By Abby Rapoport Given the amount of prep work Rob Eissler has done to make HB 3 acceptable to the potential critics, today’s debate on education accountability may well breeze along. But if the sparks start to fly, here are some fires to watch out for: Career and Technical Standards Dora Olivo, the sole nay vote on the Public Ed committee, has been vocal in her concerns that the new standards allow Career and Technical classes to count in the four by four grid. “This isn’t shop!” Eissler said, in defending the new system. The issue illustrates the divide between Eissler, who sees CT classes as opportunities for relevance and advancement and Olivo, who worries that such classes will represent a return to “tracking” that allows counselors to push at-risk students into classes with less rigorous standards. Olivo wants CT classes to have the same rigorous standards as classes in the “recommended” and “advanced” diploma plans. Testing Olivo has been firm in her criticism of an accountability system based on testing. Eissler’s bill represents a significant departure from high-stakes testing; his bill only requires students to pass two end-of-course exams, in Algebra II and English III, as opposed to the Shapiro’s version Senate’s version, which has eight exams students must take. Olivo’s uneasiness with standardized tests is rooted in the criticisms of several UT education professors. Let’s just say that this is where the debate could get testy. Electives Olivo has said that the bill undoes Texas’ statewide curriculum by allowing school districts to offer unique classes with TEA approval. The bill allows schools more flexibility in class offerings and developing specialty areas, but some members may push for a more regulated approach to electives. For instance, there are rumblings on the floor that the new standards are upsetting parents whose children seek to emphasize fine arts classes. Eissler removes fine arts as a requirement for the recommended graduation plan, although the bill does allow students to take eight electives of their choice, with no limit on how many of these focus on the fine arts. Ornaments on the Christmas Tree The House version of this bill is already twice as long as the Senate’s, but it could get longer. With many members struggling to get their bills out of committee and on the calendar, any omnibus bill like this one can become a Christmas tree on which members can hang their hopes–and their dying bills. The prognosis for the bill is good. Eissler has worked hard with groups that originally opposed the bill and he’s gotten most of them on his side. Initially, many argued the bill’s three graduation plans amounted to tracking, but some careful changes have reassured detractors. Dutton, a loud critic when Eissler laid out the bill, has become a co-sponsor. Eissler’s work with MALC and the Black Caucus has softened animosity. Olivo herself has openly acknowledged Eissler’s willingness to work with everyone. The bill should pass, though not without some vigorous debate over whether the new standards are too tough–or too lax.
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