Meeting addresses education concerns

TYLER (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - Educators, administrators and concerned residents discussed issues facing public education and possible solutions in a round table format Tuesday evening, and their thoughts might be carried to Austin during the upcoming legislative session.

The Texas American Federation of Teachers, a teachers union, hosted the Tyler event to gain insight on Texans' stance on key issues concerning education, which will then be compiled into the union's lobbying body when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

"No one has really said what the average Texan thinks about the topics," Linda Bridges, president of AFT Texas, said. "We thought it was time to take what folks here are thinking about education (to Austin). It puts a different perspective in the issues not just what the union thinks."

Participants, seated in groups of eight with a moderator, discussed their answers to questions proposed by the union for two minutes, in turn. After each was given a chance to express an opinion, they were given another minute to add to the discussion. Their responses where then written down on color-coded cards for the group to work into an action plan for the biennial legislative meeting.

Groups discussed what makes a good quality education, how schools know they are successful and their thoughts on whether schools are adequately funded.

Jim Sizemore, a professor of physics and engineering at Tyler Junior College, suggested a way to help districts know if they are successful would be an internal test.

"That way we can identify (struggling) students sooner than TEA will tell us," he said. "A few weeks into a term have some sort of internal assessment, not necessarily a state mandated test, to identify at risk students and get them help."

Sizemore said testing the districts on the scores of each individual child does not make sense. He said the individual scores could be used to help the child, but said the district could be just as effectively scored using a random sampling of students.

Troup ISD school board member Bill Plunkett said he thinks the district fails a student if it cannot offer afterschool programs to help failing students.

"I think we need attention to that because all students don't pass every day," he said.

Tyler ISD school board member Eleno Licea said the state gives students 12 tests in high school to measure how well they are doing, but there are other components to success. He said not all children have equal subject strengths or are on the same level as some of their peers, and measures for improvement should be a factor.

"It's frustrating and I wish there was one thing we could look at, but there are a million things we could look at," he said.

Kim Tunnell, executive director of strategic planning and continuous development for Tyler ISD, said districts might need to quiz the business community on how well their students are doing after graduation.

"We need to ask our colleges how well we are doing," she said. "How many are taking remedial classes and aren't prepared."

Retired Troup ISD teacher Carol Whitsell said the testing system helped put all educators on the same page and require certain key objectives to be taught and a time frame so children who moved within the year do not repeat lessons.

"It's not a total bad thing, but we have gone too far," she said.

Ms. Bridges said AFT Texas has completed 11 workshops to gather insight and will continue to Central Texas, San Antonio, Amarillo, Corpus Christi and Midland to conduct more round table discussions.

She said so far they have heard similar things in workshops that people care about their school systems and are frustrated and do not understand why schools are not a priority of the Legislature.


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