In 2011, Senate Bill (SB) 6 was signed into law, and it permitted Texas school district administrators the freedom to choose their own curricular resource(s) as long as the resource(s) met 100% of grade level state standards – TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge of Skills). Of course, school district administrators possessed local authority to select their own Tier 1 curricular resources prior to SB 6, but this legislation went much further. It allowed district and school administrators the ability to choose resources for their schools that were NOT vetted by the State Board of Education (SBOE). In effect, district administrators could select any number of curricular resources approved or not approved by the SBOE for their campuses – or create their own if they chose to do so; however, the implemented curricular resource(s) was required to cover 100% of the state standards (TEKS) at each grade level. It is also important to note that the 100% TEKS compliance provision was self-policing; hence, each school district board of trustee’s or charter’s oversight board signed an affidavit confirming that their district Tier 1 curriculum was fully aligned with state standards.
All of the provisions of SB 6 would sound perfectly reasonable to a state legislator as well as to Rick Perry, the Texas Governor at the time, who signed that bill in 2011 into law. The legislation permitted school district personnel to retain local control of their curriculum choices as well as selecting curricular resources that they felt best met their students’ educational needs. In general, SB 6 provided less regulation and more freedom to both rural and urban school/district administrators.
So, what were some of the unintended problems endemic
with the passage of SB 6 in 2011?
The impactful issues of Senate Bill (SB) 6 occurred mostly on the classroom level, and it adversely and predominately affected entry-level teachers – those educators with 3 years or less of classroom teaching experience. That may not seem like a big deal to folks outside of public education, but those on the inside, know it is! Let's take a look at some of the demands of entry-level teachers.
First, there are a lot of entry-level teachers in Texas; in fact, in the 2020-21 school year, nearly 43,000 first-year teachers were hired. That number of teachers are all trying to discern the 'ins and outs' of a complex school system as well as the significant demands of core (Tier 1) lesson design and planning, effective instruction delivery, and classroom management.
Second, the vast majority of teachers are not fully effective until they have at least three to four years ‘under their belt’ in the classroom. The first four years of classroom teaching are a major struggle for almost every educator.
Third, as stated, SB 6 afforded administrators to select any number of curricular resources as long as they covered 100% of the state standards. That provision became the bane of entry-level educators’ existence. If school administrators selected 3 or 5 curricular resources per grade level per content area, then, elementary teachers were required to peruse through ALL those resources to create lesson plans for four (4) core subjects for each instructional day. Of course, there was no guarantee that each resource contained grade level TEKS for each skill – only that the aggregate of all the chosen curricular resources did. Thus, an inexperienced teacher easily may be providing instruction of skill levels that were not at grade level. On the flip side, if administrators selected only 1 or 2 resources, the novice teacher may be placed in a position to search the internet to supplement their daily lessons. Either situation is invariably a problem for entry-level teachers. Why? TIME! It requires a tremendous amount of time to create lesson plans each week under normal circumstances. However, that time is significantly increased when the entry-level educator is provided one of two extremes – too many curricular resources or too few.
Lastly, if a novice elementary classroom teacher changes grade levels during the first three years in the profession; for instance, from second grade to fifth grade, it is almost as if they are repeating as a first-year teacher since the TEKS are so dramatically different between the two grade levels. In general, the curriculum and the student needs are radically different between the primary grades and the intermediate grade levels.
Passage of the Open Education Resource (OER) – HB 1605 in 2023
In the spring of 2023, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill (HB) 1605, and Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill into law on June 13th. This bill authorizes the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to create a Tier 1 open education resource (OER) for both math and language arts. In short, TEA is tasked with creating the two curricular resources – available for use by all Texas school districts – traditional and charter. However, the OER must be reviewed and approved by the State Board of Education (SBOE) for 100 percent grade level TEKS compliance. Moreover, school districts still maintain local control since the OER usage will be voluntary. However, the OER legislation contained in HB 1605 should offer significant relief for entry-level teachers and remedy the unintended pitfalls of SB 6 in 2011.
Benefits of the OER
The advantages of a standardized Tier 1 classroom resource in math and literacy are numerous. For any elementary principal – especially a Title 1 administrator – locating and implementing Tier 1 resources is one of the initial steps when beginning a new school year. However, if the principal is a newly hired first year administrator, the OER affords starting the school year with solid Tier 1 structure in the schools’ primary and intermediate classrooms.
Listed below are many of the instructional and management advantages of implementing a well-designed, sequential and high-quality grade level curricular resource like the OER.
There is a sequence of events that needs to take place for maximum impact in academic reformation. However, from a curriculum standpoint, the Tier 1 resource is the essential first step. Implementing the use of a standard curricular resource in the earliest elementary grades ensures students are learning grade level content and being prepared as they progress to succeeding grade levels into middle and high school.
The teachers no longer need to ferret through a multitude of curricular resources. The OER will cover 100 percent of the state standards at each grade level. It is a “one-stop shop resource” that ensures a teacher of any experience level a high-quality resource that covers all grade level standards. If the teacher chooses to supplement their lessons with outside resources, they are confident that those resources must compliment those provided in the curricular resource and those supplemented resources are also on grade level. In summary, entry level teachers would have a high-quality guide to use that would dramatically reduce lesson preparatory time. They would not be ‘left on their own to figure things out.’ Teachers have many elements that occupy their focus during their first year, such as effective and efficient classroom management, how to engage students with delivery of instruction, and above all, student safety. Reducing lesson planning time and its strenuous demands afford other professional needs to be given more attention.
Collaborative team lesson planning should be heightened since more experienced teachers can share lesson experience with a singular curricular resource that is highly aligned. Entry-level teachers – above all else – frequently require simplicity as they navigate the profession.
A standard curricular Tier 1 resource implements district-wide in large urban school districts will address the concern of student mobility within the same city. It would allow students with immediate familiarity at a newly enrolled school, and simplify the teacher’s analysis of the transferring student’s academic needs.
Cash strapped rural school districts do not have the same funding levels to hire curriculum experts as do urban districts with larger annual operating budgets. However, a well-designed OER levels the playing field for rural districts lessening the need to hire personnel with curriculum expertise.
The OER legislation offers not only a free annual curricular resource to Texas public schools, it offers a $20 dollar per annum child allotment for paper-pencil student copies. Furthermore, TEA with SBOE guidance can easily update the OER, as needed, for subsequent school years.
University professors and teaching preparatory programs will have access to this curriculum, so that professors can prepare college education majors with the curricular resource they will or may use in the actual classroom.
A high-quality and standards aligned curricular resource would greatly assist in both a school’s and district’s professional development planning. It also offers the advantage of a stable and consistent teacher training program in participating school districts since the OER can be implemented for multiple school years.
The OER is an optional curricular resource since local education agencies retain the authority to choose their own curricular resources at their school/schools. However, the OER is high quality standard curricular resource that is 100 percent aligned with state standards (TEKS) and provided at no cost by the State. It is also reasonable to assume that OER would compel other book publishers, via market forces, to produce a better curricular resource product to compete for adoption and use in Texas public schools.
What will the OER NOT do?
The Open Education Resource is a Tier 1 classroom resource that is designed to cover 100 percent of grade level standards. If the resource is implemented with fidelity, it is reasonable to expect a minimum performance increase of approximately 10 to 15 percent in student achievement outcomes due to better instructional structure as well as overall consistency. That level of academic performance is significant, but currently, the state’s Title 1 elementary schools typical standardized testing (i.e., STAAR – State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness) performance results are between 45 to 65 percent of enrolled students meeting minimum grade level expectations. Thus, if the goal is to completely eliminate the wide academic disparity in performance, there are five (5) primary areas listed below that must be directly addressed to completely eradicate the achievement gap when comparing standardized test performance between students attending low and high-income socioeconomic schools.
First, academic literacy and numeracy gaps must be directly addressed. The Tier 1 OER curricular resource is a state standard (TEKS) aligned grade level resource; however, many low-income students possess prior grade level academic skill gaps. Consequently, those children struggle with grade level material that is dependent upon mastery of prior grade level skills. In short, these academic gaps must be addressed. The following two (2) related writings provide detailed information on the means to isolate and rectify both literacy and numeracy gaps: Preventing Numeracy Gaps from Forming and Fix Fluency – or, Comprehension ‘Breaks Down!’
Second, effective classroom management is a priority independent of the quality of the curricular resource. If classroom teachers do not prioritize this important aspect of classroom dynamics, valuable instructional minutes will be lost and student learning proportionately decreases. A related article that expounds on the importance of classroom management and its different elements is provided at the following link: Effective Daily Classroom Management: Come Rain or Shine.
Third, student accountability is also independent of the quality of any curricular resource; thus, teachers must hold their students’ accountable to mastery of the daily lesson’s concepts and objectives. The teacher must understand basic thresholds of repetition to secure long-term skill, task or application mastery. This short-related writing expatiates on practice and repetition in detail: Repetition and Practice – Necessary to Student Learning.
Fourth, daily problem solving must be a consistent repetitive practice. In mathematics, a story or word problem is an application of nothing more than a series of embedded math fact or math processing skills. The infamous achievement gap is actually a fundamental skill gap that rears its ugly head when comparing differing socioeconomic schools’ state standardized assessments. Pragmatically, it is easier to separate the OER into two separate areas. One section is skill-based and the other is an aligned application (problem solving) curricular resource that a classroom teacher can easily implement. Moreover, a separate problem-solving resource could provide 6 to 8 skill-aligned daily word/story application practice problems. However, there are quality supplemental problem-solving grade level curricular resources available for commercial purchase that are readily available as an alternative. Finally, language arts must include a reading language arts program that ensures that children are highly engaged in reading each day. The following related article provides detailed information on a highly effective and efficient novel reading program: Exploring Guided Novel Instruction (GNI) Pedagogy.
Fifth, administrative effort that adequately supports classroom teachers is priority one regardless of the Tier 1 resource implemented. A classroom teacher will not be able to solve all the social and academic problems in their classroom for all students. In reality, there are too many variables – including the many inexperienced teachers hired each year at Title 1 campuses across the nation. Campus administrators must set-up a system that individually targets the academic numeracy and literacy word gaps for each child. Principals must use their instructional coaches and specialists to actively and directly support classroom teachers. Finally, campus administrators must actively support classroom teachers with challenging and disruptive students in the classroom. The following three (3) short and related articles provide a deeper understanding of administrative support aiding classroom teachers: Managing Takes Effort and Instructional Coaches – What Do They Do All Day? and Academic Gaps – Each Teacher Can’t Do It Alone!
Final Thoughts on the Potential Impact of the Texas Education Agency’s OER
From the lists of items above, there appears that there is a myriad of items to set-up and implement in a public school. And, there is! In general, a typical elementary school has a thousand moving parts. However, one of the major moving parts in school management is establishing a high quality and predictable curricular structure in elementary school classrooms. The Tier 1 curriculum determines the academic direction, professional development needs, and it significantly influences school culture. It is one of the most important decisions made at the campus, and after the Tier 1 curricular resource is selected, an elementary principal can begin to drill down into other areas – many of the items that are listed above that are independent of the primary, Tier 1 curriculum. It is the principal’s executive function capability (i.e., breaking large tasks into smaller more manageable ones with accountability) to address these areas through professional development and schoolwide system development. The teachers’ responsibility is largely fulfilled in the classroom with their Tier 1 instruction and grade level instruction. The remainder of the work rests with the campus administration. It is the principal that must lead the way for academic reform at that point since classroom teachers cannot accomplish those tasks systematically from a schoolwide organizational perspective – only the campus administration possesses the responsibility and authority to do so!
In developing the OER, TEA’s open resource curriculum personnel will utilize established commercial curricular resources to foundationally build their OER. The development time required to make the curriculum functionally ready for classroom implementation appears relatively short. Moreover, a well-designed Tier 1 OER creates a ‘one-stop shop’ that has the potential to be a tremendous curricular game changer in Texas public schools. It simplifies the core work in the classroom for the array of public-school teachers that possess varying levels of instructional experience. It also ensures that grade level standards are readily known and taught in the classroom. However, in the pragmatic reality of classroom dynamics, educators will likely supplement the OER with effective math and literacy resources that augment student learning. In this case, the OER is also pivotal as it acts as a guide so teachers can better navigate supplemental materials that are also on grade level.
Furthermore, if a rural or urban elementary school is not performing well on state assessments, the OER provides TEA with an option to initiate support and capacity building at an academically struggling school. This situation is especially true in chronically under-performing rural campuses when it is difficult to reconstitute school staff due to a limited number of available teaching candidates. However, the OER could serve as a purposeful and intentional curricular tool to assist these rural schools in academic need. In effect, it affords TEA with a high quality ‘off the shelf’ 100 percent TEKS aligned curricular resource as a starting point to better support struggling charters or traditional school districts. Pragmatically, the OER offers TEA a powerful curricular tool to better address academics in both traditional school districts and charter schools. Above all, though, the OER offers curricular relief for teachers and school administrators, and most importantly, the curricular resource possesses an immediate impact for providing better classroom learning for all Texas public school children.