Texas will strive to expand broadband access to all students by 2018

Education Superhighway co-founder Tony Swei (center) discussed the broadband goal Thursday at the Governor’s Mansion with Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath and State Board of Education Chair Donna Bahorich.

Education Superhighway co-founder Tony Swei (center) discussed the broadband goal Thursday at the Governor’s Mansion with Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath and Chair .

AUSTIN — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wants every one of the state’s 5.2 million schoolchildren to have access to broadband Internet by 2018.

Abbott announced the goal the day before the kickoff of South by Southwest, the 10-day music, film and Internet festival held in Austin. The state will partner with Education Superhighway, a national nonprofit that is working with 38 other states to upgrade infrastructure and find affordable ways to meet the connectivity goals of students and communities.

“My vision and reality is to ensure that Texas is the center of the universe in education innovation all the time, not just during SXSW, and today we’re rolling out part of that,” Abbott said during an announcement at the Governor’s Mansion in Austin. “If we don’t do this, there’ll be a growing digital divide in this state that could cause the state to fall behind.”

Education Superhighway co-founder Tony Swei said an analysis of the state’s broadband Internet needs showed 2 million schoolkids – roughly 46 percent of Texas’ K-12 students — “do not have broadband they need for today’s digital learning needs.”

“21st [century] digital learning is only available to those with high-speed broadband in the classroom,” said Swei. “Unfortunately, too many of Texas’ students are being left on the wrong side of this growing digital divide in K-12.”

 – Dallas News

March 20, 2016 Comments are off Donna Bahorich

State leading way on computer classes

Texas was the first state to require that all high schools teach computer science, but Arkansas schools catapulted ahead in the past year after a mandate from the governor backed by millions in funding, said state and national advocates.

In Texas, a single state school board member pushed to require high schools to teach the classes. But few schools are following the policy and Texas has put up little if any state money to train teachers.

In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson made computer coding a state priority and pushed a bill to provide funding for teacher training and to mandate that high schools offer the courses. It also requires that the classes count as math or science credits instead of an elective…

Noemy Sotelo (left), a junior at Bryant High School, takes part in an advanced computer programming class last week. “It’s like a puzzle to solve. It’s like a game — really cool, really interesting,” Sotelo said…

By contrast, in Texas, which imposed a similar requirement in 2014, only about a quarter of its school districts offered a single computer-science class in the state’s STEM endorsement, said Jennifer Bergland, director of governmental relations for the Texas Computer Education Association. (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.)

Donna Bahorich, a Houston Republican who is now chairman of the Texas Board of Education, proposed the rule change requiring the classes as the board was dealing with a broad education overhaul mandated by the Legislature.

The lawmakers’ bill had not proposed requiring computer science to be taught.

“This was it. She basically made this motion and it wasn’t until it was almost all done that I was reading them going, ‘What is this?'” Bergland said. “It wasn’t a big fight. Sometimes you have to fight hard, sometimes things happen because it’s the right thing. This is one of those situations.”

But because the change wasn’t endorsed by the Texas Legislature — and had no money behind it — many Texas districts say they don’t know about the provision or cannot find or train the appropriate teachers, a key holdup.

No other state has required high schools to teach the classes — except Texas — or budgeted as much money as Arkansas’ $5 million, said Amy Hirotaka, director of state government affairs for Code.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding access to computer science and increasing participation by women and members of minority groups.

“While Texas does have that on the books, it’s not functionally happening,” Hirotaka said…

The Texas Computer Education Association was turned down when it asked the Legislature for $25 million for professional development and a change in how computer-science classes are classified.

In Texas, which has more than nine times the population of Arkansas, that was a nonstarter, Bergland said.

“My computer-science people are excited about what your governor is doing with computer science,” Bergland said. “Texas for years has … kind of been leading in this by most people’s standards, but what I’ve heard is this is an initiative that [Hutchinson] took on and any time you put some money behind something, it sends the message that this is important.”

In January, President Barack Obama proposed spending more nationally on computer-science education. In February, Hutchinson joined a White House news conference to announce a new partnership aimed at promoting computer education nationwide. Officials at that event praised Arkansas’ initiative in pushing the classes.

Money — and the teacher training that comes with it — is especially important to making a statewide initiative work, experts said…

Arkansas’ progress may spur other states to act.

“We do think that Arkansas is a leader in computer-science education and a state that others could certainly model themselves after,” Hirotaka said.

And Texas doesn’t back down from competition, Bergland said.

“We may be trying to catch up to Arkansas,” she said. “Texas kind of thinks we invented everything and we’re best at everything, so we’re going, OK, wait a minute. We can’t let Arkansas, our neighbor, beat us in this.”

Hutchinson said he’s pushing other states to make similar changes…



What Should Replace the STAAR Test? – Statesman.com

For many Texans, the state’s current standardized test – the STAAR – represents everything that is wrong with public education. The annual assessments for grades 3 through 12 have been blamed for everything from killing teacher innovation in the classroom to creating unnecessary stress for students while failing to produce more prepared graduates.

So, Chairwoman Donna Bahorich is correct to restart the state’s conversation with a series of public forums to help shape what the next phase of accountability testing should look like. Bahorich is gathering public input for the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability, created by the Texas Legislature last session to help determine the state’s next steps in school accountability.

As reported by American-’s Julie Chang last weekend, the ideas from advocates and parents are wide-ranging, including winnowing down state standards that drive the current test, removing the requirement that students pass to graduate, the addition of online testing, and replacing high school student’s end-of-course exams with the ACT or SAT.

But before choosing a new testing regime, educators, policymakers, business leaders and parents need to figure out what exactly the state is testing for. After all, inappropriate use of a single test is what got public education into this accountability mess in the first place.

Are we checking to make sure that an individual student makes progress so they will be ready to enter the workforce or college upon graduation? Are we trying to make sure that parents know which schools are meeting state standards? Are we looking to weed out teachers who do not cover the state’s required curriculum? Are we double-checking that students have mastered specific skills and are getting early intervention if they are not?

For many Texans, the state’s current standardized test – the STAAR – represents everything that is wrong with public education. The annual assessments for grades 3 through 12 have been blamed for everything from killing teacher innovation in the classroom to creating unnecessary stress for students while failing to produce more prepared graduates.


Q&A: New State Board of Education chair Donna Bahorich on her homeschool background, vouchers and Jim Crow | Dallas Morning News

July 25, 2015

Newly appointed chair Donna Bahorich understands why some doubt that a home-schooling mom has the right background and empathy to set the curriculum and textbook standards for 5.2 million Texas public school students. Still, the Houston Republican and longtime associate of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asks that you not hold her background and personal choices against her. She says she’s a consensus-builder who supports public schools and parental choice…

…You have to look back at the circumstances at the time. My oldest son, Mark, was starting his kindergarten year and we moved in November to another state, so it didn’t seem like the right choice for me to put him in a school, move to another state, put him in the middle of the semester in another school. So I thought, well, I would just do kindergarten and felt pretty comfortable that I could handle it. I soon discovered that I really enjoyed being the teacher, even with as much work as it was. I loved opening those doors and turning on those lights in his head. It was a tremendous amount of work, but it is something that I think back on and it was fun. And I just kept doing it. It just rolled from one year to the next and I enjoyed it.

I’m in favor of education, not any particular form of education. I am in favor of whatever works for families, and having options is a good thing. My experience with having to look at lesson plans, do curriculum gives me a pretty good feel for the kinds of things teachers do day-to-day. Teaching takes a lot of diligence and a whole lot of work, and I definitely got a sense of that, having worked with three different children on three different levels for 13 years. I didn’t have 25 kids to teach, but I have a sense of the challenges. Eighty-eight percent of the students in the country are publicly educated. You need to care, because they will determine the future of Texas and the country.

I got to do exciting, hands-on things with my kids — field trips, plays, re-enacting history. It is the excitement of teaching that I would like to see more of in our classrooms. We’ve been covered up with bureaucracy and mandates, though. I’d like to see a lot more flexibility in the classroom for teachers to have the opportunity to bring that excitement on the creative side.

Senate Bill 313 [The bill directed the State Board of Education to examine the statewide curriculum standards] was vetoed. It had directions to the state board to reduce the scope of the content of the standards to allow more time in classrooms. I think the entire board is behind a culling of the standards. You keep hearing “miles-wide, inches-deep.” We want to reduce the mileage a bit. I would like to see us go ahead and fulfill this legislative intent…

…I would ask people to have an open mind about me. I am a very hardworking person. I believe to compete globally and keep our economic edge, our students must be prepared. I’m 110 percent committed to that goal. I don’t know any better mission than that.


Bahorich: Controversy on textbooks is a “teachable moment” | www.mystatesman.com

Posted: 11:10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 9, 2015

Too often, we dismiss our schoolchildren as aloof, with eyes too buried in their text messages to see the world around them. But our kids are smarter than most of us realize — and they prove it to me every day.

Ninth-grader Coby Burren of Pearland is one of those kids. He noticed a caption on an illustration in a world geography textbook published by McGraw-Hill that declared that slave traders brought “workers” to U.S. shores in the 18th and 19th centuries. That poor choice of words resulted in an uproar on social media – and rightfully so.

There is a rush to find villains in this story, but we should instead focus on the hero. That’s because lost in the stampede to comment on this egregious error is a lesson that a ninth-grader taught all of us: words matter, and being honest about a shameful part of our history matters.

This is an opportunity to focus on the affront to morality that slavery was and is — and the pain that is its disgraceful legacy. That should be our takeaway. Instead, many are only too eager to promote a false narrative that calls into question our adopted textbooks as unreliable in telling the complete story, warts and all.

While our state standards are a frequent target, the American-Statesman took the time and effort to tell the whole story. A reporter who thoroughly reviewed Civil War coverage in the state’s new history textbooks also reached out to scholars, who concluded that the criticism of those textbooks is overblown. “Ballyhooed Texas textbooks don’t whitewash Civil War, scholars say,” the newspaper headline declared. Even the book containing the false caption has numerous other citations with detailed — and brutally honest — depictions of slavery in several other chapters…

…In the end, this story is about how we don’t have to just accept something that’s wrong. Even a high school freshman can make a difference and make a bad situation right, just as Coby Burren did. We just need to be more committed to making progress than to making a point. After all, the reason we study history is to make the future better than the past.