• Chloe Latham Sikes, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • January 2021 •
The Texas legislative session that opened in January is filled with hearings on hundreds of bills in a race to make new laws, revise old ones and defeat harmful ones before the session’s clock runs out in May. However, this year, the state’s leaders announced they will narrow the bills they consider for a vote. IDRA will focus on seven policy priorities summarized below.
Support a State Strategic Plan for Bilingual Education
English learners (or emergent bilingual students) have experienced some of the toughest learning challenges during the pandemic. And previous policy changes to funding and programs for educating bilingual students never fully addressed what schools need to serve them (Craven, 2019).
IDRA supports the creation of a state strategic plan for emergent bilingual student education. The plan should include expanding programs that cultivate bilingualism and biliteracy, such as dual language programs, rather than just English acquisition. IDRA also supports replacing the term “English learner” with “emergent bilingual” in state and local policies to recognize the value of bilingualism. Changing the language can have a significant impact on evolving the attitudes and educational approaches of districts and communities.
Increase Student Engagement During the Pandemic and Address the Digital Divide
Schools have had to make significant adjustments in the ways they teach and support students in response to COVID-19. Texas needs a long-term state broadband plan for remote learning with a special focus on our most vulnerable communities. IDRA also urges state policymakers to invest in programs and personnel that foster strong student and family engagement in schools to help them listen to the communities most impacted by the pandemic.
Remote education during the pandemic highlighted stark educational inequities in funding and other technological resources. About 34% of households across Texas do not have access to broadband internet (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018). Students without internet access have a tough time accessing materials from teachers, completing homework and feeling connected with their peers. For these and other reasons, school engagement with students and families decreased during the pandemic.
Uphold School Funding Promises Made in House Bill 3 in 2019
IDRA urges state lawmakers to extend hold harmless provisions in HB 3 for the 2020-21 school year and ensure programs serving emergent bilingual students, students who receive special education services, and students from households with limited incomes do not suffer any funding cuts. See IDRA’s statement, “Texas Must Fulfill its Funding Promises to Public Schools” (2020).
Create Equitable Access and Support in College
All students should get an education that prepares them for college, regardless of whether or not they choose to attend. Previous legislation (HB 5 in 2013) weakened graduation requirements in ways that now exclude many students from the courses they need to be college-ready (Bojorquez, 2018).
Policymakers should revise high school graduation pathways and requirements to ensure all students receive rigorous curriculum, including Algebra 2, for college readiness. The state should also provide additional supports for counselor-student ratios, counselor compensation and required training.
End Harmful Discipline and Promote Better Data Practices to Measure Discipline
For far too long, school discipline systems have made classrooms unsafe for many Black students and Latino students. IDRA supports prohibiting harmful discipline practices, like corporal punishment. IDRA promotes enhanced data metrics and collection about school discipline. This means reducing the interactions between school police officers and students and limiting disciplinary referrals for students.
Instead, we support positive school practices, such as targeted behavioral supports based on student needs, increased trained mental and behavioral health professionals in schools, and improved data on discretionary referrals that students receive for non-criminal behavior.
Use Substantive Assessments and Pause Punitive Accountability Ratings
IDRA supports temporarily canceling the yearly standardized exam assessments, such as STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) and TELPAS (Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System), in favor of district administration of interim assessments throughout the year. Test scores provide one measure of student learning, which is important for comparing yearly progress and changes.
Just as we use tests to assess student learning, the state uses test scores to hold schools and districts accountable for educating students. The Texas accountability system however overly relies on test scores without considering many other metrics about students’ opportunities to learn. That is why IDRA supports the Texas Education Agency’s decision to pause A-F accountability ratings this school year (2020-21) (TEA, 2020), and why we continue to push for changes to the accountability system that support students and schools. See IDRA’s statement, “Effective School Assessments and Accountability that Does Not Hurt Students” (Latham Sikes, 2020).
Defend Against Charter and Voucher Expansion
IDRA supports keeping public funds in public schools. Public dollars should be channeled to the schools that are accountable to the public and not privately-run.
IDRA recommends policymakers guard against the expansion of charters, private virtual school networks and voucher programs and instead invest in a robust broadband infrastructure that addresses systemic issues that impact equitable access to education.
IDRA develops our policy priorities based on research, community input, and with our coalition partners (such as the Texas Legislative Education Equity Coalition). IDRA staff and policy fellows will advocate equitable public education policies during the session. To get policy updates and ways to get involved in our advocacy work, you can stay tuned here, through our email alerts or on social media.
Visit IDRA’s education policy website to see IDRA’ full recommendation letter to the Biden administration and other resources.
Bojorquez, H. (2018). Ready Texas – A Study of the Implementation of HB 5 in Texas and Implications for College Readiness. IDRA.
Craven, C. (April 2019). Current Proposals for Texas’ Investment in English Learners Still Not Enough, IDRA Newsletter.
IDRA. (December 17, 2020). Texas Must Fulfill its Funding Promises to Public Schools, IDRA eNews.
Latham Sikes, C. (December 10, 2020). Effective School Assessments and Accountability that Does Not Hurt Students, IDRA eNews.
Latham Sikes, C. (September 29, 2020). Texas Must Maintain Equity and Fully Fund Schools in HB 3 Implementation – Interim Charge 2, IDRA Testimony on Interim Charge 2: Evaluate Ongoing Costs Associated with Implementation of HB 3 (86, R).
TEA. (December 10, 2020). Texas Education Agency Pauses A-F Ratings For 2020-21 School Year, Agency News. Texas Education Agency.
Vasquez, B. (November-December 2019). Texas Higher Education Law Aims to Improve Outcomes for Students in Developmental Education, IDRA Newsletter.
Chloe Latham Sikes, Ph.D., is IDRA’s deputy director of policy. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2021, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the January 2021 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]