Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

By: The Associated Press, Associated Press
November 29, 2016 Updated: November 29, 2016 at 8:03 am
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The Dallas Morning News. Nov. 21, 2016.

The state's A-through-F campus report card, designed to grade every Texas school's performance, hasn't even been put on the road for a test drive. In fact, it's still under development.

But that's not stopping critics, primarily superintendents, from doing their best to send the grading model careening into the ditch.

What are district leaders and their supporters so afraid of?

This new attempt to provide clarity in measuring and reporting individual school performance won approval from the Texas Legislature in 2015. Under HB 2804, lawmakers granted the Texas Education Agency plenty of time to fine-tune A-F and carefully communicate how it will work. Official ratings don't take effect until August 2018.

Unfortunately, a contingent in Austin managed to insert a poison pill of sorts into the legislation, requiring TEA to provide a tentative mock-up in January of what a campus-by-campus report card might look like. It's not much of an assumption to see this as an effort to kill A-F before it ever gets a fair chance.

Education Commissioner Mike Morath and TEA are undeterred in their efforts to craft an understandable and useful grading system. But at the local level, too many superintendents are simply in a tizzy, already convinced that the new system will be unfair.

Actually, that doesn't seem to be true, based on everything we've learned so far. As the accompanying box shows, the law assures that A-F not function as a blunt instrument.

For example, the five categories making up each campus grade take into account not just how many students pass STAAR but drill into year-to-year growth and other nuanced measures. Progress toward achievement — as well as actual achievement — will be baked into the A-F calculation.

In Dallas, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa has gone on the offensive against what he sees as a "scarlet-letter shame game." And DISD has released its own campus-by-campus report card, which most heavily weights year-to-year student improvement. It also factors in other indicators, from absenteeism to staff attitudes. (You can review the DISD grades — which label each campus as excelling, rising, developing or focus — at dallasisd.org/spf).

The roots from which this DISD effort grew are valid: To help central office determine, campus by campus, how to grant greater autonomy, target resources and provide support.

But an attempt to use these district-generated grades to deflect from any concerns generated by the state's A-F results would only create confusion and communication nightmares. Parents' worries are unlikely to be assuaged by knowing, for instance, that DISD gives their child's school a "rising" score if the state grade is a "D."

And don't forget that part of the strategy behind the A-F system is to provide an apples-to-apples comparison with campuses in other districts.

Too many lawmakers in Texas side with superintendents; after all, those are the voices they most often hear from. How about if the Legislature lets parents and other stakeholders kick the tires on this new grading model before prematurely taking it off the road?

House Bill 2804 mandated that the Texas Education Agency create a grading model that breaks down like this:

— Three STAAR-based categories: How many students passed, year-to-year student growth and the closing of performance gaps. Results count toward 55 percent of overall grade.

— Post-secondary readiness: This category includes graduation and dropout rates and attendance. 35 percent of overall grade.

— Local districts' self-grading: Indicators, such as survey results, chosen by each district. 10 percent of overall grade.

While the A-F system doesn't official launch until August 2018, HB 2804 requires TEA to present a trial mock-up in January. Here's what to expect:

— Campuses will receive category-by-category scores, as available; whether to also provide a single overall grade remains under discussion.

— TEA has already run more than 30 test models in its attempts to find the fairest test case.

— Under consideration, within the STAAR-related categories, is to give each campus credit for which of the three it performed best on and throw out the two lower grades.

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Houston Chronicle. Nov. 21, 2016

Consider the daily life of Dr. Denton A. Cooley, who died Nov. 18 at age 96.

For decades every morning, he left his home in River Oaks, donned his surgical smock at Texas Medical Center and from dawn to dusk plunged his gifted hands into the open chests of men, women and children whose hearts were failing, who were within days, or less, of death. And then, after saving the lives of as many as a dozen individuals on that particular day, he went home and did it all over again, day after day after day.

The man who performed the first successful heart transplant in the United States operated on more than 100,000 heart patients throughout his long career. And when he wasn't in the operating room, he was perfecting numerous other advances in cardiac surgery, including valve replacement, bypass operations, removing aortic aneurysms and the development of heart-lung machines that keep people alive during cardiac surgery. He stopped performing surgery on his 87th birthday but was still working, still saving lives, a week before his death.

It's hard to imagine a life more challenging — or more fulfilling.

We like to think that the most famous heart surgeon in the world was quintessentially Houston. A native son, he was the grandson of the man who helped found the Heights in 1890. The physician who delivered Cooley was Dr. Ernst William Bertner, who would later found the Texas Medical Center. Cooley, in the words of the Chronicle's Todd Ackerman, "would witness the city's transformation from a provincial afterthought, known for its proximity to oil fields and refineries, to a metropolis famous not only as a world energy center but as a destination for cutting-edge medicine."

Founder of the Texas Heart Institute in 1962, Cooley was an integral part of that transformation, as was his one-time partner and later his bitter rival, Dr. Michael DeBakey. The details of their decades-long feud are not worth rehashing, although it is worth noting that they reconciled a year before DeBakey died in 2008, at age 99. In death as in life, the two strong-willed surgeons, both larger than life, both quintessentially Houston, must be mentioned together.

Like the Allen brothers and Sam Houston, like wildcatters and astronauts, Cooley thrived in this brash, open city. We bid farewell to the good doctor with one of our favorite stories about the man, who, like many surgeons, did not lack for confidence. When he was a defendant in a medical liability trial, an attorney asked him if he considered himself the world's best heart surgeon.

"Yes," he said.

"Don't you think that's being rather immodest?" the lawyer asked.

"Perhaps," Cooley replied. "But remember, I'm under oath."

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Waco Tribune-Herald. Nov. 20, 2016.

Surveying Bonny Cain's six-year tenure as Waco Independent School District superintendent, one is struck by the crises on her watch, including those book-ending her tour of duty. Anyone who follows events, however, knows this is more an indication of the increasingly stiff challenges facing public education than Cain's administration.

As she contemplates concluding her career next year, it's a credit that Cain stuck doggedly with the task when others might well have fled to a district where the challenges come far easier. Instead, much of her time has been spent grappling with everything from the complicated inner-city problems dragging down academically struggling campuses to severe funding cuts by lawmakers less than supportive of public education.

Cain was fairly new to the job when the state, citing the economic downturn, cut billions of dollars for schools, necessitating painful closure of several neighborhood campuses — a task that came only after district officials, with the critical help of the League of Women Voters, solicited and documented thoughts on how consolidation could be more thoughtfully conducted. That didn't ease the impact and hurt on our neighborhoods but at least everyone was heard.

Among Superintendent Cain's attributes are her willingness to storm the ramparts and speak bluntly, sometimes without bowing to the niceties of political correctness. Last January, in a discussion about bolstering parental involvement in neighborhoods where this could not always be assumed, she talked of societal failures in such blistering terms that some called her out for being insensitive. But in saying what needed to be said, she provoked neighborhood leaders to reflect and galvanize to do better in preparing children for higher education and careers — or else continuing the damning cycle of chronic poverty.

During an interview with the Trib editorial board, Waco ISD board president Pat Atkins stressed that Cain approached him last spring about retiring from her long career in education — and that they put aside such talk when yet new challenges arose, including a requirement by the Texas Education Agency that all district leadership undergo specially rigorous training as well as an investigation into serious academic lapses at University High.

Superintendent Cain, who talks of moving back to East Texas, may not linger long enough to see her reforms yield transformative results, including invigorated primary-grade reading programs; targeted, intensely coordinated counseling initiatives; partnerships such as the Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy; and the great promise of taxpayer-funded, dual-credit college courses. But she's helped lay foundations for long-term success. She thus makes the job easier for her successor as well as our children.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Nov. 25, 2016.

You'd think Fort Worth and Arlington would always work together, but that hasn't consistently been the case.

When it comes to promoting conventions and tourism, Arlington is also closely tied to Dallas hotels and Jerry Jones' Dallas Cowboys. So it's good to see the news of a new promotional partnership agreement involving Arlington and Fort Worth.

Arlington has the tourist destinations, not only AT&T Stadium but also theme and water parks plus both the current Globe Life Park and the forthcoming new Rangers stadium and Texas Live!

Fort Worth has more hotels, one of the nation's premier downtown developments in Sundance Square, a larger convention facility and unique attractions such as the world-renowned Fort Worth Zoo and the only-in-Cowtown historic Stockyards and Fort Worth Herd cattle drive.

When Arlington leaders sought Tarrant County and Fort Worth support for their Rangers stadium city election, that led to discussions about the cities' shared goals and the potential for marketing Tarrant County together.

The two-year agreement calls for city tourism officials to meet quarterly and work on attracting large conventions that share hotels in both cities, along with shared events and sponsorships.

For example, a Fort Worth-Arlington partnership might bid for major trade conventions or public events. The travel between the cities' convention facilities and hotels is quicker and easier than travel to or from Dallas facilities.

Arlington's renowned international restaurants bring new foodie destinations that draw tourists along with Fort Worth's established reputation for steaks, barbecue, Tex-Mex and Western fare. Fort Worth's arts events, Cliburn Competition, auto racing, golf and rodeo events might also promote the Arlington Entertainment District attractions or use extra hotel space.

Just having the two cities share and promote each other's attractions on social media would broaden the publicity for both.

This agreement isn't about Arlington's new baseball stadium, and it does not yet even extend to the expected 2020 opening.

But that election helped leaders in both cities realize they have much to gain by working together.

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Austin American-Statesman. Nov. 24, 2016

A 17-year-old promise by Texas lawmakers codified in state law — twice — was fulfilled Nov. 19 when the Texas African American History Memorial was unveiled on the Capitol grounds.

The two-story-tall, 32-foot-wide bronze and granite monument charts and celebrates more than 400 years of the African-American experience in Texas, long before it became a state. Unfortunately, it is a history that has been fragmented and poorly represented in the pages of traditional history books. But the monument, as Gov. Greg Abbott noted on a picture-perfect autumn day last weekend, fills in missing gaps.

"To know where we are going we have to understand where we came from," Abbott told several hundred people gathered on the South Lawn where the monument stands. "But chapters have been missing from the story of Texas. That changes today. Today, we come together to proudly honor the African-Americans who helped to grow Texas. From the bounty of the land, from the sweat of their toil and from the passion of their dreams."

He is right. Stories of Texas' lesser-known heroes unfold on the two-sided bronze, starting in 1528 with the arrival of Estevanico de Dorantes, the personal slave of Spanish explorer Andres Dorantes de Carranza, to modern-day astronauts, scientists and political figures, such as Barbara Jordan.

The bronze panorama also features other Texas figures, such as Sam McCullough, wounded at the Battle of Goliad and recognized as the first casualty of the Texas Revolution, and Hendrick Arnold, a guide and spy during the Texas Revolution who received a commendation that allowed him to buy land — land, according to reports, that many years later was owned by the family of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.

There is no doubt that eyes will be drawn to its crowing centerpiece: two figures, one a man and the other a woman, breaking chains of slavery with thousands of people descending beneath them to signify past, present and future generations spawned by former slaves. While the monument is emotionally moving, as witnessed by the solemn expressions on the faces of many who walked its perimeter, it's also uplifting, showing African-Americans in their most successful moments in Texas history.

Many famous Texans are represented on the bronze monument, such as musician Scott Joplin, aviator Bessie Coleman, cowboy showman Bill Pickett and boxer Jack Johnson. But many of the depictions are purposely anonymous as sharecroppers, Buffalo soldiers, laborers, astronauts and other professionals, said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, to signify the many unnamed black Texans who, as part of the background of events, made great sacrifices to move the state forward.

Turner was among an original group of African-American lawmakers who championed the initiative of then-state Rep. Al Edwards, D-Houston, to erect a Juneteenth monument on the Capitol grounds commemorating June 19, 1865, when federal troops arrived in Texas to declare slaves free — two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery.

It was Edwards who authored legislation in 1999 for the monument, which was backed by state funding. But that project was met with fierce opposition, including from this editorial board, because of its historical inaccuracies and one of the monument figure's uncanny resemblance to Edwards.

To close that chapter, the Legislature voted to end the Juneteenth project and pass a bill authorizing the Texas African American Memorial monument. That was in 2011, marking the second time the Legislature took action to erect a lasting symbol of Texas African-American history on the Capitol grounds.

It's a stunning and fitting tribute designed and built by Denver-based artist Ed Dwight. Dwight, a former Air Force pilot and engineer, also designed and built a series of 50 bronzes, "Black Frontier in the American West," and a memorial to Mickey Leland in Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

But make no mistake, the completion of the monument and its place on the Capitol grounds is a result of a bipartisan effort of Republican and Democratic lawmakers and private and public partnerships.

Aside from the Texas Legislative Black Caucus led by Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, it was Austin attorney Bill Jones, a Republican, and then-state Democratic Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston who helped keep the project alive. Former President George W. Bush, as Texas governor, directed the State Preservation Board to plan for such a monument. Bush and his wife, Laura, also are listed as donors for the $3 million project, along with the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature. From the business sector, Gulf States Toyota, H-E-B, the Meadows Foundation and Houston Endowment are named as major contributors.

The unveiling of the monument comes at a poignant moment. Even as racially and ethnically diverse crowds gathered on the South Lawn to celebrate the monument, another group, which calls itself White Lives Matter, staged a protest of hate crimes laws, which the group said favor minorities, just a few hundred feet away. Its size, at about 15, was dwarfed by the more than 300 at the monument unveiling. Ultimately, the White Lives Matter protesters were surrounded and drowned out by counterprotesters.

Such racially charged incidents targeting people of color, Muslims and immigrants are on the rise, according data from to the Southern Poverty Law Center. From Nov. 9, the day after Donald Trump was elected president, to Nov. 14, the center collected 437 reports of hateful intimidation and harassment.

At the root of many such incidents is an ignorance of other people. As Abbott said: "The future of this great state is yet to be written, and all of the children of Texas should be its authors.

"May this monument be a reminder to them of the profound way Texas has been and will continue to be advanced by African-Americans."

That is a hopeful and inclusive message that awaits all who visit the monument.

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