Texas Judge Backs School District That Suspended Boy for Refusing Handshake

Seth Anderson via Flickr
Buck up, P.M. Someday you may be on a mural.
A kid who was suspended 10 days from high school is super awesome, according to a federal lawsuit filed by his parents. "He is currently taking honors classes and a higher level math class than most of his peers," says a suit filed by his mother, Tiffany Macklin. The boy, identified in court documents only as P.M., was valedictorian of his eighth-grade class in the Petrolia Consolidated Independent School District, a rural district about 140 miles northwest of Dallas. The suspension, his parents warn, could be disastrous.

"P.M. will likely be labeled a 'troublemaker,'" the suit says. "P.M. is going into high school with new teachers that do not necessarily know he has never been in trouble before."

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Proposed Texas Social Studies Textbooks Get Climate Change Wrong Too

Gavin Schaefer
Researchers say climate change has a valuable place in social studies classes. But that doesn't mean students should debate the cause or even existence of global warming.

As if Texas social studies textbooks haven't been getting enough flack for pointed political and religious biases, a report released Monday by the National Center for Science Education highlights inaccuracies about climate change in proposed state textbooks.

See also: SMU Academics Speak Out Against Political and Religious Bias in Texas Social Studies Textbooks

This fall marks the first time in 12 years that new social studies books are being adopted, and between a politically motivated review committee and publishers trying to balance Texas curriculum requirements with substantial material, the debate is heating up.

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Highland Park May Be Just a Little Jealous of DISD's Bilingual Students

Michael Coghlan

Highland Park ISD plans to launch an elementary-level Spanish learning program next year. It's a project that most in the district are embracing -- after all, multilingualism is linked to dozens of developmental benefits. Bilingual individuals are often smarter, better listeners and in later life may see a delay in the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

"The research is out there for early language acquisition, usually the younger the better," says Eric Inboden, a Spanish teacher the district recently hired to organize the program. "It improves one's abilities cognitively, improves abilities in their own language, improves socialization and knowing different cultures, and builds a base knowledge that can be used in math, social studies, et cetera."

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SMU Academics Speak Out Against Political and Religious Bias in Texas Social Studies Textbooks

You can flip all you want, kid, but you're not going to find much truth between those pages.

Social studies textbooks have been under increasing scrutiny this year, as the successor to the science textbook controversy last year. For the first time in 12 years, the State Board of Education will review social studies textbooks, this time under social studies standards put in place in 2010. This time, the critics come from conservative and liberal camps.

See also: The People Choosing Texas' Social Studies Texts Don't Know Enough about Social Studies

In 2011, the conservative think-tank Fordham Institute issued a report that looked at social studies curricula across the country. In Texas, the group found that "Texas combines a rigidly thematic and theory-based social studies structure with a politicized distortion of history... The leaders of the State Board of Education made no secret of their evangelical Christian-right agenda, promising to inculcate biblical principles, patriotic values and American exceptionalism."

But while state curriculum standards have already been denounced, the Texas Freedom Network released a report on Wednesday that focused on how classroom requirements have affected Texas social studies textbooks. The report analyzed government, U.S. and world history, and religion in world history and geography, pointing to several glaring biases.

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Lakewood Parents Nix School-Roof Cell Tower, But Their Cell Phones Are the Bigger Danger

David Schott
Congrats to the concerned parents of Lakewood Elementary. Seriously. You guys piled into a public meeting and shot down a Dallas ISD proposal to stick a Verizon cell tower on the school's roof. That's how democracy's supposed to work. Good on DISD, too, which has the bureaucratic heft to plow through community opposition much like a big rig might plow through a squirrel and yet listened to the concerns of parents.

DISD spokesman Andre Riley confirmed it on Tuesday: The Lakewood Elementary cell tower (which, he took pains to point out, isn't a tower at all but an unobtrusive antenna that would have been attached to the smokestack and handsomely disguised by faux brick) is dead.

The two news stations that covered the parent outcry presented it in the standard concerned-citizens-vs.-government template: worried mom frets about her kids being dosed with radiation; district rep says there's little danger and that the money from the lease will help students; an uneasy stalemate is reached.

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TEA Says Mega-Dallas School District Idea Is a Recipe for Disaster

Caitlin Regan
What we imagine to be a Friday night football game at a mega-district mega-high school.

In the 2013 legislative session, state Representative Roland Gutierrez from San Antonio amended an education bill to require the Texas Education Agency to find out whether bigger Texas school districts would be better.

In a word, no.

See also: State Rep. Jason Villalba Threatens to Split DISD if it Doesn't Move Faster on Reform

Here in Dallas, most agree that 161,000 students in Dallas ISD is big enough -- no need to stretch the district to cover the entire county. Nonetheless, the state gave the TEA just over $75,000 for a definitive study measuring the potential benefits and pitfalls of consolidating city districts to encompass entire counties. The TEA's report was released this week, detailing how the consolidation of districts would be an absolute shit show. As they more politely worded it, mega-districts would drastically increase costs to the state while student performance would plummet.

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Texas Relaxes STAAR Expectations Because Kids Can't Handle the Pressure

Josh Davis
You go outside the bubble, you fail (metaphor for life?).

Three years ago, the state rolled out the shiny new STAAR exam, the Cadillac of state tests as far as the State Board of Education was concerned. It came after decades of testing overhauls and cumbersome acronyms, from TEAMS to TAAS to TAKS, all based on TEKS curriculum requirements. Fill in the bubbles fully and completely, without any stray marks. No. 2 pencil only.

Tired yet? Try being a third-grader.

According to the original timeline, the TEA and State Board of Education had determined that performance standards for the original STAAR exam would progressively get more stringent beginning in 2016. To the relief of every single teacher and administrator in Texas, the state has decided to delay boosting stricter performance standards until 2021.

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State Rep. Jason Villalba Threatens to Split DISD if it Doesn't Move Faster on Reform

Department of Justice
City of Dallas poverty rate by neighborhood. Dallas ISD encompasses this entire area and a little beyond. How would district budgets look if DISD were divided by neighborhood?

Redrawing school district lines is a controversial issue that has been getting plenty of attention this year from Baton Rouge to Salt Lake City. Now state Representative Jason Villalba says he might propose splitting Dallas ISD into separate districts during the next legislative session if smaller reforms fail to pass.

Earlier this year, Villalba backed a home-rule charter initiative that would have allowed more local and less state-level control of DISD. Although a petition drive to place the charter idea on the ballot was successful, DISD is still drawing up something to put before voters, who probably won't get a look at it until the November 2016 elections.

Villalba is annoyed, and says that's too long to wait for reform. Instead, he's proposing to bring district issues to the state level in the next session of the Legislature. He will push for legislation to hasten home-rule commissions in the future, including tighter deadlines, halting trustee appointment of commissioners -- and, if necessary, partitioning DISD.

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DISD's Mike Miles Says School Finance Ruling Is a Call for Legislators to Fix a Broken System

Dallas ISD was one of more than 600 districts that sued the state over its massive budget cuts coupled with unfair allocation of funds and more curriculum requirements.

Last week's ruling by a state judge in Austin reaffirming that Texas' method of financing public schools is unconstitutional gives the Legislature a chance to repair a "resource gap" that's failing a growing population of impoverished children, Dallas school Superintendent Mike Miles says.

On Thursday, Judge John Dietz issued a written ruling confirming an earlier finding that the state doesn't provide enough money or distribute it fairly to districts across the state.

The latest round in Texas' decades-long battle over equity in school finance arrived in 2011 when the state cut more than $5 billion from the education budget. Over 600 school districts sued, saying that while the state cut the budget it was also raised curriculum requirements that caused districts to need more money. The system also disproportionately advantaged wealthier districts with a higher tax revenues. Many urban districts found that they ultimately received less money because of lower property taxes, causing a split between rich and poor districts.

While the current "Robin Hood" plan dictates that wealthier districts share a portion of their tax revenue with poorer districts, many districts claim this isn't enough to supplement state cuts, and residents in wealthier districts are frustrated that their tax money benefits schools outside their districts.

Dallas ISD was one of the districts that sued the state, and Miles praised Dietz's decision. "We have a district where we have a lot of student who come to us who are behind in proficiency, a lot of students whose second language is English, and a lot of students who are challenged by poverty," he says. "It would seem that districts that have those conditions would need more resources than the state is currently providing."

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Midlothian Parents Protest Removal of Hilariously Unconstitutional Plaques

WFAA via Twitter
"Soli deo gloria" is Latin for "Suck it, atheists."

Midlothian ISD Superintendent Jerome Stewart said Thursday that two overtly Christian plaques attached to elementary schools would remain uncovered for the time being. The plaques, which have adorned the schools for 17 without complaint, are the subject of a June 30 letter to the district from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which wants them removed.

The district, advised by its attorneys that it would lose any lawsuit regarding the plaques, covered them with duct tape and prepared for their being replaced as the new school year began. Wednesday, the district posted a notice on its website that the plaques had been uncovered, but the district was "unsure who uncovered them" and had "no plans to recover them."

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