State education board plan urgently needs public feedback – Houston Chronicle


With runoffs settled, candidates for the State Board of Education have been chosen and now we look forward to the November election. Voters and candidates alike should work hard to see through the smoke produced by inevitable electoral fires between now and November.

The 15-member State Board of Education that I am privileged to lead has been and will remain focused on discharging the responsibility of overseeing the education of the state’s school children. Texas enjoys economic success. To continue that success, the state will need to provide employers with a workforce that can compete in the modern and constantly changing economy.

We are off to a good start, but there is plenty left to do.

Since my appointment as chair of the State Board of Education in June 2015, I have traveled the state talking to parents, business leaders, administrators, teachers – anyone who would talk to me, actually – about assessments, accountability and the effective delivery of education to the young people who are often the last voices heard in policy discussions.

We are still compiling the public feedback received at the face-to-face SBOE Community Conversations completed in March. However, when discussing the goals of assessments and accountability, the words that stand out in the feedback received from parents, business leaders and educators are: “individual,” “growth,” “learning,” “readiness,” “measure,” “goals” and “needs.” If we can’t figure out a way to understand and meet individual student needs, we won’t be able to prepare them adequately for the future.

It is the goal of the 15-member Next Generation Commission on Assessments and Accountability to make recommendations to the Legislature by Sept. 1. The recommendations will be both research- and community-based. The SBOE is contributing to this process by gathering additional community-based feedback online for the commission through June.

In addition, the SBOE hopes to make an even greater impact for our students by updating the Long-Range Plan for Public Education, a duty assigned to the SBOE by law. The last LRP expired in 2006. At the SBOE meeting in April, we approved phase one of a two-phase effort to put an updated plan in place. The LRP will center on arriving at and articulating the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges that currently exist and that will exist in Texas public education over the next five to seven years. Our LRP will include a considerable effort at partnering with the commissioner of education and gathering policy maker, post-secondary, K12 educator, business community, parent and general public input.

Finally, the SBOE is partnering with the commissioner of education in holding the second in our series of Learning Roundtables. The upcoming September Learning Roundtable will focus on “Educating the Children of Poverty;” 60 percent of our public school students are economically disadvantaged. We will invite national and state experts to discuss the various facets of poverty and how we can find greater success at helping our students overcome the many challenges to receiving the education they each deserve.

If we succeed in our mission to help all children, we raise generations of Texans who can sustain and noueish the economic success we currently enjoy. We alone determine our success and literally cannot afford to fail. Strong debate will occur, as to be expected with the SBOE affecting so many areas certain to bring out strong passion on all sides. However, our board has worked through many issues over the past several years with professionalism and commitment. Our first and foremost focus has been on positively benefitting the education of the 5.2 million children of Texas.

Our good intentions will be matched with the commitment and drive necessary to sustain that momentum. We owe that to students, their families and to Texas. We have the tools to forge a bright future. Let’s put them to work.

New survey shows widespread discontent with STAAR |


The findings are from an online public survey about the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) and how the state uses the test results to hold students, teachers and school districts accountable. More than 27,000 students, parents, educators, business leaders and others responded to the survey, which State Board of Education Chairwoman spearheaded. The respondents were self-selecting; it was not a random sampling of people.

“Texans believe we have too many tests, schools are spending too much time preparing for the state assessments, and too much class time working on the preparation,” said in the report released this week. “They want more immediate tests results.”

The survey’s findings include:

  • 63 percent favored getting rid of a state test for a national test like the SAT, ACT or the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which is used by several states
  • 87 percent favored students and teachers getting immediate feedback on tests
  • 97 percent want a test that doesn’t have trick questions or developmentally inappropriate questions, many of which critics say are found on the STAAR
  • 80 percent support allowing students to graduate or move on to the next grade even if they fail the test. Fifth and eighth grade students must pass the STAAR to move to the next grade and high school students must pass five STAAR end-of-course exams to graduate.
  • 87 percent favor reducing the role of assessments in teacher evaluations
  • 94 percent want better ways to test students with special needs

7:00 a.m. Wednesday, July 20, 2016 |


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, 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? –

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” |

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.