Monday, January 14, 2008

Educators fuel election chaos

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - Jan. 14, 2008
The Texas Education Agency receives my "Bonehead of the Year Award" for scheduling TAKS testing on primary election day without sending clarification to school districts that state law requires that public buildings (including schools) must accommodate elections on election day.

Across Texas County Election officials and County Chairs of both political parties are scrambling to sign election contracts while many school districts are refusing to accommodate the elections. Some counties are suing school districts to get access to the buildings. Some school districts are accommodating the elections. Others are standing firm refusing to accommodate the elections. Citizens are confused. Most news coverage is sketchy and incomplete or inaccurate.

Here is what I've learned about how educators who are charged with teaching our school children civics and government blew this one out of the water!

Some school districts wanted to delay the start of the school year for the Spring Semester. The State Board of Education is responsible for administering a "student assessment instrument and is charged in Texas Education Code Chapter 39.027 (a)(2) with adopting a schedule for administrating the end-of-course assessment.

State law was change so that the Texas public schools' spring semester could start later than last year. A change was made in the Texas Education Code 39.023(c-3) so that this year the first end-of-course assessment tests must be administered at least 2 weeks later than that they were last year.
The language in the Education Code was changed to read:
(c-3)In adopting a schedule for the administration of assessment instruments under this section, the State Board of Education shall require:
(1)assessment instruments administered under Subsection (a) to be administered on a schedule so that the first assessment instrument is administered at least two weeks later than the date on which the first assessment instrument was administered
under Subsection (a) during the 2006-2007 school year;


Texas Education Code 39.023.c-3 does not require that the TEA set the TAKS test on March 4th (election day). It merely requires that the date must be at least 2 weeks later than last year. I have phoned TEA Legal inquiring if they reviewed Texas Election Code 43.031 requiring that public buildings accommodate elections and sent information to the school districts clarifying that TAKS testing cannot hinder the accommodation of elections on election day when they scheduled TAKS testing March 4, 2008? I have not received a response yet from them.

Texas law does not require TAKS testing on March 4th (election day). TEA chose to schedule it on March 4th (one of many dates after the time stipulated by state law that the first end-of-course assessment test must be scheduled.

I think this is a very boneheaded decision by State Bureaucrats. Those who scheduled TAKS testing on election day and those who approved that schedule have thrown the election process into unnecessary chaos. Election administrators, parties, candidates are struggling to determine where the elections will be held. Some counties are suing the school districts to require them to accommodate the elections according to Texas Election Code 43.031. Others moved the elections to other sites, often at an inconvenience to the voters. (When election sites change, a percentage of voters fail to learn the new sites in time to vote - depressing electoral turnout.) Some communities simply do not have suitable alternate sites available in the precincts to hold the elections.

I sent this message to the Texas Education Agency:
You have flunked the test in citizenship and applied civics! Entrusted by the citizens of this state to teach our children about CIVICS, GOVERNMENT, PARTICIPATION in the DEMOCRATIC PROCESS, you either failed to check or chose to ignore that March 4, 2008 is a primary election day. State law requires that public buildings be made available for elections yet you chose to schedule (or approve scheduling) TAKS testing on election day. Your irresponsible, short-sighted, ignorant actions diminishes the ability of election officials and candidates to clearly communicate where the polling places will be in time for ALL CITIZENS to participate. If you allow school districts to refuse to allow the elections to be scheduled in school buildings, you are violating the law and betraying the trust of the citizens. Testing is important. Education is important. Showing our children by EXAMPLE is also important. The message you have sent is loud and clear: Elections don't really matter that much to the Texas Board of Education. Elections are an inconvenience that do not merit careful examination of dates on the calendar which ANY ELECTED OFFICIAL, POLITICAL APPOINTEE, CIVICS TEACHER, REGISTERED VOTER reserves for participating in elections.
The boneheads in your agency who scheduled TAKS testing on Election Day should be informed that it was a MISTAKE. Correct your mistake. Send a strong message to teachers, educators, pupils and your fellow citizens that your agency values our Democratic process enough to relinquish accommodate the elections on school premises March 4th. Make it a policy that all election days will be scheduled on your calendar before you begin filling in dates which are not SET BY LAW.



If you want to write them the email link to their website form is: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/tea/contact.html

I recommend that you also phone them. It is easier to ignore contact forms. When their switchboard also lights up the e-mail responses have greater impact.

The Texas Education Agency is located in the William Travis Building
1701 N. Congress Avenue
Austin, Texas, 78701

Those who oversee (and vote to fund) the TEA include:
Gov. Rick Perry - Tara Balleau (512) 799-9240 is the governor's point person on education.
In the Lt. Governor's office Andre Sheridan (512) 463-0108 is the Education Point Person.

Members of the Texas Senate Committee on Education include:

Chair of the Senate Education Committee: Senator Florence Shapiro (512) 463-0108 (972) 403-3404 - email form

Senator Royce West - (512) 463-0123 or (214) 467-0123
Senator West's education point person is Lajuana Barton lajuana_d.barton@senate.state.tx.us

Senator Kyle Janek - (512) 463-0117 (800) 445-2635
Senator Janek's point person on education is Casey Haney email: casey.haney@senate.state.tx.us


Senator Judith Zaffirini (512) 463-0121 (956) 722-2293
Her education point person is Warren von Eschenbach email: warren.voneschenbach@senate.state.tx.us

Senator Steve Ogden (512) 463-0105 His education point person is Patty Guerra
email: patty.guerra@senate.state.tx.us


Senator Leticia Van de Putte (512) 463-0126 (210) 733-6604
Her point person on education is Ida Garcia email: ida.garcis@senate.state.tx.us

Senator Tommy Williams (281) 364-9426 His point person on education is his chief of staff Janet Stieben email: janet.stieben@senate.state.tx.us

Senator Dan Patrick (713) 464-0282

I suspect that there may be attempts at TEA (if there is enough outcry)to blame some low level staffer. However, this date was set months ago. It went all the way up the supply chain and officials all the way up signed off on it. The responsiblity for ensuring that directives from the TEA complies with State Law (including State Election Code) rests with the top. The legal team should have reviewed this, conferred with the Attorney General and SOS and issued a directive to all school districts clarifying that if TAKS testing occurs on an election day, the school districts still have to accommodate the elections. The buck rests at the top. They are responsible for triggering law suits between county election officials and school districts throughout Texas, impacting every voter in Texas and sending a very bad message to our school children that elections really aren't that high a priority with this state's "Educators."

I think it is time to EDUCATE the educators.
REFERENCE: Texas Election Code 43.031
Education Code 39.023(c-3)

1 comment:

Faith Chatham said...

TEA Performance Testing responded to the email on Jan. 15:

"Thank you for your email regarding the conflict of dates between TAKS testing and the primary election day in Texas. The agency does realize that by not allowing the general public the access to vote in a school
building it could cause some confusion to some of the people trying to vote. We hope that the general population understands the importance of not only this day but everyday that the TAKS test is scheduled that the students taking the tests to be able to focus totally on the test for that day and not be distracted by a high volume of people entering and exiting the building and any additional distraction in the hallways.
You email is important. It will be directed to agency staff that set testing dates. The agency will make every effort to see that this type of conflict of dates doesn't happen in future years.
RR"

Faith Chatham responded to TEA Performance Testing on Jan. 15:
"Thank you for your response. Since the Agency understands the importance of administering tests when there are the least distractions, the Agency has failed to serve the best interest of the children and citizens of this state by scheduling TAKS testing on an election day. Since state law requires public buildings (schools) to accommodate elections, scheduling testing on Election Day is a violation of state law and the act of TEA prompts school districts to 1. either break the law or 2. require /allow testing on a day when there will be more distractions.

The change in the Texas Education Code moving the beginning of testing back two weeks does not mandate that testing occur on March 4th. That date was selected by TEA and imposed on the school districts. Please convey to your colleagues that TEA is responsible for this fiasco and attempts to spin it as "compliance with the law" is not convincing.

Once the Texas Public School system teaches citizens to read and analyze and check facts, some of us become able to cut through excuses and bureaucratic "spin" to the facts.

I have been told by the Lt. Governor's office and Senator West's office that the SOS, Attorney General and TEA are working with them, and hopefully there will be a compromise worked out by today.

If any school bans elections March 4th in response to TEA's directive, there will be a precedent set which is contrary to law and contrary to Legislative Intent.

If children taking TAKS are distracted by voters on March 4th, it will be caused by a scheduling decision made by TEA. The phrase "can begin no sooner than 2 weeks later than last year" is what the Education Code stipulates is when TEA can schedule testing. That means that TEA could select any date other than those earlier than two weeks before the date scheduled last year. It does not stipulate that testing must begin 2 weeks laster than last year.

TEA oversees educators who teach (and test on) reading comprehension. It appears that many people who participated in scheduling TAKS on March 4th (and all who signed off on the decision) may need a "reading comprehension" brush-up course."