Waco ISD: Will you help save public education?

Good evening. My name is Ben Becker. I am a father of three and a public school parent in Houston ISD.

I have come 200 miles today, because I am concerned about the fate of public education in Texas. Waco is also a special place for me. My wife and I met at Baylor and married here. I lived in Waco a total of 10 years—many of them as a member of the business community.

As a matter of fact, the beginning of my advocacy in public education started as a volunteer for three years at Alta Vista Elementary School—one of the schools whose fate hangs in the balance of the state’s threats of closure and the decision to begin privatization in Waco ISD before you tonight.

Let me be clear—the possibility of even one more school anywhere in Texas being closed is a grim concern. But my wife and I, along with friends in Houston and Dallas and Austin, come to you today to caution you—caution you to look at the bigger picture of what’s at stake.

Your decision to charter or partner with a third party to manage Waco ISD schools has implications far beyond these five campuses. To outsource your management of these schools is an acceptance of the state’s power to force local school boards to give up democratic control. It’s an acceptance that the state’s accountability system and its chronic underfunding of K-12 public education is acceptable.

I have followed news of this board and its new superintendent closely. I know many of you have reservations about the state’s so-called Lonestar Governance program and whether the ever-increasing focus on standardized test scores is a positive evolution for public education. 

Closing schools is bad. No one wants to see that. But savings democratically-controlled public education is vital. 

I urge you—do not acquiesce to the TEA. Do not let them hold your schools hostage and only give you bad options. The TEA is bullying you and bullying other high-poverty districts around the state like mine. 

And the only way to answer a bully is to stand together and stand up. No one district, no one board can fight the TEA alone. 

I urge you—before you do one more thing, rally with other under-funded and over-regulated districts and challenge the TEA in court.

I urge you—before you make such high-stakes turn over your schools under duress, make the TEA prove that the STAAR test complies with laws like HB743—if you do, you’ll find as parents who sued the TEA two years ago, that it doesn’t. 

Make the TEA prove STAAR results actually reflect differences in teaching and curriculum as opposed to being simply correlated with socio-economic status—if you do, you’ll find as UT professor Dr. Walter Stroup did—that STAAR scores are statistically insensitive to instruction.

The end game of both state accountability and the slow suffocation of underfunding Texas public education is PRIVATIZATION. Partnering with third parties to run your schools via the charter expansions in SB1882 and doing so under the school board death threat in HB1842 is a clear. path. to that. privatization. end.

I ask you… Will Waco ISD play TEA’s game and lose its schools? Will Waco ISD accept sanction after sanction and abdicate its voter’s democratic control of their schools? Or will you, as trustees, as stewards of Waco’s schools, as advocates for public education, will you be a part of the resistance to state overreach and defend our schools? Will you defend our children? Will you help save public education?

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Alternatively Certified Teachers, TFA and Equity in Houston ISD

To the rest of the trustees, you need to ask yourself... 1) Why HISD is relying more and more on Alternative Certifications to staff its classrooms? 2) Is this staffing model is equitable to all kids? 3) And is the item in front of you which allows the district to grow TFA teacher by as much as 150% next year taking the district in the right direction?
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Houston ISD Memorializes Racist Trustee, James M. Delmar, with New $35 Million Facility

Could you imagine honoring the memory of someone who went on record to say that – NAACP– stands for The National Association for the Agitation of Colored People, or that Rosa Parks was just a paid protester, or that African Americans who protested at lunch counters around Harris County in the 1950s were simply trying to create an issue? 
What if I told you that this person once served on THIS very school board and fought relentlessly for decades AGAINST desegregation in HISD? This person was James M. Delmar– namesake of the new $35 million athletic complex directly behind Houston ISD headquarters.
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Remarks to HISD School Board on Under-Identification of Special Education Students

So I’m here to ask you, our trustees, to do the right thing. The problem is complex and solutions aren’t easy or cheap. But you could start by making a statement as a body about how this situation is wrong and begin investigating what district policies constructed to such a low identification rate. I’m asking you to take affirmative action to show families that their children and their needs are important. The administration certainly hasn’t given us any indication they do.
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Remarks to HISD Board on School Improvement Plans

Will you approve plans that focus poor kids on tests and punishes the teachers that spend their days educating them while the HISD PR machine highlights the amazing things happening in a just a fraction of the district's “good” schools?
And when the TEA pushes you to do things you know aren’t right for kids — things you know furthers inequity in this district, will you fight? Will you put your the weight of your positions and some of the millions this board spends on lawyers each year into this battle?
I’ve read all 34 of the elementary school improvement plans. In 23,066 words, the word data is used 349 times. The word art is used just twice. The word music, not once.
The school chiefs know every principal and teacher that didn’t hit their goal on the last snapshot but can’t tell you if they’re complying with this district’s new mandate on physical education. These improvement plans and the measures of success you give these administrators matter.
Two questions: What are your values? And will you fight?
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October Speech to School Board on Equity & HSPVA Kinder Donation

If trustees accept this money, the district establishes two new precedents in our district…
1) That Houston ISD is willing to trade the name of our schools for money, and  2) that Houston ISD will accept an increase in disparity among our students as long as that disparity is paid for privately.
What do these things say about us? What do they teach our students?
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October Speech to HISD School Board on High Stakes Testing

So, while the board is lobbying for our city to buck the system regarding recapture, I’m asking you do the same thing when it comes to the intensive testing culture we have in this state. 
First, step up locally and remove promotion standards tied to STAAR for grades other than 5th and 8th grade. 
Then, continue the work of removing the ties of STAAR and teacher evaluations. 
Next, let’s think about how we can support failing students rather than punish them, and how Houston ISD can work together with other districts across the state to demand the TEA and education policy in Texas do the same? 
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