see students working together,” he added. “This was student-to-student, and I thought that was really, really impressive. … That’s what really started my interest in this area.”

Buckley also asserted that the new law would improve student outcomes by incentivizing schools to adopt SBOE-approved textbooks that more closely follow the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards.

“As we’ve raised the bar, student achievement has raised along with it,” Buckley said. “I believe that what we can do through 1605 is a ‘back to basics’, if you will, and return authority back to the SBOE to make sure that the materials are in line with the standards that we approved.”

Referring to the required materials review by the SBOE and other elements of the law, Buckley suggested, “These are things that a lot of us that are out there being citizens thought we were already doing.”

HB 1605, he said, endeavors to “make sure that reading materials align with Texas values. … I think it is time to make sure that the materials that are in our schools match our values and are accessible to teachers.”

“You will have the approval of materials back in the hands of elected officials,” Buckley added, which “makes sure [students’] materials are vetted, aligned, and high-quality.”

“There’s never been a more important time to double down on student achievement with a high bar,” the Texas representative concluded. “You will get from students what you expect from them.”

“For years, I have [had] a lot of really good materials,” Board Member Patricia Hardy (R-Fort Worth) said in response to Buckley’s presentation. “And I really saw it go off the rails when the legislature said they didn’t have to include 100% of the TEKS.”

Chairman Kevin Ellis (R-Lufkin) noted that HB 1605 enabled the SBOE to decide what percentage of TEKS information must be included in the instructional materials, reversing an earlier law requiring only 50% TEKS alignment.

Morath then laid out the bill for the members, describing it as a “massive expansion of SBOE authority in the area that is critical for learning.”

“The big headline here is this. … There is $324,175,680 [in] new funding” primarily controlled by the SBOE to be used on materials, Morath said.

The funding would be earmarked “for districts that purchase SBOE-approved materials,” according to the law’s fiscal note.

“There are three big things that are now on your plate,” Morath said, noting “there is a new instructional materials review and adoption process” that must be completed before schools can use the new funding.

“The second key category of work,” he explained, “is the TEKS review and revisions process.”

“All publishers will have to have a parent portal … that allows moms and dads to see the content. There is a new grant-funded curriculum review … but parents also have the ability to request that process as well.”

“Textbooks are supposed to be aligned to the standards, in line with the TEKS,” Morath said before explaining that funding for textbooks was separated from SBOE approval through Senate Bill 6 in 2011.

Hardy referred to the same bill in earlier discussions with Buckley.

“Since SB 6, school system management of instructional materials has shifted away from textbooks,” Morath said.

“It is far less common to visit a classroom where a teacher is following a specific product throughout the year. It is far less common to see a textbook used in a meaningful way. It can work, but it’s a whole lot of work to do all that lesson design.”

“Since the SB 6 shift away from textbooks, teachers have not been given enough time to build rigorous instructional materials,” the commissioner noted. “Teachers reported spending seven hours per week or 250 hours per year developing or selecting instructional materials.”

The shift away from school books “has had an impact on teachers, for sure,” Morath added, “and we have a lot of evidence to believe it has had an impact on students as well.”

Morath noted that in the lead-up to 2011, Texas saw an eight-point average increase in National Assessment of Educational Process (NAEP) scores. Scores have dropped by eight points since.

“For me, the inescapable conclusion is, ‘textbooks — good,’” Morath said.

Shifting to the new law, he explained that HB 1605 places the authority for textbook and material review in the hands of the board, essentially implementing a renaissance of the pre-2011 system but with even greater power entrusted to the SBOE.

Running through a list of bullet points, Morath noted that the new law “established an expanded process for the SBOE to review and approve high-quality textbooks and instructional materials supported by TEA.”

Furthermore, the “SBOE must add book and word lists to the ELAR [English Language Arts and Reading] TEKS,” which Morath noted would be a monumental task that could take up to 10 years.

“Teachers cannot be required to use biweekly planning time to create initial instructional materials unless there is a supplemental duty agreement with the teacher,” he explained. “This is a protection for teachers.”

“Publishers must offer parent portals for instructional materials transparency,” Morath added. The SBOE will have wide latitude to determine what that portal will look like.

According to Morath, the new total allotment for the 2024/2025 biennium for instructional materials would be $1.562 billion, or $275.41 per student, if districts select materials from the SBOE-approved list.

For those funds to be available for districts, the SBOE must complete the review process to approve materials. Before that, the board must adopt various rubrics, standards, and specifications by which to judge such items.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s important because this is what kids will see in classes,” Morath said.

Morath also explained that the SBOE must create “a list of required vocabulary, and at least one literary work to be taught in each grade level,” as required by the law.

“This is really overwhelming and really upsetting to me,” Board Member Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-San Antonio) said of creating the word list.

“In advance of this work, I am asking my colleagues around this table to be extremely thoughtful,” she added, expressing concern for emergent bilingual and special education students.

Board Member Rebecca Bell-Metereau (D-San Marcos) critiqued the “list of 1,000 things” that HB 1605 requires the SBOE to complete.

“This assignment we have, it seems to me to be mindless busywork,” she said. “To have us doing this, reinventing the wheel … we are busy doing what other people who get paid have already done. We should be putting our minds to the highest and best use and thinking about ideas.”

“We will not have a single independent mind on the SBOE. We will be numbed by this barrage of tasks,” she said. “We have better minds than that.”

“I’m feeling very overwhelmed,” she reiterated later.

The third major actionable item for the SBOE laid out by HB 1605 is the creation of parental transparency requirements.

The new law requires that textbook publishers offer a portal for parents to review the materials their children are being taught and tasks the SBOE with designing and adopting “rules governing parental requests for a local instructional material review.”

Morath suggested a deadline of 2029 was reasonable based on the number of duties the board has to complete.

“The theme of today is that there’s a lot of work coming,” he said.

Ellis said HB 1605 allows the SBOE to use both hands, whereas previously, the board had one tied behind its proverbial back.

Before the new law, the SBOE could only affect educational content through TEKS revision. Now, Ellis suggested, it can do so directly by approving certain materials with an adoption incentive for the districts.

HB 1605 has received criticism for various reasons, including the suggestion that it would increase the use of technology to the detriment of students.

Local education advocate Lynn Davenport suggested, “Books and vouchers sucked all the energy out of the session while this UNESCO agenda/technology vendor bill slid through with a fiscal note of $2.44B and Rs voted unanimously in favor of growing the education cartel.”

“The problem is 1605 has a $2.44B fiscal note attached to it and adds four hours of required screen time,” she explained to The Dallas Express. “It is a vendor bill and shifts resources from textbooks to technology.”

Tying the law to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Davenport continued, “The bill mentions Open Education Resources 65 times and technology 50 times. OER was coined by UNESCO in 2002.”

“Cracks me up how these conservatives talk about liberty and freedom while championing a UN agenda,” she concluded.

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  1. SBOE Workshops New Sweeping Education Law – Round Up DFW - […] Dallas ExpressJune 23, 2023Uncategorized […]

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